Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama (Anglais) Relié – 1 mai 2012
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Revue de presse
"In this brilliant, bleakly hilarious memoir in comic-book form, Bechdel combines stories from her emotionally barren but weirdly fascinating childhood with elegant allusions to Proust and Joyce to make a gripping story of filial sleuthery and, in the end, hard-earned acceptance of how much of her father she finds in herself." -Time
"FUN HOME is an intricate document of a childhood . . . with the gorgeous writing and stunning drawings in tandem." --Los Angeles Times
"A splendid autobiography . . . refreshingly open and generous." — Entertainment Weekly
Bechdel's rich language and precise images combine to create a lush piece of work -- a memoir where concision and detail are melded for maximum, obsessive density. . .The artist's work is so absorbing you feel you are living in her world." - New York Times Book Review
"(B)eautifully combines the mundane with the macabre, adding doses of wry, poignant humor on every page." -The Washington Post
"The great writing of the twenty-first century may well be found in graphic novels and nonfiction. . . . Alison Bechdel's Fun Home is an astonishing advertisement for this emerging literary form." — USA Today
Présentation de l'éditeur
Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home was a pop culture and literary phenomenon. Now, a second thrilling tale of filial sleuthery, this time about her mother: voracious reader, music lover, passionate amateur actor. Also a woman, unhappily married to a closeted gay man, whose artistic aspirations simmered under the surface of Bechdel's childhood . . . and who stopped touching or kissing her daughter good night, forever, when she was seven. Poignantly, hilariously, Bechdel embarks on a quest for answers concerning the mother-daughter gulf. It's a richly layered search that leads readers from the fascinating life and work of the iconic twentieth-century psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott, to one explosively illuminating Dr. Seuss illustration, to Bechdel’s own (serially monogamous) adult love life. And, finally, back to Mother—to a truce, fragile and real-time, that will move and astonish all adult children of gifted mothers.
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Il faut juste un peu de curiosité intellectuelle, accepter parfois quelques efforts et très vite on est pris d'affection pour Alison et pour sa mère, on a le sentiment aussi souvent qu'on regarde un miroir.
A travers le singulier, l'universel: vieux refrain de la grande littérature, qui prend pleinement sens ici. Tout est d'une rare intelligence et d'une vraie beauté (le dessin, qui semble si transparent, est inimitable; la mise en page, comme dans "Fun Home" incroyablement subtile, cette façon si honnête d'utiliser textes et archives).
Surtout, on perçoit une vraie générosité: Alison Bechdel se donne à nous mais aussi veut nous donner autant d'amour qu'elle aimerait en recevoir. Quelque chose de Montaigne...
Pour inconditionnels seulement !
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This is not Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic 2. It's much more complicated and diffuse. Bechdel's story about her father felt complete and symmetrical. This is much more distant and intellectual with the trailing off nature inherent to a story about two living people who continue to interact. Again and again we return to the image of Bechdel reading in this book . . . reading books about psychoanalysis, reading old correspondence between her parents, even reading transcripts of telephone conversations between her mother and herself (she would type what her mother was saying during the calls). She relates to her mother through reading and this central image tells us more about the brokenness of the relationship than anything else. Her mother, in return, will tell her about stories she reads in the New York Times that make her point instead of saying directly what it is she wants to say. There is little that is tactile or intimate about their relationship. The reader winds up thinking their way through the book in the same way that Bechdel has thought through her relationship with her mother.
In Fun Home, Bechdel used literature, concepts of sexual identity, and even mythology to explore and illuminate her relationship with her father. In this book, despite the forays into the work of Virginia Woolf (which, while interesting, seem to fit least easily into what is going on), she uses mainly the language and insights of psychoanalysis and therapy to explore the ways in which her mother has hurt and empowered her. And while this book lacks none of the detailed hyperfocus on her own particular past that one would expect, it comes across as a much more universal story than Fun Home . . . about the ways in which our mothers, in general, hurt and empower us - even if the specifics of our relationships with our mothers vary from hers.
Despite Bechdel's willingness to dig deep into her own emotions, the intellectualized nature of her relationship with her mother kept me at a distance for most of the book. The book engaged my brain quite deeply (there are a few exceptions that are moving, such as the scene about midway through the book when, as a young woman, she hangs up on her mother during a telephone conversation). Then, in the last few pages, it felt as if everything came together emotionally and I was moved to tears. Rather than being a deficiency in the book, I feel as if this was close to what she must have intended. To think, and think, and think . . . and then suddenly to feel so intensely.
What a gift.
Fun Home, if you'll indulge me for a moment, is the story of Bechdel's relationship with her father and her coming out process. Her father was many things: an English teacher, a funeral home director, an antique collector, a vigilant restorer of their family home, and a closet homosexual.
