As an autobiographical sequel to Fun Home, Bechdel's approach to analysing her relationship with her mother couldn't be more different to how she exAs an autobiographical sequel to Fun Home, Bechdel's approach to analysing her relationship with her mother couldn't be more different to how she examined the one with her father. If you have a problem with dry psychoanalysis, then you may struggle with Are You My Mother?
'I didn't understand why we couldn't just read books without forcing contorted interpretations on them.'
'I still found literary criticism to be a suspect activity. Once you grasped that Ulysses was based on the Odyssey, was it really necessary to enumerate every last point of correspondence?'
These two quotes from Fun Home perfectly describe my frustration with Bechdel's obsession with using psychoanalysis and countless dry quotes in academic-speak to not only figure out her feelings for her mother, but to decipher her sense of self. I began to lose patience for her long neurotic struggle which saw me condemn her many times for tedious self-absorption despite obviously low self-esteem and self-hatred and a feeling of being unworthy of love, affection and praise.
Self awareness may be important for personal growth but you also have to look outside yourself in order to understand who you are and who you want to be in the future.
While bits of the psychoanalysis are spot on, things like poking yourself in the eye is just an accident, nothing more. 'Psychoanalytic insight, [Alice] Miller seems to suggest, is itself a pathological symptom.' I'd agree. Bechdel drives herself crazy trying to find meaning in every little detail. This only lets up towards the end when Bechdel falls back to the insertions of literary criticism reminiscent of Fun Home.
'An insecure parent who did not appear to be insecure, but who depended on the child behaving in a particular way. This role secured "love" for the child-that is, his parents' narcissistic cathexis. He could sense that he was needed.'Donald Winnicott
Psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott appears to be Bechdel's hero when it came to the mother-child attachment, so much so that her cat is named Donald. He's heavily quoted throughout and is depicted as a nice man who was amazing with children though he had none of his own.
'It appals me to think how much deep change I have prevented or delayed in patients . . . by my personal need to interpret. If only we can wait, the patient arrives at understanding creatively and with immense joy, and I now enjoy this joy more than I used to enjoy the sense of having been clever.'Donald Winnicott
Winnicott's ideology frames Bechdel's insights and belief's into her maternal bond, although they didn't always feel relevant compared to the significant results of simply recollecting and interrogating the past in a basic fashion.
Alison's mother's reaction to a draft manuscript for Fun Home was not what Alison unexpected. '"...Alison is wrecking my life." She said she felt the dread she used to feel with Dad, of exposure and scandal . . . The crazy thing is I was hoping she'd say something about the writing, you know? That I'd impressed her!'
While Alison is desperately trying to seek approval and affection from her mother, she fails to take into consideration her feelings on the subject matter of her book or the fact that she disapproved of airing the family secrets in public under Alison's real name. To add to that, her mother wasn't used to the comic form as 'she thought there'd be more text and not so many drawings' and believed 'the self has no place in good writing.'
On memoir writers divulging the personal information of others without permission Bechdel writes, "Well . . . writers are kind of monstrous, aren't they? They don't have, like, normal human ethics." She herself transcribed conversations with her mother.
'Mom had told me that she felt I'd betrayed her by revealing things in the book that she'd told me in confidence. I'd thought I'd had her tacit permission to tell the story, but in fact I never asked for it and she never gave it to me. Our truce is a fragile one.'
By writing about her dysfunctional parents in order to understand them, Alison severely damaged her prospects of forming the type of relationship she wanted with her mother. A sad irony.
'I don't know why you can't understand me . . . Whatever it was I wanted from my mother was simply not there to be had. It was not her fault. And it was therefore not my fault that I was unable to elicit it. I know she gave me what she could.'
Alison uses her beloved therapist Jocelyn as a surrogate mother figure to absorb the good feelings Jocelyn had about her. 'Mom and I didn't hug or kiss goodbye. We hadn't touched in years.' It's telling that one hug from Jocelyn and calling Alison 'adorable' seemed to do more for Alison than the psychoanalysis.
Jocelyn's comment, "I think your mother has some resentment about being female that got passed on to you" has some merit. Bechdel's father preferred Alison to look like a stereotypical girl, to wear dresses, have ribbons in her hair, etc. Alison rejected this aesthetic instead going for the tomboy image instead. Her mother being seen to prefer her brothers over her probably reinforced the idea that anything "girly" was bad.
