I’m shocked at the response that my quote in yesterday’s ¡Journalista! (thanks Dirk!) has generated. Is it really so hard to believe there’s a separation between the structure of a system of expression and how it’s used in “literary” contexts?
Ok… maybe I’m not so shocked…
For spoken language, this is simply the difference between studies in lingusitics/cognitive science and literary studies. Not seeing that split for “comics” is one of the issues wrapped up in the muddled understanding of graphics and “comics” in our society.
And, I should say, I don’t believe that literary and linguistics/cognitive analysis don’t or can’t complement each other, but recognizing the division is important at the outset. One is involved with idenitifying cognitive processes and patterns of usage and behavior. The other looks at how those patterns are used to create some sort of expression (and possibly, larger level patterns). One discusses meaning for the base semantic understandings of cognition. The other discusses meaning layered on top of those cognitive processes (often “interpretive”).
The structural analysis lends itself to informing the literary quite easily. If I were to propose a method for categorizing panels based on how many “characters” they contain (which I have), even as a structural analysis, literary works can use it to discuss the sorts of concerns they have. This doesn’t work as well in reverse — categorizing panels (or layouts, as Peeters did) as “decorative” versus “rhetorical” does not offer me a way to study processing or structure (though I’m open to being proven wrong). However, it does work within the contexts of literary analysis.
Neither approach is inherently better or worse within the contexts of its own intents. However, the motivating factors behind the paradigms need to be recognized as very different. To this end, the label “comic theory” is being used in very disparate ways that do not necessarily inform each other. While I’ve found many who go ga-ga over it, I find French “comic theory” as largely unusable and uninformative to my conception of “comic theory”—because it is of a totally different paradigm. (…and also why, I’m guessing, that they tend to dismiss McCloud’s work, which I find to be far more interesting than theirs)
My point is, that like the divisions between any paradigms, it’s not so much the answers being provided that are different, but also the questions. The clearer this can be made, the more there is potential growth for “progress” on all sides.