Unflattening (Paperback)
  • Unflattening (Paperback)

Unflattening (Paperback)

Paperback 208 Pages
Published: 20/04/2015
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The primacy of words over images has deep roots in Western culture. But what if the two are inextricably linked, equal partners in meaning-making? Written and drawn entirely as comics, Unflattening is an experiment in visual thinking. Nick Sousanis defies conventional forms of scholarly discourse to offer readers both a stunning work of graphic art and a serious inquiry into the ways humans construct knowledge.

Unflattening is an insurrection against the fixed viewpoint. Weaving together diverse ways of seeing drawn from science, philosophy, art, literature, and mythology, it uses the collage-like capacity of comics to show that perception is always an active process of incorporating and reevaluating different vantage points. While its vibrant, constantly morphing images occasionally serve as illustrations of text, they more often connect in nonlinear fashion to other visual references throughout the book. They become allusions, allegories, and motifs, pitting realism against abstraction and making us aware that more meets the eye than is presented on the page.

In its graphic innovations and restless shape-shifting, Unflattening is meant to counteract the type of narrow, rigid thinking that Sousanis calls “flatness.” Just as the two-dimensional inhabitants of Edwin A. Abbott’s novella Flatland could not fathom the concept of “upwards,” Sousanis says, we are often unable to see past the boundaries of our current frame of mind. Fusing words and images to produce new forms of knowledge, Unflattening teaches us how to access modes of understanding beyond what we normally apprehend.

Publisher: Harvard University Press
ISBN: 9780674744431
Number of pages: 208
Dimensions: 260 x 191 mm


Nick Sousanis’s Unflattening is a complex, beautiful, delirious meditation on just about everything under the sun; a unique and bracing read. - Scott McCloud, author of Understanding Comics and Making Comics

Nick Sousanis’s Unflattening is a genuine oddity, a philosophical treatise in comics form. ‘Flatness,’ for Sousanis’s purposes, is not the quality of abstraction that Clement Greenberg lauded in modern art, but the lamentable condition of the inhabitants of Edwin A. Abbott’s ‘Flatland’: the inability to understand that there might be more than one can immediately perceive. The solution he proposes is admitting visual elements, and especially drawings, into the intellectual domain of language. (Psst—he’s talking about comics!) - Douglas Wolk, New York Times Book Review

Ranging across a wide range of disciplines—the arts, the sciences, popular culture, critical theory—Sousanis argues that the verbal and the visual are inextricably entwined in the production of knowledge… It is a book that is dense with the syntheses of ideas, nimble, far-reaching and impossible to summarize. It liberates itself from the standard layout of panels within frames, teaching the eye and mind to read the unfailingly intelligent black-and-white artwork in unconventional and new ways. Unflattening deserves a place as a compulsory textbook in schools. - Neel Mukherjee, New Statesman

Although the implications are profound, Unflattening is less an insurrection than a carefully argued case for rethinking our priorities about art and learning. Unflattening is above all a humane piece of scholarship which challenges our assumptions about perception. - Matt Finch, Brooklyn Rail

If you prefer your mind-melt, dimension-bending comics with less costumes and melodrama, Nick Sousanis’ cerebral exploration of psychology and perspective offers a refreshing palate cleanser… Presented with a visual vocabulary that will blow readers minds in the most scholarly way possible. - Sean Edgar, Paste

Sousanis’s drawings are first rate and his writing style economical. To demonstrate how introducing new vantage points expands our thinking, he explores a range of philosophical concepts, calling on Plato, Copernicus, and even the ‘fifth dimension’ explored in the TV series The Twilight Zone. - Jan Gardner, Boston Globe

If Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics charmingly investigated the history, development, and formal features of visual narrative, Unflattening is its equally brilliant epistemological counterpart. With profound depth and insight, Sousanis looks at how the ‘unflattening’ possibilities of this form of storytelling allow us to see the world from entirely new perspectives… Written with remarkable clarity and insight, its sometimes-haunting, sometimes-breathtaking illustrations prove the book’s arguments about how visual information can shape our understanding… Weaving together language, perception, and the theory of knowledge in an investigation of how the multidimensional possibilities of graphic storytelling can awaken us to ways of knowing from multiple perspectives, Sousanis has made a profound contribution to the field of comics studies and to semiotics, epistemology, and the burgeoning study of visible thinking. Essential reading for anyone seeking to create, critique, or consider the visual narrative form. - Publishers Weekly (starred review)

An important book, Unflattening is consistently innovative, using abstraction alongside realism, using framing and the (dis)organization of the page to represent different modes of thought. The words and images speak for themselves and succeed on their own terms. I couldn’t stop reading it. - Henry Jenkins, author of Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Society

An incisive meditation on the relationship between text and images. - David Dabscheck, New York Observer

Entirely non-narrative, the book takes on the dichotomy between words and images in Western thought and argues that both are simultaneously involved in the production of meaning. Executed in sharp black-and-white diagrams, and abstract and geometric images, this scintillatingly intelligent book succeeds in the great feat of holding the reader’s attention not through a story but through ideas. Sousanis’s own book is the perfect illustration of the inextricability of the verbal and the visual. - Neel Mukherjee, The Independent

Unflattening will no doubt become an essential teaching tool for helping students—especially undergraduates—think about comics, graphic novels, and other media in which words and images combine… The book is potentially revolutionary… This is a book that wants to teach, a book that will be talked about and belongs in any forward-looking library. - R. J. Baumann, Choice

[This] will alter your perceptions, of comics, of art, of how to see and process your world and your ideas. Sousanis is relentlessly innovative in his solutions to picturing his concepts and in the process provides irrefutable proof of the efficacy of the medium to explain engagingly and memorably… It also uses two dimensional words and images to encourage us to broaden our horizons and deepen our understanding, in other words to perceive in multiple dimensions. And yes, reading comics re-wires your mind. - Paul Gravett, paulgravett.com

Unflattening is Nick Sousanis’s meditation on the nature of learning and visual communication… At a time when graphic literature has become widely accepted as a medium for fiction and memoir, Unflattening breaks new ground in the use of visual narrative for the expression of abstract ideas. Beautifully drawn and brilliantly conceived, Unflattening is an instant classic. - Rob Salkowitz, Forbes

Sousanis’ investigation into the connection between word and image could not have been presented in any other way… [He] presents a philosophical and reference heavy treatise in a compelling and accessible manner. - Don O’Mahony, Irish Examiner

Frankly, genius. - Zachary Petit, Print

Sousanis has achieved something powerful—a book that goes beyond just saying a thesis to actually showing one. - Stephen Asma, Los Angeles Review of Books

There is much in Unflattening that will interest and stimulate thought for higher education scholars, teachers and students… In this beautiful and complex book, Sousanis grapples with core tenets of Western knowledge: who are our heroes, and why do we valorize their charts and grids so much more than, for example, the oral traditions of Pacific navigators who could read the stars? It is a beautiful book and a complex book that defies categorization—that’s why I recommend it. - Frances Kelly, Higher Education Research & Development

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