Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Tom Phillips: Explicating A Humument (Final Step)

On page 136 of Tom Phillips' A Humument, Phillips questions love’s supposed complexity and significance through his use of wordplay and a visual metaphor. In order to enhance the clarity of his message he strategically uses dynamic, contrasting colors that emphasize important aspects of his illustration. These elements combine to create a general message about questioning established assumptions.

Phillips uses a pun as the foundation of the page’s message. From this word play, the visual metaphor is developed. The word play deals with the word “love-match” which has a dual meaning in the context of the page. Normally one would interpret “love-match to mean a romantic compatibility between two persons. According to Phillips’s illustration, the word “love-match” is metaphorically depicted as actual lighted matches. This play on words allows the reader to draw parallels between the nature of a simple, tangible object, the match, and the nature of complex and abstract concept, love. The unusual nature of the wordplay further reflects the idea of questioning established assumptions. The initial, accepted interpretation of the word “love-match” is completely disregarded and an unusual interpretation is used instead. Also, wordplay can be seen as rather humorous literary technique. Humor lessens the seriousness of the subject, in this case love, therefore Phillips questions the assumed seriousness or significance of love. Overall, the word play introduces the basic theme of the page while supporting the other elements of the argument.

Arguably the most apparent feature of the page is the visual metaphor. The illustration of matches on the page symbolically reflects the idea of love discussed in the text. This metaphor is multifaceted and therefore serves several purposes. Again, the greater theme of the page is concerns comparing the tangible with the abstract, the simple with the complex. Matches are rather insignificant, discardable objects that eventually burn out. This suggests that love eventually will “burn out” as well and that love is also insignificant. Matches are simple objects too, insinuating that perhaps love is not as complex as assumed. It is clear that the matches symbolize love not only by the clear play on words but by less obvious visual elements. More specifically love’s unifying nature is exemplified through the illustration therefore allowing the viewer to conclude that the matches symbolize the nature of love. Generally, that fact that the illustration directly reflects the text gives the page a coherent and unified quality. The illustration represents the exactly what the text is describing, allowing the message of unification and parallelism to be clearly presented and emphasized. This theme of unification is also seen in the placement of the matches. The two matches are parallel to each other with significant distance between them. This was done in order to stress the disunity or solitary nature of two persons before they experience love. The smoke rises from both matches and begins to merge at the top of the page, symbolizing the unification that love induces. Since smoke has a flowing and unifying quality it is an ideal symbol for love. Visually, the viewer is able to see the comparison between love and the matches which makes the message clearer and more effective.

The colors in the illustration strategically direct the viewer’s attention to specific aspects of the picture. This puts emphasis on the message presented on the page. Phillips chooses to use the dynamic colors, orange and yellow, in order to direct attention to the rising smoke (or perhaps flames) produced by the matches. The vibrant colors against the pale green background draw the viewer’s attention to aspects of the illustration that symbolize aspects of the nature of love. The colors simply emphasize the comparison and make it more apparent to the viewer.

Perhaps by choosing such a metaphor, Phillips is trying to say that love is not as important as society makes it out to be. Love is obviously held in high esteem and seen as complex and would rarely be compared to tangible objects as trivial and simple as matches. The comparison is humorous and quite extreme which suggests that Phillips was trying to portray a radical message. Looking past love, perhaps Phillips is using this specific metaphor to draw attention to a broader idea. He could be suggesting the importance of questioning established thought. The techniques that he utilized on this page effectively suggest this message.

December 3, 2008 1:19 AM

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