Alison Bechdel visits Princeton

April 23, 2014 |  Tagged , | Comments Off on Alison Bechdel visits Princeton


I fake live-tweeted (redacted notes after the fact, I can’t listen, view slides, and type simultaneously… my brain is too small) Alison Bechdel’s excellent, and heroic, visit to Princeton one day after taking place in a protest concert organized at the College of Charleston. I’ll pretend these numbered bullet points make my scattered thoughts here appear Benjaminian, rather than simply reflecting the attenuated syntax imposed by 140 characters (I’ve edited slightly to avoid particularly awkward abbreviations).

Here goes:

Since I refuse to shut up today, I will now not-live-tweet ‪@AlisonBechdel‘s talk ‪@Princeton. Feel free to continue to ignore me ‪#twitter.

1. Occasion: Meredith Miller lecture series, founded by parents of murdered alumna who was a righteous feminist. Brother spoke movingly…

2. about the pace of change for women at Princeton. Important history for all undergrads to be reminded of. First women here class of 1973(!) [sic].

2n. An account and simultaneous evasion of the sexism that greeted the class of ’71 (not ’73) h/t ‪@venetianblonde

3. Bechdel opens w eponymous test, expresses ambivalence: stolen from friend + V. Woolf. Cites ‪@TheOnion as progress.

4. All Bechdel’s work, from Dykes to Watch out For forward, “attempt to create female characters that are full human subjects.”

5. Comics for AB “a non-threatening vector” for artistic expression, putatively free from critical attention/censure. Shades of Spiegelman here.

6. Charles Addams her first influence. Shared sense of houses filled with secrets, dissociation of words and images in comics.

6n. The role of single-panel cartoons in histories/theories of comic continues to go understudied. Brunetti’s work helps here.

7. Bechdel on the rise of comics scholarship: “I guess that’s a good thing.” Better than “not entirely awful,” I suppose. I’ll take it.

8. Had hoped for a broader audience for DTWOF, yet stopped the strip in part because she “no longer needed to see myself”; increased LGBT visibility.

9. Fun Home both a departure from DTWOF and a “way to carry on the same mission.” There’s an essay to be written about this as well.

10. FH a memoir about dad’s sexuality before Stonewall; Are You My Mother? a memoir about mom’s gender role before women’s movement.

10n.Tales of belatedness particularly well suited to comics medium + queer rhetorics. Worth thinking about re: sustained growth of LGBT comics.

11. With parents wanting her to be both writer and artist, cartooning was the only available creative form of rebellion, a “ring tone only heard by teens.”

12. Comics, according to Bechdel, both arrest the gap between signifier/signified in writing and the unreliability of images by bringing them together.

12n. I think this is demonstrably false, both in AB’s comics and in comics more generally.

12n2. Comics’ honesty comes in their acknowledgment/exploitation of these gaps, “honest” in a radically transformed sense of the word.

12n3. I think AB’s work is a profound study of these fault lines. I argued as much here. ‪#eisnernominated

12n4. Every interview she’s given since I published this has contravened my claims; AB much more rigid about latitude for memoir’s truths.

12n5. It IS her truth, after all, not mine.

13. Insistent that Fun Home and Are You My Mother? matter most because they are “true stories about real people.”

14. Does short readings of both memoirs, cutting out text boxes from panels and reading them aloud. First time I’ve seen this technique.

14. [sic] I subjectively miss being able to read and see simultaneously, but this new technique defamiliarizes the text in interesting ways, centers Bechdel’s voice, allows for speed of presentation.

15. Great process stuff, posing for photographic studies, use of technology, especially two forms of color/shade in AYMM? (computer then watercolor)

16. Yet another reminder of both the time intensivity of comics production and my own lack of skill at anything resembling craft, art.

17. FH a book about reading (yes!), AYMM? a book about relationships. Not sure this binary is worth placing on the two memoirs too firmly.

18. Q&A. My Q: What obligation do you feel you have to responses your works provoke, both in context of the musical and ‪@CofC clusterf**k?

18n1. I paraphrase. Also: down in front.

19. A (to second half): I “don’t want to defend myself to conservative politicians.” I’m a cartoonist. I want to do my work.

19n. Slightly different formulations to this answer are emerging in interviews published today.

20. Q: What’s next? A: Another memoir/cultural history of fitness trends(!). Intimations of this in AB blogging on Jack LaLanne.

20n. Also, potentially in relation to work like this. If so, I’m very excited to read & teach this.

21. Q: Response to musical? A: Offered film option, anxious a bad film lives forever. A bad musical, she reasoned, disappears unremembered.

22. Q: What relationship do you see between strip and book-length work? A: No money in, dying medium of newspapers. Books make $, offer real hope of financial security.

23. Q: How address the gaps in LGBT representations in popular culture? A: Can’t hold forth about such representations. Turns the question around.

24. Student(?) responds nobly, Bechdel concedes we [lesbians, LGBT folk] have to “tell our stories in ways that feel compelling to us.”

24n. Bechdel’s ambivalence about LGBT visibility in mainstream media, own potential (often evaded) role as LGBT spokesperson one of the most interesting dynamics in her work, in my opinion.

24n2. Ann Cvetkovich in this vein extremely persuasive on AB’s resistance to “homonormativity.”

25. Final thought: ‪@Princeton is very fortunate to have such a talented ‪@PrincetonGSS program, scholars like ‪@femspectator, Gayle Salamon (both gave excellent introductions) +others.

And, it’s Princeton, so Jorie Graham pulls into town this afternoon…


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