Stage 1: Prospectus, Section 4

Now we reach the part of the dissertation prospectus where one attempts to project a possible (tentative) organization.

To the best of my ability and to avoid that death spiral followed by an ejection that I mentioned last time, I am and will do my best to stick to this organization with some deviation but for my sanity, as close as I can.

So, again, here is the original version, this one longer and centered upon the original superhero as enthymeme idea:

Tentative Working Organization for the Dissertation 1.0 (OLD)

Introduction:

This section will open up with attempting to draw out a general history and understanding of how symbols and signs function in engaging human reaction and communicating human ideas and values. The use of the comic book superhero will help draw in how this concept works and functions, dramatically, upon individuals and groups. This requires an understanding, as I will approach it, of discussing the both the history of the superhero in modern times, but also drawing connections to both the appearance (at the tail end of the Great Depression), denigration during the 1950’s, and then slow rehabilitation since (particularly its even stronger growth post-9/11). I will lay out the argument that the superhero functions as a visual rhetoric that embodies real, human characteristics and ideas via close rhetorical analysis. The purpose aim is to show that via its role as a rhetorical artifact, the graphic narrative format of the superhero narratives, modern myths so to say, are valuable means for engaging audiences on many different stylistic levels that grant greater significance to this form of story telling than previously recognized.

Literature Review:

The literature review, partially demonstrated above, will open up and examine closely both the debates and discussions surrounding the role of symbols and semiotic relations in communication and language, but how the use of images, particularly the comic books superhero, have come to represent rhetorical tools for engaging and motivating audience in engagement. This will be couched within a close examination of visual rhetorical analysis, building off of Grant Morrison’s attempts found in Supergods, while attempting to draw connections to Burkean notions of the dramatic pentad, as well as the role of symbols as essential elements of human interaction and communication.

Examples of currently under investigation here are Visual Intelligence: Perception, Image, and Manipulation in Visual Communication by Ann Marie Barry, Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and A Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human by Grant Morrison, The Language of Comics: Word and Image edited by Robin Varnum and Christina T. Gibbons Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean by Wolk, Douglas. Arguing Comics: Literary Masters on a Popular Medium edited by Jeet Heer and Kent Worcester, and of course Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud. These, along with other journals and works, will help develop both a framework of comic book history and development, but particularly look to reveal the growing mainstream acceptance of the medium and how this opens up greater opportunities to closely examine the deeper rhetorical meaning and potential existing within.

Method:

This section will be a direct application Burke’s theory of the dramatic pentad and Chaim Perelman’s updated conceptions of rhetorical figures and notions of rhetoric and its appeal to values to formulate and bring together the conceptions surrounding the strong formation of the superhero as rhetorical enthymeme. A groundwork will be introduced to allow for the responses of the audience and how the impact of the superhero is developing and exploring complex ideas and concept. More importantly, it will be important to set out a method of recognizing and decoding of the superhero as rhetorical constructs as presented in the comic book medium by close analysis. This will rely on turning to Umberto Eco and semiotic theory, as well as Douglas Wolk and the work of Scott McCloud, in addition to Burke and Perelman. The production will aim to layout the groundwork for looking at the superhero via the lens of visual and symbolic rhetoric.

Analysis:

  1. This chapter will to look at close visual rhetorical analysis aimed at understanding the ability of comic book superheroes to teach. Specifically targeted, so far, for this chapter is a close examination of Mark Miller’s Superior. This chapter will attempt to understand and examine the choices of the main character, a twelve-year old by, Simon Pooni, who is struck down by multiple sclerosis, but escapes into comic books. He is eventually granted the wish of becoming is favorite fictional superhero: Superior (a analogue of Superman). The teaching ability here is that even with this power, similar powers are given to a bully who becomes Superior’s arch-enemy Abraxas. After their showdown, Simon opts to return to being himself, having come to accept who he is. The superhero as enthymeme here serves as a tool for acceptance, toleration, and doing what is right.
  2. This chapter will engage in a close rhetorical analysis of comic book superheroes and their ability to delight. It will focus on works like Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross’s Marvels and Mark Waid and Alex Ross’s Kingdom Come, as well as a variety of other books. This chapter will attempt to look at the superhero as enthymeme through the lens of the enjoyment of both the writing and artistic forms that can be presented. This will specially explore the aesthetic qualities found in the comic book medium.
  3. This chapter will turn back and attempt to look deeper at the rhetorical power found in the superhero to engage in high minded and deep philosophical debate. This chapter will focus on certain archetypal characters: Superman (Morrison’s All-Star Superman), Batman (Morrison’s Batman: Arkham Asylum), and Captain America and Iron Man (Mark Miller’s Civil War and Hickman’s Avengers). This chapter will attempt to look specifically, via example, the ways that superheroes truly embody and express a type of rhetorical enthymeme as laid out by Aristotle and revised by Chaim Perelman and L. Olbrechts-Tyteca.

