Filial Lines: Art Spiegelman, Alison Bechdel, and Comics Form
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CitationWaldman, Emily. 2020. Filial Lines: Art Spiegelman, Alison Bechdel, and Comics Form. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractThis dissertation examines the aesthetics of narrative forms and the power of the visual image as a force for capturing traumatic experience in the unsettled twenty-first century, all by foregrounding and scrutinizing an underrecognized medium: comics. Accounts of personal and historical traumas that would be difficult to imagine in words alone have been captured throughout the late twentieth and twenty-first century in comics form, notably by Art Spiegelman and Alison Bechdel. Drawing together two of comics’ most accomplished artists, whose oeuvres have not yet been placed side-by-side, I show how comics form becomes a playful yet serious medium for self-expression and filial witness. In my first chapter, I argue that Spiegelman’s engagement with Jewish materials makes his modern classic, Maus, into a modern Midrash, or even a secular reinvention of ancient Talmudic practice. Comics and Jewish texts both produce gaps and lacunae as part of an engagement with traumatic histories of loss and displacement. My second chapter turns to Spiegelman’s post-Maus work. The figure of a spiral squiggle guides a reading of Spiegelman’s experimental comics meta-memoir, Breakdowns: Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@&*!, which unites Modernist experimentalism with mourning for the mother. My third chapter pursues the character of Spiegelman’s tic-tac-toe-faced avatar, OXO, unfolding the resonance of the tic-tac-toe theme for the artist’s articulation of his family tragedy. In my fourth chapter, I move into Bechdel’s graphic memoir about her relationship with her mother, Are You My Mother?, which I read as a form of Winnicottian play that nurtures creativity, emotional growth, and the sense of a separation from the mother that also acknowledges deep connection. Continuing my reading of Are You My Mother?, my fifth chapter proposes the comics medium as a kind of web-making, which weaves networks of visual and verbal elements. Through a focus on spiders and string, the artist’s drawn line emerges as the transitional object par excellence, as that element which can uniquely separate and join distinct bodies, and thus articulate the ambivalences of filial relationship.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37365955
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