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Friday, July 8 • 09:00 - 10:00
Keynote: Elisabeth El Refaie

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Performance Spaces: Metaphorical meanings of spatial orientations in Ellen Forney's Marbles

Space is a fundamental element of all narratives, since everything that happens must necessarily happen somewhere. However, not all media are equally dependent upon spatial meaning when conveying their stories. The space of a novel, for example, is flat and strictly linear, while storytelling on the radio does not involve any spatial dimension at all. By contrast, the theatre and comics both rely heavily on the concrete ‘performance space’ of the stage or the page, respectively, in order to create the virtual ‘dramatic space’ of the world that is being narrated. The relationship between these two kinds of space is complex: While the performance space may act as a straightforward mimetic representation of a concrete location in the world of the story, in many cases it (also) refers to more abstract spaces, including the inner world of characters’ thoughts, values and emotions (Donahue 1993; Ubersfeld 1999).


This talk focuses on the metaphorical meaning potentials of vertical and horizontal orientations in comics. Drawing mainly on Conceptual Metaphor Theory (CMT) and Experimental Psychology, I argue that the meanings of such spatial orientations are based in concrete, embodied human experience. For example, the need throughout life to expend much physical effort to resist gravity and stay upright leads us to associate ‘up’ with success, power, physical wellbeing, and happiness, whereas ‘down’ equates with their opposites (Burford 1998; Casasanto & Dijkstra 2010). Similarly, there appear to be universal correlations in human cognition between left-right orientation and more abstract concepts such as evil-good, active-passive, and past-future, though the direction of these correlations depends on whether individuals are left- or right-handed, and/or on the conventional direction of reading and writing in their culture (Casasanto 2009; Casasanto & Bottini 2014; Santiago et al. 2007). According to CMT, such metaphorical correlations have a profound influence on the way we think, act and express ourselves, albeit at a mostly unconscious level (Johnson 2007; Lakoff & Johnson 1999).


Using Ellen Forney’s graphic memoir about her bi-polar disorder, Marbles, as a case study, I examine the meaning potentials of vertical and horizontal orientations – with respect to both the representation of characters, and the arrangement of elements within panels and on the page – in graphic illness narratives. In particular, I will compare the ways in which such spatial orientations are used to represent Ellen’s experience of the manic and the depressed phases in her life. 


avatar for Elisabeth El Refaie

Elisabeth El Refaie

Dr Elisabeth El Refaie is a Senior Lecturer in Language and Communication at Cardiff University. She  grew up in Vienna, where she studied Journalism while also working part-time for several newspapers and news agencies. After graduating she moved to the UK, where she qualified... Read More →

Friday July 8, 2016 09:00 - 10:00 BST
Lecture Theatre 3