Bechdel and the Process of Creating Memory

Perhaps one of the most insightful moments into Bechdel’s work occurred for me as I watched her describe the process she used to create Fun Home. As Bechdel described the way in which she meticulously crafted her drawings around reality (going so far as to photograph herself posing for every character in every frame) an interesting paradox occurred to me.

Bechdel uses reality to create a contrived memory. In a way this grants some notion of authenticity to Bechdel’s work; the gay men she draws are modeled on photos of gay men she googled. The rooftop upon which she watched the fireworks is drawn from a photo she took of that exact location. The attentiveness to the reality of her artwork reveals an interesting thought on the artifice of her work.

The OED defines artifice as “a manuevre, device intended to deceive, a trick.” While this is perhaps the case with her father’s artifice, he attempts to conceal his homosexuality, I think the precise nature of Bechdel’s drawings interact with the artifice of the memory she has of her father.

Mikhail Bakhtin coined the term heteroglossia to describe the multiple voices novelists inevitably take during the process of writing. I think this is an interesting theory to apply to Bechdel’s exact illustrations and problematic memories of her father. It is clear that the relationship with her father, and the memories Bechdel has of it are intensely complex, especially given his veiled homosexuality and suicide. While writing, Bechdel inevitably succumbs to heteroglossia in the ways in which she has dealt with the memory of her father and come to understand his life. Different memories, coupled with illustrations, arouse different emotional stances from Bechdel. While Bechdel’s narrated I and the character of her father in Fun Home are often hard to concisely summerize or describe, the exactness Bechdel’s illustrations and creative process serve to counter balance the complexity of the narrative. That is to say, the exactness of the illustrations lend the artifice of authenticity to Bechdel’s depictions of herself and especially her father. Perhaps even, the compulsive nature of Bechdel’s creative process is a response to the intense heteroglossia with which she writes in Fun Home.

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