Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Unflattening: General Review/Introduction

Unflattening is an unapologetic polemic for the value of 'sequential art' as both an educational and academic medium. Written by Nick Sousanis as a PhD thesis, it explores how comics challenge the 'flatness' of current educational practice. Slipping between meditations on the nature of existence, the conformity enforced by traditional approaches to learning, the aesthetics of comics and wider reflections on the relationship between form and content, Unflattening claims a place for this 'low art' that challenges the hegemony of academic writing.

Across ten chapters - each of which offer a self-contained analysis of a particular aspect of his argument, Sousanis works steadily towards his conclusion: words and images can combine to create a more immersive text, and provide new perspectives. But, appropriately, the chapters leap between subjects, variously decrying the limitations of academic routines (Flatness and Strings Attached), the philosophical thought experiment presented in Flatland and celebrating the potential of comics to encourage new perspectives (Awakening). 

While there is little to surprise the regular reader of comics - for example, his discussion of fractals is familiar from Godel, Escher, Bach - he articulates both the aesthetic potential of comics and their epistemology with a wit and clarity.

Despite being an academic text, with an impressive density of information - Sousanis never loses a lightness of touch. The striking images of the first chapter, which echo the mechanical complexity and horror of Escher's trick pictures, establish his vision of an education caught in its own ruts, and the final chapter illustrates the exciting of thinking between mathematics and mysticism.

Unflattening is a step forward for the comic book: simultaneously playful and intelligent, it combines an argument for the medium and challenges established thinking on the nature of perception. There's a clear lineage for the material - Robert Anton Wilson followed a more psychedelic version of the arguments, and Abbot's Flatland is explicitly referenced - but, balanced between the creative and the academic, Sousanis' achievement is to question the relationship between these apparently disparate categories.

No comments :

Post a Comment