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Spring 2018 Undergraduate English Courses: Theories and Methods

359:325 Psychoanalysis and Graphic Novels: D.W. Winnicott and Alison Bechdel

01  TTH6  CAC  19037  GLISERMAN  MU-208

Psychoanalysis and Graphic Novels:  D.W. Winnicott and Alison Bechdel

In several recent graphic memoirs, the memoirist includes episodes of going to a psychoanalyst—e.g., David Small’s Stitches, Art Spiegelman’s Maus, and Alison Bechdel’s Are You My Mother. In all cases, the interactions enable the memoirist to gain insight and motivation.  For Small and Spiegelman the interactions are part of a much larger set of interactions. Bechdel’s work goes beyond a chapter that gives us a group of frames showing her working with her therapist—she gives almost an entire memoir. In addition, she becomes intensely connected to the work of D. W. Winnicott, who is not her therapist but an influential English psychoanalyst (and psychiatrist); he specialized in working with children, and wrote about a wide range of psychoanalytic topics, including play, the good enough mother, and the true and false selves.  Bechdel cites him in her second memoir, Are You My Mother? (a title repurposed from an original child’s story). In fact, each chapter of her second memoir is the title of a Winnicott essay. For Bechdel, psychoanalysis is very much part of the story rather than an incident in it.  In addition to Winnicott, she cites other psychoanalysts—including Freud and Alice Miller.

The course will study Bechdel’s use of Winnicott and others. We will read both of Bechdel’s memoirs--Fun Home is her first—as well as the works of Winnicott that Bechdel cites to better understand her understanding of Winnicott.  The course invites a general question about why an artist might cite someone else’s work—it is common phenomenon—but a more particular one about the nature of the relationship Bechdel chooses to have with Winnicott. We will be interested in why Bechdel has such a strong feeling for Winnicott. He becomes nearly a character whose thinking and observations she values—at times he seems like a deus ex machina, Winnicott appears with an insight.   

As we are being grounded in the form and movement of graphic narratives, we will read Bechdel’s memoirs, some critical essays on her work, and then examine a range of Winnicott’s essays to see why Bechdel might have been attracted to his ideas, not only about mother-child relationships but about play and creativity.  

Students will develop a portfolio that will include: weekly writing and peer responses focused on close readings of scenes in Bechdel; commentary on critical essays on Bechdel’s work; commentary on Winnicott’s essays; three papers that will grow out of the weekly work and into each of the papers. The class will have a focus on writing about the graphic memoirs and psychoanalytic writing, with exchanging ideas, cross reading, and conferencing.