Thursday, 5 February 2015

"Symbols and Censors" - Comics, Semiotics, and Islam

I have spent most of my day talking about comics and religion. It's been brilliant, and I am utterly exhausted.

I was invited last term by one of my professors to help him deliver a lecture on Islam and media, a lecture we both knew would need to touch on Islam and cartoons but the weight of which we couldn't fully anticipate prior to the Charlie Hebdo tragedy. The video I'm posting is the audio and slides from the lecture I delivered earlier today in the Theology & Religion Department of Durham University, and I have to say I'm rather proud of it. My ideas for this talk came together in all the right ways, and I was able to tie my portion of the lecture seamlessly into what Prof. Davies was talking about prior to me taking the podium. It went off without a hitch (except for some projector issues near the beginning, so I apologize for the slow start; it picks up around 1:20, I promise).

In this lecture I tackle first and foremost the matter of censorship, both in the lecture hall and as it pertains to depictions of Muhammad in modern media. I look at the prophet in animation and then in comics, before moving on to discuss some of the visual functions of the comics medium and connecting visual abstraction as presented by McCloud to identity as defined by religious symbols. After a brief comparison of the idea of bodily representation in Christianity and Islam I close with some thoughts on the human drive as meaning-making, cultural animals and the role of censorship as we create our history. I hope you enjoy it, hope the sound quality's alright, and I hope to hear your thoughts and questions about what I'm saying.

A couple of notes. First, I inadvertently flipped McCloud's "perceived" and "received" taxonomy. McCloud presents them as precisely the opposite of what I've presented. Something to keep in mind. Second, The 99 has nothing whatsoever to do with Marco Polo. My brain made that up and inserted it into my notes; my apologies to Dr. Naif. In the stories, the Noor Stones do indeed travel to the Far East by the Silk Road, but not by the person I have suggested.

We also had an excellent gathering of students at Josephine Butler College this evening for a "Global Voices" forum, at which I was asked to kickstart discussion around Charlie Hebdo and the matter of free speech. That conversation went in all kinds of interesting directions and I'm sorry to have not recorded it, but know that it happened, that young minds are actively, that we're trying to make sense of what it means to speak freely in a modern, global context. This event was particularly encouraging for me after chatting earlier with a friend about The Free Speech University Rankings in the UK, in which Durham received an amber traffic light (middling grade) for a diversity and equality in which the "Definition of racial harassment includes the ‘display of offensive material’." We have a tendency, it seems, to be vague about what materials we consider offensive, while our Students' Union places no restrictions on speech. Thanks, guys. For more of my thoughts on encountering (almost) censorship of cartoons in my work at Durham, take a read of this post from January on the other blog.

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