Monday, March 30, 2009


Matt Bochniak
Prof. Ellis
First Signifier
March 30, 2009

“Persepolis”, by Marjane Satrapi, gives the reader a unique story of a family in Iran. The book is named after ancient Persian ruins in northern Iran. Persepolis was the ceremonial capital of Persia. In many ways, Marj’s family is symbolic to the name of the book.

Marj’s family came from political power. “Since his entourage was educated, your grandpa was named prime minister” (p 23). It wasn’t too long before he was sent to prison with the charge of being a communist. This was the beginning of her family turning to ruin. Since that point, her family always fought for their rights against governments that ruled by religion. Their education was their biggest downfall against a government that shunned education over their beliefs. By the end of the book, you realize how Marj’s family, like Persepolis, is rundown.

Like “Maus”, this story is a difficult tale to tell. Both choose to use comic books as their stories vehicle. The biggest difference is that this story is told through the eyes of an innocent girl. The reader knows that there are more things going on then are being told. However, we are viewing only the story Marj is living. An example of this was when the young people are being told that their love ones were going away for a “long trip”, when in reality they are in prison.

After reading this book, you have to realize just how lucky we are here in the United States. We have basic freedoms that other countries do not have. With the exception of Pearl Harbor and 9/11, we have never been attacked by another modern country. I’m glad I haven’t had to live life like Marj’s family.

Persepolis Painting a Picture

Tekoa Smith

Paint a picture is exactly what a graphic novel does. The use of images to convey a story that would fall short with just text alone. To allow the reader to become involved in the story by determining what happens in the sequence with closure or by seeing oneself in a character(s). All of the significance of comics described when analysing McCloud's Understanding Comics. What Satrapi does in Persepolis is allows us to enter her world as a child. We follow back to that time with her so that we experience what she has already lived being in Iran during the time of regimes, revolutions, political confusion and war.

Being a child of war is something many are privileged to never have to experience. Being apart of that environment can force a child to grow up quick and become more in tune to mature matters, unlike most kids. Satrapi was definitely wise beyond her years early on. Knowing the inside outs of politics in her country as well as being well informed of the history of the events that are shaping her childhood. Because this story is a memoir of Satrapi's childhood I felt it only appropriate that is be told through the art of comics; which often are associated with children and the medium as a juvenile interest.

Persepolis puts into images the events that could quite possibly come from an adolescent diary. I thought I've had about sharing the interesting stories of my past to others.

To me a diary is a very intimate possession but denotes a sense of publicity. Ideals and discreet thoughts are often put into a diary but with conscience notion that it can be available to others. The intrigue details of a diary help to signify and event in a certain point in time. Help a reader and author to remember emotions or specific sensory information of a time and place. A diary is away for the author to have an intimate written conversation with something else. The joy of a diary is that no matter what the emotion portrays, weather a trying time or joyous, that specific periods continues to have life. An event placed in a diary moments after it has happened can feel like they just happened yesterday when revisiting that same diary entry years later. And because a diary is that private conversation between the author him/herself essentially, a reader is compelled to become active in the story.

Having kept diaries myself for years (and still do) and being a fan of works such as The Diary of Anne Frank and Little Women, Persepolis was of extreme interest to me. No better way to explain a coming of age during a time when words are only half of what a story can offer.

Kimberly's Persepolis Analysis

This book presented an interesting personal perspective on what it was like to be Iranian during a trying time for the average citizens in Iran. Something as drastic as being able to know what it is like to have one's entire way of life turned upside down, sans recourse, must be so frightening and emotionally challenging. It is something beyond comprehension, unless one had to experience it first-hand.

I have never been to the Middle East, nor have I ever really had any friends or many acquaintances from that area. At some point when I was at boarding school, an Arabian girl lived on my floor. She was extremely private, plain to a staggering degree to an American teenager, and I wrongly suspected she was poor. Later I wanted to see where in Saudi Arabia she lived and saw in the directory that her father was a sheik.

