What imploded for Alison Bechdel. Francine Prose in the NYRB on Fragments of a Family:
What carries us through the memoir is Bechdel’s wry and painful personal history and the charm of the narrator’s voice, expressed in captions, thought and dialogue balloons, and illustrations, all of which seem to play off—and against—one another to enhance and augment the information we extract from each frame. Often several levels of time happen simultaneously, as the captions, pictures, and dialogue each appear to tell a slightly different version of the story and to look back on it from varying degrees of distance. The voice is not merely clever but intelligent, literary, sympathetic—at once funny, sharp, and kind. The humor ranges from broad to subtle, but we never feel that a joke is being made at a character’s expense. Questioning, reflective, seeking new interpretations and open to new conclusions, the narration attempts to ferret out the truth of what happened and why: of how the Bechdels’ outwardly normal domestic life—secretly rife with angst and yearning, Gothic indeed—stayed intact for as long as it did, and then so rapidly imploded.
What goes for the Cornell student goes for the art world as a whole. It’s split right down the middle. On the left side is an ascetic world of dour dioramas and evergreen minimalism. It lives in Kunsthalles and white cubes. It is protected from the vagaries of the marketplace by a swaddling blanket of bureaucratic concern and obscurantist prose. It’s a cold place, and it makes demands. Spending too many hours in this art world, submitting oneself to its varieties of deprivation, can make you yearn for the warming embrace of the surrounding culture, guzzling corn syrup and wallowing in amateur porn.
“Everybody bears the marks of their birth.” Stephen Clingman at the launch of his memoir Birthmark:
“It’s the grammar of identity. The fate of someone who lives where they were not born,” Clingman said. It became important for him, especially after having children, to leave behind something that would remain after him, something that spoke of their history. “If I didn’t, what will they know of where they come from?” Clingman referred to his own Lithuanian ancestors, saying that the country of their birth was a mystery to him.
The book takes the form of fragments of memory, the text interspersed with first and third person narratives in past and present tense. Clingman responded to a question by author Jonny Steinberg who joined him in conversation: “The first person narratives were palpable memories. My choices were also partly conceptual. A first person narrative could also be someone speaking in the third person. I was interested in the question, ‘Who are we when we think about the past?’”
The pervasive and unpleasant smell of ripe guavas. Reminding me how once we had to eat them every morning at breakfast for the Vitamin A content, so healthy for growing children. A smell pungent and distinctive as juicy ripe mango, unforgettable. Like the first time you happen upon the durian fruit and enter cloacal.
Do We Dream Under the Same Sky?