- Visual knowing is a knowing in relationship—relationships of movement. The eyes constantly move, discerning depth. Marks across a surface create contours and define relationships of interiority and exteriority and of impressions between marks, viewers, situations. These impressions are a seeing, but a seeing this is always a seeing like that. We see from vantage points that can vary, but are always creating gaps even as they create new relationships (Sousanis, p. 72-74, 150). [TP]
Perceptual Experience: Sousanis cites Alva Noe’s suggestion that perceptual experience is a way of encountering how thing are by making contact with how they appear to be (Sousanis, 73). Sousanis asserts that by being able to hold dual views of what something appears to be while recognizing other aspects of its appearance, we negotiate experience.
Derive: When speaking of how a person shifting the routes they take, rather than taking the same consistent path again and again, allows them to encounter different sights and make new connections, Sousanis mentions derive, which is a walk conceived of as a playful drifting rather than a goal-oriented journey (Susaanis, 112). Hence, shaking up our approaches and processes can help us avoid getting caught in a visual rut.
On page 78, Sousanis writes, “Drawing is a way of seeing and thus, a way of knowing.” He claims this allows us to extend our thinking by “distributing it between conception and perception,” and argues this is a generative process by which we form ideas in search of greater understanding (79).
This makes me wonder – does someone need to have some proficiency/mastery in drawing to fully extend his or her thinking in this way – or for the process to be successfully generative? I think of myself (a self-professed poor drawer) during most of our stop-draws; I’m often consumed by the notion that the image I am looking to create is never truly reflected. When I write, however, I do experience this extension of thought. So, should we think of this experience from drawing as universal, or as just one of several formats to engage with this thought-extending process? Perhaps the woodworking or the quilter – folks who may self-profess proficiency in neither drawing nor writing – could also experience this? Is this more generally a notion realized through the creation of art?
Sousanis cites Masaki Suwa and Barbara Tversky’s idea that drawing is a means of developing a conversation with ones self, allowing us to tap into our visual system and see relationally. He claims that his relational viewpoint, or perception, is fundamental in meaning making. Sousanis writes, “in reuniting thinking and seeing, we expand our thinking and concept of what thinking is.” He ends the idea with stating, “to prepare good thinkers we need to cultivate good seers” (81).
This is a bit of an extension from my question above, but doesn’t Sousanis ignore a specific population of people in this claim? If I am blind I cannot reunite thinking and seeing – does that mean I cannot expand my concept of what thinking is? Do I not have the potential to be a “good thinker” (in this sense) because I cannot be a good seer? Or should we, again, look at this as just one of the potential avenues to cultivate expansive thinking?
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?
So my stop-draw was made specifically with the class in mind, so I changed it. Let’s see how it goes.
In Unflattening, Sousanis discusses the interplay between text and image, especially with regards to comics. It reminded me of how often it is in the comic book industry for writers to dictate what is drawn, and for artists to dictate what is written.
Stop-draw prompt- the first person who responds to this post comes up with a caption for the picture below. The next person draws a picture based on the first person’s caption. The person after that makes a caption for that picture, etc…
“Squeezed into the same slots. What comes out is interchangeable. Standardized.”
Write about a recent time that you’ve felt “squeezed into the same slots” when it came to writing. Did it make you feel standardized?
On pages 54-55, Sousanis outlines Decartes’ and Plato’s mistrust of visuals due to its dependence on perception. As logical positivism became the reigning ziegeist of the time, visual thinking was not the only thing that lost its credibility–rhetoric, in large part, was dismissed as well.
What are the parallels between discrediting visual thinking and rhetorical thought?
Visual: Sousanis simplifies this term by comparing it with verbal modes, which “march along linearly, step by step, a discrete sequence of words” (59). He then goes on to say “the visual, on the other hand…presents itself all-at-once, simultaneous, all over, relational” (59). Rose takes this similar concept and discusses it throughout an entire book chapter, and finally settles on the idea that “visual imagery is never innocent; it is always constructed through various practices, technologies and knowledges” (32). [HD]
Flatness: Unflattening explores the concepts of flattening and unflattening throughout the book, but Sousanis immediately provides readers with what he means by flatness: “Like a great weight descending…suffocating and ossifying, flatness permeates the landscape. This flatness is not literal, no. It cloaks its true nature under a hyper-real facade…This is a flatness of slight, a construction of possibilities…where inhabitants conform to what Marcuse called ‘a pattern of one-dimensional thought and behavior’” (5-6). With this introduction, it is clear that Sousanis will further explore humans sometimes narrow view of the world and universe. [HD]
Unflattening by Nick Sousanis
While most of us see an argument as a battle of words between two opposing sides, Nick Sousanis in Unflattening considers an argument as a dance. “This doesn’t mean erasing or ignoring differences. Instead, it’s a complex dynamic,”what Simeon Dreyfuss calls “holding differences ways of knowing in relationship”(38). Is the author trying to start a new argument by addressing inconclusiveness of classical arguments? Approaching an argument as compromising, listening, or basically seeing the other side’s perspective not just our own and to embrace each other? Isn’t he just repeating the Rogerian theory of argument? But the question is validity of an argument. Not all of the arguments are valid to be embraced by opposing side. I am wondering how Sousanis would address the validity of arguments by visual tools. [SK]
Is Sousanis by asking which view is the truth trying to refer to Plato’s perspective of truth? Does he mean that what we see is the shadow of the truth not the “Truth”? Can we trust the multidimensional view of our visions? [SK]