This girl was not remotely like Marjane, and I bring her up only to point out that she was extremely isolated and that she must have felt so homesick and thrown into a completely shocking and different culture for her. Despite serious efforts on my part to communicate with her, because I was mystified by her and felt sorry for her, this Arabian girl did a sufficient enough job in pushing me away that I eventually never bothered with her anymore. Before... I went in her room sometimes during free time and she had no posters, and in fact she had nothing at all except plain white bedding and the bland furniture the school provides. Her only clothes were a few white shirts and khaki pants. I offered for her to take some of my posters and other items, as I mentioned because I had incorrectly assumed she was the poorest person I ever encountered. I was either 14 or 15 and it never even occurred to me that this was her culture/what she wanted. I finally stopped visiting her because she would always ask me to leave because she said she had to pray. At the time, I thought it was just under the guise that she had to pray, but now I understand she likely really did have to pray. She never wanted to go out, borrow clothes, do anything I, or the other students, found remotely fun. Also, I recall her making some pretty shocking statements about "your" culture and how it's basically awful. I wanted to say, then why did you come to school in Massachusetts??? Of course, I did not dare.

I think Marjane and I might have gotten along better, but I felt sorry for Marjane as she left her country. Marjane and her family's rejection of the limitations in Iran, particularly for women were brave, and admirable, but that does not mean that people should not have freedom to believe what they want. The problem is forcing others to share those beliefs and denying rights over it that is wrong. I am embarrassed for our country's role in helping the Shah come into power, and do not blame people who suffered as a result for the resulting resentment. I feel sorry for the people of Iran who were hoping for improvement and then suffered worse under the Ayatollah. I think Marjane Satrapi accomplishes her goal of showing the reader that not all people in Iran are connected "with fundamentalism, fanaticism, and terrorism."

As in Understanding Comics and Maus II, the drawings in this book enable Satrapi to really show feeling through the images of the face. She was a precious looking girl who easily captured the reader's interest and sympathy. For instance, when she was crying in the middle of page 53 and the reader just wants to give the little girl a hug. Of course at the end, there was apparent pain when she looked back and saw her mother in her father's arms, and I just could sense the culture shock that would ensue when she arrived at school overseas.

Sunday, March 29, 2009


Cory Matheny
Prof. Ellis
First Signifier
March 29, 2009
In 1979, during the Iran Hostage-Crisis, President Jimmy Carter openly questioned the Ayatollah’s interpretation of the Koran as being a misrepresentation of the ideology and intention of Islam. Carter had intended to initiate a dialogue with the Ayatollah on his own terms – theocracy. However, what Carter did not fully realize at the time, and what many American’s still do not realize today, is that those questions relevant to Islam and this political situation are not a functional field of discourse – as the Ayatollah reminded Carter before he refused to release those American’s held hostage in the Embassy. The Ayatollah’s, or any other fundamental, interpretation of the Koran and Islam may be flawed in some respect but these flawed or corrupted interpretations are such not because of their education or theocratic understanding but, in many respects, because they cannot be anything else. A thorough reading of Islamic discourse shines no light on contemporary regional politics, however, a glance at Franz Fannon’s Wretched of the Earth and/or Satrapi’s Persepolis provides a profound analysis of the people who live in this, or any, Muslim nation.
The violence endured by the peoples of ancient Persia over the past century – from WWI to the Cold War to the Revolution in 79’ – has been the violence of (neo) imperialism. This violence, like all violence, has exasperated the experiences of the Iranian people because, amongst other consequences, they have been forced to endure the subjectivity, and associate isolation, of modern society. Seemingly, for at least the past half-century, the question of Islam has been the only pertainent question of/for the people in the Middle East. However, this question is completely unanswerable, because in many respects it is completely irrelevant: the people of the Middle East have, seemingly, universally accepted fundamental interpretations of Islam because it represents the/an antithesis of, what they view, as their western oppressors. Thus, Islam has been assumed by large segments of the population as an affront to western civilization.
The question(s) of Islam are the last, not the first, question that must be asked of the people living in the Middle East. Further, if other issues can be resolved the questions of Islam may resolve themselves as the people’s reliance upon it becomes diminished. In this light, Satrapi and her family are at once the stereotypical Iranian family, divided between their past and their future and, perhaps, the stereotypical modern family, because of the challenges of modern culture: they have been severed from their past by larger cultural forces and are now left to ask, ‘what does it all ‘mean’.’ They no longer have an uncomplicated relationship to their home nation, to the people of their home nation, or, in some respects, even to themselves. Their very existence has been complicated by the processes of modern international reality(ies).
I want to offer McCloud’s appropriation of ‘closure’ as a suitable interpretation of the problems presented in Persepolis. However, I do not know that the media of comics and its philosophical underpinnings offer a more suitable engagement of the larger geo-political problems presented in the text – I do not know if cognitive engagement can offer an appropriate response to the problems of the Middle East. However, at best, perhaps, the comic media offers a unique means of addressing a world detached from itself. Because comics are a ‘duplicate’ media – they mirror reality without ever proposing to be ‘real’ – they allow the individual to assess their own condition. Comics, maybe better than other media, allow the subject to explore themselves as such and thus allow the individual to see their surrounding as a collection of signifiers and, perhaps, themselves as a signifier simultaneously reflecting and creating one’s self.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Understanding Comics

