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Towards Day 19 (T, 11/11): "The Story of a Childhood"

Anne Dalke's picture


I. coursekeeping:
you all will meet on Thursday to discuss the second 1/2  of Persepolis: "The Story of a Return";
I've put some guiding questions up on Serendip, if you'd like to use them,
remind you also to look @ the short news article there about the "truth of sex" in Iran,
and request a couple of reports about what/where your discussion goes..

II. before we go there,
two postings looking back @ last week's discussions:

nbarker: a thread running through co-counseling, the storytelling workshop and our discussions of mental health [in Kristin’s class?] was the implication that mental illness is "just a social construct", and an assumption that you can make situations that are inherently unequal into equal ones…mental illness IS exacerbated by social constructs, and can be largely environmentally “caused”. However, mental illness…has a biogenetic component…and is just as much an illness as cancer.

bridgetmartha, responding to Mohanty’s call that our “minds must be as ready to move as capital is”:  My mind is not ready to move. It is not ready to imagine alternative destinations…. my education was…framed with an agenda that inhibits us from analytical thinking and…any feminist view that involves the critique of power structures and inequality… I am lost trying to keep up… my mind is not wired for the theoretical and abstract, I am struggling. …I learn by doing and thrive on practical applications and hands on work.…

III. for today, I asked you to post your initial reactions
to the graphic novel, and I want to let's start with those...
if you haven't posted yet, you should do that before classtime on Thursday
[Hummingbird, ndifrank, rebeccamec]

rosea, Veil Talk:
Keeping in mind that many women in the world freely choose to wear a veil, how many women are actually forced to do so? And what effect, if any, does this have on their sense of womanhood? (what does that even mean? also we could talk about nego feminism with Satrapi's own bending of the rules of visual self-expression)

What interested me most about Satrapi's childhood was her relationship with her veil....what 1/3 women see as a freedom afforded to them (the ability to show their skin) is actually seen by the veiled women as a result of oppressive men, desiring to see their bodies--a reduction of the female form to something physical, for males to enjoy....How do women around the world and across cultures gain and demonstrate power through sartorial expression?...It seems that in Satrapi's case [the veil]  feels like a prison. This inconsistency alerts us to the dangers of the single story...

Sunshine: I think it would be interesting to talk about how we use clothing to express our identities, and the implications of that when we talk about what we can wear or  in what we can perceive. Also the generality of representing yourself in an abstract way and how that can be interpreted, which we have already spoken about in regards to portraits.

abradycole: Like others who have already posted, Satrapi’s discussion of the veil has been very interesting to me....By rejecting the veil and aspiring to a certain kind of power that’s generally held by men, I don’t know if I could consider her a nego feminist....

Laverne Cox spoke about the prevalence of marginalized groups policing each other....Marji's choices in clothing represent her desire to be a revolutionary, and help her feel more a part of the resistance. Does Marji's presentation of her identity negate any other aspect of this identity?... the people in her community dismiss the idea of intersectional identities.

Satrapi saw her own "Westernization" a form of resistance....a way of her claiming power when she is feeling otherwise powerless....I wondered how this attempt at autonomy would play out for Satrapi later on...would she feel too much that she had lost her original culture to feel empowered at all?

rb.richx: autonomy was really interestingly tied with Westernized things.

bridgetmartha: Marjane comes from a family of financial privilege...She continuously defies authority by purchasing luxuries....She is equally defiant in class...conferring the privilege that regardless of what happens, she'll be able to find somewhere to go...In contrast, I look at their maid's son, who received ...the promise of a paradise that surpasses any life they might have now....

I would assume (though I may be wrong) that her story isn’t the norm....But maybe reading memoirs like this one is one of the best ways to learn about a culture because authors are offering their stories up as examples

I think it is really interesting how Marji idolizes people who have been tortured in prison, and how the revolutionaries idolizd martyrs

Like Sunshine, I was struck by her admiration of famous revolutionaries and social theorists...not a part of the American elementary school curriculum...The commentary about social class was also extremely well done. The line "we are in different classes, but we are in the same bed" broke my heart...the narrative of Marjane finding her own feminist voice, against her circumstances...practicing her own nego-feminism...fighting to have her own, unique perspective.

khinchey: I would like to talk in class about the audience for this novel...and how children develop their own means to understand the world around them.

IV. Anne's talking notes:

thinking about visual representation, in particular about how well the
"children's form" that is the comic book can represent feminist ideas.