Conclusion:

The primary focus of this exploration is to offer up a direct and relevant understanding of how superheroes can and do function as potential rhetorical artifacts. The comic book/graphic novel medium has in fact become a sort of middle ground, a commonplace for the words of novels and books, and the images of motion pictures. The superhero narrative is one that carries specific rhetorical power due to its connection and formulation within symbolic communication. There should and needs to be a greater acceptance of this aspect of human nature and imagination that occurs subconsciously daily but remains consciously unnoticed.

If one is paying close attention, you’ll notice abbreviated versions of Statement of Purpose, Signficance, and Methodology make appearances above via the Introduction, Literature Review, and Method.

 

Added to this we now have a tentative analysis section, where I, originally attempted to apply rhetorical style to the situation, and this is followed with a conclusion.

 

The point at stake here, and still in the revised version though its focus is changed (tweaked) and the new version is cut down, is that there are two aspects defined here – scholar and critic  (as Dr. Greer pointed to) – and both are important. I’ll elaborate on this more after the new version below:

Tentative Working Organization for the Dissertation 1.5 (NEW)

Introduction:

This section will open up with attempting to draw out a general history and understanding of how symbols and signs function in engaging human reaction and communicating human ideas and values. The use of the comic book superhero will help draw in how this concept works and functions, dramatically, upon individuals and groups. I will lay out the argument that the superhero functions as a visual rhetoric that embodies real, human characteristics and ideas via close rhetorical analysis. The purpose aim is to show that via its role as a rhetorical artifact, the graphic narrative format of the superhero narratives, modern myths so to say, are valuable means for engaging audiences on many different stylistic levels that grant greater significance to this form of story telling than previously recognized.

Literature Review:

The literature review, partially demonstrated above, will open up and examine closely both the debates and discussions surrounding the role of symbols and semiotic relations in communication and language, but how the use of images, particularly the comic books superhero, have come to represent rhetorical tools for engaging and motivating audience in engagement. Examples of currently under investigation here are Visual Intelligence: Perception, Image, and Manipulation in Visual Communication by Ann Marie Barry, Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and A Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human by Grant Morrison, Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean by Wolk, Douglas. Finally, Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud. These, along with other journals and works, will help develop both a framework of comic book history and development, but particularly look to reveal the growing mainstream acceptance of the medium and how this opens up greater opportunities to closely examine the deeper rhetorical meaning and potential existing within.

Method:

This section will be a direct application Burke’s theory of the dramatic pentad and Chaim Perelman’s updated conceptions of rhetorical figures and notions of rhetoric and its appeal to values to formulate and bring together the conceptions surrounding the strong formation of the superhero as rhetorical enthymeme. A groundwork will be introduced to allow for the responses of the audience and how the impact of the superhero is developing and exploring complex ideas and concept. More importantly, it will be important to set out a method of recognizing and decoding of the superhero as rhetorical constructs as presented in the comic book medium by close analysis. This will rely on turning to Umberto Eco and semiotic theory, as well as Douglas Wolk and the work of Scott McCloud, in addition to Burke and Perelman. The production will aim to layout the groundwork for looking at the superhero via the lens of visual and symbolic rhetoric.

Analysis:

  1. This chapter will to look at close visual rhetorical analysis aimed at understanding the ability of comic book superheroes to teach. Specifically targeted, so far, for this chapter is a close examination of Mark Miller’s Superior. The superhero as teacher here serves as a tool for acceptance, toleration, and doing what is right.
  2. This chapter will engage in a close rhetorical analysis of comic book superheroes and their ability to delight. It will focus on works like Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross’s Marvels and Mark Waid and Alex Ross’s Kingdom Come, as well as a variety of other books. This chapter will attempt to look at the superhero as enthymeme through the lens of the enjoyment of both the writing and artistic forms that can be presented. This will specially explore the aesthetic qualities found in the comic book medium.
  3. This chapter will turn back and attempt to look deeper at the rhetorical power found in the superhero to engage in high minded and deep philosophical debate. This chapter will focus on certain archetypal characters: Superman (Morrison’s All-Star Superman), Batman (Morrison’s Batman: Arkham Asylum), and Captain America and Iron Man (Mark Miller’s Civil War and Hickman’s Avengers).