Tekoa Smith
Understanding Comics

Scott McCloud uses his professional and artistic medium to define the art of comics. The definition established in the beginning is comics are juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an esthetic response in the viewer (McCloud 9). This book was extremely interesting to me because I have never been a fan of comics. Honestly until this year and taking this class I wasn’t even aware of what a graphic novel was. If I were to pick up Art Spiegelman’s Maus a few months ago I would have just assumed it was an adult comic book.
Learning about and understanding comics is beneficial to understanding how we see ourselves and our own face. McCloud states that we see ourselves in everything. We assign identities and emotions where none exist (McCloud 33). Yet even though we are able to see ourselves in almost anything the visual we have of our own face is somewhat generic and cartoony. That is why comics have such an effect on so many worldwide. We are able to become the characters in the comic because the way we see ourselves is similar to the way the comics is drawn.
When reading comics our minds do the same automatic things they do in everyday life to understand the world around us. We fill in information that we know is there even though we can’t see it. McCloud uses the example that even though you cannot see his legs in the panel we assume that he has legs and they are below him. As far out as comics may seem to reality they are more closely related than most think. At least I thought before reading this book. Comics takes everything: time, senses, emotions, space, and represents them all with symbols; signifiers.

Kimberly's Signifier Analysis 3/23/09

In Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud successfully attempts to show all the detail and nuance that goes into creating a comic book. He wants the reader to gain the understanding that comic books are an intricate art form, and often offer more to the reader than initially meets the eye.

As with any art form, "The world of comics is a huge and varied one." (p.4.) The world of painting is huge and varied, as is writing, sculpture, film, etc. The history that McCloud provided helped the reader see the evolution of his art form from thousands of years ago to the present day. In so doing, he made it seem less like an art form which appeals mainly to children and more of an important world signifier meant for all ages, depending on content, of course.

By using language along with pictures, the author is able to force the reader to stop and think carefully about what is drawn and written. For example, with "a printed copy of a drawing of a painting of a pipe," (p.25) the reader can see that there is depth beyond initial comprehension when looking at a comic book. Comic strip sequence, detail, color, motion and vocabulary are all parts of the way a comic can manipulate his/her work to appeal to the reader/viewer.

Apart from my adoration of cartoons such as those in the New Yorker magazine, and an occasional pause for Garfield or Cathy comic strips, I haven't really exposed myself to comics much. McCloud's book helped me to appreciate, if not enjoy, the artistic ability and tactics used in compiling comic books.

A lot of the art of comics that McCloud discusses is noted as "invisible." Recently, I was subbing for math and the class was to work on division. They had to solve 25 division problems, each with a numerical answer corresponding to a letter. At the bottom of the worksheet was a puzzle with numbers listed under spaces, and as the students solved the division problem, they were to fill in the spaces with letters to create words. When it was complete, one could see an answer to the question above, "What coin doubles in value when half is taken away?" The answer that was found was, " A HALF DOLLAR." No student in the class understood the answer. No matter how much I thought about it, I too could not explain the answer.

Later that night, I was still thinking about it, embarrassed that I couldn't offer the students an decent explanation for the riddle. There were drawings of all different coins and a paper dollar on the side of the page, which seemed like semiotics, but only added to my confusion. Finally I realized the answer, though too late to clarify it for the students. This is one example I can think of in real life where semiotics were not a helpful means of communication for me and only distracted me from thinking of the correct answer to the puzzle. Nevertheless, I see that a comic's use of semiotics can be beneficial to the type of art they are creating. I am likely not going to rush to Barnes and Noble in search of comic books, but I am so glad glad McCloud opened my eyes to understanding them.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Understanding Comics

