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Text/Image Mosaics in French Culture: Emblems and Comic Strips.

Text/Image Mosaics in French Culture: Emblems and Comic Strips. By LAURENCE GROVE. (Studies in European Cultural Transition, 32) Aldershot: Ashgate. 2005. xiv+ 187 pp. 50 [pounds sterling]. ISBN 978-0-7546-3488-1.

As the bande dessinee progressively attains the academic credibility it was for decades denied, a series of recent studies have begun to map out this historically rich and culturally complex field of enquiry. In discussions of the form's origins, scholars remain divided: whereas some stress contemporariness (and privilege the works of Topffer or the appearance of the Journal de Mickey as moments of emergence), others gesture vaguely towards pre-textual precursors--the paintings of Lascaux, for instance--to indicate a more ancient and more extravagant genealogy. One of the principal strengths of Laurence Grove's Text/Image Mosaics in French Culture is its author's refusal to accept unquestioningly any received ideas regarding the history of the comic. Drawing on his extensive knowledge of the French emblem book, he aims to demonstrate--in the light of the evolving history of print culture--the continuities and discontinuities apparent in the comparative analysis of the emblem and the BD. Grove does not fall into the trap of elaborating a seamless teleology linking the two forms, but instead, through a process of 'parallelism' (p. xiv), explores the impact, at two significant, transitional moments in the history of print technology, of these hybrid forms combining text and image. Close engagement with case studies permits the cautious elaboration of parallels between fields normally considered discrete.

After an introductory section discussing the history of print culture and the distinctiveness of the two forms under consideration, the study is divided into four principal parts--Theoretics, Production, Thematics, and Reception--each of which devotes a chapter to the emblem and the BD in turn, before synthesizing reflections in an afterword. The emphasis is on continuity and discontinuity, exploring the ways in which an early modern 'emblematic mentality' might be seen to persist, in radically altered forms, in a postmodern age. The result is a comprehensive initial engagement with questions of taxonomy and critical tradition, followed by a series of studies--contrasting the hybridity of woodcuts, for instance, with the Gallicization of Disney in Le Journal de Mickey--that would not usually coexist in a single monograph. There is an emphasis on the progressive institutionalization of the forms in question, with close attention paid both to genre construction and to questions of authorship. The aim is neither the conflation of what are two very different forms, nor the elaboration of an imaginary genealogy linking the emblem and the BD. Instead, Grove holds the two genres in tension within the frame of text/image studies (and in the light of the mindsets to which this field gives access). He observes in conclusion that emblems and BDs have evolved in parallel yet ultimately contradictory ways, the former increasingly emphasizing text and narration, the latter moving more towards a recit en images in which conventional narrative collapses.

This is a highly readable study by an author who has confident mastery of the diverse, even heterogeneous range of material under consideration. In relation to the BD itself, Grove moves far beyond an often excessively restricted canon to give a clear sense of the genre's historical texture. At the same time, he focuses on under-explored key titles, such as the collaborationist Temeraire (the post-war trajectories of whose authors are tracked in illuminating detail). The argument is consistently well illustrated, both in terms of the variety of examples cited and of the fifty-two clearly reproduced figures with which the volume concludes. The study exemplifies a growing tendency in French studies for scholars to avoid the narrow compartmentalization inherent in traditionally chronological divisions of the field in order to identify (dis) continuities across periods. Grove's contribution to considerations of material culture, and more particularly to histories of the book, reveals the rich potentials of such transhistorically comparative approaches.


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Author:Forsdick, Charles
Publication:The Modern Language Review
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2008
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