We all know the cliche: a picture is worth a 1000 words.
Cf. MargueriteDuras (French writer and film maker):
"a word is worth a 1000 pictures"--
meaning: it is less directive, opens the space for more interpretation,
while an image is more limiting (think about films:
do they "control" or direct your imagination more than writing?)

The graphic novel is a complex form, with a long history
Has anyone studied graphic narrative, as a genre, before?
(see Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics; Wil Eisner, Comics and Sequential Art)

one of Satrapi's inspirations was Art Spiegelman's Maus --about the Holocaust;
two other visual sources she has identified are

* Persian miniatures  ("the drawing itself is very simple," eschewing perspective,
"trying to paint the world as God would see it and not as we, humans, do"); and
* avant-garde, black-and-white, expressionistic films like
Murnau's vampire fantasy Nosferatu (1922)

(following Art Spiegelman's observation that "people don't even have the patience to decode comics ...
comics have become one of the last bastions of literacy"), let's do some close reading:

One pair each to focus on
'The Veil,' p. 3;
'The Bicycle,' (esp. p. 15);
'The Party' (cf. p. 40, p. 42);
'The Heroes' (esp. p. 52);
'The Key' (esp. p. 102); and
'The Cigarette' (esp. p. 117).
The abstract visuals on pp. 77 and 89.

Tell each other what is happening/describe how the page is composed
(what other pages it reminds you of), and--most especially--
how you understand the relation is between word and image.

V. Reporting out:
* how accessible, vernacular is this form? how mass its appeal?
* why is it black and white? what are the effects of this minimalist drawing style?
* how child-like is the perspective? how "feminist"? (what's the relation between the two?)
* what can we say about Satrapi's representation of trauma?
* does drawing seem more "fictional" than prose? less "transparent"?
* look especially @ the unique artificial borders in comics:
what is the effect of the gutters between the panels?

Hilary Chute, "The Texture of Retracing in Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis." Women's Studies Quarterly 36, 1&2 (Spring/Summer 2008): 92-110.
Satrapi's stark style is monochromatic -- there is no evident shading technique; she offers flat black and white .... "the depiction of deliberately empty spaces" ... visual emptiness of the simple, ungraded blackness in the frames shows memory's ... thickness, its depth .... ... frequent scenes in which public skirmishes appear as stylized and even symmetrical formations of bodies ... The minimalist play of black and white ... to present events with a pointed degree of abstraction in order to call attention to the horror of history ...

"Violence today has become something so normal, so banal ... But it's not normal. To draw it and put it in color -- the color of flesh and the red of the blood, and so forth -- reduces it by making it realistic" .... Persepolis is devastatingly truthful and yet stylized ... style as a narrative choice ... is fundamental to understanding graphic narrative ... pared-down techniques of line and perspective ... as with abstract expressionism, which justifies a flatness of composition to intensify affective content ... is a sophisticated, and historically cognizant, means of doing the work of seeing.

child's eye rendition of trauma ... haunts the text because of its incommmensurablity -- and yet its expressionistic consonance -- with what we are provoked to imagine is the visual reality of this brutal murder ... the author draws a scene of death... as a child imagines it .... in a form keyed to structural gaps through the frame-gutter sequence...

present mass death in a highly stylized fashion .... almost architectural ... a child's too-tidy conceptualization ... and the disturbing, anonymous profusion of bodies ....

the pitfalls of other, ostensibly transparent representational modes: "I cannot take the idea of a man cut into pieces and just write it. It would not be anything but cynical. That's why I drew it" ... from a child's (realistically erroneous but emotionally, expressionistically informed) perspective ....

... no perspective, however informed, can fully represent trauma .... it is in "excess of our frames of reference" .... [In] a child's imaging of torture ... one recognizes not only the inadequacy of any representation to such traumatic history, but also ... the simultaneous power of the radically inadequate (the child's naive confusion).

combining on a page ... the historical "routine" (execution) and the personal "routine" (sneaking cigarettes) ... uses understated graphic idiom to convey the horror of her "story of a childhood." Persepolis shows trauma as ordinary, both in the text's form -- the understated, spatial correspondences Persepolis employs to narrative effect through comics panelization -- and in style: the understated quality of Satrapi's line that rejects the visually laborious ... to departicularize the singular witnessing ... to open out the text ... while Persepolis may show trauma as (unfortunately) ordinary, it rejects the idea that it is (or should ever be) normal ....

Persepolis offers not simply a "visibility politics," but an ethical and troubling visual aesthetics...

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
relations, 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?)