Virginia Woolf's influence in having said writing about her mother in To The Lighthouse helped put her obsession with her to bed, Bechdel declares writing Are You My Mother? she was able to do the same.
Want to know the possible roots of misogyny? Bechdel seems to suggest that womb envy may be one and there's also an implication of resentment towards women for the dependence we all had on them as children.
'Some of what [Winnicott] says is very of that era. "Penis envy is a fact." But then Winnicott "reminds" the audience that "male envy of women is incalculably greater . . . We find that the trouble is not so much that everyone was inside and then born, but that at the very beginning everyone was dependent on a woman. . . The awkward fact remains, for men and women, that each was once dependent on woman, and somehow a hatred of this has to be transformed into a kind of gratitude if full maturity of the personality is to be reached."
Poet and radical lesbian feminist Adrienne Rich is another of Bechdel's heroes. 'The essay in which [Adrienne] Rich cites A Room of One's Own covers some of the same ground as Woolf's Book. Like, for example, the woman writer's peculiar challenge to cease being an object and start being a subject.' As a fellow feminist this makes me want to read Woolf and Rich.
In her struggles to write her memoirs Bechdel came across Freud's inclusion of an interesting quote on writer's block from poet Frederick Schiller.
"The reason for your complaint, it seems to me, is the constraint which your intellect imposes upon your imagination . . . you reject too soon and discriminate too severely."
Reading Are You My Mother? wasn't as an enjoyable experience as Fun Home despite being familiar with psychoanalytical theory. As a theme, it's overused and monotonous and certainly reduces the book's appeal to a wider audience, even fans of Fun Home. Prolonged angst over anxiety, depression and writer's block made it difficult to sympathise with Alison despite experiencing those issues for myself and recognising the symptoms. Although one moment of shared history did tickle me. 'I found I could soothe myself to sleep with a fantasy.' I wonder if other writers and bibliophiles did this as children, too.
As for the drawings, there's a change from Fun Home's blue-tinged imagery to maroon. I'm unsure if Bechdel did this intentionally to represent the stereotypical colours corresponding to the gender of the parent she's analysing. In any case, the warmer colour is easier on the eye....more
Earl is a permanent patient at a hospital since he was injured in the attack which saw Earl's wife raped and killed. His injury has caused permanent brain damage meaning he's unable to convert short-term into long-term memories. Earl remembers everything before the damage, but nothing after, so his memory is only ten minutes long.
You can't have a normal life anymore. You must know that. How can you have a girlfriend if you can't remember her name? Can't have kids, not unless you want them to grow up with a dad who doesn't recognize them. Sure as hell can't hold down a job. Not too many professions out there that value forgetfulness. Prostitution, maybe. Politics, of course.
No. Your life is over. You're a dead man. The only thing the doctors are hoping to do is teach you to be less of a burden to the orderlies. And they'll probably never let you go home, wherever that would be.
So the question is not "to be or not to be," because you aren't. The question is whether you want to do something about it. Whether revenge matters to you.
It does to most people. For a few weeks, they plot, they scheme, they take measures to get even. But the passage of time is all it takes to erode that initial impulse. Time is theft, isn't that what they say? And time eventually convinces most of us that forgiveness is a virtue. Conveniently, cowardice and forgiveness look identical at a certain distance. Time steals your nerve.
No doubt Memento Mori is interesting and insightful. A man with no memory has nothing to lose. Punishment for taking revenge on his wife's killer is going to be meaningless to him, although I'm not sure it's realistic for Earl to actually achieve this goal with a ten-minute memory even with the notes tattooed on his body to remind him of what he needs to do.
Jonathan Nolan's narration of Memento Mori is also available for free on YouTube....more
The Shawl is the first book I've read concerning the Holocaust but it's everything one would expect it to be. A horrific, poignant, lyrical, and heartThe Shawl is the first book I've read concerning the Holocaust but it's everything one would expect it to be. A horrific, poignant, lyrical, and heartbreaking narrative of one woman's life before, during and after the traumatizing events for the Jewish during WWII. Listening to Yelena Shmulenson's skillful narration brought Rosa's suffering to life and doesn't fail to evoke heartache for her plight.
