My thoughts on a Thesis for my Senior Seminar project

Read a memoir of rock legend Eric Clapton, Clapton: The Autobiography, and then search in his songs to create a comparison on which works the best as illustrating critical moments of his life, the memoir or the songs?

Adding to this post my thesis as it came to be:

Eric Clapton Autobiography is an addiction narrative supported by a new age Bildungsroman, having as common climax the aftermath of the death of Conor.

Response to Tig Notaro’s stand-up memoir.

Upon listening to Tig Notaro’s life narrative, I found it difficult to categorize it. Yes, it is a memoir, for Notaro narrates a series of tragedies that happened to her life, but personally, I found it questionable if the seriousness of those tragedies could be considered “funny” or “amusing.” Especially, after going through my wife’s cancer, chemo, radiation and surgeries, I could not see what was so funny about it. At the same time, I thought that Notaro should have felt the same thing. Notaro’s cancer, the death of her mother, the breaking-up of her relationship must have been at some point in her life—before the live—scars from which she needed therapy. That’s why I believe that life is the result, or what was left from a “private” script-therapy session that went public. Notaro talks about her disease, her mother’s death and everything else, and she sounds to be doing fine.

Additionally, she is standing there, in front of an audience telling her story. “Live” life narrative differs from written or illustrated memoirs. Her making eye contact with the audience proves that the therapy is going well, and maybe the stand-comedy session was the next step.  Just like, Jason Greene, who wrote notes on his phone to cope and overcome grief. Perhaps, Notaro’s exposure before an audience was the next step toward therapy and a step closer to her catharsis.

A Response to Julian of Norwich

Initially, Julian’s revelations made me debate with myself if they were real or just the words of a hallucinating woman. Then I thought that, if Julian had written about her revelations nowadays, she would have probably been admitted to a hospital and treated for some illness whose name resides outside my medical knowledge. The fact she wrote about her revelations in the 13th century could be a reason the scripts were preserved until today—but it could not be the only reason.

Although Julian informed her readers that she was a “simple creature unlettered,” we can’t deny her rhetorical talents. Julian’s writing is highly sophisticated and meets every point on the checklist for a successful and meaningful theological text. Especially in the first chapters of her Revelations, where Julian describes how she came to envision and compose her script, her desire to write about Christ and His passions resemble the creative process of a modern writer that follows a moment of inspiration. Additionally, Julian demonstrates an impressive talent in creating metaphors. The most prominent metaphor, which stacks in mind, was the one where she envisions the universe as a thing so small—like a hazelnut—placed in the palm of her hand. What is fascinating about this metaphor is what God answers to Julian when she asks Him what this small thing is. The utterance, “it is all that is made…it lasts and ever shall, for God loves it,” combines the core of Christian religion and all of the doctrines in a straightforward sentence: God created everything, even the smallest things, and His love for his creations shall give them immortality (7).

The above metaphor—among others—brings me to the next reason that assured the Revelations’ preservation. Julian’s theological text contains many revolutionary theories for her time on what is sin, evil, and how love is the principal dogma of Jesus Christ. Sin was believed to be a scheme of Satan to corrupt human souls. For Julian, sin is not an evil action—or one which originates from the devil—but “Sin is no deed” (35). Julian’s utterance is widely supported by 21st-century theologians, who believe that sin and evil are nothing but the absence of good—like darkness is nothing but the lack of light.

Another revolutionary idea is that of love, As I mentioned earlier, is depicted by metaphors, such as the one with the walnut. Concepts such as “all creation are in God’s wise care” and that the evil has been defeated by the “cross” illustrate the end of an era. Humans cannot anymore accuse the devil of their deeds—they are responsible for their actions, and they will have to answer to God.

Of course, during the time of inquisition where whoever was doubting the power of the church would most probably meet a scorching death. Julian, however, makes sure to inform the readers—who back in that were mostly men of the church—that she is nothing but a weak woman. The only moment where Julian makes a comment is when she wakes up to see a priest above her, and she utters that the cross at the end of her bed was bleeding. Was she remarking God’s disappointment toward the church, or was she emphasizing, even more, the passion of Christ? We can’t know, because to be able to know we would have to ask her. As I said, Julian was such a good writer that any insinuations in her text are artistically hidden.

