Discussion for Week 3

Here is the question I’d like you to write about for this week:

A common feature of the typographically experimental texts we’ve examined this week (Felix, Marinetti, Apollinaire, Mallarmé) is that they use their technological and material conditions of production as a source of creative inspiration, as something to think with. In more conventional texts, the material substrates of the text (such as ink, paper, and animation cels) serve mostly as delivery vehicles for content. But in the texts we’ve analyzed this week, “content” emerges out of and is ultimately inseparable from the material substrate of the text. At the same time, these texts are, in a way, “about” their own material substrates. They inquire into the cultural roles and associations of paper, ink, etc. They ask questions about the ways in which these materials affect our thoughts and actions.

Choose one of these texts and explain how it thinks with and about its supporting materials.

Published in: on January 21, 2010 at 3:39 pm  Comments (16)  

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  1. I suppose my stance on the earlier discussion question, which basically comprised of my saying that typography only serves to stand out of the way of written content…has changed after this week’s series of readings.
    The “material substrates” mentioned above I now can understand as more multi-faceted than I did before.
    Apollinaire’s poem “Coeur”, indeed is about his heart and it being a flame turned upside down. The letters, and the inked-paper that bear them suggest this insofar as their content goes. But through a simple application of Typography, in the adjustment of the sizes and positioning of these letters in the poem, the content can also be “illustrated”.
    Typography also can serve a purpose through its visibility I’ve learned. Therefore, I have to feel that Typography is an art that fits the need of the work. Its transparency, visibility, etc., is all a part of careful consideration for context, rather than strict method.

  2. In Felix the Cat’s 1928 Comicalamities the entire premise of the storyline is Felix interacting with the cartoon world around him and the artist. The short starts off with the artist creating Felix right in front of the audience. By doing this the audience is completely made aware of the process of animation. The cartoon does not take its self seriously. The artist and audience are conscience that the images are just ink on paper. They can be changed, and Felix realizes this. Felix asks for a tail, he makes himself a black cat, and when he sees the ugly cat he draws a new face on her. Even the title brings attention to the fact that this is the adventures of a comic. In more traditional cartoons, audiences have to completely suspend disbelief. Audiences ignore the fact that the humanistic animal just pulled a rope out of thin air. However in Comicalamities, the rope is drawn right before the viewers. The cartoon is not ignoring its animation. Instead it finds humor and interest in its’ own “supporting materials”.

  3. I have chosen the early Twenties cartoon Felix the Cat. I love cartoons, so see cartoons from the start of television is really phenomenal. I love how Felix was interacting with the animator and the materiality of his world/ environment. The cartoon comes from the “Silent Film” era of television and film in the United States. As talked about in class on Friday, it is very is to see how Felix (comical black cat), becomes a predecessor for well known cartoons like Mickey Mouse (Steamboat Willie) and Daffy Duck in the terms of character rendition/ mannerisms. Felix the Cat is different from later cartoons (except for the few Buggs Bunny and Daffy Duck episodes)… where he is prominent character who does what he pleases and does what he wants instead of interacting with other characters that do not know of their material world and continue to live sort of like humans do in a three-dimensional world.

    I found some really great sites that had interesting information about Felix the Cat. The main one is, Felixthecat.com and the second was felix.goldenagecartoons.com

  4. I was quite impressed while watching the Felix the Cat short “Non-Stop Fright”, and can clearly see how the cartoon is thinking with and about its supporting materials.
    Much like in “Comicalamities” and “Feline Follies”, as others have already mentioned, “Non-Stop Fright” shows Felix doing whatever he wants whenever he wants, transforming any object around him into anything he needs it to be in order to achieve his goal. One scene that possibly stands out more than any other involving Felix using supporting materials is the scene in which Felix takes the numbers 4, 7, and 8 off of a sign and then uses them as everyday items; the 4 is turned upside down to resemble a chair, the 7 is turned sideways to represent a smoking pipe, and the 8 is also turned sideways to symbolize reading glasses. This scene expresses how Felix thinks with the supporting materials, which lead to how he thinks about those same materials. Felix is completely aware that he lives in an animated world and thus can manipulate anything into whatever he wants it to be. In the real world, we cannot use numbers as household items. “Non-Stop Fright” tells us that in the animated world, everything and anything can be imagined or transformed.

  5. In the Felix the Cat short, “Non-Stop Fright,” and throughout the other cartoons that he is featured in, Felix is aware (more than any other creature in the shorts) of the materiality of his environment. His awareness of the fact that he is a two-dimensional animation not only allows him to make for himself the resources that he needs to get away from the various objects chasing him, but also gives him extreme power of his environment- almost to the extent that the overseeing animation itself loses power in comparison, as the artist blatantly has no control over what Felix does in the cartoon.