Cory Matheny
Prof. Ellis
Literary Analysis
March 22, 2009
The central focus of “Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art” seems to be an articulation of the origins and potential significance of, what he calls, ‘closure.’ For McCloud, the idea that comics mimic the processes of everyday cognition through the process of closure makes comics a unique media. As McCloud notes, Marshal McLuhan first theorized that comic books were one of two “cool” media – media that has the ability to ‘involve’ the audience. This phenomenon thus makes comics as a unique media that deserve more than passing pop-culture recognition.
Because of the process of closure the mind is forced to ‘fill-in’ the gaps and thus requires the mind to build a bridge, so to speak, from one frame to the next. This bridge which is built over the ‘gutter’ of the comic actually helps the mind to understand the flow of the strip, and to remain engaged in the process of reading. Because the mind is permitted to fill-in the gutter with whatever fill it chooses, the mind, according to McCloud, actually finds the movement from event to event, or scene to scene, less contrived that a ‘traditional’ media: the mind understands the movement of characters or plot as it deems appropriate. Further, because the mind is granted the power of choice it is continually involved in the process of creation. In this way the strip is never fully complete. Further, one could argue that a comic strip is an infinitely unfinished effort because the ‘final’ work is always and continually reinterpreted by each viewer.
Similarly, the comic strip ‘forces’ the reader in ‘involve’ themselves into the story because they are continually, and in varying ways, invited to envision themselves as the comic. McCloud notes that artists like Art Spiegelman purposefully place masks onto their characters so that the reader may understand that character from an infinite number of perspectives: the reader is invited to project h/er own expectations onto the character present in the work. However, as McCloud also mentions, the reader can be alienated from the same character or object if the artist chooses to ‘objectify’ the agent. According to McCloud, this is often done by providing the object with an abundance of detail relative to the background against which it may be placed. Thus, the artists may manipulate the reader and force/ allow the individual to be either active or passive in their participation depending on what the artists deems appropriate.
This pattern is further complicated by the interplay of images and words that, through the use of image based or language based abstraction(s) allows the reader to float in and out of participation. As an example, the artist may abstract language just as an image is reduced to a series of interpretive lines so that the reader is forced to infer what is or is not intended in the work. As McCloud articulates in his ‘cosmology of comic expression,’ (p. 52) the artists can chose the type and method of ‘closure’ s/he wishes so to generate the effect s/he envisions: abstract images, poetic language; base language realistic imagery etc.
Personally, I do not argue with McCloud’s understanding of the process of closure and how it is manifested in comics. However, and perhaps this is, more precisely, a critique of McLuhan, I do not understand the difference between Art Spiegelman and Ernest Hemmingway. If, as McCloud argues, Spiegelman’s art functions because of its use of closure and its subsequent manipulation of faces, language, and reader involvement than I question how these process differ from “Hills Like White Elephants.” In this short story Hemmingway allows the reader to become a voyeur, who, unaware of the origins of the argument that dominates the story, is invited to interpret, deduce, and, if all else fails, insert one’s own understanding so that the story may take shape around a, now, assumed narrative. True, this is not an example of closure, but it is a manipulation of the reader by the artists and it is the involvement of the reader at the behest of the artist.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Maus II Presentation Notes

Tekoa Smith

Stereotypes are too common in society. Groups or niches use descriptions to distinguish themselves from others; however, stereotypes are given to a group by an outsider. More often stereotypes are made from a derogatory generalization because the outsiders are fully unaware of the processes of a group. Stereotypes evolve from jealousy, hatred, and ignorance; all very negative traits. And believing in a stereotype is evidence of close-minded thinking as well as a sense of prejudice.
Spiegelman was able to use the stereotype given to the Jews by the Germans as vermin as a metaphor for the different categories people, individuals, were forced into because of differences beyond their control.
My undergrad roommate is a part of a well known national sorority. The women of the sorority have a stigma of being prudes, junior yuppies, Stepford Wives in training and just over all boring according to the standards of college life. A common nickname to degrade these women is Cake Bakers. Mostly by rival sororities, this sorority has had this long standing stereotype because of the kind of women that decide to be apart of the sisterhood. Most of the women, excluding my roommate however, were nothing like the Cake Baker stereotype. They were very open-minded, had bigger plans than marrying rich out of college and could party with the rest of us Frostburg Bobcats. I got to know these women through my roommate, classes, and Greek life events (being apart of a sorority myself).
These women were smart. So smart in fact they decided to use the stereotype to their advantage. As advertisement for the sororities Fall Rush all the women wore t-shirts with giant cakes on them and written above the cake was the question “Want a piece?” This tactic was cleaver to me because not only did they make light of the stereotype they showed rivals that they were not afraid. They proudly sported those red t-shirts around campus for the better part of the semester. They showed others that they couldn’t be kept down by ignorance. The t-shirts were effective because it made people ask questions. I forced people to open up to them to find get the story behind the shirt. And with getting the story behind the shirt you received the story of the sisterhood.
When a group is stereotyped individuality is non-existent. The group is a collective and all actions and ideals are the same throughout. But we know that is untrue. We know that they majority of the time not all blonde women are ditzy or have low IQs. We know of an elderly person with an impeccable driving record yet when we are behind an elderly person in traffic we curse their very well being. This is because we don’t know them individually. We haven’t had the time to look into their face. Or hear their views on the world compared to our own. The Nazi’s hated the Jews because of their faces but only after their faces all became the same to them. That is what stereotyping does. It blinds the barriers and borders that make us separate in a common collection. Once the stereotypes are erased the lines of the face become more defined.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Maus II