The Shawl is a poignant short story, a very short story but is also very unusual for it's ability to pack an emotional punch with so few words. It tells of Rosa's incarcaration inside a Jewish concentration camp in WWII with her 15-month-old baby Magda and her 14-year-old niece Stella. Rosa's approximately 24 years old at this time.
Starved and freezing, Rosa has run out of milk to feed her baby and instead Madga sucks on her protective shawl that Rosa has used to hide her baby's existence from the guards. Stella steals the shawl claiming she was cold and Magda is found and horrifically killed by a German soldier by throwing her into an electric fence in front of her stunned mother, who stuffs the newly found shawl into her mouth to silence her screams.
Rosa is a novella showing a snapshot of Rosa Lublin's life at 59 years old. It's a portrait of a woman with severe post-traumatic stress disorder. She lives in the past, is haunted by it, is so obsessed with it that she writes letters to a not-dead made up version of Magda with a full back-story. Rosa is adamant that Stella is a liar, that Magda isn't dead, that Magda wasn't the product of rape by a German soldier.
Rosa, just a few months before, had had a mental breakdown smashing up her antiques store and is now living in Miami in a cheap hotel for the retired, financially supported by Stella. Her room is bare of decoration and her life is just as bare of friends and social activity.
On a rare visit to the laundrette she meets 71-year-old almost widower Simon Persky, another fellow Polish expat. She doesn't take kindly to his interference in her life, his chatty demeanor or the fact that he isn't easily intimidated as he's used to the not quite sane as his wife is in an asylum. His uncanny perceptiveness and tenacity in pursuing Rosa as a friend softens her up a little though she's adamant that, "My Warsaw is not your Warsaw." He had left Poland before the Nazi occupation. When he tells her to live her life a little, she responds "Thieves took it." She's not wrong. Thieves took her daughter's life and with it Rosa's life as a mother - the only thing she was desperately clinging to in the concentration camp - had died with her. It didn't matter that Magda was mere days away from death by starvation.
Letters from Dr. Tree deeply upset and infuriate Rosa. Despite his polite tone his letters are disrespectful in his request to include her in his psychological study of Holocaust survivors. His language is scientifically dense and inaccessible to anyone but him. She had been a refugee, a survivor and now she was a specimen - she constantly asks why she isn't simply referred to as a human being rather than a thing to be studied and used.
Over and over again Rosa is shocked and dismayed at people's ignorance of the Holocaust and of the concentration camps. At first she believed they had forgotten but she comes to realise that they've never been told of the horrors in the first place. For her, it's as if those events happened just yesterday instead of 30 years ago. She's stuck in that time period and can't move on. She has no friends, only her niece whom she had rescued from the orphanages once the residents of the concentration camps had been liberated.
It's obvious that Stella has also struggled to embrace life as she hasn't managed to fulfil her desires for marriage and a family. Instead, Stella and Rosa appear to be co-dependent. Stella deprives Rosa of the all-important shawl to force Rosa out of the past but Rosa begs and Stella sends it to Miami. Rosa's reaction to it as the most precious thing in the world is deeply sad. It doesn't live up to her expectations at first, in its colour, its smells, that is until it does the one thing she wants the most: catapault her back into the past to be with her beloved baby. ...more
Add to The Checklist Manifesto to wishlist Buy, beg, borrow or steal The Checklist Manifesto Read The Checklist Manifesto Rate The Checklist Manifest✔ Add to The Checklist Manifesto to wishlist ❒ Buy, beg, borrow or steal The Checklist Manifesto ❒ Read The Checklist Manifesto ❒ Rate The Checklist Manifesto ❒ Review The Checklist Manifesto...more
Michael Sheen (Masters of Sex) did a brilliant job in voicing the title role of Oedipus in what I found to be an 'easier' to understand translation byMichael Sheen (Masters of Sex) did a brilliant job in voicing the title role of Oedipus in what I found to be an 'easier' to understand translation by Duncan Steen for the full cast audio.
I'm glad I've finally read the famous, fabulously sensational story of incest and patricide about the man who kills his father and marries his mother, after encountering Freud's derivative Oedipus Complex in psychology class a decade ago.
