“What’s That Noise?”: Paying Attention to Perception, Excess, and Meta-Art in
David Mazzucchelli’s Asterios Polyp
Christopher T. McCarthy
In his graphic novel Asterios Polyp David Mazzucchelli is concerned with the nature of human perception. He highlights the limitations of perception through his title character’s struggle to find a new way to filter information from the world around him. Mazzucchelli reminds us that no matter which method a person uses to look at the world there will always be excess details that he or she will ignore or simply not notice due to perceptual blind spots. I argue that, while Asterios gains a new method for perceiving the world, his true victory is in his acknowledgement that all perceptions are limited. The acknowledgment of his inherent blind spots prepares Asterios to accept excess details when they appear. Through meta-art, Mazzucchelli uses this lesson to also teach the reader how to approach interpreting his graphic novel. He draws the reader’s attention to a variety of analytical frameworks by referencing each one through a different character’s perspective on art. By creating a grid of interpretive approaches, I argue that Mazzucchelli does not encourage the reader to use one approach over another, but instead he wants the reader to realize that no approach will provide a complete reading of his work. The acknowledgement that all interpretive approaches have limitations, just like all methods of perception, prepares the reader to accept when excess details reveal something lacking in his or her analysis.