Matthew Hambro


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Stirring Stillness

My dissertation investigates German graphic narratives with a focus on temporality, exploring how German comics and related visual arts can provide a model for intellectual reflection and intensive focus. It approaches this question with attention to the formal features of graphic narratives that are used to establish temporality, such as paneling, text, image and gesture. In many cases, German graphic narratives use these features to suspend or challenge linear depictions of time and generate experiences of slowness, simultaneity and multi-directionality, which call into question modern narratives of acceleration and future-oriented value. In approaching this thesis, the dissertation engages with German graphic narratives stemming from the early modern printing enterprise to the mass production of comics in the 20th and 21st centuries. It examines early prints, such as Maximilian I’s Triumphal Arch (1515), as well as contemporary graphic novels, such as Jens Harder’s Alpha Directions (2010).

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Chapter 1

Stirring Stillness begins with two chapters on paneling, asking how paneling can be used not only to portray progressive action, but also to synchronize and fuse historical moments into ideologically potent wholes. In the first chapter, I focus on paneling that mimics architecture, investigating how such paneling can present a map or bird’s-eye-view of historical moments. The chapter begins with Maximilian I’s printed triumphal arch, the Ehrenpforte (1515). The Ehrenpforte aims at a unifying depiction of the Holy Roman Empire, departing from the short-term political attacks of other reformation era graphic narratives. Building on Bakhtin’s work on Dante, the chapter identifies connections between verticality and simultaneity in the Ehrenpforte, which are used to represent a timeless hierarchy of power. After this, the chapter turns to more recent graphic narratives that mimic architecture including Fritz Kahn’s Der Mensch als Industriepalast (1926) and Katharina Greve’s Das Hochhaus (2016). Together the examples illustrate how graphic narratives use simultaneity to intervene in representations of the social imaginary.

Chapter 2

The second chapter explores how the use of time-lapse paneling affects perceptions of both everyday time and deep time. To answer the question, the chapter focuses on cosmogonies, including Hartmann Schedel’s Weltchronik (1493) and Jens Harder’s Alpha Directions (2010), which use time-lapse techniques to tell creation stories. Harder’s Alpha Directions overlays symbols of physical, religious, and anthropological time: generating a mosaic-like time-lapse of the universe. Formally speaking, Harder’s time-lapse relies on speed, excerpting moments from history and juxtaposing them close together in space. Yet in its impact on the reader, it evokes slowness and cyclicality, turning speed against itself and contextualizing evolutionary trends as part of broader recurring patterns.

Chapter 3

The third chapter examines the text-image relationship, asking in what ways the incorporation or exclusion of text can create an experience of slowness. This takes shape in a discussion of Kurt Schwitters’ Die Scheuche: Märchen (1925) and Otto Nückel’s Das Schicksal (1926). The chapter shows how both image and text have been used to produce politically active spaces of slowness and non-direction. For example, in Schwitters’ Dada children’s book, Die Scheuche, which uses only typographical elements to form images, readers are slowed down: forced to query conflicting linguistic and visual vocabularies to negotiate meaning. In doing so it turns the streamlined form of mechanically reproduced text against itself, questioning not only the meaning of language, but the pace of reading in the era of mechanical reproduction.

Chapter 4

In the final chapter I turn to gesture, asking how it can slow the perception of time and enable forms of affect that are inaccessible at other paces. To tackle the problem, I concentrate on Hans Hillmann’s Fliegenpapier (1982) and Josef Franz von Goez’s Lenardo und Blandine (1783), both of which rely on sculptural stillness in gesture. In one sense, this form of stillness resembles Lessing’s notion of the pregnant moment, condensing affect, information, and anticipation into one image. At the same time, these works are temporal in nature, depicting a sequence of events. This combination leads to a unique pace and rhythm. In contrast to the smooth flow of many graphic narratives, these works are more staccato: trapping readers in each image and encouraging them to linger and reflect. In this way, they recode the forward movement of the graphic narrative and allow for pauses of emotion and reflection that are inaccessible in other works.


German Comics: Form, Content and Production

Novel Perspectives on German-Language Comics Studies. Edited by Lynn Marie Kutch. Lexington Books, 2016

"Hambro presents a highly original approach by synthesizing theories of thinkers throughout the ages; and he analyzes the role that theories dealing with mimesis and abstraction have played in current debates about the perception of a traditional supremacy of text over image. His chapter 'German Comics: Form, Content and Production' offers and overview of the history of German-language comics and demonstrates the specific ways that German aesthetics, philosophy, and history have interacted with the production and reception of graphic narratives in German-speaking countris and abroad. The chapter first focuses on form in order to demonstrate how the reception of comics in Germany has been influenced by logocentric preferences for text over image, tension between mimesis and abstraction, and notions of medium purity. Next, turning to content, the chapter demonstrates the significance of the folktale and thematic integration with canonized literature to the German tradition. Then, concerning production, the chapter outlines the significance that group production, state sponsorship, and market orientation have had and have in the German tradition. Finally, the chapter concludes with a look into comics production and reception in Germany today: a time in which many of the concerns and preferences of the twentieth century and earlier have diminished or disappeared entirely." - Introduction, Page 9

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