Sophocles showcases the limitations of prophecy in stating the destination without providing details of the journey, and therefore a way to avoid the outcome. Had Oedipus's father not been told of the prophecy, would Oedipus have still fulfilled it? Laius would never have ordered his son to be ripped from his mother and left to die on a hillside had he not not known of the prophecy; and Oedipus would've grown up knowing his parents whereupon the Westermarck effect would come into play. So, is the Delphic oracle at fault here? Should he take some modicum of responsibility for Oedipus's crimes by putting him on the path to committing them? Every cause has an effect and every effect, a cause.
Coincidence or fate? Again, if Oedipus hadn't been informed of the prophecy he wouldn't have met his real father on that crossroads, but as soon as he did, his fate was sealed.
I liked the symbolism of the action at the three-way crossroads. King Laius and his entourage tried to push Oedipus off the road which resulted in a skirmish to the death. Oedipus prevailed by killing all but one of his attackers who escaped. However, the deaths were reported as a robbery homicide - to save face, perhaps? Obviously the king wasn't well guarded if one man could slay him and all of his men. If Oedipus is right and the king's men instigated the incident, was killing them self-defence? Oedipus is presented as an honest and honorable king who takes great pride in his good character. I doubt he'd lower himself to robbery when outnumbered and afterwards feel no guilt over his 'youthful misdeed' when his latter guilt cripples him.
Free will only applies to the control of one's own actions and the ability to influence that of others'. Oedipus is unable to exert enough control over his life to make informed decisions when he'd been lied to about his identity so it's difficult to blame him for crimes he'd committed unwittingly. Rather than a heinous criminal, Oedipus is painted as a pitiable figure. Self-inflicted punishment is meted out instead of the judgement and execution of societal justice, because no can hurt you more than yourself. Self-condemnation, self-mutilation and self-banishment from his home is punishment enough.
Ignorance and an inability to look beyond the superficial is expressed as a disadvantage of the ability to see, while blindness confers insight into the truth of things with a painfully sharp clarity. Oedipus mocks Tiresias for his blindness, claiming it hinders his ability to see the truth. Tiresias hits back, mocking Oedipus with a statement representing the exact opposite. Yet Oedipus, upon realising the truth of his actions, dashes out his own eyes in anguished horror after witnessing the dead swinging body of his shamed wife and mother, his psychological pain seemingly blotting out the physical.
I completely understand why this is a beloved classic. I'm sure I could get more out of it with each listen or read. I have only one complaint: I didn't really understand the Chorus. On the audio, many people spoke those words in unison and I thought this obscured the pronunciation, however, I did seek out a free ebook edition online to re-read those parts and they still made little sense to me.
Winston Churchill's black dog euphemism for depression is given form by author and illustrator Matthew Johnstone. He skillfully reveals his personal nWinston Churchill's black dog euphemism for depression is given form by author and illustrator Matthew Johnstone. He skillfully reveals his personal navigation through the seven hells of depression to the light at the end of the very long tunnel. As Churchill once said, "if you're going through hell, keep going." Johnstone sought treatment, told his family and friends and learned how to control the dreaded beast so he could finally enjoy life again.
While I do believe this picture book is accessible to all - including children - with its simple language and warm illustrations, its impact on me was . . . not what I expected. We're more informed and accepting of depression now than we were when I Had a Black Dog was first published in 2005. Ten years is a long time culturally. I know that had I read this back then, I'd be giving it a standing ovation for its accurate depiction of the most common mental illness.
The above page represents one of the aspects I struggled with for years. Every month, as part of my PMS symptoms, I suffered with cripplingly low self-esteem. Every memory from the minor slip ups to bigger mistakes I thought I'd made in my life would cycle through my mind. It was mental torture. Paranoia was one of the side effects, sometimes so terrible I had to leave work before I had a spectacular meltdown. Which leads on to The Fear.
The Fear that everyone will find out and judge you.
Because of the shame and stigma associated with Black Dog. I became a champion at fooling everyone, both at home and at work. Keeping up an emotional lie takes an incredible amount of energy. It's like trying to cover up epilepsy, a heart attach, or diabetes.
Although today we're more open and understanding about depression, there's still room for improvement.
To those who argue the 'black dog' isn't real, the foreword - written by a professor of clinical psychology and head of mental health for Derbyshire - explains the biological basis for the condition reflected in structural and chemical changes in the brain.
I'd definitely recommend I Had a Black Dog to everyone who wants to understand what it means to be depressed....more