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Week in Review: May 31, 2021

New in BD: Graphic Medicine

Several graphic works of medicine garnered praise this month, as the graphic medicine genre continues to expand its reach into memoirs as well as nonfiction, for audiences ranging from children to the decidedly mature. Dirty Biology: The X-Rated Story of the Science of Sex, by Léo and Colas Grasset, translated by Kendra Boileau, is for the latter (hence the X-rating); by turns informative and hysterically funny, this “investigation of copulation” is graphic and far-reaching in its carnal knowledge. The Body Factory by Héloïse Chochois (also translated by Kendra Boileau) takes a notably empathetic approach to its subject matter. The comic follows a fictional protagonist who loses an arm in a motorcycle accident on a tour through the history of amputation and prosthetics, culminating in a transhumanist cyborg future that even Donna Haraway could scarcely have dreamed. Interspersed into this time-travel odyssey are poignant illustrations of the protagonist adjusting to his own new reality. Published earlier this spring, The Parakeet represents a convergence of the graphic medicine and memoir genres, as it recounts the artist Espé’s memories of his absentee mother, who suffered from mental illnesses throughout his upbringing. In the online comic literary magazine Solrad, reviewer Kay Sohini praised the “sketchy visual elegance” of Espé’s comics, and noted that The Parakeet exemplifies how the medium of BD can be uniquely used to process grief and trauma and elicit a strong emotional response through powerful visual storytelling.


Tosh Berman on the Misogyny of the Muse

At the April 28 launch of the French Cultural Services and Emory University’s “Ideas and Ideals” discussion series, publisher and memoirist Vanessa Springora noted pointedly while discussing ideas of consent that “there is no masculine word in French for ‘the muse’”. In the recent inaugural episode of arts podcast Big Table, Tosh Berman similarly drew attention to the problematic nature of the perceived role of the muse in the creation of art. Berman is a poet, writer, and the publisher of TamTam books, whose work focuses on the eccentric French polymath Boris Vian and storied gangster Jacques Mesrine, among others. On Big Table, he explained that the muse myth strikes him as wrong because it is nothing more than the artist’s projection on another person, often a woman who is left voiceless in this act of creation. The sole exception? When the muse is the meal ticket. Berman said, “unless they’re being paid or that woman or boyfriend is actually paying your meals as you’re writing that physical aspect, but the whole muse thing strikes me as being very sexist.”


Seven Stories Press on Embracing Complex Projects

The latest installment of Lit Hub’s series “Interview with an Indie Press” featured workers at the Manhattan-based Seven Stories Press in dialogue with the series host, Lit Hub senior editor Corinne Segal. Although Segal collected replies to her questions from employees in a variety of roles at the Press, the respondents identified shared core values and themes in their work, such as “trusting readers to handle complex projects”. They recounted stories and lessons learned from the publisher’s transition to remote work during the pandemic, and highlighted authors and books that they are proud to have worked with, from Octavia Butler to Annie Ernaux. Seven Stories took on another exciting project this spring: publishing the English translation by Ruth Diver of Emmanuelle Bayamack-Tam’s novel Arcadia on May 25. Bayamack-Tam and bestselling American author Lauren Groff, who published a novel with the same title in 2011, discussed their books’ shared themes of utopias, sexual freedom and environmental destruction, with culture critic Katy Waldman as a moderator, in the second event in the French Embassy series “Ideas and Ideals: Strong Female Voices”. Interested readers can view the recording here.


Printing Anomaly at Gallimard

Earlier this month, Hervé Le Tellier’s award-winning novel L’Anomalie achieved a milestone, with Gallimard announcing it had reached one million copies printed. Le Tellier was announced as the Prix Goncourt winner in November for L’Anomalie, which tells the mind-bending mystery of a Paris-New York flight that arrives at its destination twice, several months apart, with exactly the same passengers and crew. Part thriller, part sci-fi, at least 50 percent Lost and 100 percent bestseller material, English audiences do not have to wait long for the translation from award-winning translator Adriana Hunter, which will be published in November 2021 as The Anomaly by Other Press. Can’t handle the suspense? Interested readers can preorder the book now or pick up a French copy at Albertine, where it has been featured as a staff pick.


Flirty Tintin Parody Wins in Court

In mid-May, The Guardian reported that French artist Xavier Marabout had won his case against the heirs of Tintin creator Hergé, represented by Moulinsart S.A., after the latter sued the artist for infringement for a series of works depicting the adolescent on uncharacteristic new adventures: in romantic encounters with women, backdropped with Edward Hopper paintings. The new art by Marabout gave a role to women in Tintin which was deemed denigrating to the source material by Hergé’s heirs, who argued that women have no role in the original comic books because they have no role in comedy: “Moulinsart’s lawyer had argued that Hergé deliberately chose not to include women in his work, ‘because he found that they are rarely comic elements’.” The artist dismissed this by pointing out that there is no world in which women do not have a role, fantastic or otherwise, and contended that his interpretation added to the artistic value of the work rather than detracting from it. He and his legal team furthermore defended his right to parody as inherent to his freedom of expression as a French citizen, with Marabout stating, “The art of parody was invented at the same time as democracy…In French law, it is fully linked to freedom of expression and the limits of copyright.”


Viet Thanh Nguyen on the Impact of French Colonialism, Derrida in New Novel

American author Viet Thanh Nguyen burst onto the literary scene in 2016 with his Pulitzer-winning debut, The Sympathizer. His new novel, The Committed, the sequel in a planned trilogy, picks up where The Sympathizer left off, but sees the eponymous protagonist in a new setting, as part of the French intellectual milieu of the early 1980s. Nguyen himself has often been asked to speak about French culture, literature and philosophy in promoting this work. In an interview on creative writing podcast First Draft, he explained how Derrida’s On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness influenced his writing about the French role in the Cambodian genocide, an event which the characters in The Committed are just beginning to be aware of and come to terms with. Nguyen questioned: “How do we hold the French responsible for that, but also hold the Khmer Rouge responsible for that? …It seems unforgivable what the Khmer Rouge did in Cambodia, but is it any more unforgivable than what the French did in colonizing Indochina?” In The Committed, Nguyen stated in another interview, he planned to “give the French the full treatment that the Americans got in The Sympathizer.” He felt that the sequel had to be set in France “because he wanted to explore that country’s relationship to racism and violence as well,” according to ForeignPolicy.com. If The Sympathizer was a rebuke of American cultural and political influence on Vietnam, The Committed is a revelation in recognizing the French impact, and the often-overlooked damage caused by French colonialism.

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