- A Theory of Narrative Drawing by Simon Grennan
Grennan's first monograph, A Theory of Narrative Drawing does considerably more than what its title promises. Most importantly—apart from providing a multidisciplinary theoretical foundation for drawing by relying on theories of representation, semiology, consciousness, perception, affect, narrative, embodiment, subjectivity and intersubjectivity, fictionality, and referral—the book demonstrates the practice of narrative drawing. The list of multidisciplinary influences could be continued at length, as the monograph offers a garden not only of the forking paths of Western thought, but also of converging paths and paths of systematic categorizations. Though the 120 pages of theoretical introduction that make up the first part, entitled "Drawing, Depicting and Imagining," might seem to open up too many directions, it is in fact aimed at laying the theoretical foundations of both Grennan's drawing demonstrations and his perception of what drawing is. The reader of the monograph, however, is left alone in making these connections between the dense language of the theoretical parts and the illustrated, thought provoking pages of the demonstrations, for which reason I believe that a contextualizing introduction and a conclusion making these connections explicit, maybe in subsequent editions, would help the reader to navigate the book.
Because A Theory of Narrative Drawing is worth navigating, especially for scholars who are interested in the recent turn of comics scholarship towards the ontology of drawing and to the embodied nature of interacting with comics, and for scholars who are open to inserting the study of creating and reading comics into greater theoretical frameworks. A Theory of Narrative Drawing builds on Mark Johnson's theory of image schemata, Nick Crossley's conditions of intersubjectivity, Maurice Merleau-Ponty's idea of mutually affecting engagement, Daniel Dennett's neutral subject, and George Mead's theory of reflection. In terms of comics scholarship, the book establishes a dialogue with Neil Cohn's system of visual language, which Grennan refutes for its application of the rules and categories of cognitive lexicogrammar to depiction, and for approaching visual depiction in terms of likeness: depiction neither follows the logic of language, nor is it constrained [End Page 261] by the rules of verisimilitude (37–48). The other comics scholar Grennan reflects on in detail is Philippe Marion. As Marion's works sadly haven't been translated into English, Grennan relies on Jan Baetens's seminal article "Revealing Traces," in which Marion's concepts of mediagenius and graphiation were introduced to the English-speaking public. Grennan is skeptical about both terms, as they objectify authors and readers, and as they only partially consider the network of relationships that exist between embodied subjects around a given narrative (162–72).
Grennan, artist and theoretician, considers drawing to be a socially and historically embedded, self-conscious, embodied, and intersubjective venture to communicate, where the participants (drawer and recipient) are present with their goals, points of view, and bodily and cognitive processes (which are always linked). After the elaboration of the implications and (to some extent) histories of the above characteristics, Grennan draws his own model of an "epistemological system of discourse characterised as narrative" (to be discussed shortly), and then moves on to two drawing demonstrations to explore the practical angles of two of the great tropes of drawing, subjectivity and social consensus, respectively. In a very laic way and in words that are absolutely alien to Grennan's style, the main question might be summed up as: How can subjectivity be conveyed and perceived in drawing?
Aetiology is a keyword in Grennan's model, meaning that: "what is told/shown has causes and consequences, even though these remain untold or unrepresented" (149). He considers it vital to approach representation (and more specifically drawing) as goal-directed, as this way his new definition of drawing can avoid being a list of technical activities and tools (15). In an aetiological approach to drawing, all activities are organized around a goal (e.g., to make a drawing), and the evaluation and status of these activities depends on their relationship to the goal. Considering goal-directedness as the...