Conclusion:

The primary focus of this exploration is to offer up a direct and relevant understanding of how superheroes can and do function as potential rhetorical artifacts. The comic book/graphic novel medium has in fact become a sort of middle ground, a commonplace for the words of novels and books, and the images of motion pictures. The superhero narrative is one that carries specific rhetorical power due to its connection and formulation within symbolic communication. There should and needs to be a greater acceptance of this aspect of human nature and imagination that occurs subconsciously daily but remains consciously unnoticed.

 

This version, compressed for requirements, still attempts to retain the aspect of both scholar and critic.

 

The Scholar

The scholarly aspect is the historical digging, the research and background information that come out of the introduction and the literature review. Enjoy this metaphor to help: This are important because this lays out a strong foundation for you – think clearing the trees and leveling the land, surveys and historical investigation to make sure you aren’t building on some historical sight.

 

The Critic

This is comes out of the Method and Analysis. This is where you take the research and apply it, test it, and attempt to construct and challenge your own questions, warrants, and claims (see Road to Dissertation: Stage 1, Constructing a Prospectus for reference). This is where one departs from the original research and what others have said and moves forward into what you have to say about it, to contribute.

 

So, here we are, one last part to put in and then the dissertation is ready…to be torn apart by one’s committee in order to find out if it is really “road ready.”

 

Stage 1: Prospectus, Section 3

Now we start getting into the work…

This is the part in the dissertation prospectus where we begin to attempt to point out how we plan to go about conducting our research.

Real quickly, something to note, for the official Dissertation Prospectus document there are limits. A limit of 10 pages really kind of forces one to try and be concise, and as you will see in section 5 – Working Bibliography, sometimes cut things down to the bare bare bones.

But, moving right along, here is the original stab at a Research Methodology:

Statement of Research Methodology 1.0 (OLD)

Umberto Eco defines symbols as “something representing something else by virtue of an analogical correspondence [a logical picture of elements in question]” (Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language 130). The conception of symbolism offers up a need for distinction between what makes something a “sign” and what makes something a “symbol.” Superheroes may act then as signs of something more symbolic – Superman : Truth, Justice, and the American Way. For Carl Jung, symbols and signs interlinked and operated in reversible roles. For Jung, “living symbols become signs when read as referring to something known…A sign [in turn] becomes…a symbol when it is read as pointing to an unknown” (Portable Jung XXVIII). One could point to Superman as a sign in the form of a man, but with powers beyond ours and abilities that are aspirations and “unknown” or symbolic. The human fascination with the unknown drives the internal expression of signs as symbols in order to understand that beyond human understanding. It is “the study of [symbols that] enables us to reach a better understanding of man – of man ‘as he is’, before he has come to terms with the conditions of History” (Eliade 12). Once again, the very fundamentals of humanity rest in symbols and any quest to uncover such “fundamentals of humanity” requires that one study and understand symbols – to study Superman is to understand his function, perhaps, to inspire humanity.

This exploration of the understanding of symbols and their impact is the first layer in the approach to examining the superhero as a type of archetypal/rhetorical construct of expression. Studying the aims and positions found both in the use of symbols with the study of Semiotics and Psychoanalysis will formulate the beginning of coming to understand the impact that the superhero as rhetorical enthymeme is able to carry through with the audience or potential audiences it may encounter. In addition to understanding this element, another key identifier to communicate in laying out the superhero impact on a potential audience will incorporate Hans Blumenberg’s conceptions of “reappropriation” and understanding the ways that human culture tends to act in ways that constantly reappropriates and both borrows and builds upon past ideas. This ties in with both Jungian conceptions of archetypes and the collective unconscious, as well relates to ideas that Grant Morrison, in his work Supergods, and elsewhere professes about as part of what superheroes are capable of expressing. Blumenberg notes specifically that “secularization” as he use the term “signifies [the] designation for a long-term process by which a disappearance of religious ties, attitudes of transcendence, expectations of an afterlife, ritual performances, and firmly established turns of speech are driven onward in both private and daily public life” (3). Focusing primarily on the idea, as Blumenberg later asserts, that this is a mode of historical interpretation, it is interesting to note just how far back the idea of heroes, from the Greek meaning “demi-god,” have captivated human culture. How has this “ritual performance” migrated and evolved and repositioned itself within our society today? This will be part of what will be explored, attempting to understand the history and relevance of images, and their symbolic power, in our culture as a ground work for both understanding the superhero as enthymeme but also an understanding of audience response to such images.

