Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Will Eisner and Sei Shonogon and Peter Greenaway

"I have found that there are but two things in life which are dependable: the delights of flesh and the delights of literature."
-Sei Shonagon

In the Shonagon inspired film, The Pillowbook, Peter Greenaway asks if these two things are actually much closer to being a single delight. It seems that the late comic legend, Will Eisner, might agree with Greenaway on this topic. Though Eisner is best known as a comic book publishing pioneer and creator of what is arguably thought of as the very first superhero, The Spirit, he has also published quite a few books about the act of graphic storytelling. These books are hailed by today’s most successful and popular comic book writers as must-reads for anyone interested in playing with image and narrative. In essence, it’s comic theory. On pages 14 and 15 of Comics and Sequential Art, Eisner relates the inherent similarities between human bodies and the characters employed in writing with special attention paid to Chinese characters.



  1. A. Dominguez:

    I really wish we were getting the chance to screen this film again (if nothing else, because I genuinely loved this film when we saw it in connection with the Ulysses class). And I’m a big fan of Will Eisner’s books (I don’t think I flatter him too much to call them “Bibles” of comic/sequential-art understanding). But I digress.

    The Pillow Book would have been an excellent close to the class. Our whole seminar has been on the subject of word and image coinciding/coexisting, connecting, replacing, reconstructing (etc etc etc) one another. Everything comes back to the word/image. We read and the words form an image in our heads. Eco’s and Kahlo’s works are text and image juxtaposed for a narrative. Word becomes moving picture for the films we’ve screened (and we, in turn, reconvert those images into a mental text to process and understand—we think in language, after all, and we need language to speak about image).

    The ethnic mannequins are constructed of words (Black, White, Latino, Asian…and all the stereotyped adjectives that then get copy-pasted generation after generation as baggage—as social prefixes—to a skin/hair color, bone structure, and eye shape). These words are transfixed permanently(?) onto the minds of the people who both inhabit the bodies of these ideas (by chance, choice, or the almighty power of the mannequin to shape the man—the life imitating the art) and by the people who construct the mannequin (longstanding prejudices affixed to celluloid or ink and paper). Word becomes the man, and man, the word.

    The beauty of film is that we cannot read the Japanese, but we can understand the meaning because of symbols. The placement of her ink tells worlds about her message. Silence goes on the tongue, for example. Ink is synonymous with blood…literature is our (and not just “our” as in Literature Majors, but “our” as in humankind’s) blood/marrow/life. We are our art, our writing—and our writing is us. Like the text the main character of The Pillow Book paints onto her subjects, we wear (like clothes, like paint on our skin) the stereotypes and baggage of society (the words become our skin!). Eisner takes this a step further; the ink is not just on the person, it is the person. He shows how human posture become the symbol for prayer—the body and the word are one. Text becomes icon (vice versa). The same goes for our stereotypes: are we not the words we are defined by? If we believe stereotypes, does the word not become one with the image in our literature and film? (the dirty Mexican, the violent Black man, etc)

  2. Jen Pollins12:01 AM

    Just for the sake of being able to bring up Peter Greenaway’s work, I MUST Talk about The Pillow Book, since I did use it for our e493 “BIG SCARY ESSAY,” even though we had to cut it from being screened in class  The thing about this film that stood out to me more than anything was this song that plays over a rather lengthy and salacious montage. If you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about. But here's the thing: the song's in French; I don’t speak French! No subtitles were provided as an aide either. Therefore, if wanted to understand the significance of this, I had to translate the bitch! So, as the words of this melodic French song droned on, I sat there... hitting the pause button every two seconds in order to make sure I precisely copied down every word perfectly!. Here’s what I got:

    S-éveille-t-elle en lui. Déloge l’homme en lui. Un ange vole. Un ange vole. Se love-t-elle en lui. Frutive elle en lui. Un homme change. Un homme change. Etrange. Parfait mélange. S’échange-t-il d’aile en elle. Un homme sombre change en elle. Un ange bombe. Un ange blonde. Dérange. Un homme change. Un homme change. Parfait mélange. Doux. Parfait mélange. Sexe d’un ange.

    With the help Of Babel Fish Translations, this is (roughly) what the song means:

    Wake it up in him. Dislodge the man in him. An angel flies. An angel flies. Beautiful. It is coiled in him. It is frutive of him. A man changes. A man changes. Strange. Perfect mixture. Exchange yourself in its wing. A dark man changes into it. An Angel bends. A blonde angel. Disturbed. A man changes. A man changes. Strange. Perfect mixture. Soft. Perfect mixture. Sex of an angel.

    I somehow thought this would help it all make sense, but it wound up making it all that more confusing. Yet still, Greenaway’s way of transposing pictures, words, music, and all kind of imagery so that they all just layer on one another in so many different and significant ways. This one stood out to me, I gave it a shot, and I am all the more confused... it’s like I get it, but I don’t; I hate when that shit happens... but I enjoy the hunt it takes my mind on for the time being!

    -Jen Pollins