Saturday, June 01, 2013

Are You My Mother?

Alison Bechdel's second "comic drama" Are You My Mother? is ostensibly a memoir of the artist's mother, but it's more of an incredibly introspective viewing of the relationship between mother and daughter.  

I was a big fan of Bechdel's Fun Home (it was one of my favorite reads in 2008), in which she ingeniously wove literary classics to her families story, at once elevating the comic genre as well as exposing the universality of her story.

Are You My Mother? also makes frequent references to literature, like Virgina Woolf's To the Lighthouse, Alice Miller's The Drama of the Gifted Child, Sylvia Plath's diaries and much, much more. Bechdel chronicles her own interest and experience in therapy & analysis and is well-read in psychoanalytic writings.  She's particularly interested in Donald Winnicott, a contemporary of the Bloomsbury group.  I'd never heard of Winnicott but I guess he's a follower of Freud, and came up with the idea of "object relations" and "transitional objects".  I know a little bit about these theories from my mommy friends, and also my sister, who would always say to my nephew before she put him to bed, "Pick out a transitional object" even when he was a tiny baby so he'd go to sleep calmly.  

So, intentionally, Bechdel's book is extremely self-reflective and, I fear, might cause many readers to interpret it as sort of ... narcissistic.  I don't know.... narcissism is kind of a derogatory term, and I think she makes a fair case for her kind of absolutely true writing.  Intellectually, I like her exploration of what it is to tell your own story or someone else's - particularly someone who's unwilling.  I honestly don't think Are You My Mother? is a memoir at all, but rather an adult working through the idea of the object relation and identity between herself and her mother.  What's revealed along the way is a glance into this strange relationship they have - Bechdel talks to her mother almost every day on the phone (a fact most people would interpret as a strong relationship), they have a huge psychological distance between them. Bechdel actually sits at the computer and types out most of what her mother says.  Also, she says they haven't embraced since she was a young child.  Also, her mother is openly ashamed of her daughter's sexuality and encourages her to hide it, or write under another name.   Parent Fail.
Anyway, while intellectually i appreciate her style, it's overwhelming to read that level of self-scrutiny.  I mean, she starts out each chapter with a recurring dream she's had followed by a Freudian interpretation.  Why it's so boring to hear about someone else's dream, I don't know, but, oy - so boring.  I still think she's a genius and I love what she does with her art and her craft, but I was a bit turned off what reads as self-involvement.  (I write.  On my blog. Which is all about me. And my thoughts.)

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