Finally, Julian captivates the reader with a collective work that goes beyond her talent as a writer or her groundbreaking ideas of Christianity.  Her revelations, one by one, are utterances that create the same emotional and spiritual nirvana as the teachings of the Bible. She utters that God loves all of his creations (males and females) and takes care of them, that Jesus sacrificed Himself on the cross and His suffering seized the suffering of our souls, that God is omnipotent and omnipresent, and that He resides in the souls of those who love him. These utterances are so synergistic with the teachings of the Bible that the reader—as did I—can not think of them as the words of a “false prophet.” Thus, even reading them today, with the medical knowledge to argue that the revelations were nothing but hallucinations, the Essenes of those utterances brings to an awkward position to accept that God spoke to Julian.

What makes a book preserve itself almost eight centuries? Well, each book has its own merits and wonders that make it immortal. In the Revelations of Divine Love case, however, it was the writing as a whole. Julian’s writing techniques are artistic and successful, the ideas she conveys are solid and speak through the reader, and her theme—a theological one for all that matters—makes every page a new discovery for the reader. This is how Julian of Norwich achieved immortality.

How do we relate to Persepolis?

Persepolis: how can anyone relate if he or she didn’t ever live in a theocratic system such as the one Satrapi describes? I grew up in Greece, where the Christian Orthodox church played a major role in politics, but it did not possess absolute power. I remember when I was a teenager, a priest telling me to change my Slayer shirt and throw my leather jacket away because those things were “Satan’s play.” But that priest would never arrest me and torture me to change my faith or convince me that the path of Jesus is the correct one. For, I recall another priest who would say that God doesn’t care what you wear, or what music you listen to but He cares for what you hide in your soul. If you are not blasphemous towards Him, then you are not a “Satan’s play.” So, how can I—a man who grew up during the 90’s—relate to what Satrapi narrates? Well, I can’t. None of us westerners can. Simple as that. And this fact makes Persepolis a unique life-narrating graphic novel.

Persepolis, as the title suggests is topographical. It is the story of a young girl growing up in Iran. Persia has always been a historical region of the middle east, and the Mediterranean Sea for many great kingdoms rose and fell. For a westerner, even for a Greek whose country is very close to Persia, it is impossible to imagine not only the weather conditions but also the natural resources that sustain the citizens. Satrapi gives a little information about those elements of ordinary life, and how she could not? Persepolis is not a travel guide of Iran of that time, but a historical ethnography.

This identity, the one of historical ethnography, is the most important element which makes Persepolis a unique life narrative. First, readers get to read about the fall of a false emperor, the rise of a theocratic dictatorship, and the invasion of a greedy nation, influenced politically by western nations. But they don’t witness it. “As long as there is oil in the middle east, we will never have peace,” Satrapi’s father says, describing in one sentence the reason behind millennials of wars (43). Second, the situation in Iran described by Satrapi was domestic and forbidden for foreign eyes to witness its entirety. First, there was a dictator who could censor anything that could reveal his oppressive self behind the image of a righteous leader then the borders were closed for three years. As much as the reader might try to relate with the young Marjane’s endeavor it would be impossible, for only those who experienced it can talk about it and relate.

Finally, Persepolis stands for two principles, with which anyone who appreciates his or her freedom could relate: freedom of speech and freedom to believe (remember Norman Rockwell). Young Marjane and her parents fight for the right to share their opinion, and when they knew their life was threatened, they would stop. They wanted to believe in Allah, but with their own terms and not the ones imposed by the regime. And this is how Persepolis related to me. I want for myself, as much as for my son and his generation, the freedom to choose what and how to believe and the freedom to state my opinion without extreme consequences.


Maus: A Family Story?

