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ENLG 339 Research Proposal

In reading a graphic narrative, one must examine the words, the images, and the the unique result of their combination. The scope of the graphic narrative is not to be underestimated. Hermeneutics addresses the interpretive process of reading a text, and all the factors which impact how we do so- our presuppositions, philosophy, and language. Graphic narrative is a form which, I believe, can be examined no better way than through the lens of hermeneutics. How can one fully understand this fusion of forms without considering the process of "closure," employed by the reader of comics, that brings these texts a unique life?

Another form of criticism that is indispensable (yet occasionally maligned) to the interpretation of the graphic novel is reader response criticism. By assigning what is usually a less ambiguous meaning to a text by including a visual accompaniment, where in that process of closure does the reader's personal response come in? How does the fusion of words and images impact the degree and depth of an individual response?

In my paper, I would like to do the following.

1. Define and exemplify the main unique factors of interpreting graphic narrative.

2. Define and exemplify the ways in which the process of individual response to a text is modified by the addition of a visual accompaniment.

Another topic which I would like to incorporate in this paper is the mapping and paralleling of real life through literature and art (or their combined form of graphic narrative), as both a reader response (and by that same token, a process of interpretation) and as projected onto characters in the books themselves (for example, in Fun Home, V For Vendetta, and Watchmen). I would like very much to incorporate this idea into my research, but I am not confident that I have found a common thread by which to discuss all three of these topics. Perhaps this will be a great part of the research I do (that is, uncovering a common thread or link) but I am especially concerned as of right now with having this commonality as a starting point. I believe that in some cases, graphic narrative which includes literary allusion is in a state of proving itself; a potential link here would be that this fledgeling literary form and its characters, in search of affirmation, attempt to reach out to their mother-form of literature as a sort of merit badge, much in the way that readers of all formats of writing may seek meaning in the tumult of every day life by assigning personal hell a literary counterpart. I feel that this parallel might be veering too far off course for me to truly tackle, but I find myself returning in vain to this idea for a piece of my research. I may in the future abandon my first two topics and focus primarily or entirely upon this topic if I feel I have a concrete enough dilemma to explore.

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  1. I tend to agree with your concern that it may not be possible to incorporate all three of these topics into a single essay.  That being said, I really like the more theoretical direction your project is taking -- one that's about how little we know, as yet, about the medium & getting past its inferiority complex.  So....first question: are you taking Doggett's Literary Theory course this semester?  Obviously, that would be a big help in your identifying those texts/writers most *nsync with your point of view.  Hermeneutics has a looong tradition; there's no way you can encompass it all, so radical focusing will be necessary.  For example, if it's the images/icons you wish to foreground, that might point toward medieval writers more than others (!!).  And so on.  Second question: are you okay with the idea of a graphic novel playing an illustrative or at best equal role in the essay?  Otherwise, the hermeneutics (or reader response theory, should you decide to go in that direction) will be more like ersatz flavoring than integral to the project.  "A Reader Response Interpretation of XX."  For many reasons, I STRONGLY feel that Watchmen is the work best-suited for your project.  Given the origins of hermeneutics in scriptural exegisis, I'm hard-pressed to think of many other graphic novels that have such devoted interpreters -- many of whom are surfacing into a more public light as the film adaptation is set to open.  Is this a worthy interpretation?  Is this what Moore intended?  Watchmen gives you a way to delineate the culture & politics of interpretive communities, in addition to the textual questions you raise w/ topic #1.  Also useful for your purposes is how central reading & exegesis are to the plot of Moore/Gibbons' work.  Seems like a good pairing all the way around.

    Also, good point about comics self-consciously referencing literature to signal their seriousness.  I feel like maybe that's common to all emerging media -- thus, early television looks stagey, or sometimes transferred radio shows into the visual format.  When it comes to comics, instances of embarrassing pretense surely come to mind; I like how you take the compassionate view and speak to artists' ambitions, not simply their pandering to teenage boys.  Is this topic (#3) related to your topic #1?

  2. Unknown User (ala8)

    Ok. So I am not linguistic by any means but I think the Sapir Whorf hypothesis would be a really good addition to your paper. You say that you want to talk about the ways in which people interpret not only the text but the images as well. Given this is a very simplistic explanation of the SW hypothesis it basically means that based on their cultural upbringing different people interpret words, symbols and images differently. For example we as American may identify something as red while Australian aboriginies will identify it as a shade of brown. This is not to say that they do not see the color red, they do, but instead they do not recognize red in their culture. So what I am trying to say is that perhaps you can apply this hypothesis to your paper and perhaps you could come up with some very interesting findings! Not only could you apply this hypothesis to the text but just think about the various interpretations that could arise when applying it to the images themselves.

    I hope this idea what somewhat helpful in narrowing down your thesis. Thanks a lot for the comments on my abstract! I will definitely have to stop by the comic book shop and see what kind of 'feminine' comics he can show me.

  3. Unknown User (da9)

    I also do not know that much about Hermeneutics, but I think that your idea definitely has potential.  I have studied a similar theory and I think I understand the gist of Hermeneutics.  I think that graphic novels are the perfect subject for this type of analysis because although people are all reading the same text and seeing the same pictures, every person interprets them in a different way based on his or her own experiences.  Since everyone views literature and art through the lens of their own personal life experiences the everything is interpreted differently by every person.  I wish I could remember what the theory was called because I think it could really help you on your essay.  So I am going to write to an old english teacher and try to figure it out.

    However I think that your first two ideas are drastically different from your third idea.  It might be better to stick with the first two and drop the last one.  It just seems like a separate paper and line of inquiry.

    Good luck on your paper and integrating all of the aspects you want to cover.