    The cartoon examines its own materiality by allowing Felix to take advantage of his environment, while working with it: by manipulating the numbers 4,7, and 8 to make an airplane; by being able to transform clouds to catch up with his airplane; and the various other transformations and manipulations he explores.

    It all adds up to an amusing and fascinating purpose, but Felix’s resourcefulness as a part of his surroundings nevertheless gives one (and, perhaps, the artist himself) food for thought on the actual materiality of his environment.

  6. I am particularly fascinated with the Felix cartoon “Comicalamities”. The way that Felix interacts with not only his environment but also with the artist who made him, emphasis that Felix is not only aware of his environment, but that he knows of the world outside and that he is a creation of that world. While in the other cartoons Felix does interact with his environment in a way that is unrealistic, it is perfectly normal to him. The fact that he actually interacts with the artist in this one brings to light the fact that he knows he is an animation. In this sense the animator forces the audience out and calls their attention to the fact that it is a cartoon, so that it may be appreciated in that way.

  7. Apollinaire develops his readers’ perception of his poetry through his manipulation of structure. Instead of painting a picture with word choice, he literally creates a picture with the arrangement of his poems. The typical medium of poetic language relies on structure and uniformity in its presentation, but Apollinaire’s ability to create physical and lyrical pictures enhances his poetry. In “The Carnation”, the reader cannot separate the lyrical image from the physical carnation on the page, and thus Apollinaire manipulates olfactory and visual senses. He creates freedom through the structure of the poem because the audience already senses the visual of a flower. With this freedom, Apollinaire can manipulate the readers’ sense of smell in his description of a carnation because the reader already sees the visual representation in the structure. The majority of poems could not accomplish this task because they would attempt to create a visual with diction instead of structure and the poem would not be as efficient in manipulating olfactory and visual reactions. The typical constraints of words on paper are circumvented by Apollinaire’s creative structure.

  8. In “Un coup de des jamais n’abolira le hasard” the design of the poem reflects the importance of the words used. For instance, the title is in much bigger font, and it is in all capital letters. This is a unique way of making the title stand out, instead of setting it at the top of the poem, it is part of the poem. Furthermore, towards the middle of the poem, there are five lines in all caps, that if read without the lower case lines in between them, they still make sense. The five all caps lines are: “It was the number”, “Where it to have existed”, “Were it to have begun and ended”, “Were it to have amounted”, and “Were it to have lighted”. Regardless of whether these lines are read together, or with the lower case portion of the sentence, they still make sense. Moreover, the overall layout of the poem is scattered and not uniform, reflecting the content of the poem. The lines do not necessary make sense, and describe scattered thoughts. Also, if the title is taken into consideration, “a throw of the dice” is never uniform. Instead, when a dice is thrown, it tumbles, and moves, until it finally lands on one side. The same can be said about the poem, it is scattered and all over the place, but the bigger picture has a structure.

  9. In looking at the Felix the Cat cartoon “Non-Stop Fright,” one can see that the material conditions associated with the piece (i.e. actual ink, paper, light) lend themselves physically to the world they intend to create. Their essence is realized in the fictitious setting they model as concrete objects that are entirely employable by the imagined entities occupying this supposed environment. For example, the character of Felix, who has been created by the artist’s hand, serves as the artist of his world which had an artist of it’s own. This revelation surfaces when Felix usurps the title of artist and fashions his own scribblings with the same pencil that gave him life. Felix has the ability to interact with his drawings as if they existed in his space. This idea of interaction is only possible through animation. If I were to try the same thing as Felix I would only be able to manipulate the microscopic flakes of graphite and not the imagined content. Imagine if I were able to draw, two-dimensionally, a cube (a three-dimensional object that can be represented physically in 3D and as a drawing in 2D) and then pick it from the paper as if it were the 3D representation that it actually is. This is what Felix has done because of his relationship with the paper and ink.

  10. In the Felix cartoons, the feline character accepts his own materiality, that of ink and paper, and exploits their properties to pursue mischief. Acts such as redrawing faces not only lend to the cartoon’s plot and comedic value but also shape the character of Felix. Felix’s affinity for troublemaking arises from the knowledge of his power to manipulate his form and the material around him. In a sense, Felix wouldn’t exude the same mischievous cockiness without his supernatural abilities to create and alter (or at least the cockiness would not be so well deserved). Felix’s use of ink and paper within his own medium may destroy any possibility of transparency, but at the same time, its own mediacy lends to the cartoon a particular style and identity. The cartoon is done in a way where disbelief is suspended, and the viewer is left enjoying the clever manipulation of the media.

