Stage 1: Prospectus, Section 2

So, I am still kicking the title around a bit, but as I do I am becoming more and more sold on it…we”ll see.

Looking back at the last post I noted that the section 2 of the dissertation document is a what is called the “Statement of Significance.” Basically, this is where I sort of summarize what is known and out there regarding what it is that I plan to address from my “Statement of Purpose”

Now, with my old version I was originally going much broader and attempting to look at superheroes as rhetorical enthymemes.

Statement of Significance 1.0 (OLD)

Within the past year there has been a publication of works and parts of works of literature in a collection called the Graphic Cannon. This work, already in three volumes (3rd volume coming out in April 2013), produces graphic novel formatted versions of famous works of literature. In the Editor’s introduction to volume 1, Russ Kick notes that “We’re living in a Golden Age of the Graphic Novel, of comic art, and of illustration in general [and that] Each piece [found in the work] stands on its own, but taken together they form a vast, rich kaleidoscope of art and literature” (1). This is literature as art and art as literature, but not separate and distinctive, but interactive and consubstantial (to use a Burkean term). There is both a unique quality to both the art as expressed via words and vice versa, but there really should not be a division that precludes the interaction and combination of the two.

The “Golden Age of the Graphic Novel” is a statement that highlights the growing importance and realization of just how effective graphic narratives of both images and words can serve to relate and communicate language and ideas between individuals and groups. Collections like the Graphic Cannon highlight an appropriation by art of literary works. In fact, one might see this collaboration as a “re-appropriation” of the earliest form of human expression (image) of its more complicated offspring (language). The key-underlying element that is often neglected is the interconnection between the formations of language via symbolic use of image (letters) that create larger pictorial images (words, sentences, paragraphs, etc.). Language is the social creation and arrangement of images in recognizable patterns that allow for interactive communication. Symbols can be viewed as the “passive” element in human communication and interaction – on, like ethos in rhetorical persuasion that we recognize are not always in the active role, but remain fundamentally important. Language, from one perspective given by Robert Staintion, exists as “a system of symbols which we know and use” (Philosophical Perspectives on Language 13). Humanity builds, like blocks, language from simple to complex, utilizing symbols as the core. Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann point out that, “the symbolic universe is…constructed by means of social objectivcations…yet its meaning-bestowing capacity far exceeds the domain of social life” (The Social Construction of Reality 96). There are the deeper representations and meanings, that humanity gives objects, people, or places. The physical or tangible part of symbols – signs – operates in facilitating the construction and continuity of culture. 

For Scott McCloud, in his work Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art ascribes that “we [humans] see ourselves in everything. We assign identities and emotions where none exist. And we make the world over in our image” (33). McCloud’s assertion points to humanity’s prominent role in shaping reality in its own image and suggests a very relativist perception of how instrumental humanity is in creating the boundaries and definitions of everything. Since “we see ourselves in everything” one might conclude that of course we see ourselves in Superman, in Batman, in Iron Man, in Captain America, and so on. So why do we not readily admit it? There is a rhetorical, personal, element to be found there in the superhero narrative.

Superheroes, if one is the identify them as clear symbols of human potential, then what is the potential rhetorical power, the enthymeme, that they represent. In his book Supergods, Grant Morrison offers up the realization that superheroes are “not afraid to be hopeful, not embarrassed to be optimistic, and utterly fearless in the dark [and that] the best superhero stories deal directly with mythic elements of human experience that we can all relate to, in ways that are imaginative, profound, funny, and provocative” (xvii). Superheroes are part of the human experience, and as Morrison’s final statement invokes, they can affect their audience on a number of levels. From their very beginnings, particularly in what is called the “Golden Age” of comic books and the comic book superhero – Action Comics #1 appearance of Superman in June, 1938 – superheroes have carried and delivered a continued (though often repressed, hounded, dismissed, and ignored) to play and have an impact on human understanding and interaction with both the world of the imaginary and the real.

The true power of superheroes and superhero comic books, their enthymeme and argument lies in their potential as a tool, like rhetoric itself, and medium of expression where ancient Greek myths, Campbellian/Carlylean notions of heroes, philosophical ideas, and so much more can find a voice. Not unlike the written word, and literature, comic book narratives allow for just another medium, but one that can go just as deep, express just as much emotion, and create just as much movement and contemplation in the audience as any work of William Shakespeare or the Holy Bible. They are the secular gods and heroes of a society that is always searching for a higher calling.

Now, you can see that I was a bit all over the place there, and I like a lot of the ideas I was mixing, but again, what is above is practically 3-5 dissertations of their own. So, “FOCUS up!” is what my major professor kindly and constructively direct me towards and I, yelling, do to myself.

