Daily Graphic Novel Recommendation 55

Unflattening

by Nick Sousanis
Genre notes: academic, non-fiction
208 pages
ISBN: 0674744438 (Amazon)

In one of my favourite moments in Nick Sousanis’ Unflattening, he postulates (by way of citation) that we should consider argumentation as a dance. Rather than as a battle, with the requisite victors and losers, mounting casualties, and abiding sense of aggression, we should look at argument as an evolving cooperative effort. Two sides—two people—with their oppositional stances (in that they stand opposite each other) collaborating in a joined back-and-forth. Together, the participants artfully maneuver and through their conjunction arrive at new places, even if often remaining at distinction from each other. It’s a beautiful picture and I don’t think I’ll ever wish to see argument as combat ever again.

Unflattening begins with an apocalyptic claim that we are something of a doomed society of people labouring under the illusion of free thought. That is the problem Sousanis seeks to solve. He compares the combined human experience to that of the flatlanders of Edwin Abbott’s Flatland (a book I haven’t read in twenty years but for which I still hold a remnant appreciation), a people who only see and conceive in two dimensions, only able to experience depth through circumstantial evidence and who have no sense of height at all. Of course we in the three-dimensional world are able to perceive these things with ease but would scarcely be able to explain them to a flatlander without sounding either mad or unintelligible—or perhaps just resembling a wild fantasist (maybe a hokey sci-fi author). Sousanis, as Abbot before him, suggests that we are like flatlanders and require unflattening in order to understand the world in ways that would approach The Way Things Really Are.

Sousanis’ solution (by my reading) seems to require in many ways a kind of mundane deus ex machina. He doesn’t ask for a divine injection of new ideas, but he does propose that in our ties and bonds to the rest of human society we find a constant injection of new points of sight by which we might escape the ruts of perspective we travel daily. (That’s a deeply simplified version of 152 pages of more nuanced discussion.) And while I don’t think Sousanis’ proposal entirely escapes the dire problem set forth in his introduction, there really is something beautiful and testable in it.

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