A must-read if you are interested in the art of communication.
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.
Words, words, and more words. That is how we mostly communicate in the western world. The masters of language reap its fruits in abundance. We reward them and worship them in our own way as philosophers and men of wisdom. However, Unflattening opens us to a different possibility and another level of communication that is possible if we would just abandon our obsession with words.
Nick Sousanis’ Unflattening explores the differences between words and images, their effects and limitations on us as humans. It also looks at the nature of language, how people have used it in times past, as well as its strengths and weaknesses.
Unflattening tells us of the limitations we place on our minds by elevating the use of words above other forms of communication. It inspects the early use of images and pictures as a suitable, if not a superior companion, to the use of words in passing on information and knowledge. Unflattening exposes us to the possibilities of visual thinking and makes bold prediction in declaring it as the future of language and communication.
Unflattening is deep in its analysis and the art is breathtakingly detailed. For a book that espouses the importance and relevance of images, it certainly delivers. If you are a writer, artist, or speaker, this is a book to have in your library - a work that will make you think about the nature of your vocation.
Unflattening is written by Nick Sousanis and published by Harvard University Press (April 20, 2015).
Many thanks to Harvard University Press for review copy. All images are © to their respective owners.
Unflattening: Nick Sousanis: 9780674744431: Books