Matt Bochniak

“Maus II”, by Art Spiegelman, offers readers a unique way of telling the story of the holocaust. Spiegelman’s choose to tell his story in a graphic novel. Using this format, the readers get a visual story that focuses on images rather then just the words.

The Book begins with Artie deciding on drawing Jews as mice. Spiegelman humanizes and personalizes certain animals throughout “Maus II”. The Jews were mice, German’s were cats, Russians were pigs, and the Americans were dogs. By just looking at these animals, naturally, you know who didn’t get a long. This is a great visual device so readers already know something about a character before the character is formally introduced to us.

When chapter two begins, the book takes a brief detour from the story. Spiegelman brings us into his studio as he works on “Maus II”. On page 41, we see Spiegelman drawing, but he is a human wearing a mouse mask. It doesn’t stop with just Spegelman, every human in the beginning of chapter two is wearing a mask that follows the humanized animals. This is so unique, that we are briefly out of the story but all of the characters still have faces of their animals. In an added bit of humor, on page 43, the last cell on the bottom right has a picture of a cat in his doctor’s office. An arrow points to the picture saying, “Framed photo of pet cat, really!” (p 43). That is just too funny, making sure the viewer doesn’t think it’s a picture of a German. Earlier on that same page, Spegelman mentions that his Doctor’s office is overrun with stray cats and dogs. Once again, in a bit of humor, a box says “Can I mention this, or does it completely loose up my metaphor?”(p 43).

“Maus II” is a new approach to a much told story. Spiegelman successfully tells a painful and tragic story in a way that anyone could understand. By using a graphic novel of animals, the story isn’t as personal.

Kimberly's Literary Analysis- Maus II

The theme of the face is most evident in Maus II, as the reader actually gets to see exactly how the author/illustrator wants to display emotion on the faces. That said, the faces are not those one would expect, human faces, but are instead depicted by animals. Art Spiegelman uses one type of animal to represent a group of people; for instance all the Jewish people were mice, all of the Nazis were scary looking cats- perhaps bobcats, the Russians were pigs, the Americans were dogs, etc.

Since the author grew up in New York, his ideas of these animals are likely similar to ours. Mice are cute little creatures, but can pose a pest problem and nobody wants them around, certainly not inside the home or eateries. Bobcats are dangerous carnivors. Pigs are pretty much gross. The author used animal faces, but the animals were wearing human clothes, consistent with the time period and position of the character. Despite the story being mainly about someone so familiar to the author, his own father, he chose to make all the Jewish characters similar looking mice, rather than individuals. It is a powerful technnique for a graphic book, as the reader is forced to inject their own perceptions onto the characters. Normally in comics or movies, or other visual art, we can see each individual looking like an individual. Art Spiegelman still shows shock, horror, sadness and pain on the mice faces.

It was interesting that Art Spiegelman also encorportaed the family's faces, and even actual photography, like on page 100, into his book. This technique helped separate and shape the different time period. It was in America, after the Holocaust, a time which should have been full of promise, but instead filled with sorrow. It shows that the damage done carries on after the horror itself has stopped. It is carried on from generation to generation, where children and even grandchildren feel the need to know what happened. Pehaps to know enables one to move forward, albeit differently.

My father is a Viet Nam vet, and undoubtedly has seen horror that I do not even want to imagine. Nevertheless, and particularly in my late teens and early twenties, I found myself needing to know what he saw over there. Was it like movies I had seen? Was it like MASH, a show that ran for what seemed to be my entire childhood? I always imagined that maybe MASH was what it was like for my dad, even though that was Korea, because to me, at that age, it was all the same.

