Book Review

Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home and Modes of Queer Archiving

Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir Fun Home was part of a movement which was largely interested methods of archiving, or the documentation of queer history which had been largely ignored in the past. Bechdel’s graphic memoir speaks to both the lack of historical documentation of queerness and the independent and fragmented way in which queerness is and has been documented and I would argue that this is something which is played out within both the content and structure of the memoir itself in multiple ways.

I would like to first think about the way that Alison becomes obsessed as a young girl with the accurate and precise documentation of everything that happens to her. These meticulous and obsessive recordings of the nuances of her day become consistently punctured by the phrase “I think”, which eventually takes over entire pages of her diary and renders her questioning the validity of her lived realities. I would argue that this insecurity surrounding her lived history is a fitting metaphor for the lack of historical identity which defines queerness: rather, the lack of historical documentation which has to a certain extent rendered queerness as a solitary and unshared experience of identity, reflecting on the way that Alison feels she has no way of confBechdel-fun-lyingirming whether her lived experiences are accurate or not. She only knows what she “thinks” happened, but can never confirm whether or not it “ actually” happened. Her repetitive cycle of “I think, I think, I think” becomes her way of justification for her lived history, while the obsessive and meticulous archiving demonstrate a fear of letting anything slip into the past unnoticed, which seems to speak to the overall lack of historical documentation of queerness in the past.

Further, I would argue that the way the graphic novel is structured, in its cyclical, back peddling, repetitive form, is reflective of the fragmentation that exists within the realm of queer archiving. Bechdel refers to certain events multiple times, in multiple different ways: for example, the way in which her coming out to her parents is retold three different times, each time from a different perspective, with different details. This same event is retold, seeking to fill any gaps in the documentation it may have left before. alison-bechdel_fun-home_comic-03She often tells her story out of order, skipping over events and referring back to them chapters later, or leaving deliberate gaps in the story which are never filled. These structural dissonances in the novel seem to reflect the way in which queer archiving has largely existed until now: through individual, fragmented documentation, rather than typical, fact-based historical archive.

Fun Home is a groundbreaking work by a queer author, and I highly recommend you check it out! You can purchase a copy of Fun Home here, as well as have a look at other works by Bechdel here.  (Both Are You My Mother? and The Essential Dykes to Look Out For are wonderful to have a flick through).

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