Bechdel strongly suspects that his sudden, mysterious death after walking in front of an oncoming truck was suicide. He could be distant, demanding, temperamental, and cold to his family. Writing Fun Home was (I imagine) like a therapy session for Bechdel, who hadn't come to terms with what it was like to grow up in the cold, dark household her father created, and who wanted to understand why her father made the decision to hide his sexuality. It works in large part because there's automatic tension between Bechdel and her father: he being emotionally distant and firmly closeted, she sensitive and determined to live her life out in the open. The emotional journey she undergoes in the process of writing it all out is cathartic--revelatory, poignant, and beautiful.
This is not the case with Are You My Mother? It has been said that the unexamined life is not worth living. Bechdel goes to the opposite extreme as she turns her focus to the relationship she has with her mother, who is still alive and is (understandably) conflicted about Bechdel's public airing of the family laundry. But instead of the tense narrative of Home, Mother reads more like a grad student's psychology paper. We follow her to countless therapy sessions and are subjected to passage upon passage from the works of Donald Winnicott, a celebrated psychoanalyst who was influential in the fields of object relation theory and the concept of the "good-enough mother," as well as Alice Miller's The Drama of the Gifted Child. The relentless introspection feels masturbatory.
Bechdel has a history of obsessive compulsive behavior and relentless self-inspection; she has kept a meticulous diary from a young age and, during a particularly bad period of compulsive behavior, her mother had to take dictation for these diary entries in order to keep Bechdel from writing all night long. "Don't you think," she argues, "that if you write minutely and rigorously enough about your own life you can, you know, transcend your particular self?"
The problem is that all this rigorous attention to detail has the opposite effect: instead of revealing, it obfuscates. There's meat to this story that we never get to savor. Bechdel implies that her mother favored her sons over her only daughter, and her mother agrees, but we never see an example of this. Her mother abruptly stopped kissing her goodnight when she was seven years old, but this highly traumatic event ("I felt almost as if she'd slapped me") is only really used as an anecdote. Bechdel makes a passing remark that when she went off to college she and her mother "hadn't touched in years," but nothing more is said about the matter.
Instead, we get a lengthy explanation of how she wasn't breastfed because, despite efforts, she wasn't getting enough nourishment from her mother's breastmilk. This is treated like a revelation: the catalyst of a relationship defined by disappointment and a lack of intimacy. Even if it's true, Bechdel seems oblivious to the fact that countless people who aren't breastfed grow up to be perfectly fine. My mother was unable to breastfeed any of her children, yet we all grew up to have healthy relationships (despite the stormy marriage our parents had). I know, I'm simplifying the point Bechdel is trying to make, but I think it serves as a perfect example of how her intense scrutiny gets in the way of actual revelation.
There's also a distressing amount of dream analysis--a very Freudian concept to be sure, but also the most specious form of self-introspection in existence for someone as obsessively detail-oriented as Bechdel. In one of Are You My Mother's worst moments, Bechdel dreams that her therapist takes a torn pair of her pants to sew a patch on them. This is also treated as a major revelation. "You were gonna fix the tear, which maybe means tear, too! You're healing me!" Bechdel exclaims to her therapist in their next session.
Throughout, Bechdel's mother remains an enigma--a shadowy figure lurking on the periphery of a book ostensibly about her. There isn't anything to love about her as presented here, but there isn't anything to loathe either. Toward the end we discover that the mother may have perpetuated the same crimes of ambivalence and distance that were committed against her as a child and as a wife, but this all-too-brief moment is the closest we come to any actual understanding. More than anything, she seems to be a prism for other, deeper hurts. Perhaps this book isn't so much about Bechdel's mother as it is about Bechdel's constant quest to find the acceptance she didn't get as a child and to locate a proper (good-enough?) mother figure. She certainly becomes dependent on each of her successive therapists for affirmation, desperately clinging to them as maternal figures. Bechdel even professes to have come to realize that whatever it was she wanted from her mother, she wasn't going to get it. It would also explain why she selected the title of P.D. Eastman's classic childrens book when naming her new memoir.
Even if that is the point, it doesn't make for a good read. Bechdel's dogged reasoning obscures far more than it reveals. It's like when you stare at something for so long that its shape begins to lose focus and all meaning is lost. There were many times in Are You My Mother? that I wanted nothing more than to give Bechdel a good, long hug and tell her that she should try letting herself off the hook every now and then. It must be impossible to enjoy life when you spend every waking minute worriedly questioning everything. Certainly it must feel exhausting.
A dream sequence opens each section, and is usually revisited with greater insight later in the chapter. Psychology and psychoanalysis play a massive role here, with Alison's sessions with two different counselors giving us an intimate and ongoing look into her personal struggles. Parallel to this is her self-imposed (and almost obsessive) study of the work of psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott. His books, his papers, his biography--all give her another lens to view her conflicted and evolving Self through.
Another Bechdel feature is how she refers to and draws on other literature and writers: Virginia Woolf, Adrienne Rich, and a fabulous aha moment with Dr. Seuss.
