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Meg’s Final Paper: With the Light and Metonymic Text

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Graphic Novels and Metonymy: Integrating an Autistic World

Language is an arbitrary experience; each word does not phonemically correlate to its meaning, and the words themselves change within different cultures (‘chien’ and ‘dog,’ for example, do not resemble their animals in any way). Thus, neurotypicals initially function just as autistics do. It’s only because this ruling society has a fairly universal acceptance of the meaning in language (and thus works less to connect it) that the language of the autistic, (whose connections between word and meaning are not readily obvious) seems to be singular. However, although the meaning within graphic novels is generally accepted by a mass of people, it is still able to convey the arbitrariness of text, through both the relation of image-text as well as the indefinable symbols that are supposed to signal various emotive states. The arbitrary nature of this, then, creates the metonymic text that Kristina Chew articulates in “Metonymy and the Nature of Autism”—one that invites the reader into an autistic world through its initial non-cohesive meaning to the larger society. This is different from the “metaphoric” world that neurotypicals operate in, wherein we assume the connective meaning to the image is obvious (“That’s the way the cookie crumbles” depicts a pleasant world being destroyed, in a sense). Because Keiko Tobe’s With the Light is a metonymic text, it is a text that successfully emulates and articulates the autistic experience through the various aspects of the graphic novel (panel structure, “sweat drops,” etc), as well as the changing image-text relationship.

The genre of the graphic novel alone articulates a metonymic text. Metonymy is based on two objects associated without a clear meaning. Thus, their connection is arbitrary and only is able to be made when the two objects are side by side. The reader then must work to interpret a new language which may be considered ambiguous or bizarre. This is a world in which the autistic individual operates; his/her language may be considered untranslatable, and therefore a language available only to that individual. This occurs within a graphic novel and especially within manga. Panels aren’t a typical part of the novel form, and their use, although used to convey meaning, isn’t entirely connected to it. The reader must first begin interpreting panel structure—which way one reads it completely changes the meaning of the text, and although readers typically read the panels in the way that normal language flows (left to right for Westerners; right to left for manga readers), this is not generally set in stone. For example, the reader could begin reading from the bottom, or the center of the page and choose panels sporadically around them (some novels, such as Moore’s Watchmen, are even intended for readers to function in this subjective manner). For example, on page 246 of With the Light, by reading the manga right to left, the narrative involves Sachiko crying and begging Masato to aid her, to which Masato responds that it’s unfair and he has been helping her. However, if the reader takes another approach to the panels, beginning in the bottom left, moving up and then to the right (again reading the bottom before the top), Masato seems to be reaffirming his aid, while Sachiko thanks him for helping others before her. Alternatively, she is questioning his actions, becoming the protester instead of Masato. The meaning changes entirely, and the reader must work to understand, possibly coming up with an entirely different meaning.

Other forms of manga also convey this disconnected process. Page 504 depicts several lines coming from a background character’s mouth, indicating that he is speaking (loudly) to his counterpart. This meaning, however, is unique to comics; a reader must work to understand that singular language. The sound effects that are featured within the comic are also an effect that the reader must translate; they are not intrinsically associated with sound and the reader must infer that they function within the text as an add-on to the main action. Because in manga they are often depicted in their original Japanese, the work on translation is emphasized. Other features with graphic novels, such as speech bubbles, and the swirls that indicate confusion function in the same manner, forcing the reader to experience a world in which the “language” does not connect with “typical” meanings, which is not necessarily concrete in the first place.

The relationship between image and text also emphasizes With the Light as a metonymic text. First of all, there is a reliance on image to convey meaning. The words are incredibly condensed and even dialogue is sometimes implied rather than directly conveyed. Thus, the graphic novel automatically begins emulating the autistic world, relying on the reduced text and the “fractioned idioms” (Chew 135) that autistics utilize. Page 114 features one of the autistic children on the ground, wincing, with squiggly lines emanating from his knee. The reader must interpret that he is in extreme pain, despite the fact that these images have no connection to the text (and in the first part of the panel there are no words indicating pain, such as “ow,” or “I’ve hurt myself.” Thus, just as the individual must correlate the seemingly unrelated meanings of an autistic, so too must the reader to this text.

Keiko Tobe’s With the Light emulates the autistic experience because it relies on images and other graphic methodology which has arbitrary meaning, thus making it a metonymic text, rather than a metaphoric one. Because of this, the graphic novel itself becomes a wonderful tool to showcase the world of autism. It not only creates a different medium through which to express one’s self, it also forces the reader in the mindset that the autistic individual experiences while working to understand the metaphoric world that neurotypicals operate in.

Written by Meg

December 8th, 2010 at 1:05 pm