Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Notes Towards Day 6 (Thursday, 9/19): Growing Up Graphic

Anne Dalke's picture

on the board:
Jeanette Winterson, Art Objects
Toni Morrison, Beloved
Doris Sommer on I, Rigoberta Menchu
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Outside in the Teaching Machine & "Can the Subaltern Speak?"

What do we think of autobiography as a feminist genre?
"representing the voices of the unrepresented"?
Or in its focus on the individual self, neglecting the collective/other small parts?
"Isolate individualism is an illusion"..."Memoirs from sites of danger provide a
safe space for readers to ponder the nightmare of contemporary global relations..."

I. coursekeeping
getting acquainted-->

Faith: I was very confused as to whether I was questioning my gender and sexuality enough….
being comfortable in one’s box and not being ashamed of it…We reinforce categories….
Taylor11’s comment: as humans we like to put everything in certain places and
we find comfort in the fact that we know where things should be and how they are defined…
so: get up, verify names of folks you don't know,
and tell each other about a box you're comfortable in

volunteer to name your classmates?
sign in/up
in your postings this Sunday, switch up the dialogue: m-z post by 5 p.m., a-k comment by midnight

Our text next week is a second graphic narrative
(as different stylistically as is possible from Persepolis):
Neil Gaiman's The Doll's House, the second volume in his 1999 series, The Sandman.
You've been getting a preview of this book:
Kate Bornstein references it several times,
as a site for gender play; it is also alleged that Gaiman's character Delirium was inspired by
his friendship w/ Kathy Acker (who wrote "Seeing Gender," that short essay we
read the first week, the one ending w/ all that orgasmic language "where gender lies").

Revel in its complexity, let yourself enjoy it, let your brain go where it takes you...
and then keep asking yourself, as we were asking on Tuesday:
* what particular contribution can the genre of the
graphic novel make to our understandings of g&s?
*what particular contribution can this particular graphic
novel, The Doll's House (vs., say, Persepolis) make to our understandings of g&s?
*what role might dreaming play in the field of gender and sexuality?
* what's its relation (say) to feminist activism?

Speaking of which!
I will want to begin meeting with y'all individually next week--no later than the week after.
I want to talk to discuss your first 5-pp. "web-event," on self-representation,
which is due @ 5 p.m. Sun, 10/6. (and I will not be on campus Fri 10/4, or Sat, or Sun...)

We will be working that week w/ the artist Laura Swanson on making (anti) self-portraits--
she's going to do two workshops with us, and also give a talk about
"Resisting Representation" (really about questioning "realistic representation"--
Laura has come to this orientation/position because she herself is a little person,
used to being stared @, who wanted to take charge of/re-direct how she was seen).
You're going to make an "anti-self portrait" under her instruction,
which you will post on-line and analyze...or @ least use as a stepping-off place.
Though you haven't made the portrait, you can begin thinking about these issues now.

II. You have actually already begun thinking about them,
already begun to "resist representation"
(postings from last weekend):

Vhiggins: I had difficulties answering the question, “Why do we have to be one or the other?”….”Who is one or the other?” anyone exclusively male or exclusively female?...socially constructed views of gender leave many feeling wrong or out of place….

iskierka’s comment: Kate Bornstein’s profession that “everyone is transgender” makes me a bit uncomfortable …I just have no desire to see it applied to me...”everybody is queer”…I can agree with more easily….

Ccassidy: [on Kate Bornstein’s blog...she mentioned that ‘A Queer and Pleasant Danger’]
was the first book she has written where she doesn’t ‘hide behind theory or a character”

Lily Myers’ “Women Shrinking”
sam: particularly interesting, the idea of gender in relation to the consumption of space….a woman is constantly self-regulating…Myers makes this connection as well, a woman’s occupation of space and her obsession with size…

EmmaBE: I struggled with the term “emancipation”: is it still rebellion if the women are rebelling by playing into their roles in a patriarchy…choosing to attract men when/because their society refused to let them do so…?
vhiggins’ cartoon and comment: I am not at all sure of how free or “emancipated” I am when I get dressed every morning, because I am either subjecting myself to self-restriction, or unrestricted male responses. Not quite sure which is worse.
Shainarobins’ comment: there’s a fine line between being empowered and being objectified…choosing to be sex objects

What's the relation between objectification and representation? and self-representation?
You had a warm-up, in creating a self-representation,
when you selected and explained your avatar to us.
So...go on thinking
about how you have been represented,
how you would like to represent yourself,
and what sort of feminist thinking/feeling/philosophizing/orientating lies behind this.

One particular question you might want to consider is
how accessible/readable you want your representation to be...

III. very interesting to me, in Tuesday's discussion, was the question of
whether accessibility is a good thing, a "feminist" thing: equalize access, yes?
well, but...

Jeanette Winterson, Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery, 1996:
...the question "Do I like this?" will have to be the opening question and not the final judgement. An examination of our own feelings wil have to give way to an examination of the piece of work.... It is right to trust our feelings but right to test them too....When you say "This work has nothing to do with me," when you say, "This work is boring/pointless/silly/obscure/elitist etc."...the work [might fall] so outside of the safety of your own experience that in order to keep your own world intact you must deny the other world of the painting....True art, when it happens to us, challenges the "I" that we are....for most of us the question "do I like this?" will always be the formative question. Vital then, that we widen the "I" that we are as much as we can....

