email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
1000 Families2 ¼32 Stories365 Days51 Months5x7A Child's Life and Other StoriesA Couple of Ways of Doing SomethingA Lifetime of SecretsA Storybook LifeA Treasury of Victorian MurderActing OutAddiction and ArtAEIOUAfter PhotographyAliveAlive with Alzheimer'sAlone Together POCAltered StatesAmazing WomenAmelia's WorldAmerica at HomeAmerican AlphabetsAmnesiaAn American LensAn Exact MindAngel's WorldAngry Youth Comix #2Anjos ProibidosAnthony GoicoleaArchitecture of AuthorityArt After Conceptual ArtArt and HomosexualityArt and PhotographyArt in Three DimensionsArt Photography NowArt, Self and KnowledgeArt/PornAs We AreAsylumAttitudeAutoportraitBecoming Edvard MunchBeg the QuestionBelugaBerkoBig Rabbit's Bad MoodBill HensonBlab!Blab! 13BLAB! Vol. 14BLAB! Vol. 15BlanketsBoneyardBoneyardBoy StoriesBreakdownsBright EarthBrüselBurn, Bitchy, BurnBus OdysseyBut Is It Art?CanvasCaricatureChildrenChris VereneChristy ReportCinema PanopticumClass PicturesClick DoubleclickCloserClumsyClyde Fans CoincidencesComing of AgeComing of Age in Ancient GreeceConceptual Art and PaintingConfessions of a Cereal EaterConsider LoveCouch FictionCrumpleCzech EdenCzech Photographic Avant-Garde, 1918-1948Dan & LarryDargerDays With My FatherDead EndDear MomDeus Ex MachinaDigital DiariesDirty StoriesDisasters of WarDixie RoadDomestic VacationsDon't Go Where I Can't FollowDon't You Feel BetterDr. Jekyll & Mr. HydeDrawingsDriftlessEarly ExposuresEcstasyEdouard VuillardEnduring CreationEngland, My EnglandEntering GermanyEpilepticErwin OlafEscape from "Special"EVAEverything Will DisappearEvidenceExploring the Self through PhotographyExposureExpressionism Exquisite CorpseFamilyFamilyFamily LifeFandomaniaFaster than a Speeding BulletFictionsFigure and GroundFragile DVDFred the ClownFreud at WorkFridaFrom Girls to GrrlzFun HomeGeneration DadaGirl CultureGirls, Some Boys and Other CookiesGoing Into TownGood-ByeGraphic WomenGrave MattersGreat Hiking Trails of the WorldH R GigerHans BellmerHappy Halloween, Li'L SantaHauntedHere Is New YorkHey, Wait...High Art LiteHollywood CowboyHouse of JavaI Am Not This BodyI Love You But I've Chosen RockI Thought I Could FlyI'll Be Your MirrorI'm CrazyIllumineIn My Darkest HourIn Search Of DignityIn the Floyd ArchivesIn the Line of DutyInformation ArtsIntenseInvisible No MoreIt Was A Dark And Silly NightJack Cole and Plastic ManJimmy CorriganJock SturgesJock SturgesJust Between UsKafkaKatharina SieverdingLacan at the SceneLaura Numeroff's 10-Step Guide to Living with Your MonsterLife's a BitchLight in the Dark RoomLine of Beauty and GraceListening to CementLittle LitLi’l SantaLoadsLooking For MayaLost GirlLouis FaurerLouise BourgeoisLove and DesireLove Lust DesireLuckyManufactured LandscapesMass ObservationMaster BreastsMetacreationMisty DawnMnemosyneMomeMona KuhnMy Brain is Hanging Upside DownMy DepressionMy Family AlbumNatural BeautiesNatural BeautyNerveNerveNew and Used BLAB!New York September 11Night FisherNightswimmingNo More ShavesNot My ShameNotes from a DefeatistNothing ObviousNothing to HideNudes and PortraitsOliviaOlivia Saves the CircusOn City StreetsOne EyeOnly a Promise of HappinessOptic NerveOptic Nerve #11Optic Nerve #9Outlaws, Rebels, Freethinkers & PiratesOutsider ArtOutsider Art and Art TherapyPanic at Toad HallPatrolPaul M. SmithPeculiaPeekPeople Love PhotosPerfect ExamplePersepolisPhilosophersPhonesexPhoto ArtPhoto Icons I (1827-1926)Photographers, Writers, and the American ScenePhotography and LiteraturePhotography and PhilosophyPhotography and SciencePhotography and the USA Photography RebornPicturing DisabilityPlaytimePOPismPortraits of ResiliencePostmodernismPsychedelicQuestions without answersRaptors Raw YouthRay's a LaughRazmatazReclining NudeRed SnowRemembering GeorgyRequisite DistanceRineke DijkstraRippleRobert Doisneau 1912-1994Robert MaxwellRoom to PlayRXSame Difference & Other StoriesSanctumSatan's Sex BookSatellitesSchizophreniaSee Me Feel MeSelf-Taught and Outsider ArtSexSexual ArtSexyBookShadow ChamberSidewalk StoriesSkin DeepSleepwalkSmall FavorsSmile of the BuddhaSpectral EvidenceSpentSshhhh!Stranded in CantonStrange Stories for Strange Kids Stranger PassingStripped BareSummer BlondeSurrealismSymbols in ArtTestimonyThe Aesthetics of DisengagementThe AlcoholicThe Art InstinctThe Art of Adolf WolfliThe Art of MedicineThe BabiesThe Birthday RiotsThe Blue Day BookThe Blue NotebookThe BodyThe Body as ProtestThe Boulevard of Broken DreamsThe Breast BookThe Breathing FieldThe Bristol Board JungleThe Clouds AboveThe Devil and Daniel JohnstonThe Diary of a Teenage GirlThe Education of SophieThe Erotic Lives of WomenThe Face in the LensThe Illustrated Story of OThe Incantations of Daniel JohnstonThe Madonna of the FutureThe Mirror of LoveThe New Erotic PhotographyThe New LifeThe Other PlaceThe PervertThe Philosophy of Andy WarholThe Places We LiveThe Psychology of Art and the Evolution of the Conscious BrainThe Push Man and Other StoriesThe Scar of VisibilityThe September 11 Photo ProjectThe Shiniest JewelThe Speed AbaterThe Steerage and Alfred StieglitzThe Story of Frog Belly Rat BoneThe Story of SexThe Stuff of LifeThe Three ParadoxesThe Transformations of GwenThe Transformations of GwenThe Transparent CityThe TravelersThe ValleyThe Van Gogh BluesThe Wolves in the WallsThe Yellow HouseThinThings as They AreThinking of YouTierney GearonTime and SilenceTina's MouthTits, Ass, and Real EstateTransitionTrauma and Documentary Photography of the FSATravelersTropical BlendTwentieth Century EightballTwilightUnlikelyVagina WarriorsVernacular VisionariesVietnam At PeaceVisual CultureVitamin PhWar Is Only Half the StoryWhat Are You Looking At?What Art IsWhat Good Are the Arts?What Remains: The Life and Work of Sally MannWho Am I, What Am I, Where Am I?William KentridgeWillie DohertyWithWriters on ArtistsYoung PhotographerZip Zip My Brain Harts
