It was suggested to me recently that it might be worth while, though I find it rather boring, to say a little something about the nuts and bolts of this blog, the book project I imposed upon it, despite its “limited” manga purview, and how my career as a scholar and on again off again academic has been affected by it, so instead of taking my usual week off before writing the next “intermissive” of [Comics] as Reading, I thought I might take this opportunity to note what has gone well, what has gone not so well, and what has genuinely surprised me over the past few years.
I arrive, then, as close as I can come to a definition of alter-textuality, only to shortly depart hereafter, one in which form itself is susceptible to a number of readings, interpretations which lie not merely in the higher order of exegesis, i.e. the determination of meaning, but also in a lower and therefore more fundamental order where reading determines, provisionally but also necessarily, what a given text is at all. As readings multiply, so too, potentially, do determinations of form, in accordance with any number of overlapping and ever developing logics: social conventions, constraints of differing contexts, idiosyncrasies of reading, material modes–a cacophony of textual conditions none of which is necessary or sufficient but all of which demand greater attention.
A newspaper is a heterogeneous text, filled with reportage, entertainment, etc. of various kinds. For the newspaper, like any print periodical (sing.), is both an historiographic and historical event, meaning it is both partial record of a contemporaneous discourse, so-called current events that with the passage of time become history, as well as participant within that discourse. So too with the comics that appear within newspapers: the mere fact of self-referentiality does not set them apart from media or the world at an aloof, critical distance but may, in fact, be the clearest sign that comics are profoundly embedded in the very milieux they might presumably re-present.
This attempt to draw the “automatic” back into the “conscientious” is necessary if we are to see what is harmful in the distinction between theory and practice Miodrag makes and in the assumptions upon which that distinction is predicated. What both Edwards and McGann (along with the silent Drucker) demonstrate, each one a practically oriented theorist in her/his own way, is that there is a how to perception and how perception translates into understanding (and, perhaps more importantly, how understanding a priori influences perception) is key to loosening the theoretical binds in which we so often find ourselves. Moreover, while Miodrag’s diatribe falls short of exhorting the academy to expel the practitioner barbarians, her call to discipline them—or kindly request that they discipline themselves—is both outrageous and self-defeating. The practical know-how—be it artistic or editorial or writerly or whatever—that [comics] practitioners bring to bear has obvious ramifications for the arcane arts of theoretical speculation.
The legitimacy of the academy (i.e. [comics] as an acceptable object of analysis) and legitimacy in the academy (i.e. departments and institutes devoted to establishing [comic] studies in perpetuity) appear to be the great desideratum and have been for some time. I would argue, though, that what is sought after in these calls to discipline (and publish) is not, in fact, just legitimacy or, more blandly, acceptance of [comics] and their scholarship as something worthwhile (for this is, by now, a fait accompli) but the power and authority to legitimize in one’s own right.
While the identification of a genealogical tradition from Hogarth or Töpffer or whomever may represent a real coup for the scholar/historiographer, it means surprisingly little for a more “ignorant” reader who only has the textual artifact itself (in addition to her own “limited” knowledge) to go on, be that the elusive [comic] book or some [comic] text encountered within the limited framing of a print medium, and by “print medium” I mean equally what so far I have referred to as a print periodical (sing.) such as The World and a scholarly monograph such as Smolderen’s text, which purports to observe and analyze [comics] from a certain remove.
What Smolderen oddly fails to allow for is the potential to think of the past in terms of the artifacts of that past and their messy, rather non-obvious relationship to each other. I am hesitant to say simply “in terms of the past,” since the before now only ever survives artifactually, but what I mean to say is that historical thinking does not have to posit a trajectory, a vector, either from “then” to “now” or from “now” to “then.” It is entirely possible to think the past in terms of an array of roughly contemporaneous things, rather than a tradition or line of causality, and perhaps, if anything like a readerly encounter with a text is to be hypothesized, this way of thinking has to at least be considered.