So, you read “Maus” by the magnificent Art Spiegelman and witnessed all the dehumanizing crimes his father narrates. You, as did I, frowned, gasped, and shook your head with the atrocities and the hate demonstrated by a cast of the very humanity we belong. You saw Spiegelman presenting thought-provoking personifications such as the Nazis as cats, Polish as pigs, and Jews as mice. It is logical to assume, and we would be accurate, that the graphic novel was composed to expose the atrocities of the Holocaust. After all, Vladek decides not to share Lucia’s entire story because, “it has nothing to do with Hitler, with the holocaust!” (23). But what about the characters who take part in the present time of the graphic novel, Artie and Vladek? How about the story of a dead mother and the reason that brought her to put an end her life? Reading the graphic novel under the spectrum of family relationships, we may discover a conflict between a father and his son, caused after the tragic death of the mother, and that Spiegelman had an additional motive to compose his work: guilt.

In the early pages of the novel, we know that Vladek loved Anja, but we may also realize that her absence has caused a void that he cannot fill. When Artie asks him “mom wasn’t that attractive,” Vladek replies that Anja wasn’t as pretty as Lucia, “but if you talked a little to her, you started loving her more and more” (18). Throughout the narration of how Vladek came to marry Anja, we can’t but recognize a relationship in which the couple appreciated one another more than the usual. A solid example would be after the birth of their first child. Anja’s post-partum depression and her treatment are more important to Vladek than his newly established career and factory. Additionally, although Vladek marries Mala after Anja’s death—probably because he doesn’t like to be alone—he is constantly irritated by her. Simply put, Mala is not Anja. She is not the woman with whom he survived the worst era of modern history, even though his experiences make him desire a life-partner. Thus, as much as he tries to fill in the void created by Anja’s sudden death, he still feels detached by his original “family.”

Artie’s love for his mother is also undeniable, for throughout the novel he expresses his guilt as much as his desire to have Anja’s story heard. His guilt—a demon in Artie’s mind who utters that he was responsible for Anja’s suicide—is revealed with the graphic novel inside the graphic novel, “Prisoner on the Hell Planet.” Spiegelman feels the need to tell honestly his story, and that’s why choosing to avoid any personification in the section of the novel. Plus, the scene where his mother comes into his room asking him if he still loves her, demonstrates a part of his guilt and remorse (103). One more piece of evidence hinting Artie’s guilt is his constant desire to find Anja’s notes and add them in his memoir. His persistence and rage at the end of the novel also hint that despite the fact Maus is a work that exposes Holocaust, it might be also a novel about a broken family. And Anja, per Artie, should be in the heart of it.

The void in both Artie and Vladek’s lives caused by Anja’s death becomes the most apparent when Vladek discovers “Prisoner on the Hell Planet.” Vladek confesses that he read the novel and that he cried but also told Artie that he had to get it out of his system (104). However, immediately after Vladek says that he hasn’t found Anja’s notes. We know that he probably lied because we read his final confession about burning the notes. This action could be interpreted either as Vladek’s own guilt on Anja’s death, or because he didn’t want Anja’s memory to be shadowed by her depression. What Vladek failed to foresee, though, is that if he had given the notes to Artie then the latter would have stopped blaming himself. His mistake not only brought up the final manifestation of his conflict with Artie but widened the gap between them. On the other hand, we know that Vladek grew in an era where secrets were vital—perhaps, he could not do otherwise. 

This sense of guilt is common with relatives of a deceased, and this is what is conflicted in this case. Both Artie and Vladek demonstrate a conflict with their own guilt, which creates the gap between them although it has been proven invalid. Anja shows early evidence of depression, which manifests after her first labor in the point she must go and stay in a sanitarium. She survives the Holocaust sometimes out of luck, and she loses her child by another mother’s suicidal action. Again, if Vladek hadn’t burnt her notes, Artie would probably have found more than one evidence that emphasized her depression.

At the end of the novel, the emotional conflict inside both father and son manifests with the latter’s rage. Although he has heard his father narrating crimes against humanity, he chooses to him a “murderer” (159). His guilt and rage blind him from seeing that his mother had many demons torturing her mind. Thus, this mistaken belief that he is in fault, and that Vladek murdered her memory—rather than protecting her—makes him almost terminating the relationship with his father.