AAP, Pt. 5

p. 33–sixteen ways of looking at an apple. In one sense, these apples help explain Asterios’ orderly aesthetic. There may be many ways of looking at an apple (many more than he would probably entertain) but its the grid that’s important to Asterios Polyp–it allows him to sort and classify them, fulfilling one of the modern world’s central imperatives.

Let’s not forget about what’s being depicted here, either. Sure, Apples are probably the most common still-life subjects, but they’re also biblical symbols of knowledge–particularly the kind of self-knowledge which leads to shame.

p. 34 “What if reality (as perceived) were simply an extension of the self? Wouldn’t that color the way each individual experiences the world?” The key word is color, as in the color schemes that dominate the book, and allow us to sift through and Organize the perceptions of the main characters.

This page depicts students walking through Cornell’s campus, each rendered in a different style. Counting the dog, there’s fifteen figures here–making Asterios Polyp the unnamed sixteenth?

The original question, about perception of reality merely being an extension of self, is a familiar strand of western philosophy. Begin with a discrete individual, then build a world around that individual’s perceptions. While many traditional philosophers concern themselves with determining what’s really real, what’s “out there” and can be confirmed outside of perception, the question posed here isn’t concerned with the nature of reality–it’s concerned with the nature of communication.

Modernism and postmodernism did their part to undermine the assumption that we begin with an individual. Sociology and Anthropology argue for the social construction of reality–what happens, and our perceptions of it, are shaped by mutually agreed upon, constantly shifting rules. Simultaneously, art began to buck some of those agreed-upon rules with some force, overthrowing the kinds of styles that we normally thought of as mimetic, and putting the goal of mimesis in jeopardy. Meanwhile, students of language and culture argued that the mean we assign to certain words and symbols is arbitrary–culture is refracted through difference.

Those intellectual events precipitated a global identity crisis. How do we define ourselves, and what do race, gender, nationality, sexuality, dress, class, age, and fitness say about ourselves to others? Take a look at these images: are we a bundle of nerves, our profiles, our musculature, our fashion choices? More to Ignazio’s point, how can we hope to avoid loneliness when we lose sight of common ground?

p. 35 Mazzucchelli makes this intellectual lineage more explicit with his examples here. Three humans whose features are delineated with heavy linework are able to strike up a conversation; two forelorn figures, whose bodies blend in with their surroundings, collapse in their chairs; two women if different backgrounds find common ground (visually represented with the blue floor) by using words that have gone beyond their origins to stand for “hello” everywhere.

p. 36 Asterios strides like a colossus above his students, composed almost entirely of cylindrical forms–note that his head, however, is still a narrow hatchet. You can tell he’s a forceful teacher–he’s converted half of the class to his way of seeing things. Of course, remember that what we’re seeing as (at least in good part) Asterio’s perception of how other people perceive themselves–the truth is more complicated.

p. 37 Six panels of Asterios dressing down his students in studio. In these examples he proves to be blunt and vulgar, although he does manage to get his point across. His manner of speaking is not a mere stylish affectation; as he tells one student, “anything that’s not functional becomes decorative.”

All six panels link together to provide a bird’s-eye view of the studio, a practice nicked from cartoonists like Frank King. This choice draws my attention to the cubicle walls and imbues the static scene with the illusion of movement and passage of time.

p. 38 Asterios is drinking a Bushmiller, a nod to the cartoonist who created Nancy. Lotta’s nickname for Asterio, ” ‘Sterio,” draws us back into his obsession with duality (stereo).

p. 39 Asterio is propositioned by a student, appearing in a deep pink. We get a cut scene in which Asterio becomes Odysseus, tied to the mast. Having been warned of the sirens, Odysseus instructed his men to stuff their ears to avoid falling into their grasp. He, however, kept his ears open so he could experience their song without falling prey.

Whether he’s actually sleeping with these students is a little up for grabs–I’m thinking no, even though the trope of the womanizing professor is certainly in play. As he slips into their control, the panels slip away from his construction of reality: the borders collapse, his rigid speech balloons go wobbly, and the background warms and warps. What’s more important is that we come to see his relationships with other women as a challenge and threat to his carefully refined perceptions of himself and the world. They’re sirens because they’re capable of assaulting his organized sense of place in the world. He listens because of his thirst of knowledge.

p. 40 Some more- and less- fantastical images of Asterios sleeping around. The contrast between the first and third panels is what makes me feel certain that he isn’t sleeping with these students, just entertaining their crushes. I feel certain the first panel is an homage to some artwork I haven’t yet located. In the lower left corner, we see Lotta dismissing Asterios’ bedroom efforts as “awright” while putting her combat boots back on, a “has-bian” no more.

p. 41 A preview of the coming drama with Hana–a panel split in half by their perceptual biases.

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September 2009

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