And mom. A gifted actor, a stunted writer of poetry, a woman married for many years to a closeted gay man, and a mother who learned from her own mother that "boys are more important than girls." There are some heartbreaking moments here (I won't share and spoil it). At times mom seems to purposely seek to diminish her daughter by referencing other authors, other memoirists, or other cartoonists, understandably triggering envy. And sometimes she seems to do this unconsciously. Not sure which feels worse when you are on the receiving end. On the other hand, there is absolutely a bond here. The two speak often by phone, visit, do a trip to the city together. So in their own ways, they do keep trying.
The book itself slips back and forth through time, and it's confusing at first to feel rooted in the narrative. Younger Alison looks very much like older Alison; a couple girlfriends look similar, even the two therapists resemble each other. Sometimes the action focuses on Fun Home, her earlier book about her father, and sometimes it's centered on this book-in-the-making. It keeps folding in on itself again and again, then opening back up, only to be refolded another way, like origami. Next thing you know, you have a beautiful and intricate crane. It all comes together in a spectacular way, so stay with it.
I've got to comment on the artwork. As I mentioned, each section opens with a dream. They end with a tight close-up in a thick black frame. The details in the cartoons--the personal artifacts on her desk, the tree outside the therapist's window, the book and movie titles--are worth slowing down for. And I love the addition of color here! All red and variations of that color. Bloody reds, clotted reds, muddy pinks, muted mauves, all very effective. When Alison talks to her mom on a land line, it's red like a Cold War presidential hotline linked to Russia.
It can't have been easy to write a book about someone you love who is still living. Her mother's sense of privacy is embedded in many of these pages, and this is a relationship that they are both continuing to co-create, off the page. This isn't a revenge memoir by any stretch. It's very thoughtful, very careful, and very brave. I'm sure it treads a space that makes both mother and daughter a little squeamish, at times. Ultimately, it's a loving exploration that ends on a sweet and generous note. I loved it. I even loved the dedication.
Presumably the book is about Bechdel's mother, whom I was certainly curious about after reading Fun Home. But the book offers virtually no insight about her mother. As Bechdel's mother comments after reviewing a draft, it's a meta-book - Bechdel is writing about her own exploration of her relationship with her mother. As a result, we learn very little about the supposed main character. Instead we get long descriptions of Bechdel's dreams as well as virtual transcripts of her therapy sessions over the past 20 years.
The few interesting anecdotes that describe Bechdels mother's parenting are, disappointingly, not pursued. For instance, when Bechdel was a toddler she wandered out of her parent's sight in their home and pulled a full length mirror down on top of her. Her mother relays that when she heard the crash she thought Bechdel must be dead and ran to the bathroom to hide. Her baby is hurt so she hides?! This is one of the few incidents that did actually make me question her mother's parenting skills, yet Bechdel fails to elaborate or question her mother about her strange instinct tor run away. I don't understand Bechdel's mother, and If Bechdel doesn't either, it's because she's not asking the right questions.
There is an exchange in the book in which her mother complains that modern authors' works are too personal, too specific. Bechdel replies, "can't you be more universal by being specific?" In this case, I must agree with her mother. I am a woman not much younger than Bechdel, and I've had a rocky relationship with my own mother since college, and yet this book is so specific, so inside Bechdel's head, that it offers me nothing. I hope writing it helped Bechdel. I hope she has gained some insight that will allow her to stop analyzing and recording her life long enough to live it, but sadly, I can't recommend this book to paying customers.
When I learned of this new sort-of sequel, I grabbed it immediately, but, . . . well, it isn't the same sort of book at all. And while certain parts of it are equally fascinating, I'm not sure I can consider it a success. For one thing, it's only partly a parallel to the first book as an attempt to explain the author's mother (who is still alive and kicking). It's actually, perhaps mostly, an overview of the life and ideas of Donald Winnicott, an innovative British psychoanalyst who lived until 1971 but whose roots were deep in the Freudian Golden Age and whose field of study was small children and the ways they relate to the objective, external world. Another major theme is the author's progress through a lifetime of analysis therapy herself, during which she sometimes comes off as more the analyst than the patient. And another is her struggle to write _Fun Home_, which cost her a great deal of psychic sweat -- especially trying to get her mother to accept the idea. And yet another theme is Virginia Woolf, whose novels and essays Bechdel obviously thinks very highly of, especially _To the Lighthouse_.
Part of the problem is me. I have a good education, several degrees, and more than three decades of experience as a librarian, which means a broad knowledge about a variety of fields of thought and endeavor. Among many other things, I've read most of the essential works of Freud and Jung over the years -- and however hard I try, I've just never been able to accept that sort of thing as having an real-world validity. So much psychoanalysis, especially of the Freudian variety, seems forced and self-indulgent. That's true of most of the insights (. . . I'm trying hard not to go back and put that word in quotes . . .) that Alison apparently reaches, too. I mean, what exactly is "the True Self" supposed to mean, anyway? Is patching a hole in a small kid's jeans really "an act of renewal and transformation"? When my mother did that, it was a act of budget-management, and I think I knew it.
Sorry, it just all seems a stretch to me, and it makes the author seem to be somewhat in the throes of an odd sort of addiction. For all those reasons, this book just doesn't grab hold of my mind and heart the way the first one did.