Kenneth Burke, in his work A Rhetoric of Motives, noted that “the role of rhetoric…is rooted in essential function of language…a function that is…the use of language as symbolic means of inducing cooperation in beings that by nature respond to symbols” (43). What better place to begin by examining the uses and capabilities of comic book superheroes to carry out that expression. The approach here will be to apply rhetoric, primarily through the lens of Burke and Chaim Perelman (along with L. Olbrechts-Tyteca with The New Rhetoric) to examine the ways that individuals and groups can come to identify with superheroes, how these superheroes embody rhetorical potential – as demonstration, amplification, illustration, and via presence. Understanding the potential of the superhero as enthymeme as a tool for communication, a function of language, and what Ann Barry, a perceptional theorist, noted as a potential “visual turn” that “it is images, not words, that communicate most deeply” (Visual Intelligence 75). In an increasingly visual age, with movies and advertisement growing – even literature itself is being reformatted into graphic novel form – it is important to realize the power of symbolic images as superheroes and the power they can have to teach, delight, and persuade.

To demonstrate the superhero as enthymeme, to see the styles (as Cicero and others have noted) I will turn Grant Morrison’s Supergods as a launching platform, as well as engage specifically chosen forms of comic book superhero narratives – including Mark Miller’s Superman: Red Sun and Superior, Alan Moore’s Watchmen and V for Vendetta, Morrison’s All-Star Superman and Flex Mentallo, Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers and New Avengers, Frank Miller’s Batman Year One and Dark Knight Returns, Mark Waid’s Kingdom Come, and Kurt Busiek’s Marvels…plus more – to unpack the ideas, concepts, and rhetorical potential found within. The primary aim throughout will be to understand the superhero as first a symbolic construct that has relevance and impact upon human action, to explore the rhetorical potential of such “relevance and impact” via the understanding of the superhero as rhetorical enthymeme, and then to reinforce all of it by analyzing specific examples and drawing out the encoded messages and ideas held with.


Interesting note, when looking at the new methodology, with the exception of some new points and streamlining, and some cutting down, not a whole lot has changed…just tightened and focused (hopefully).

 

Statement of Research Methodology 1.5 (NEW)

To begin a close examination of the rhetorical impact of symbols upon human interaction and communication first requires an understanding, a definition and approach to symbols and how they function within the realm of human interaction and communication. Umberto Eco defines symbols as “something representing something else by virtue of an analogical correspondence [a logical picture of elements in question]” (Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language 130). The conception of symbolism offers up a need for distinction between what makes something a “sign” and what makes something a “symbol.” Superheroes may act then as signs of something more symbolic – Superman : Truth, Justice, and the American Way. For Carl Jung, symbols and signs interlinked and operated in reversible roles. For Jung, “living symbols become signs when read as referring to something known…A sign [in turn] becomes…a symbol when it is read as pointing to an unknown” (Portable Jung XXVIII). One could point to Superman as a sign in the form of a man, but with powers beyond ours and abilities that are aspirations and “unknown” or symbolic. The human fascination with the unknown drives the internal expression of signs as symbols in order to understand that beyond human understanding. It is “the study of [symbols that] enables us to reach a better understanding of man – of man ‘as he is’, before he has come to terms with the conditions of History” (Eliade 12). Once again, the very fundamentals of humanity rest in symbols and any quest to uncover such “fundamentals of humanity” requires that one study and understand symbols – to study Superman is to understand his function, perhaps, to inspire humanity.

Kenneth Burke, in his work A Rhetoric of Motives, noted that “the role of rhetoric…is rooted in essential function of language…a function that is…the use of language as symbolic means of inducing cooperation in beings that by nature respond to symbols” (43). What better place to begin by examining the uses and capabilities of comic book superheroes to carry out that expression. The approach here will be to apply rhetoric, primarily through the lens of Burke and Chaim Perelman (along with L. Olbrechts-Tyteca with The New Rhetoric) to examine the ways that individuals and groups can come to identify with superheroes, how these superheroes embody rhetorical potential – as demonstration, amplification, illustration, and via presence. Understanding the potential of the superhero as enthymeme as a tool for communication, a function of language, and what Ann Barry, a perceptional theorist, noted as a potential “visual turn” that “it is images, not words, that communicate most deeply” (Visual Intelligence 75). In an increasingly visual age, with movies and advertisement growing – even literature itself is being reformatted into graphic novel form – it is important to realize the power of symbolic images as superheroes and the power they can have to teach, delight, and persuade.