After years of pushing and being dismissed, my mother finally gave me an in by telling my dad in an unkind way that he should just answer my questions because I'm his daughter. "What! What do you want to know so badly?" he asked me. I asked questions such as, "Why did you go when you didn't agree with the war?" The answer was a rhetorical question, "When I was drafted, should I have run to Canada like a little chicken and never see my country or my family again?" I asked if he killed anyone; he said, "I didn't stop to check." I asked if people shot at him, he said, "No, they were trying to make friends." The sarcasm was a mask for his apparent discomfort. I could sense hurt, loss and sorrow and I knew many of his buddies died over there. He, like all of them, had Malaria, which I know not from my own father, but from my mother when I asked my dad why he couldn't give blood and he returned with "Why do you want to know?" The other things I know, other than sheer facts like he was there in '66-'67, and that he was likely drafted because of his poor Italian heritage, are that the food was horrible, and the conditions weren't as nice as shown in MASH or movies. I said it looks like a beautiful country because he has some beach pictures, and my Dad said, "we had to wade in murky jungle rivers with big snakes, where the bugs were so big they'd take your gun away." At that, we both laughed, and I let it go.

To make him tell more would be like making someone I love re-live horror in a way, and I didn't want to bring back any more bad memories. Perhaps this is how the burning of the diaries can be explained. Nevertheless, I think the Holocaust is an important thing for many people, particularly Jews to know about. I can't even begin to imagine the anger that a victim must feel when they hear that ignorant people doubt the existence of it.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Maus II

Cory Matheny
Prof. Ellis
First Signifiers
March 15, 2009
Maus II provided an interesting interpretation of the role and function of the human face in (ab)normal social interaction(s). Because Speigelman choose to tell Maus II as both a retelling of the Holocaust and as a telling of his own difficulty with the emotional residue of his family’s Holocaust experience the reader is privy to the function of the face as both a historical and personal marker. I draw a distinction between these two ideas – historical and personal – because each seems to offer sufficiently different understanding of the role and function of the human face to warrant an exclusive description of its potential significance.
The human face is one of those everyday experiences that is so thoroughly a part of our lives that it often loses meaning. It is normal to see the face on the street, on the television, in a magazine or across the way; it is normal to see the face speaking, it is normal – at times – to see another person’s face motionless. It, however, is decidedly un-normal to not see another person’s face. We watch other’s faces and we casually interpret its variations: laughter, sadness, make-up, Botox. But, we are always granted access to the face no matter how perverse it may be. This access, to the face, seems at a first glance to be of the utmost importance. Access to the face denotes that person’s willingness to be identified by other individuals living in a community.
Access to the face grants the viewer access, we seem to believe, to the individual. This is not to say that the individual does not exists if he or she lacks a face, only that the viewer is not given access to said individual. This may not seem problematic, but I would offer that the hood offers an illuminating example of the assumed role and function of the face. When an individual wears a hood they claim ‘non-participation.’ The hood does not grant the viewer access to the individual and thus does not carry the expectation of social participation. When terrorist – of any sort, Islamic-fundamentalists, KKK, ELF – wear a hood/ mask they are not allowing themselves to be identified by all other members of the community within which they are participants. This assumed, ghostlike, position allows the terrorist to be all things at all times: s/he is at once a person and a non-person – the Other in Lacan-ian terms. This Other may then act with impunity upon the community infinitely representing a threat to the stability and predictability of persons lives within that community. At the same time, the terror suspect is almost always given a hood to wear while incarcerated or, as photos from Guantanamo Bay have shown, tortured. This is hardly an effort on the part of the captors to comfort the prisoner, rather, if the prisoner is a non-entity, is unidentifiable as a person, unapproachable, as Levinas may have framed the argument, than that entity is more easily disregarded: more easily tortured. The hood allows the torturer to see the prisoner as a tangible Other that then can acted upon, that, to some extent can be controlled.
When Speigelman depicts the face as a caricature he permits the reader to glance, not at the page, but back into their own mind. The individual reader is able to project whatever image they wish upon either the Jews or the Germans the survivors and the dead. This projection then invests the reader in the story in a way in which they otherwise have not . If the reader is granted permission to impose h/er own experience onto the story than the history that it depicts at once becomes more real and more distant. The mask is able to mediate the experience of the story as a historical event for the reader. Similarly, as the story ends, and Speigelman offers the reader their first ‘true’ face – his father as prisoner – and thus forces the reader to glance back to the immediacy of the moment. As Levinas may have described the moment, the reader is now forced to face the obvious reality of the moment.
Thus, the use of the hood or mask to distort the face serves a multifaceted function. It simultaneously permits the individual and the viewer to distance themselves from the moment, but it also allows the hidden face to exists more subtly and more profoundly in the mind of the viewer. Subsequently, then, the historical and personal experience of the face are manipulated. Historically the face becomes a personal projection; personally the face, or lack thereof, becomes a threat. In the final analysis, the face, and our access to it, at least partially mediates our experience of one another, society, our the history of each.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Face

Matt Bochniak
The Face

This week’s readings were difficult for me. I have very little knowledge of philosophy, never taking a philosophy course as an undergraduate. With that being said, I thought that Emmanuel Levinas’s “Ethics and Infinity” was very interesting.

