Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Jan Baetens

Baetens, J. (2003). Comic strips and constrained writing. Image [&] Narrative; Online magazine of the visual narrative. Issue 7. retrieved on 10/29/08 at


To constrain my thinking here, and this thinking evolves out of Jan Baetens, comic strips are exemplar models of how one is confined to a discourse to make meaning:

But the significance of comic strips for literary theory goes far beyond this. A second and probably much more important debate to which the analysis of comic strips can bring much clarity concernc [sic] the status of one specific type of constraints which literary theory often considers as "false" or "lacking of significance", namely the many material and institutional "obstacles" that are mostly defined as mere "handicaps" and almost never as creative tools. In the low-art field of comics strips (ruled less by Creative Geniuses than by the culture industry) obstacles of this kind are much more ubiquitous and drastic than in the high-art field of literature. Their example, however, could compel literary theorists to seriously reconsider what it means for creative production that a book is commissioned, edited, published, distributed, etc.

The creative mind, the artistic mind, the rebellious mind, the thinking mind, the abstract mind, the quirky mind and the innovative mind has always been in battle with the constraints of traditional discourses and what is deemed acceptable form, distribution, layout and structure. The comic strip, however, seen as "lower art" (cough cough. this is b.s.), brings to the forefront the tensions of what occurs when a thinker is contained and constrained within the shaping of one's discourse.

Humans make meaning by recreating their worlds into text-forms, art-forms, and verbal-forms. To take a Tao approach, writers wouldn't write, necessarily, because they would let the world simply "be" as the world is. Yet, in a competitive, Western tradition, the game becomes how one recreates the world in text form. All writers are contained and constrained by the tools they use, and the traditions of their discourse. Comic strip artists are no different.

She concludes: on the one hand the fact that a constraint is modified by the work on which it is imposed; on the other hand the fact that a constraint also modifies the form, the status, and the position of the so-called "remainder" of the work, i.e. those elements which are not directly linked with the operation of the constraint (but which the constraint inevitably produces during the elaboration of the work). One could even say, and this will be my conclusion, that an expanded vision of constrained writing (and comic strips make it more easy for us to envision such an expansion) not only establishes a less schematic definition of what a constraint really is and means, but also, and maybe even more so, changes the status of the non-constrained elements of a work which can now be analysed as negative constraints in their own right.

I conclude, too, in this frame.

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