To examine the role of the superhero as meaning communicating symbol, I will attempt to rhetorically analyze, visually, the functions of iconic superheroes. I will turn Grant Morrison’s Supergods as a launching platform for this visual rhetorical analysis, as well as engage specifically chosen forms of comic book superhero narratives – including Mark Miller’s Superman: Red Sun and Superior, Alan Moore’s Watchmen and V for Vendetta, Morrison’s All-Star Superman and Flex Mentallo, Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers and New Avengers, Frank Miller’s Batman Year One and Dark Knight Returns, Mark Waid’s Kingdom Come, and Kurt Busiek’s Marvels – to unpack the ideas, concepts, and rhetorical potential found within.

 

The purpose here is to attempt to provide an idea, a road map of your intentions to how you plan to try and go about completing this massive undertaking while trying to focus up a bit to avoid spiraling into an abyss from which you may never escape.

 

No kidding…some people never escape, at least not without ejecting and losing the craft. I do not have any intentions of doing that myself.

 

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”…

Road to Dissertation: Stage 1, Constructing a Prospectus

Approaching a Dissertation Prospectus…

 

First, what is a prospectus?

 

To put it simply, as simply as it is possible, it is a research proposal.

 

What is a dissertation prospectus then?

 

It is a document that lays out a proposal for the actual dissertation. It typically lays out a working title for the dissertation, presents the research question and statement/proposal for why this dissertation needs to be written – a justification – both in purpose and significance. This document also presents the proposal research methodology, touches on a review of the literature that will be engaged, and gives a tentative outline for the actual dissertation itself. It usually concludes with a bibliography of potential sources.

 

Before jumping into writing this dissertation prospectus, I needed to address three things, three key elements that I needed to define for myself in order to fully feel confident to engage in creating my prospectus: my research question, my warrant, and my claim.

 

Potential Research Question

 

This is the question that I am looking to address and potentially answer, via my argument, when I complete my dissertation.

 

Research Question 1.0

 

How can one reach a better understanding of why society, particularly American society, is so susceptible to the application of visual rhetoric and signifiers in the rendering and expression of our beliefs, values, and ideas?

 

Sounds simple, but its quite complicated

 

Potential Warrant

 

For those of you who are not familiar with what a warrant is…it is not a, in this case, a court ordered appearance or a document seeking your arrest. No, a warrant in the sense I am using it is an underlying assumption that one wish to validate or challenge that might be accepted or acknowledged by a society.

 

Warrant 2.0 (It’s already gone through 1.0, 1.1, 1.2, and 1.3 versions)

 

Human beings have a strong inclination to respond to visual/symbolic forms (signifiers) that often communicate complicated abstract ideas and values (signified). This propensity is reflects both a visual and dramatic orientation of human communication, and within modern American culture such communication lies at the heart of popular forms of entertainment from movies, to television, to comic book superheroes.

 

Kenneth Burke, in his Rhetoric of Motives, notes that humans are, by our nature, “symbol using animals,” that is we respond in varied but quite powerful and distinct ways to the use of symbols as a means of communicating complicated meaning. It is said that a picture can say a thousand words, so a superhero can represent and embody a whole host of complicated and complex ideas, values, and beliefs and project those notions into a means of communication that has the potential to reach a varied audience on both conscious and unconscious levels.

 

Potential Claim

 

In this case, my claim is kind of another way of saying my thesis, or my argument. This is my central statement, in response to my research question and aimed at either promoting or challenging my proposed warrant, that my dissertation will ultimately rest upon.

 

Claim 2.3 (yes, there have been other already too)

 

Through an understanding of how Kenneth Burke’s concept of the dramatic pentad and close application of rhetorical tropes and figures to the analysis of cultural signifiers, such as comic book superheroes, a greater understanding of how symbolic and visual communication can impact the shaping and development of human ideas and values can develop.

 

My aim is to apply the use of Kenneth Burke’s notions of dramatic aspect of human interaction and communication, its visual and symbolic potential, along with rhetorical analysis of selected representations of comic book superheroes to explore and flesh out just how superheroes act as cultural signifiers both the reinforce, express, and shape/change the development of our cultural ideas and values.

 

So, this is the starting block…now…revision, revision, revision…write, write, write…keep calm, and finish your dissertation.

 

Here we go…