About lewistonred

Student. Musician. Reader. Writer. Eater. Drinker. Sleeper.

Why the Graphic Novel is Perfect for Satrapi

Marjane is a bit of rogue, you must admit.  She may have injected some steroids into her fictional self’s subversive attitude, but I get the feeling that she is very much like the outspoken, free-willed individual we get to know through her graphic novel.  That is, why I feel, she chose such a medium.  The graphic novel itself, though not entirely new, is one that avoids classification, canonization, and academia in general.  Judging by the posts, most of us were surprised at how effective Satrapi was in depicting her story through an illustrated narrative constructed in a long series of frames.  It is surprising (and refreshing) isn’t it?  To study a book of pictures in a college course.  I can’t see Persepolis working in any other way though.  Satrapi’s voice is perfect for the graphic novel because of her spunky personality, tendency towards humor, and wild imagination.  Because her life story is quite sad, almost tragic in a way, the graphic novel gives her an authentic way to capture the audience and makes her themes of war and alienation less oppressive on the reader and more emotionally accessible.  She states in an interview with The Believer, “If I were to write a memoir with words, I’d have to figure out a way to express verbally an image I have in my mind. In my case, it’s easier to draw it. And words also are filters. They have to be translated. Even in the original language, there is interpretation and some ambiguity. If there’s a cultural difference between the writer and the reader, that might come out in words. But with pictures, there’s more efficiency.”  Maybe this is why her book (and film) have had such success, but I also think it is Satrapi’s own life that has been caught between the “East” and “West”.  The graphic novel is also in an in between state, which is why it fits her so well.  Here’s another quote from that interview, “Well, of course I do have a little bit of hope. Otherwise, I would just take a shotgun and end it all now. Since I’m alive, I’ll always hope that a miracle could descend on us. My intellect sees no way out, but my instinct for survival is hopeful. It says: let’s try. The day that I don’t have that anymore, I swear to God, I will commit suicide. That’s something I do want to communicate to the readers. Not the suicide, but the hope. What I really believe in is good people. It’s that simple. The bad ones are really crazy, totally out of their minds, and the problem is, you don’t need very many crazies to really screw things up. That’s what gives them their power. But there are more of us, I think.”  Digest that for a little while. Here’s a link to the interview:

Interview with Marjane Satrapi

“Marjane Satrapi.”  The Believer. (August 2006).  Int.  Joshuah Bearman.


An Essay on the Decline of English Departments

I was looking to see what google had to say about the books that every English major must read and I found this article.  It expresses some of the angst that came up in the discussion last class about being an English major in the world around us.  The essay talks about a decline in the studies of humanities, why this is happening, and how departments of English should react (though, it seems, they have not been reacting in the right ways).  It raises questions about where the study of literature is going and if a core exists in this scholarly pursuit.  It’s a pretty good read so, if you have the time, check it out.

Here is the url:



Fake Plastic Palm Trees

As a collection of poems written in the reflection of war (instead of the serialized accounts of Baghdad Burning) these recollections hold the stark reality of trauma that inhabits those who are witness to war.  Turner has created haunting passages of beauty and pain while pulling the reader through each poem to a realization.  The poetic voice that he uses is not overly concerned about delivering these pearls of wisdom; they seem to evolve during the conception of each poem.  For instance, in the final lines of “Viking 1”  he touches on the cyclic nature of war and civilization, “I want to hear how the great questions posed by ruin/ are given the elegant response of stone./ How we, like Aphrodite, are seduced” (18).
The poem “At Lowe’s Home Improvement Center” is one of his most disturbing depictions of a flashback (notice the irony of “Home Improvement Center” where these images take place).  I think this poem best depicts what he says in an interview posted here:

words on a wire

as a “pleasant uncomfortableness” (he even mentions the fake palm trees outside of the coffee shop, which also come up outside of Lowe’s).  He goes on in the interview to say “there’s a kind of obscenity in the lifestyle that America has right now” which is what he shows in this poem.  “Dead soldiers are laid out at the registers,/ on the black conveyor belts,/ and people in line still reach/ for their wallets.” Other images in the poem expose the grotesque nature of American comforts, such as the moment in the poem where Sgt. Rampley hands Turner the blown-off arm through a pool of latex paint.  Turner has had first-hand experience of how much damage the American way of life can cause other nations of human beings.  To further our discussion of writing the political, the subject matter of Phantom Noise obviously carries a significant weight in our public consciousness.  Turner is doing what any poet would do:  using his memories as material which, in his case, are filled with the pain of warfare.  Not all of the poems in this collection are about direct war experience, which makes it a better book in my opinion, but because the subject of the class is writing the political and war poems bleed politics, my discussion remains there.

