Category Archives: rhizome

Thesis Review Part Three: Reader-text assemblages

Part One of this ‘thesis review’ introduced the philosophical and theoretical concepts that guided the research undertaken in my thesis. Part Two elaborated upon these ideas- paying particular attention to the concept of the rhizome-and suggested that the field of Comics Studies could be considered as rhizomatic. It then went on to demonstrate how approaches to studying superheroes that utilised structuralist theories and/or analysed the superhero comic in terms of representation and ideology could be understood as broadly humanist and based on an arboreal model of knowledge whereby the ‘meaning’ of the superhero could be reduced to a single explanatory trunk. It then went on to argue for a Post/Humanist approach to superhero comics that, rather than an arboreal model, adopted a rhizomatic approach. To aid this understanding a cultural history of the posthuman body in superhero comic was adopted. It was then demonstrated how this moves the analysis of the superhero away from ideology by understanding the development of the superhero through the Golden, Silver, Dark and Modern Ages of comic books in terms of historically situated assemblages.

 If the rhizomatic cultural history was suggested as a theoretical corrective to the limitations of ideological analyses then it was also important to address the implied reader at the mercy of ideology in these approaches. As such my thesis involved another strand in which I interviewed comic book readers about their views on the superhero and posthumanism more generally. This was seen as a methodological corrective to the problems outlined in Part Two.

In this section then I intend to familiarise the reader with historical approaches to the question of texts and reader/audiences. Having done this I next offer a model of text-reader relations that draws on the concept of assemblages outlined in Part One. Because of the ethical issues involved and the fact it’s not officially complete yet I will not be presenting the data from my interviews here on the blog at this time. Instead this review presents a brief history of audience studies, highlighting some of the dualities that have informed scholarly understanding of reader/text relations, and how these dualities follow on from the same historically established philosophical dualities that critical Post/Humanism is generally engaged in critiquing. As such I offer a model of reader-text relations as an assemblage, illustrated by a brief overview of historically situated comic-reader assemblages in the Golden, Silver, Dark and Modern Ages of comics. Continue reading

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Thesis Review Part Two: Superheroes, rhizomes, representation and ideology

Welcome to part two of my thesis autopsy, where I pick apart the first draft of my PhD and try to remember just exactly what it was I was trying to study when I began. As always, this is the blog and not the thesis itself so while there’s a lot of references in what follows its also likely to slip into a more conversational style. Let’s just jump straight in.

My thesis began with two broad questions: what could the development of the superhero tell us about posthumanism, and how did readers of superhero comics relate to the posthuman? In Part One of this thesis review I pointed out that answering those questions first required clarifying the epistemological and ontological assumptions underlying them. So it was that Part One introduced several concepts borrowed from Delueze and Guattari that served as the theoretical guide for undertaking this research project. In this part I want to re-introduce Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the rhizome (touched on briefly in part one) and how it differs from traditional models of thought and culture.

 These ideas will then be illustrated through a discussion of the filed of Comics Studies as rhizome, and also how many scholars approaching the superhero have relied on structuralist analyse (often accompanied by an ideological critique). Such approaches, whether positive or negative in their final reading of the ‘meaning’ of the superhero, are presented as arboreal or tree-like. I argue that such approaches can be characterised as Humanist. The rhizome is then offered as an alternative, Post/Humanist model for thinking about superheroes.

The article then goes on discuss how Foucault’s notion of discourse operates within a rhizome. Several theoretical (and occasionally methodological) objections are raised to move comics analysis away from questions of representation and identity politics, and an argument put forth for the production of a rhizomatic cultural history of the posthuman superhero body.

Continue reading


Thesis Review Part One: Assemblages and Rhizomes

Hello you! There’s been no blog posts for a while. Comedy and academia have been eating up my time. In a few days time (Friday 15th to be exact) the world premier of Woodward and Jeffery: Laughter on the Outskirts will be on at the Leicester Comedy Festival. This looming comedy deadline has had the added benefit of forcing me to go full pelt at completing a draft of my thesis beforehand. (UPDATE: It’s been and gone and I wrote about it here).

It’s been a long three years, and its not over yet. But with a full initial draft of my snappily titled thesis Producing and Consuming the Posthuman Body in Superhero Comics finally in the bag, now seems a good time to present some of the ideas from it on the blog. A ‘thesis review’ where the monster’s still dying corpse can be dissected and unimaginable, as-yet-unnamed organs extracted from its still-warm carcass and held up to the light: “Now look what we have here”, I will say, rubbing the ungodly creature’s black blood on my lab coat.  As ever, the reader is forewarned that this is the blog and not the thesis itself, so expect a potentially unpalatable mix of personal literary style and academic writing. Although to be fair if you are still with me after the whole monster autopsy thing then we’ll probably be okay. So lets begin.

