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Graphic Ethics: Theorizing the Face in Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis

From: College Literature
Volume 40, Number 2, Spring 2013
pp. 31-51 | 10.1353/lit.2013.0022



Critics indicate that the graphic memoir is uniquely capable of making an ethical appeal to the reader. But it remains unclear what this mechanism is or how it functions in the text. It is crucial that we recognize what representational practices do and do not communicate what Avery Gordon calls complex personhood. “Complex personhood,” she notes, “means that all people . . . remember and forget, are beset by contradictions, and recognize and misrecognize themselves and others” (1997, 4). The graphic memoir, I aim to make clear, lends itself to the transmission of this complexity. In considering the ethics of the graphic memoir, I first trace the origin of the debate within comics criticism. Second, calling on Judith Butler’s theorization of the Levinasian notion of ‘the face,’ I establish an ethical framework to substantiate the thus-far-unclear claims connecting formal destabilization to reader obligation. Third, I demonstrate this ethical import as it operates within Marjane Satrapi’s émigré graphic memoir Persepolis.