“Extended Interview With Brian Turner.”  Words on a Wire.  Dec 18th, 2011.  http://www.wordsonawireradioshow.blogspot.com/2011/12/extended-interview-with-brian-turner.html

Turner, Brian.  Phantom Noise. Farmington, ME:  Alice James, 2010.

A Minimal, Absurd Playwright

One can’t help but notice the sparse nature of this play in both its length and its language.  The first thing that caught my attention was in the character notes, as Churchill explains, “The Parade (scene 2.5): five is too few and twenty better than ten.  A hundred?”(2) which, for some reason, left me with a very odd feeling even before I started reading the play.  It was like a riddle that was really a stage direction.  This must be the nature of Churchill’s writing:  minimal, puzzling, and defamiliarizing.  The reader, once emerged, is able to tell that something very peculiar is brewing from opening conversation.

Joan:  I can’t sleep.
Harper:  It’s a strange bed.
Joan:  No, I like different places
Harper:  Are you cold?
Joan:  No.
Harper:  Do you want a drink?
Joan:  I think I am cold.  (3)

Though this opening is simple, there is something unnatural about Joan and Harper’s interaction.  Or, maybe, it is strange because it is so natural (chilling), defying the sophisticated dialogue that many writer’s take on.  The reader is left with little, forcing him, or her, to fill in the gaps which gives this piece a global compatibility (this happens somewhere, far away…or maybe not so far away).  By the final scene, the script has turned into a global affair: a war in which the entirety of the world is involved, “The Bolivians are working with gravity, that’s a secret so as not to spread it alarm.  But we’re getting further with noise and there’s thousands dead of light in Madagascar.  Who’s going to mobilise darkness and silence?  That’s what I wondered in the night” (37).

Each act is detached from the others in action and language.  The first, with Young Joan and Harper, is a specific event involving a child witness to a traumatic event performed by her uncle who, though Harper says he’s doing good for the people in the lorry (Harper won’t tell the truth to a child), is obviously doing something evil.  The event is portrayed by what a young girl saw and how it is explained by an adult who doesn’t want her to know the truth (like a media depiction of world news).  The second act features Joan and Todd’s employment but also their critical approach to how their hat-making industry (and world) works.  “we could expose the corrupt financial basis of how the whole hat industry is run, not just this place, I bet the whole industry is dodgy” (26).  Todd especially starts these subversive conversations but, overall, they are fairly compliant to their work, which is making hats for executions.  The reason for the executions is unknown which adds ambiguity and universality to the piece.  Also, I think, political sway.  The third and final act takes place in a world consumed by war.  It is ultimate dystopia:  nations are gaining control of animals, weather, substances, and elements.  It is an all-consuming warfare where national interest exceeds natural law.  This is absurd to our current paradigms of reason but what this play demonstrates, through its absurdity, has been in our consciousness since the first world war and especially after the creation of the atomic bomb.  I thought of this play as an advanced post-modern outlook on where the world is headed.  Science, surveillance, and rapid, global modernization could very well lead us into dire straits.

For anyone who interested, the following post is a recent monologue that Churchill did for the cause of Palestine.  It is short and very good.  Please watch.


Works Cited:

Churchill, Caryl.  Far Away.  New York: Theatre Communications Group, 2001.  Print.