Epileptic is a graphic
memoir in black and white, translated from three original French books titled LAsenscion
du Haut-Mal. It tells the story of
the family of three siblings, Jean-Christophe, Pierre-François, and
Florence. Pierre-François is the
narrator and we see how he learns to express himself through drawing,
eventually becoming a graphic artist.
His older brother has epilepsy, and the family becomes dominated by
their pursuit for a successful treatment for Jean-Christophes condition. But Epileptic is not so much a
medical history as an exploration of the meanings and implications of the
illness for the family and especially for the artist and his perception of the
Pierre-François was preoccupied by
war and fighting since he was a young boy.
He takes great pleasure in tales of warriors killing each other in
battle, and soon he and his brother take to drawing similar stories in book
length form. Both brothers suffer from
rage, but express it in different ways.
His enthusiasm for drawing takes on the strength of an obsession; the
obvious psychological interpretation is that he channels his emotions into
drawing since he is unable to express them more directly to his family. Pierre-François learns the story of his
grandfathers horrific experience in the First World War, and one of the most
powerful sequences of the book sets out the terrible deaths he was witness
to. In a striking exchange between
Pierre-François and his mother, she asks him, Why are you so intent on telling
these stories about your ancestors?
Theyve got nothing to do with your brother, do they? He replies, Theyre important! Our ancestors were locked in a constant
struggle to escape their misery.
We see the struggle of the family
with Jean-Christophes illness as they take him from one specialist to another,
with no two experts holding the same opinion. Master N, a Japanese guru who
heals using macrobiotic principles, especially impresses their parents, because
his weird blend of Eastern approaches seems to be the most successful in
helping Jean-Christophe. The family
goes to great lengths to participate in Master Ns healing, going to live on a
commune and becomes prey to the power struggles in the small group. Its hard to understand quite why the
parents are taken in by the bizarre ideas of the different people at the
commune, but its not surprising when the experiment comes to an end and they
The plot tends to bounce from one
theme to another, and while the effect is not confusing, it is at times
bewildering. What really holds the book
together is the artwork, which is distinctive and powerful, drawn confidently
with bold lines and very unusual imagery.
Some of the medical characters are drawn as animals: for example, Master
N is a cat, because that is what he looks like to Pierre-François. The young artist has a powerful imagination,
and especially in the third section, the pages are dominated by images
mysticism and death when as a teenager Jean-Christophe is put into residential
facility for the disabled, and their mother mourns the loss of her son and the
death of her father, for a period becoming preoccupied by a quest to get in
touch with her dead parent with the help of psychics.
Some might find fault with this
work in its bleak portrayal of the life of the epileptic. Once the decision is made that
Jean-Christophe can no longer live at home, the narrator comments, His illness
has taken over. He is now handicapped,
destined to live in a handicapped universe.
This certainly does not allow for the possibility that people with
disabilities might be able to participate fully in the world with others, but
this might well accurately reflect Pierre-Françoiss view, and it probably
reflects most peoples opinion of disability at the time. Another concern is that it provides very
little insight into Jean-Christophes experience or the nature of epilepsy; the
story is very much taken up with the authors perspective, and even though his
brothers illness is the central subject at hand, his brother remains a mystery
Yet Epileptic is an
extraordinary work, highly original artistically and very different in tone
from literary depictions of growing up in a family which includes someone with
a severe medical problem. It is
fascinating, engrossing and perplexing.
© 2002 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.
Christian Perring, Ph.D., is
Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is
editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on
philosophical issues in psychiatry. He is especially interested in exploring
how philosophers can play a greater role in public life, and he is keen to help
foster communication between philosophers, mental health professionals, and the