112th Annual Conference - Riverside Convention Center, California
Friday, October 31 - Sunday, November 2, 2014

This page is about the 2014 conference. For 2015 conference info, go to PAMLA 2015.

Pulled in the Space Between: Trauma, Affect, and Narrative in Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home

Alissa Bourbonnais, University of Washington

The transitory form of Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir Fun Home contributes directly to readerly empathy. By focusing on the space between text and image, affect theory affords a way to bridge the relationship between form and content with the visceral experience of trauma, and a metacognitve creation of multidimensional storyworlds. 

Proposal: 

Alison Bechdel spent seven years writing her autobiographical graphic memoir Fun Home, and it has now been seven years since its publication. She tells the story, especially through the space between image and text, of her closeted father’s suicide in 1980, and her own coming out.

One of the groundbreaking “comics” to ever make the New York Times Best Seller List, Fun Home has garnered both popular and critical attention. Ann Cvetkovich writes about Fun Home as an emblematic text offering queer perspectives on trauma that challenge the relation between the catastrophic and the everyday. Robyn Warhol approaches Fun Home through post-classical narrative theory and “autography,” to emphasize that a level of awareness in self-consciously creating narrative is central to any reading of this text. In a 2006 interview with Hillary Chute, Bechdel comments on the intensity of creating a narrative based on family history: “I wanted to get a purchase on the material before I had to grapple with [my mother’s] feelings about it.” She has spoken extensively about the process of creating this project as simultaneously therapeutic and traumatic.

This paper argues that, in the wake of so many important genre, narrative, and queer theory readings of Fun Home, an overlooked, and equally valuable, point of access can be reached through affect studies which foreground the emotional experience—grappling with the “feelings about it”—of both the author and reader, as the object of inquiry. The transitory form of this affectively challenging narrative contributes directly to readerly empathy. By focusing on the space between text and image, a reading through psychoanalytically-inflected literary trauma studies and affect theory affords a way to bridge the relationship between form and content with the very real, visceral experience of and reaction to trauma in the text, and a metacognitve creation of multidimensional storyworlds.