[Humanist] 30.158 pubs: Unflattening

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sun Jul 10 09:57:28 CEST 2016

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 30, No. 158.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Wed, 6 Jul 2016 10:58:41 +0100
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: visualization

Allow me to recommend what may be the first doctoral dissertation in 
comic-book form, now published as a book: Nick Sousanis' Unflattening 
(Harvard, 2015). The publisher's website (at 
http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674744431) describes it 
as follows:

> 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.

Those of us involved with visualization have a fair bit to learn about 
the interplay between words and images. And the book is a delight, 
bringing to life ideas (Gk. eidola) as images in the mind simultaneously 
on the page. The experience of reading it is quite wonderful. Could a 
digital form do as well as this printed book?


Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/), Professor, Department of Digital
Humanities, King's College London; Adjunct Professor, Western Sydney

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