The first part that really captures my interests was the connection with the face and acts of violence. “The face is exposed, menaced, as if inviting us to an act of violence. At the same time, the face is what forbids us to kill.” (p 86) I believe Levina is pointing out an inherent contradiction. Facial expressions are what can drive a person to violence, but at the same time, a normal sane person couldn’t murder someone that is looking straight at them. The face is too personal and there is an immediate connection with that person looking at you. Philippe Nemo points out, “War stories tell us in fact that it is difficult to kill someone who looks straight at you.” (p 86)

In questioning the connection of the face and acts of violence, I have to say murderers that use guns have to look at their targets. Jus t this weekend, a shooter shot a minister in Illinois. This is why I added “sane” to my understanding of Levina’s theory.

Finally, I love Levina’s beliefs on being silent in someone’s presence. “It is difficult to be silent in someone’s presence; this difficulty has its ultimate foundation in this signification proper to the saying, whatever is the said. It is necessary to speak of something, of the rain and fine weather, no matter what, but to speak, to respond to him and already to answer for him.” (p 88) This is so true. To witness this, go on an elevator with strangers. There is an awkward silence while you’re on the elevator, and it is normally broken by someone talking about the weather. And I have to question, why the weather? What makes weather the one thing that everyone can talk about?

The Face A Signifier

Tekoa Smith

The face is the most powerful form of communication. Facial expressions can communicate across cultures, countries and languages. But even an expressionless face can tell an entire history. I believe that I know my history, as well as my families, just because of my face. My face signifies me as an Other. Helping me to understand that I am different than all other people. That the emotions and things behind my face actual help to make my face what it is.

I often recollect being a child and having those "Is that me?" moments while starring in the mirror. I would get lost in the reflection of my face. Studying the outline and memorizing the structure. Picking out the parts that were significantly my mother or significantly my grandparents and which parts were all me. Lacan states the meaning of something is in its relation to another thing, but contrary the face is meaning all by itself. You are you (86). "Who am I?", "Is all there is to me is this face?"

After getting hired on the spot for my first after school job my mother told me I would never have a problem getting a job or being accepted because of the way I looked. At the age of 14 I took that as a great compliment but now at 23 I wonder how true that really was. And even if it is true, how relevant is it to anything that I've encountered in my life. Do looks rule the world? Looks undoubtedly fade so what is the use in giving them so much power. And placing power just because of one's face is unethical.

The interpersonal relation I establish with the Other, I must also establish with other men; (90). During and even now in my transition into adult I begin to wonder how much of my success is from my knowledge and experience or the things I'm not saying with my face. My friends find me crazy because I dread when people point out my looks. I don't want to be told I'm pretty. That statement holds nothing for me but that my face is symmetrical. Without consciences I reject all artificial power given to my face. Developing harsh biting language to outwardly express what my face contradicts.

I notice other people's faces. How their's differ from mine and with person's elder I realiz the difference is the expressions. People's face tell their history before a person opens their mouth. With the creation of history looks don't fade but are turned into experience. And often in the troubling time of life not all experiences are pretty. So in some ways I feel inadequate to the rest of the world because my face doesn't show those experiences. My face is green. It communicates nothing but that I have a long way to go.

Kimberly's Signifier Analysis 3/9/09

"It's written all over you face," is an expression that has been said to me so many times, that it often echoes in my head. I am not mysterious and have never bothered to attempt to be. I don't have time for that and I would never want to be bothered wasting time concealing my emotion, unless absolutely necessary, like perhaps in a work setting on an unpleasant day.

