The story structure is as old as story-telling itself…a young and open narrator describes his attempt to understand the world around him, by consulting an older wise man, and taking from him a way to see and hear many other sources of knowledge.
It’s the form that is still pretty new, non-fiction told through the comic-book frames of the graphic novel. Joe Sacco has used this form brilliantly to file in-depth reports from conflict zones like Bosnia or Palestine. But the dramatic action and backdrops help Sacco deal his sharply detailed observations like the picture cards laid down by the masters of graphic fiction.
Our guest today, Santa Fe writer, teacher and student Jeffrey Wilson set himself a harder task, using the graphic book form to communicate some deep, complicated and philosophical concepts spoken by the eminent linguist and political thinker Noam Chomsky, hopefully to a wider audience of people who might not read his books.
The heart of the book is a conversation between Wilson and Chomsky in the latter’s office at MIT. Not much what we in the TV news business called b-roll, the pictures that verify and vivify the quotes and analysis…not much action either; no, in comic book terms…Boom! Bang! Whack! Or Oof!
But Jeff Wilson’s book, THE INSTINCT FOR COOPERATION, is more than its heart…it uses its head to evaluate, or to understand Professor Chomsky’s pronouncements. This unfolds in other conversations, with people who were punished by government authorities for what Chomsky likes to call “excessive democracy,” people who took part in the Occupy Wall Street occupation of Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan, or in the MAS, Mexican-American Studies program in Tucson, AZ.
Under the headline, “you couldn’t make this up” among the most painful punishments handed out by police and sanitationmen in New York and public education officials and legislators in Arizona was not just the suppression of the occupiers’ or the students’ and teachers’ ideas, but the confiscation of their libraries and their withdrawal of books from public access.
Jeff Wilson didn’t have to make these twin atrocities up, they happened and he as witnesses to prove it. Concrete reality settles around the rebar of Chomsky’s radical thinking.
Jeffrey Wilson is a graphic novel author and Ph.D. Candidate in Geography at the University of Arizona. His work focuses on the social determinants of health, specifically the effect of foreclosures on health in Detroit, Michigan. He received a Master’s in Anthropology from Columbia University where his work explored the ways ethnography could be written in graphic novel form. He has published one of the first graphic novel interviews to appear in a peer-reviewed journal. In THE INSTINCT FOR COOPERATION he uses graphic novel forms to explore the intersection of political philosopher Noam Chomsky’s ideas and the real world. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.