  11. In “Comicalamities” the cartoon shows us the character Felix the Cat is quite aware of the details of his universe. The fact that the first scene we see is the artist creating Felix on top of a sheet of paper with an ink pen shows us the materials right offs the bat. For us all we see is ink dancing along the boundaries of the paper which gives the appearance of life. This appearance is called animation which is used to show this world Felix is in but to the Cat he is quite aware of this fact and uses this knowledge to his advantage. To him the ink on the paper is an actual solid object and as such can shape it or bend it to however he sees fit. This destroys the illusion of realism of the show and instead forces us to focus on the media itself. As such the materials of the short themselves becomes the supporting cast for Felix instead of the other characters within the world.

  12. In the past week’s reading, the most intriguing work to me was Guillaume Apollinaire’s poem, “Coeur couronne et miroir” or “Mirror.” In this work, Apollinaire has taken a sentence of prose and used the words to construct an oval shape around his full name. By doing this, the broken syllables of the words paint a literal picture of a mirror, reflecting Guillaume Apollinaire himself. This gives the reader a more complete insight into the work’s overall meaning. The words state, “In this mirror I am enclosed living and true as we imagine angles to be and not as reflections are.”

    By using the words of the poem to construct a “mirror,” Apollinaire has created a non-traditional perspective by which this work can be interpreted. While most poems can be read literally and interpreted metaphorically, Apollinaire’s can also be visualized in the mind of the reader. It creatively toys with the line between its materials (printed letterpress) and it’s interpretation.

  13. Guillaume Apollinaire’s poetry extend beyond the boundaries of texts and use Typography to further the emotions and messages of his writings. The simplistic Couer contains one simple simile that is transformed into literal existence on the printed page. This transformation into a literal world gives the poems a deeper level of meaning, and instead of simply analyzing the one sentence of this poem, one must take form into account as well. Miroir follows this trend as well by literally placing the authors name within a textual mirror. Apollinaire is “enclosed living and true” through his textual identity on the page. His existence is “as one imagines angels” on the page, since his name is simply there and readers cannot actually physically see him via the text.
    Apollinaire’s poetry blends typographic ingenuity with poignant poetry, and the two combine to involve the reader and create a more immersive work.

  14. It’s interesting to watch these Felix cartoons with the foresight that they wouldn’t successfully transition to the sound era. Although the cartoons we watch have sound in them (that is, synchronized sound on the film itself rather than a musical accompaniment), this was added in post-production and seems largely extraneous to the cartoon itself. The Klein reading from this weekend makes a strong case that sound did not really benefit cartoons like Felix, because they were aware of and played off of a conscious acceptance of their materiality by allowing Felix to interact with and remain in control of his linear world. Whereas in something like Plane Crazy or Steamboat Willie, the addition of sound effects and music synchronized with the film adds an important aural element that enhances the “illusionist rapture” we have been discussing in class. A crash gains impact with the added element of sound (tension-building background music along with an audible crash upon the impact), whereas Felix could not capitalize on the transition to sound through his trademark self-consciousness.

  15. Felix the Cat in “Comicalamities” illustrates the nature of the medium itself. The hand of the author is immediately and directly apparent. Not only does this hand create the spaces through which the ‘other’ of the cartoon can operate, but seems to ‘interact’ with his creation, resulting in a deus ex mechina effect. additionally, this hand of god theme is reinforced by style of the cartoon. lifeless lines become full of life when touched. when Felix demands a tail, it is simply a line until completed, suddenly springing to life and wagging vigourously. This is also noticeable in the underwater landscape, which is a totally static drawing until the moment Felix touches it.

  16. Apollinaire’s “Heart” makes use of its material conditions as an aesthetic resource by using symbols to create a different type of symbols. The letters in his poem make up words, which signify specific things in our minds. They make the shape of something we recognize as a heart, though we know that that shape does not actually look like a physical human heart. Just as the word “heart” does not look like a heart, the picture of the hear does not look like a real one but instead signifies it to us.
    The heart symbol Apollinaire uses is asymmetrical, like a real heart. This draws attention to the difference between a symbol by itself and what the symbol represents. His picture of a heart is shaped like the symbol for a heart yet it brings in the asymmetric reality of the heart, sending us into hypermediacy.

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