Sousanis, N. (2015). Unflattening. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
- Sequential Art
The primacy of words over images has deep roots in Western culture. But what if the two are inextricably linked, equal partners in meaning-making? Written and drawn entirely as comics, Unflattening is an experiment in visual thinking. Nick Sousanis defies conventional forms of scholarly discourse to offer readers both a stunning work of graphic art and a serious inquiry into the ways humans construct knowledge.
Unflattening is an insurrection against the fixed viewpoint. Weaving together diverse ways of seeing drawn from science, philosophy, art, literature, and mythology, it uses the collage-like capacity of comics to show that perception is always an active process of incorporating and reevaluating different vantage points. While its vibrant, constantly morphing images occasionally serve as illustrations of text, they more often connect in nonlinear fashion to other visual references throughout the book. They become allusions, allegories, and motifs, pitting realism against abstraction and making us aware that more meets the eye than is presented on the page.
In its graphic innovations and restless shape-shifting, Unflattening is meant to counteract the type of narrow, rigid thinking that Sousanis calls “flatness.” Just as the two-dimensional inhabitants of Edwin A. Abbott’s novella Flatland could not fathom the concept of “upwards,” Sousanis says, we are often unable to see past the boundaries of our current frame of mind. Fusing words and images to produce new forms of knowledge, Unflattening teaches us how to access modes of understanding beyond what we normally apprehend.
Harvard University Press [http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674744431]
Ball, D.M. & Kuhlman, M.B. (2010). The Comics of Chris Ware: Drawing Is a Way of Thinking. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.
De Bono, E. (1970). Lateral Thinking: Creativity Step by Step. New York: Harper and Row.
Jensen, D. (2004). Walking on Water: Reading, Writing, and Revolution. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green.
- “A changed approach is precisely the goal for the journey ahead: to discover new ways of seeing, to open spaces for possibilities, and to find ‘fresh methods’ for animating and awakening” (27).
- “Unflattening is a simultaneous engagement of multiple vantage points from which to engender new ways of seeing” (32).
- “In relying on text as the primary means of formulating understanding, what stands outside its linear structure is dismissed, labeled irrational – no more conceivable than the notion of ‘upwards’ to a flatlander. The visual provides expression where words fail. What have we been missing? And what can be made visible when we work in a form that is not only about, but is also the thing itself” (59).
- Sousanis suggests seeing things from a myriad of different perspectives, but the book has no mention of ethics [at least yet]. Would views considered to be unethical, or harmful, also be worthy of consideration from his viewpoint?
- Sousanis explains that comics allow us to process images both sequentially and simultaneously. Are there any other formats that also invite this type of thinking? Could you think of shots within a film this way?