25 June 2008

“Discretization in Successive Enunciations”

Thierry Groensteen's The System of Comics is a literary critic's analysis of how comics work, originally published in French in 1999. My alma mater was the center of deconstructionism in America, so it prepared me for prose like this:

Let us begin by highlighting this evidence: The page layout does not operate on empty panels, but must take into account their contents. It is an instrument in the service of a global artistic project, frequently subordinated to a narrative, or, at least, discursive aim; if it submits a priori to some formal rule that constrains the contents and, in a certain way, creates them, the page layout is generally elaborated from a semantically determined content, where the breakdowns has already assured discretization in successive enunciations known as panels. However, the page layout cannot be defined as a phase that follows the breakdown, with the mission to adapt it to the spatio-topical apparatus; it is not invented under the dictation of the breakdown, but according to the dialectic process where the two instances are mutually determined.
That sort of prose is hard enough to interpret, and this book's translation (by Bart Beaty and Nick Nguyen) doesn't inspire my trust.

The text lists the first function of a comics panel as "closure," but it seems clear from the description that word should be "enclosure."

In discussing layout, the text says one of the fundamental qualities to consider is how "discrete" the page is, which seems plausible. (Note how Groensteen calls "discretization" an essential element of panel breakdowns above.) Except that the text opposes this term to "ostentatious," meaning the word should be have been spelled "discreet."

While there was some value to be picked out of this book like garnet from rock, Scott McCloud's comics-style dissections of comics are both more fun and more comprehensible, and R. C. Harvey's more rooted in the American tradition.


Anonymous said...

Personal gripe: I think "obfuscation" describes much of the text. Essentially it says that the contents of the panels of a comic will help decide how a page will be laid out. And the lay out can be as important as the content of the panels. This isn't deep. Only the words used make it seem like it is.


J. L. Bell said...

It might be possible that the phrase translated as "this evidence" might mean something like "what is self-evident." In that case, Groensteen would have been acknowledging that the paragraph that follows contains nothing deep.

Then again, he might be a French academic making far more of a small insight than it deserves.

Or both.