Unflattening

I read this great book in February and I am not surprised that its ideas are now widely spreading.

Jenny Mackness draws the connections to McGilchrist’s work, and I want to add to this.

Usually, the styles spectrum is depicted as “linear” vs. wholistic, which sounds rather value-laden. By contrast, Sousanis’ notions of sequential vs. simultaneous are much more conducive to the necessary awareness about the two fundamental modes of thinking.

“This spatial interplay of sequential and simultaneous — imbues comics with a dual nature — both tree-like, hierarchical, and rhizomatic, interwoven in a single form.” (p. 83)

I like the distinction that nicely adds to the dichotomies of tree vs. network, or nodes vs. edges (as in Deuleuze & Guattari, and in Connectivism, respectively, see this old post).

For me, the gem was that the book does a great job explaining why the right hemisphere mode (all-at-once) lives from relations: Basically, it argues that the eye is “dancing and darting”, i.e. by its saccadic motion (palpation by means of the gaze) it captures only small fragments at a time, and it is our imagination that needs to combine them into vision. It quotes R. Arnheim “To see is to see in relation.” Other explanations draw on rather optical phenomena, like the distance of our eyes, and the refraction at the contact of two media, that yield different but related images. In particular, they remind me of the binocularity that enables an owl to recognize in the darkness what a single eye would never alone identify.

Then, in this week’s #gridsgestures exercises, I learned how much I struggle with the sequential. When the assignment was to sketch the shape of my day, my first attempt was to draw the day vertically upwards, like a carpet lying in front of me, not as a real grid. And I completely missed (repressed?) the part of the task about “gestural lines, marks of some sort that […] represent […] activity”, because I have no idea how to depict gestures and movement. (Maybe there will be some examples of elements that could serve as a sort of the ‘alphabet’ that Dave Gray often shows?)

The restriction were, not to draw things, and to use a pencil or pen, i.e. monochrome, and like many participants I gradually let go of some restrictions, but I still struggle with depicting my imagination — which seems to be just too static. I also have problems to interprete the drawings of others, much like there are problems to understand the mindmaps or concept maps of someone else. For me, the most benefit is not in the communication or the drawing result, but in the making of the drawing — and the sense-making along the process.

PS Don’t miss Jenny’s great image image and Howard Rheingold’s interview with Sousanis.

 

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4 Responses to Unflattening

  1. jennymackness says:

    Hi Matthias – now that I am back from holiday and have caught up with myself I have been able to read your post more carefully. Thanks so much for your part ensuring that I read the book and took part in the gridsgestures activity. It came at a perfect time for me.

    There are a couple of comments I want to make on your post. First I am surprised that you struggle with the sequential given how much mapping you do, which has always seemed to me to be an activity that takes one from point to point – although I think you have a different perception 🙂 But maybe the gridsgestures drawing activity requires more ‘letting go’ than mapping. I am still thinking about this. I agree with you that the value is in the process rather than in the interpretation – but we have to remember that we weren’t expected to understand Nick Sousanis ideas in his book without the text, which brings me to my second point.

    I am interested that you see sequential as being versus simultaneous. I don’t see them as versus each other, just as I don’t see the tree as being versus the rhizome. (It took a whole paper to consolidate that thinking 😉 ) Nick Sousanis writes (p.82)

    While comics are read sequentially like text, the entire composition is also taken in – viewed – allatonce.
    Thierry Groensteen likens this organization of simultaneous images to a system or network.
    A connected space, not reliant on a chain-like sequence linearly proceeding from point to point…
    Rather associations that stretch web-like across the page braiding fragments into a cohesive whole.
    Each element is thus:
    One with everything.
    This spatial interplay of sequential and simultaneous –
    Imbues comics with a dual nature –
    Both tree-like, hierarchical and rhizomatic, interwoven in a single form.

    As you say – it’s all in the relations between them. They are both needed.

  2. x28 says:

    Yes, I definitely have a different perception of mapping. I don’t see it as “an activity that takes one from point to point” (despite Cmap tools try to enforce such a directed view). For me, it is important to see the spatial proximity of conceptually similar items.
    Regarding “versus”, I hope I did not use this English word incorrectly; I meant a contrast, not an enimity. And that’s why I love Sousani’s idea of the “dance”.

  3. Pingback: Grids & Gestures Exercise. The text behind my experience. | Jenny Connected

  4. Pingback: Eisner Nomination Lynd Ward Prize GridsGestures | Spin Weave and Cut

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