Persepolis: Truth and Working-Through the Comic Form (Part 2/2)
The task of remembering her past was surely difficult and arduous for Persepolis author Marjane Satrapi. “When doing the book” she explains “I had to remember all the things I wanted to forget so badly through the years” In a way, Satrapi has desacralized her past and opened it up for reflection. It is no coincidence than that the format she chooses is not the traditionally serious novel but comics, which she claims to be “…the only media in the whole world that you can use the image plus the writing and plus the imagination and plus be active while reading it.” Perhaps one of the first steps to work-through difficult memories is to remove the aura that surrounds them, and open them up to interpretation. This task is easier said than done, requiring itself a kind of ritual, as Satrapi explains: “when I work, you know, I am completely in a trance. I’m so concentrated on the work that I don’t look at myself working. And I work alone on my books…”
Jennifer Worth argues in her article ‘Unveiling: Persepolis as Embodied Performance’ that the personal narratives of Persepolis represent an embodied performance that might otherwise be denied to Satrapi. The graphic novel, in this way, stands as a middle ground between the novel and theater. Worth argues, evoking a theorist like bell hooks, that:
“Satrapi is not simply concerned with recounting the difficulty of resolving an identity caught between two worlds …[r]ather, she demonstrates the complex interplay of political and personal history that serves to construct – or obstruct – the formation of identity itself, ultimately breaking away from a marginalized, ‘caught-between’ identity, ironically, through an embrace of her liminal status.”
Worth argues that “Satrapi is not concerned with documenting her past, but with performing – that is, actively re-creating – her quest for identity through mimetic acts of showing and telling her personal history”. This re-creation plays out on the pages of Persepolis, echoing Freud’s claim that the transference “creates an intermediate region between illness and real life through which the transition from one to the other is made. The new condition has taken over all the features of the illness; but it represents an artificial illness which is at every point accessible to our intervention”. Art can occupy this borderland between illness and real life. It can, in other words, manifest itself and become accessible.
The comic format resembles a live performance according to Worth, who reminds us that “Will Eisner, who first theorized comics as an art form, borrowed freely from the language of theatre and performance in his pioneering works…, using the term ‘actor’ to describe the characters who ‘speak’ to each other through the text…” Worth describes the mimetic qualities of the graphic novel. Mimesis carries with is a troublesome past, going back as far as Plato’s difficult relationship to the arts. The imitation, for Plato, was simply a secondary remove from Form(al) Reality, insofar as things in the world were already merely corporeal reflections of their incorporeal Forms. As such, the artist for Plato does not point us in the direction of knowledge. However, what we find in works such as Persepolis suggests that the arts do not simply introduce something like secondary remove, but in fact, can produce something quite novel. Let’s investigate this idea a little further. Worth writes that:
In his analysis of Art Spiegelman’s…Maus (a work to which Persepolis has frequently been compared), Huyssen borrows from Adorno’s concept of mimesis by way of reconciling it with Bilderverbot (‘forbidden images’) of the Holocaust. Huyssen points out that Adorno’s term Angleichung is defined as ‘a becoming or making similar, a movement toward, never a reaching of a goal’. This notion…is central to Satrapi’s project, which not only represents the effects of historical trauma (revolution, war and so on) but additionally foregrounds the female body, also considered unpresentable under the Islamic regime. Furthermore, it is this sense of Angleichung that helps create a bridge from the concept of the mimetic (mere representation) to that of performance (a dynamic activity).
My understanding of Persepolis as performance is rooted in the definition of performance as ‘restored’ or ‘twice-behaved’ behavior. Satrapi’s story of becoming was first ‘behaved’ – that is, simply lived – over the course of fourteen years in Iran and Austria, but has been consciously behaved a second time, restored though the process of writing and drawing, and thus transformed into a unique performance.
This transformation into a unique performance is an immensely interesting idea. For it is this transformation, a sort-of desacralization, that is required to begin the process of working-through. It is the creation of a subjective narrative that one has the ability to contort, confuse and tamper with. It is the ability to tell ones own story in one’s own voice and render it by their own hand in an intimate and personal manner. It is, in a way, a sort of iconoclastic temperament, that allows the artist to represent, in her own way, that which is, for whatever reason, forbidden.
The graphic memoir allows the artist to make a similar rendering, but not to aim at the literal and objective truth of the historical event, which is impossible anyhow. This circumvents the problem of being unable to articulate an event.
For example, on p.309, during the memory where a friend falls to his death there are no words, only the etches of memory, lines of black and white – symbolically devoid of color – that provide Satrapi with something to tell, something to reflect on, and most importantly, something capable of being understood and healed. Or look at the memory on p.153 of her parents dropping her at the airport to go to Austria. The look on her father’s face is quite haunting. Haunting not only from an artistic position but from the sense that his face is a projection by Satrapi, something she could never have seen, something that history denied her. We find the creation of her father’s face, something to dwell upon, rather than being caught up in the obscure repetition cast by her departure from her parents, her country and her way of life.
—————cybject is onlyathoughtexperiment————————