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.

I hadn’t started reading graphic novels until my freshman year in college. A few friends of mine were the type of people who had their regular comics sent to them from their hometown comic-book store, or they would travel the distance to Jamestown (the nearest comicbook store around). I had never really given much thought to them, I didn’t like or dislike them, but seeing their interest and dedication I decided to see what they were all about. I started reading Green Lantern (still do) and Batman has since become my absolute favorite (at first I thought he was just a rich guy with no powers; little did I know). Coincidentally I was assigned to read Watchman for Novels and Tales (McRae’s class). I previously thought that graphic novels and the like were cliche nerd paraphernalia, but after reading some on my own and then Watchmen for class my opinion was completely reversed. Graphic novels have the ability to stand on the same level as any other novel or literature. A classic example of this is Watchmen, I know I’m referring to it a lot but that’s because everyone is familiar with it. Watchmen on the surface is a graphic novel, “superheros” fighting against a certain evil. But it tackles a big issue within society, which is who is there to keep those sworn to protect society from taking advantage of their power and using it for their own goals. Moreover, Watchmen isn’t done in a silly way, the images are gritty and the characters are just as real of a portrayal as novelists come up with as well. Maybe this is just personal preference, but the gritty and violent (and not unnecessarily violent) images give the reader a greater impression. The author/artist can use images in addition to text, which enhances the point that is trying to be made.

On the same topic of images, and this may be a little more far-fetched, but graphic novels can use their images to soften or toughen a topic. A perfect example of this is Maus, which all about WW2 and concentration camps. I have seen elementary aged kids reading this and I think the fact that it’s not real people or describing cats, dogs, and pigs as people during WW2 (which seems susceptible to coming across as convoluted), makes it readable to kids of most any age. Conversely, I have seen teachers and parents reading Maus and enjoying it. I believe the power of a graphic novel is in it’s images (astounding), but what I mean is that the images can make subject more real or an issue more age universal. Graphic novels deserve to be on the same level as all other types of literature.

Growing up in wartime

This is my second or third time working with Persepolis. I had seen the movie before I ever read the novel. I was immediately drawn into the format (though my first foray into graphic novels came in the form of Maus by Art Spiegelman in 2004).

I love that in reading Persepolis again, I’ve noticed completely different things about it this time. This time I noticed the way in which she has chosen to write – from her perspective, but from her perspective as a child. There are various moments throughout the novel that show just how young Marjane is. I remember being young and curious about things, so naturally I would ask my parents to explain them. The problem with having adults explain things to children is that they don’t know exactly where the child is coming from or what they are asking because kids don’t necessarily have the language to articulate what they want to know. For example, I went to a Catholic school when I was in Kindergarten. I remember the teacher telling us about a soul, but she was speaking from an adult’s perspective so pieces were missing for me. I remember thinking that a soul was a kidney shaped object wrapped up like a mummy that floated to heaven on sunbeams when you died (yeah, I know). I imagine this is a similar situation for Marjane. She asks many questions and her imagination goes off in all sorts of directions after her family answers her.

I think one of the most poignant moments comes on page 51. Marjane’s family is discussing the torture and execution of Ahmadi. Marjane tells us “They burned him with an iron.” She goes on to say, looking back at a standard iron “I never imagined that you could use that appliance for torture.” This moment is a sort of loss of innocence. Yes, Marjane has grown up in war, but this is sort of a turning point. Something that should be harmless and used just to make clothing look nice and crisp has become an instrument of torture. What does this say about other household items?

Here’s a video of another telling of growing up in wartime. I think the contrast in the telling is different. Despite the fact that Satrapi is writing as an adult about her childhood, she writes from a child-like perspective. John F. Jones, as seen in the video speaks as an adult looking back on his life in wartime. I wonder if the differences in age or gender have much to do with the telling of each.

Works Cited:

Growing up with war. 2008. Video. Youtube, Web. 28 Mar 2012.

Satrapi, Marjane. The complete Persepolis. New York: Pantheon Books, 2007. Print.

Xenophobia

One section of Persepolis that caught my interest was the one titled “Tyrol” where she talks about not belonging to a social clique because they had all already been going on. There were two particular moments I liked that made me so intrigued by this section.

The first was at the bottom of page 165 where she asked for a ruler and her peers told her it was called a “dick” resulting in her embarrassingly asking a classmate if she could borrow his. I chose this because we see students having fun with the foreign girl. She was viewed as an outsider being made a mockery of because she did not speak the same language as them. Of course teaching her would have been too ethical. Clearly it is hard to see how cruel you are when you have not been there.

The other part I noticed was immediately after when she referred to a French girl in one o her classes: “I understood later that her reserve came from the fact that she considered the others to be spoiled children. But I was different. I had known war.” (Satrapi, 166). This is interesting because of a sort of cultural gap. Where we are from and what we have seen seems to make such a huge difference in how we are perceived. This ties in with something I have stated in our previous two readings. We live our lives in America believing we have seen the worst parts of any war. But I know now that we are not complete victims. We have here someone who was trapped in the middle of it all. She is in the midst of people who have fun and use her as a guinea pig. It is nice to see the French girl recognizes it.

