Screen Memories and the Comic Imagination

I find Marianne Hirsch’s reflections on “screen memories,” and her appropriation of Aby Warburg’s notion of “pre-coined expressive values” to be quite illuminating for what is happening in this edited volume. Hirsch discusses how “images already imprinted on our brains, the tropes and structures we bring from the present to the past,” may be something like “screen memories” upon which we project our own desires but which also “mask other images and other, as yet unthought or unthinkable concerns” (Hirsch, The Generation of Postmemory: Writing and Visual Culture after the Holocaust, 42). We tend to appropriate common images (or as Hirsch focuses on here, familial images) that are both recognizable and comforting. This is what Warbug points to in his notion of an “inventory of re-coined expressions” as a “mass of inherited impressions” (Warburg, “The Absorption of the Expressive Values of the Past,” 280). Comics, it seems to me, do this all the time: they work with a set inventory of images and expressions that allow us readers to project our own moods and concerns onto the comic narrative. But comics also warp or bend those images, and perhaps even undermine them in subtle and sophisticated ways. Like all expressive literature, comics may limit our imaginative resources by masking alternative images, or they can expand our horizons by appealing less to screens than to portals of exploration.

Consider the essays in this volume to be portals for our expressive imaginations.