Seeing the Self and Self Seeing: Sexuality in Charles Burns' Black Hole
Mentor:Tim Caron, Professor of English, California State University Long Beach
Charles Burns’ graphic novel Black Hole is a narrative about how teens in Seattle deal with sexuality when they contract an STD, the “bug,” which causes literal mutations. The third chapter, which is a dream, functions as both the predictor and recollection of the mental trauma that one of the characters, Chris, will experience. Using comics theorists Thierry Groensteen and Scott McCloud, I will establish how the dream chapter not only influences Chris’ past and future because within the "world" of Black Hole, it happens after the fourteenth chapter, but informs the reader’s experience as well because it is structurally placed before the reader knows who Chris is. Because of the way the dream chapter functions, Chris’ experience with sexuality can be seen as oscillating between moments that are unifying and destructive due to the movement between the past, present, and future. I will use art critic John Berger in order to establish how sexuality exists in self-undermining oscillation--it continually disproves itself--do to its movement from unifying and destructive. George Mead’s theory of symbolic interactionism allows for sexuality to be defined as meaning essentially nothing because it is a result of symbolic importance, something that does not actually exist but is manufactured. Chris’ mental trauma is an illustration of the effects of sexuality’s inherent emptiness that is a result of its self-undermining function.