Let’s try this again…

Statement of Significance 1.5 (NEW)

Will Eisner told a story from his childhood, recounted in David Hajdu’s book The 10 Cent Plague, where his father took him to the Catholic Church “Our Lady of the Assumption,” not far from where he grew up. Hajdu relates that Eisner noted that his father brought him here because “‘He wanted me [Eisner] see what he had done when he was an artist’” but more importantly to “‘to experience the power of visual imagery as a tool for communicating ideas and doctrine and so forth’” (71). This anecdote denotes a long and direct connection between the ability of visual images to convey and connect with a potential audience. There is a profound and powerful ability within visual images to communicate and persuade, to move, an audience that often goes unnoticed until someone comes along and points it out, and then, others often react in agreement.

Eisner, in his own book Comics and Sequential Art, points out that imagery, like written language, serves and acts as a communicator. He notes that  “Comprehension of an image requires a commonality of experience…the success or failure of this method of communicating depends upon the ease with which the reader recognizes the meaning and emotional impact of the image” (7-8). The power of visual images lies heavily within the folds of collective values and recognizable concepts – often unspoken – but very important to exchange and interaction within those groups that accept those shared values and concepts. Chaim Perelman and L. Olbrechts-Tyteca, in their work The New Rhetoric, identify that when looking for objects of agreement, values fall within a second grouping, “concerning the preferable, comprising values, hierarchies, and lines of argument relating to the preferable” (66). These ideas are ones that foster agreement within their conception of a “universal audience,” one that is unknown, but also malleable. Expanding on how values work, they note that “Agreement with regard to a value means an admission that an object, a being, or an ideal must have a specific influence on action and on disposition toward action and that one can make use of this influence in an argument” (74). Superheroes, if one is the identify them as clear symbols of human potential, have the potential rhetorical power to act as visual communication and persuasion of inherent cultural values that they, in turn, represent or embody.

In his book Supergods, Grant Morrison offers up the assertion that superheroes are “not afraid to be hopeful, not embarrassed to be optimistic, and utterly fearless in the dark [and that] the best superhero stories deal directly with mythic elements of human experience that we can all relate to, in ways that are imaginative, profound, funny, and provocative” (xvii). For Morrison, via his claim, superheroes are part of the human experience, and as Morrison’s final statement invokes, they can affect their audience on a number of levels. From their very beginnings, particularly in what is called the “Golden Age” of comic books and the comic book superhero – Action Comics #1 appearance of Superman in June, 1938 – superheroes have continued (though often repressed, hounded, dismissed, and ignored) to play and have an impact on human understanding and interaction with both the world of the imaginary and the real.

Literature Review:

In his Grammar of Motives, Kenneth Burke conceptualized life as a form of drama, Dramatism, consisting of the five elements of a kin to the basic journalistic questions of who, what, when, where, why, and how. These elements are: Act, Scene, Agent, Agency, and Purpose. These elements serve as a way of examining human relationships, a meta-method. It was, according to Burke, a “method of analysis and a corresponding critique designed to show the most direct route to the study of human relations and human motives…” (Overington). Turning this back then, what is Grant Morrison’s motivation, his dramatic move in his book Supergods. The Act (1) is a rhetorical analysis of the first appearances of Superman and Batman at the dawn of what is called roughly the Golden Age of comic books.  The Scene (2) is a reflection upon events coming out of 1930’s America and the Great Depression as an impact in our modern times. The Agent (3), as Morrison is illustrating are the characters of Superman and Batman, their creators, and Morrison himself. Their role form of tiers: creation, creators, and analyzer (who is himself a modern day comic book writer). The Agency (4) here calls upon a rhetorical analysis that dissects the roles that occur with the interaction of all three tiers, covering decades of time and analysis. Finally, there is the Purpose (5), and Morrison this purpose comes the direction that comic books have a way of communicating with an audience on levels that sometimes, and most times, are overlooked by many – legitimacy.

Applying Burke to what Morrison is doing conveys the place of visual rhetoric as it holds a place, worth noting, for how such an artifact, as a comic book cover, can come to embody, reflect, and identify the values that would appeal to young boys during the late 1930’s and 40’s. Morrison is pushing for the recognition of what is often seen, comic books, as a “popular medium” as a more serious, philosophical and even rhetorical, medium and mode of expression, by drawing upon Burke’s notions of the dramatic pentad for analysis, as well as Burke’s notions of identification to lay out the beginning framework of his personal accounting and exploration of the history of superhero comic books.

Furthermore, comic writer/artist and theorist Scott McCloud, in his work Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art ascribes that “we [humans] see ourselves in everything. We assign identities and emotions where none exist. And we make the world over in our image” (33). McCloud’s assertion points to humanity’s prominent role in shaping reality in its own image and suggests a very relativist perception of how instrumental humanity is in creating the boundaries and definitions of everything. Since “we see ourselves in everything” one might conclude that of course we see ourselves in Superman, in Batman, in Iron Man, in Captain America, and so on. So why do we not readily admit it? There is a rhetorical, personal, element to be found there in the superhero narrative.

This time I dropped in more of what I wanted to say my taking note, adding, to my “Statement of Significance” a “Literature Review” section to try and add direction and points of interest/research to what I will attempting.

So, now it is on to “Statement of Methodology”…

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