Contrary to my "open book" facial expressions, stands my ex-husband. During the time we were dating and married, nearly 8 long years, he would get extremely frustrated with me for not concealing my emotions and putting on a face. His M.O. is for everyone to think he is wonderful, happy, and living a fulfilling life at all times, but more importantly at all costs. This is certainly not his way behind closed doors. His own personal motto (and who can believe that someone would even have such a thing?) is, or at least was, "Never let'em see you sweat." He was always fake smiling and fake laughing, and I would crave, not unlike an addict, to see him crack a true smile, which to me at the time was the equivalent of a rare, precious gem which held promise of a new beginning. Levinas describes his behavior in writing,"there is an essential poverty in the face; the proof of this is that one tries to mask this poverty by putting on poses, by taking on a countenance." (p.86.)

At first, I, as many people who fall victim to various unwell behaviors, was charmed by his life of the party behavior. At age 21, I frankly loved to party- whoa how the birth of my first son has changed me! My ex-husband was initially attractive to me for a few reasons, and mainly because his face made absolutely everything seem so great. Pathetically, I was sucked in by his very bizarre turquoise eyes that are a very rare color, a mesmerizing very light, clear turquoise. Sadly, I had not read Levinas who warns, "The best way of encountering the Other is not even to notice the color of his eyes!" (p.85.)

To clarify the beginning of this relationship, I will describe one of the first memories of a seemingly mild abnormal behavior that was demonstrated on our first date. We ran out of gas on the middle of a beach road, after I had spent the latter half of the day suggesting we stop for gas. I was nervous as the sun was setting - mind you this was pre cell phone ...basically other than the huge things that were actually attached to limos and such. He was laughing and saying unwaveringly, "This is fun. This is an adventure." As a one time thing, this may be romantic and running out of gas may seem to be an innocent mistake; after 20 times, it was not so much.

What would evolve over the years proved that events like purposely running out of gas were among the most mild of situations that this man, four years my senior, would put us in. No matter how dire, the man was smiling and laughing, like a true lunatic. His face showed lunacy. The same behaviors continued once our precious son was born, and will not be written on this blog to allow the craziness to live, even if only in words.

With the birth of love of my newborn son came the birth of my maturity and realisation that I needed to escape from someone I found extremely abnormal. It seemed almost that I was forced into motherhood before I was ever pregnant, but the unconditional love a mother has for her own baby had been missing until my first child actually arrived.

Through the years described above, I tried everything I could to defend my decision, however poor, to be with this man. I lied to my closest family and friends with silence and by covering for apparent horrendous things that my ex-husband would do. It was exhausting and I was troubled that the next sixty years of my life would be like this. Cognitive dissonance allowed me to reason with myself and believe that each new chapter or life event would promote miraculous change. Woops. Another, if only very intermittent deterrent from reality, was waiting for the moments when I pleased this troubled character. Lacan discusses this and concludes, "The subject has a relation with his analyst the centre of which is at the level of the privileged signifier known as the ego ideal, in so far as from there he will feel himself both satisfactory and loved." (p.257.) When someone is so dissappointing and so unkind and abnormal, a significant other may find him or herself waiting for that feeling.

For my entire life, I have been a very naturally happy girl/woman, until sometime in the midst of this relationship, when I stopped turning a blind eye to the array of occurrences, recurring and unique, that were not quite right, or worse. My mother, a psychologist, tried to steer me clear of this relationship from the first time she met my ex-husband, then new boyfriend. I was furious at her, and the only reasoning offered at the time seemed pathetic- she said repeatedly, "His eyes are not right, Kimberly. Please, I don't know what it is exactly, but I know there is something not right about this young man." It just infuriated me to hear her say this! It makes me, she in general leads me, to think about Lacan writing," know what we mean when we speak of the subject of perception. Don't make me out to say what I'm not saying- the analyst must not hear voices."

My friends, siblings, mother, and even the man's own sister-in-law asked me to run from this relationship. My immaturity and naivete ensured that these warnings were dismissed and made me stick like glue to prove everyone wrong. These people all made frequent comments, particularly my own mother, who would say, "Where is my happy, laughing daughter? Please don't shut us out. What is happening? Where is your smile? You always used to be such a happy girl. Please, please let me help you." The morning of my wedding, my mother came in and asked if she could talk to me and told me that she would not be at all mad about anything, the guests, the money for the wedding or anything if I wanted to change my mind. I spazzed inside, but turned her down gently-ish. In the end, I could not escape fast enough once I became mama bear with a baby bear cub. I had screwed up big time and it was written all over my face, I just wouldn't look in the mirror.

In Cory's NY Times article, I think the families realized they had screwed up too, but it is so hard, particularly when one makes a major life change like marriage, to face the music when it was a mistake. With some people, you never can tell what is going on. With others like me, all you have to do is look at our faces.