The Homebody’s Hats

“There are shops full of merchandise of wonderful things made by people[…]who believe, or used to believe, in magic[…]before colonization and the savage stripping away of such beliefs[…] All much be touched.  All touch corrupts.   All must be corrupted” (10-11).  This passage referring to the touch that corrupts is viewed negatively by the Homebody, because of her identity as a consumer in the U.K.  Her thoughts on the postcolonial world, though romantic, do carry some insight.  The hats she purchases for her party become emblems of the primitive lifestyles that existed before it “washed up upon our culpable shores, [their] magic now shriveled into the safe container of aesthetic, which is to say, consumer appeal” (17).  She is, at least, aware of the consequences that come with being a consumer.  She resents this identity at times and acknowledges her own lukewarm domestic life, though, she is not too hasty in changing it if that change is even in her power.
I am still perplexed by her statement “all must be corrupted” and its implications.  To say that the magic of older civilization (which also implies superstition, terse ritual, and fear) was not corrupt would be blindly romanticizing the past, especially since it is in the history of a foreign land.  I think both extremes, the magical and the modern, have oppressive natures built into them.  I’m not trying to support the acts of colonizing by any means but I think by saying all touch corrupts she is implying a pure state of being before the contact, which is naive.  In this modern age of information the “touch” should lead to more empathy between peoples, not to the lonely-in-limbo-state in which we find the Homebody.

As a side note, I couldn’t help but think of this song while reading of the pillbox hats:

A Process of Redefinition

Lately I’ve been tryin to break down my concepts of things (words, mostly, in order to build more intuitive definitions) and one of the most compelling of these concepts is “Art” which is continually redefining itself in my mind.  Another word that is undergoing such a process is “Politics”.  I used to consider them to be completely different things, almost polar opposites, studied by  enormously different people (think skinny, mustached, cigarette-smoking, ascetic individual shaking hands with the overweight, pompous, cigar-toting man ticking away at his blackberry).  In my previous oversimplification of these roles the artist would deal with beauty, primarily, where the politician would deal with power.
These two forces act rigorously on our daily lives (no matter how much at times I would like to refuse the notion) and worthy works of Art will engage in that artist’s political bent, implicitly or explicitly.  I thought Kushner’s piece was particularly insightful.  In his assessment of Art, Politics and the concept of Culture, he states, “There is a false notion that Culture unites people and Politics divides them[…]while we say, hopefully, that no difference is insuperable, the recognition and embracing of difference, rather than its effacement, is what real integration and real multiculturalism mandate.  We do not want to be overhasty in seeking out unity in culture”(43-44).  I think that this observation is especially relevant for today’s artists as the world moves towards globalization and where the threat of (corporate) monoculture looms and the extinction of the Earth’s multitudes of cultural differences could occur in a quickly developing world anxious for utopian-type homogeneity.  Therefore those who choose to become artists have a responsibility, in the the words of Arundhati Roy, “to push at the frontiers, to worry the edges of the human imagination, to conjure beauty from the most unexpected things, to find magic in places where others never thought to look” (5).
By pursuing to make art with these convictions, a person may produce an expression of their identity and culture.  Returning to Kushner, “all culture is ideological, political, rooted in history and informed by present circumstance.  And art hast to reflect this, as well as reflect the artist’s desires for social change which will find expression in the work he or she creates” (44).  Under the cultural cloud Art and Politics work simultaneously; sometimes pushing against one another, swimming beside each other, one tugging and the other hanging back.  It is constant movement but both exist, inseparable.
Danticat’s piece portrays the political conditions in Haiti under the dictator Papa Doc Duvalier, and through this she discusses how Art served as a hope and refuge for the people.  “They needed art that could convince them that they would not die the same way Numa and Drouin did.  They needed to be convinced that words could still be spoken, that stories could still be told and passed on” (8).  Just the notion of reading subversive literature and acting out a play by Albert Camus could have gotten these Haitian citizens imprisoned, exiled, or executed.  This distills the idea that art is a powerful force and, even though we may not realize it at times, is essential as the human race continues through time.
Returning to my original subject, I still have not found an all inclusive definition of what art is and what politics are and how they relate to each other but I think that I have come closer, in my own mind, by composing this. But let us not forget the salt that Kushner has left us (as I piece it together), “The remedy [for mistakes in the political arena], I believe, lies not in cultural exchange[…] but in politics” (46).

Danticat, Edwidge.  Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work.  New York: Vintage 2010: 1-20.  Print.

Kushner, Tony. “Some Questions about Tolerance.”  Thinking About the Longstanding Problems of Virtue and Happiness.  New York: NY.  Theatre Communications Group, 1995.  41-46.  Print.

Roy, Arundhati.  Power Politics.  Boston:  South End Press, 2002.  Print.