Satrapi, Marjane. The complete Persepolis. New York: Pantheon Books, 2007. Print.

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:

http://theamericanscholar.org/the-decline-of-the-english-department/

 

The Personal is Political

Brian Turners collection of poetry,Phantom Noise is a great example of the personal is political. I have read a lot of confessional poetry, but I must admit I have not read any war poetry other than the iconic works such as “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae that I was taught in middle school. The way that Turner blends the deeply personal confessional style of poetry with the insurmountable theme of war is what makes this collection so powerfully political. War is something that I will probably never be able to understand. No matter how much time I spend thinking about it, I will never understand why humanity has always been so eager to kill each other and find ways to pretend that it is ok. With that said I often tend to dislike reading novels and poems that are about war. Regardless of whether or not I like reading about war, I thought Turner’s collection was very powerful and an effective way to give people like me a little more understanding.

In poems such as “The Whale” on page 10, there is no direct mention of war, if looked at separately from the context of the collection as a whole this poem seems like an innocent account of a childhood event. However, with the context of war that surrounds this book this poem becomes a haunting depiction of war through the extended metaphor of the whale. The images of the people shielding themselves from the blast, “the local news reporter dropping to his knees/to cover his head with a clipboard/while the cameraman does the same,/my mother shielding me with her torso/turned away from the blast” call to mind most poignantly the image of war and bombings.

By depicting the atrocities of war with the personal Turner makes his writing more politically powerful because it is easier to relate to. Turner also turns something that can easily be thought of as inhuman to something that is heartbreakingly human.

Turner, Brian. Phantom Noise. Farmington, Me.: Alice James, 2010. Print.

 

 

Turner’s collection of poems and their subject matter are not anything entirely new, a soldier comes back scarred emotionally and the memories wait for unsuspecting moments to resurface. I get it, he is rightfully a victim of PTSD (for good measure: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001923/), he’s seen and gone through things I will never wish to see. The most notable example of this theme is the title poem, Phantom Noise in which Turner describes this constant ringing that shows no sign of going away, the last line contains one single italicized ringing but not just some random ringing, Turner describes it as “this ringing  hum this/ringing“, a specific type. This type of ringing is associated with a “bullet borne language”, one that reminds him of all the shots fired and their victims, the roar of militant machinery, and the feelings felt during his seven years of tours. This poem summarizes Turners experiences and is a look into the effects of those experiences and is an apt summation of the book as a whole, all of which are common themes of war literature, especially when written by veterans. I do not mean all of this belittle PTSD or the efforts and sacrifices made by those who have and continue to serve in the military; what I mean is that so far, I’m having a tough time separating this collection of poetry by a veteran from other books and collection about the same topic of war.

Setting aside thinking about how PTSD centered and very characteristically this collection was of war literature, I went back to find what separates, or elevates this from the rest of the literature of the same genre. THe first poem that caught my attention was, “Aubade: Layover in Amsterdam” (9). This poem is a roller-coaster hump, it starts serene in California, telling of the sleepy hours between two lovers and the narrators ever increasing immersion into a memory about a night spent with a woman in Amsterdam. What struck me is that even though the issue of PTSD is the reason this memory was turned to a poem, the focus is the narrators life in California with his lover and the “watery dark” and ends with a sympathetic wish while lying with a woman from Amsterdam, “and I want her to whisper in my ear,/ even in a language I’ve never heard before,/ just to hear another human voice, just to breathe in the dark”. What struck me about this was how emotion centered this poem was, especially given the last lines. This poem we know is born of war memories, but it’s plot is not driven by them, it is driven by the narrator’s emotion’s and desire’s, ones we can all share giving us a elevated sense of understanding or insight to these poems. A similar event occurs in “Illumination Rounds” (23), where the narrator enters a dream-like, memory induced trance and the memories combine illogically, yet seamlessly, with one another. At one point in the poem the narrator is found shoveling a grave for “the war dead” and his wife walks out to help him back to reality saying they should invite these ghosts inside to get to know them, and understand them, especially if they’re going to bury them. I’m 100% on the last stanza of the poem, but the focus of my point is more on the fact that the narrator’s wife is brought in and she’s not just some victim subject to his bouts of PTSD, she is portrayed as any other non-veteran author would portray a wife, she is strong, and a driving force behind the calming of his mind when he is suffering. It also reflects on the veteran narrator as well, he is completely human, he isn’t some idealized Rambo-soldier, nor is he some nutcase because he was subject to the governments apathetic whims of experimentation on it’s soldiers. The relation between the narrator and his wife are not any different than any other married couple, their issue, PTSD, is uncommon but an issue the both of them handle as average citizens who are married.

It is both the exposure of and humanistic portrayal of one man’s dealings with PTSD, combined with the fact that Turner is not overtly political in his poetry that gives these poems their human aspects and qualities or normalcy that allow the average reader to experience these poems with a greater understanding and true sense of sympathy; and is what separates this collection from ones it it/could be compared to. Without the overt political message, we as the reader do not have to choose a side and can focus on the narrator’s emotion’s, struggle’s, and above all, his humanity.