In short I set out three and a bit years ago (or perhaps 34) to investigate two related questions. Firstly, how had the figure of the posthuman body developed in superhero comics? Or to put it more accurately, in what ways did the development of the superhero relate to a wider discourse of the posthuman body? A discussion of how the posthuman body of the superhero has developed can be found elsewhere on the blog (here and here) so will only be touched on occasionally in this piece

Secondly, I wanted to know what sense comic book readers made of the posthuman body. For example, did a familiarity with the superhero genre make one more or less amenable to the idea of human enhancement as espoused by Transhumanism? The question of reader-text relationships is addressed briefly below but the more elaborate discussion it requires will have to wait until Part Three of this series. Part Two takes the theoretical concepts presented below and demonstrates the advantages of applying them to the study of superhero comics.

In Part One of this ‘thesis review’ I instead want to present some of the philosophical concepts that informed the approach I took in my thesis to the posthuman body in terms of both theory and methodology. Or to put it another way, the following discussion is about what separates a ‘critical analysis’ or ‘cultural theory’ of superhero comics from, say, reviewing them. Long story short: the questions of how superheroes have developed and what readers get from them are not simple to answer. Or, rather, may lead to a multitude of, often potentially conflicting, answers to those questions depending on the assumptions the questioner starts out with. As such this article lays out my epistemological and ontological framework.

As Voltaire once said, “if you wish to converse with me, first define your terms”.

Ready to define some terms? Let’s go!

Continue reading


Producing and Consuming the Posthuman Body in Superhero Narratives

As promised/threatened I have finally written up my presentation “Producing and Consuming the Posthuman Body in Superhero Narratives”, a paper I gave at the 2011 British Sociological Asscoiation Annual Conference and in a longer form as a departmental presentation earlier that year. It gives an overview of some of the main concepts I’m working with in my thesis and serves as a pretty thorough introduction to it.

I’ve posted it on NthMind here:

https://nthmind.wordpress.com/posthumanism-and-superheroes-notes-from-phd-land/producing-and-consuming-the-posthuman-body-in-superhero-narratives/

but there is also a version with the illustrations used in the presentation that can be downloaded and printed of here.

Look forward to any comments, thoughts, ideas, etc.


Whither academia?

It occurs to me that this blog, charming as it is, is a bit weighted towards creative stuff at the moment, at the expense of any academic work. The question of whether academic work ought to be considred equally ‘creative’ in its way will have to wait for another post. For now, I plan to rectify the situation (I know, ‘finally’, I hear my legion-yes, LEGION-of followers say) by dusting down the three conference papers I have delivered this year and posting them.

As such, right now, I’m working on writing up a departmental presentation I did that outlines the main concerns of the thesis, namely, how we can read superhero comics as a posthuman body genre. Which is to say that the transformations (in every sense of that term) undergone by the superhero over the last seventy odd years reflect how the notion of the ‘posthuman’- the superior being that will potentially come to replace us mere humans-has evolved, through a series of socio-historic mutations, in philosophy, critical theory and, perhaps most pressingly, techno-scientific discourse.

That paper, “Producing and Consuming the Posthuman Body in Superhero Narratives” provides a pretty neat introduction to some of the main ideas , without posting any actual phd chapters (not entirely sure what the rules are there but seems a bit risky while the thesis is still ongoing). Here is the abstract for the version of it I presented at the 2011 British Sociological Asscoiation Annual Conference. (UPDATE! This paper can now be found HERE!)

For over seventy years the superhero comic book has presented narratives of the posthuman body. In these stories the posthuman body has been put to work as patriotic propaganda, used to explore notions of morality and identity, and, in more recent years, used to interrogate, however crudely, the workings of the military industrial complex.
These developments have been paralleled outside of comic books by a
wider discourse of posthumanism, which has taken both popular and
academic forms, but shares in both cases an emphasis on the impact of
science and technology on the human body. This paper highlights three of these intersections between the comic book posthuman and the wider discourse of the posthuman. The Golden Age of superheroes of the thirties and forties are understood in terms of the eugenics movement, the Silver Age of the sixties in terms of the psychedelic counter-culture of that time, and the contemporary superhero in terms of a globalised military/industrial complex and the emerging technologies it is funding and building. This paper demonstrates how the science-fictional discourse of superherocomics both influences and is influenced by these wider discourses.

That piece should be up in the next few days.  Swiftly followed, all going well, by another paper I presented at this years Transitions conference entitled “The Silver Age Superhero as Psychedelic Shaman” (UPDATE! This paper is now available HERE!). Aspects of this will be touched on briefly in the first piece, but ‘Psychedelic Shaman’ goes into more detail about one specific type of posthuman body found in superhero comics, what I’m calling the Cosmic Body. here’s the abstract: Continue reading