A poem, a piece of fiction of any value is not instantly accessible. The reader, like the writer, has to work, and as long as work remains a four letter word, the average reader will not understand why they should struggle through their leisure time....What we cannot do is judge a book by how little bother it gives us....

Toni Morrison on Oprah, to readers who complained how demanding Beloved was:
"Honey, that's called reading!"

Doris Sommer on I, Rigoberta Menchu: An Indian Woman in Guatemala (upcoming):
"books can sting readers who feel entitled to know everything as they approach a text...the slap of refused intimacy from uncooperative books can slow readers down....Is inhospitality toward the reader...surprising? It merits a pause long enough to learn new expectations...her techniques include maintaining secrets that keep readers from knowing her too well..."

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak: “To be out is really to be in – inside the realm of the visible, the speakable, the culturally intelligible”...engaging in...dialogue about “personal” or “private” aspects of yourself...
can make you TOO easy to understand...maintaining the  liminal...position...means that you do not become  “culturally intelligible”. You can’t be mainstreamed; your deviance cannot be absorbed ...“cannot be contained” (Outside in the Teaching Machine) .

IV. Spivak has also urged each feminist to "wrench" herself away
from the mesmerising focus on the
... female individualist .... to at least expand the frontiers of the politics of reading." And this is today's keynote/key question: What do we think of autobiography as a feminist genre?

On Tuesday I had asked what it means, in the history of women-as-visual object,
to create a visual text about a woman's life: What is the effect of doing that?
Now I want to ask what role the words play in this graphic narrative.

the views and expectations of women changed in revolutionary Iran...
gender does not exist on its also much consider other factors, such as culture and class...

Let's spend some time today sharing our sense of who Marjane is.

Find a page (or 2) with an interesting intersection of text-and-image.
Talk w/ your neighbor about what you've found...

How "individual"/how "doubled"/how coherent/how fragmented is Marjane on that page?
What's the difference between what she SAYS and how she is SEEN?
What can we see of her internal life? How would you characterize it?

Hilary Chute: Some of today's most riveting feminist cultural production is in the form of accessible yet edgy graphic narratives....."graphic narratives"...destabilize standard narratives of history .... bridging wartime-focused testimonies and child-oriented testimonies ...Persepolis is about the ethical verbal and visual practice of "not forgetting" ... modeling a feminist methodology in its form, in the complex visual dimension of its author narrating herself on the page as a multiple subject.

IV. With this as an example: what do we think of autobiography as a feminist genre?
(as always: a question about representation-->
what do we think of this as a "genre of gender" difference/oppression?)

Absolutely: "representing the voices of the unrepresented"?
Or absolutely not: in its focus on the individual self?
(What is the role of the collective, the larger whole?)
Or of other small parts?
Who is not represented, when the self represents itself?
Who lacks voice or vision here?

Nancy K. Miller, "The Entangled Self: Genre Bondage in the Age of the Memoir."
122, 2 (2008): 537-548.

"Memoirs from sites of danger provide a safe space for
readers to ponder the nightmare of contemporary global
, even as the pages display the extreme difficulty of
living in times of traumatic history. The story of the other citizen,
preferably female--the exotic, foreign self in translation
(like us after all)
--is also a valuable template in the marketplace
of contemporary autobiographical production and consumption."

the female autobiographical self ... goes public with private
feelings through a significant relation to an other .... the other
provides the authorizing conditions for self production .... [but]
"Isolate individualism is an illusion" .... Autobiography's
story is about the web of entanglement in which we find ourselves .....

The reader ... is the autobiographer's most necessary other ....
You conjure the reader to prove that you are alive ....

There are very different worlds of women in the Middle East , "not like us after all."
Where are the literary texts that represent them?
Can literary feminism be feminism,
if it depends on written representation?
--and most of the world's women can't read or write?
How to represent those who cannot represent themselves?
(who are not trained in art school, as Satrapi was?)

Spivak's "Can the Subaltern Speak?"
(a founding text of postcolonial studies) focuses on
suttee, the religious practice (banned by the British in 1829),
in which a recent widow would immolate herself on her
husband's funeral pyre. Spivak points out that all accounts
of what suttee meant to (or how it oppressed) women
are re-presentations (by British colonizers or Hindu leaders),
but there are no records by the suttee-performing brown women
themselves: "the subaltern cannot speak."

Anat Berko, Path to Paradise: The Inner World of Suicide Bombers and Their Dispatchers  (2009):
an Israeli researcher who tried "to open a window for the reader
into the inner world of men and women who blow themselves up" -->
"Western society, for which human life is the supreme value, finds it
difficult to define and understand the suicide bomber's behavior" (p. 12)
"Now we're just passing through. Real life is in paradise...
in fact he isn't dead, he's in paradise and he's still alive" (p. 159)
"For the suicide bombers, such dreams [of paradise] are a concrete reality" (p. 171)
"It's more impressive when a woman carries out a suicide bombing attack,
because this is the Middle East and a woman is very limited,
and that makes her action special" (p. 112)
"female suicide bombers...were the expression of a unique wave of feminism,
which allowed them to improve their social status" (p. 114)

Cluster in groups of four and prepare to make a declarative statement on this question:
thinking about a debate: pro/con, w/ Persepolis as your "proof text":
is graphic autobiography a feminist form? Why/why not?