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Visual Synecdoche (Metonymy?)

Pear-Pear, from the get-go, has been a sort of game for me: can I tell a story about a character without ever showing that character, or saying anything about that character? As the story-arc in the comic is about to reach a crucial turning point, a good time has arisen for me to evaluate my strategy for this game, which could be called visual synecdoche.

Or visual metonymy. (I have trouble telling the difference between these two terms. As far as I can tell, metonymy is the substitution of one term for another in general, and synecdoche is a species of metonymy. However, synecdoche, rather than being only specifically the substitution of a part for the whole, seems to describe any substitution that would be classed under metonymy. So do metonymy and synecdoche not refer to the same class of figures? If someone were to clear this up for me I would be grateful.)

The linguistic concept of metonymy has been applied to the visual language of comics before. For example, Neil Cohn has examined examples of visual metonymy in a series of Chicago Tribune advertisements. His essay focuses on visual metonymies inasmuch as they are tools for a comics artist to make meaning within panels and between panels--really quite an interesting read.  I'm using the device not to encode linguistic meanings like the "if...then" propositions of the Chicago Tribune ads, but rather to create, from a few clues here and there, a character. (Characters are afterall, from a structuralist standpoint, meanings. My belief in this premise is one of many reasons I'm leery to teach my students all those arbitrary high school english terms like "characterization.")

So, getting back to the point: As a way to evaluate, let me try to put together, from my own metonymic clues, who this mysterious character is:

  • The character seems to be male. A tie has been seen strewn on the table.
  • He usually drinks coffee. Usually black.
  • The pear? hard to explain. Maybe he wants to eat healthy, but doesn't get around to it. So, he bought a pear with the intention of eating it, but it has sat on his table for months.
  • He is slovenly. Dishes pile up, and insects slightly infest, and he leaves out perishable food.
  • His eating habits earned him a cracked tooth, for which he had to get a crown.
  • Either due to neglect or scant means, his bills pile up unpaid.
  • The fruit parfait poses another difficulty. It seems to have been an out-of-character dessert; or, a nonconstructive way to cope with mounting stress caused by overdue bills. (The fruit parfait itself is presented obliquely; we see the set up and the aftermath, but not the "event.")
  • He has trouble waking up in the morning. His parents gave him an alarm clock for Christmas.
  • He resolves to seek employment. The note metonymizes not only this resolution, but the fact that he has been without a job for sometime, explaining the unpaid bills. It also seems to connect to the fact that he has trouble waking up in the morning. In addition to the resolution note, we see the tie, the job hunting guide, classifieds, and a portfolio. (I suppose I wanted this information to be clear.)
  • His job hunt is unsuccessful. Is this because he has no skills or qualifications?
  • Having found no job, he is without income and evicted. Bringing us to today's turn of events.

There may be other "characterization" gleanable from the details of the comic, but I will leave this up to the viewers.

This exercise has shown me just how much of a loser this guy is. A guy who tries, but must fight his natural laziness to try. I'm seeing also that everything up to this point was character exposition, and that the setting (the breakfast table on which our heroes dwell) is not so much a physical place as a psychological one. Thus, his own breakfast table has served its narrative purpose and the strip is ready to move on.


Re: Visual Synecdoche (Metonymy?)

Okay, I just want to say that it took me about 5 readings to understand this, yet i never got bored reading it over and over without understanding it (or thinking it meant something else). It is genius.

Re: Visual Synecdoche (Metonymy?)

Pear-pear's picture

haha. glad you like it. Negotiating possible meanings can be fun! (can I sound any more like an English teacher?)