email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
"Are You There Alone?""How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses?""My Madness Saved Me"10% Happier365 Days49 Up56 UpA Beautiful MindA Beautiful MindA Beautiful MindA Book of ReasonsA Can of MadnessA Child's Life and Other StoriesA Dangerous LiaisonA Fight to BeA First-Rate MadnessA Good Enough DaughterA Heartbreaking Work of Staggering GeniusA Lethal InheritanceA Lethal InheritanceA Life ShakenA Life Worth LivingA Little PregnantA Message from JakieA Million Little PiecesA Numerate LifeA Pocket History of Sex in the Twentieth CenturyA Slant of SunA Special EducationA Tribe ApartAbout FaceAddicted Like MeADHD & MeAEIOUAgainst Medical AdviceAgents in My BrainAileen - Life and Death of a Serial KillerAlgernon, Charlie and IAll Out!All Seasons PassAlphavilleAlways Too Much And Never EnoughAlzheimer'sAn Anthropologist on MarsAn EducationAn Unquiet MindAngela's AshesAngelheadAnna Freud: A BiographyAnnie's GhostsAnother Bullshit Night in Suck CityAnthology of a Crazy LadyApples and OrangesApproaching NeverlandAre You There, Vodka? It's Me, ChelseaAs I Live and BreatheAs Nature Made HimAt Home in the Heart of AppalachiaAt the End of WordsAvalancheBad BoyBad GirlBeautiful BodiesBeautiful BoyBeautiful WreckBecause We Are BadBecoming AnnaBecoming MyselfBen Behind His VoicesBequest and BetrayalBereftBertrand RussellBlackoutBlanketsBloodlettingBodies in Motion and at RestBoneBorn on a Blue DayBoyBoy AloneBoyleBrain on FireBreaking ApartBreaking the SilenceBrokenBulimics on BulimiaBuzzCamus and SartreCharles DarwinChasing the HighCheeverCherryCity of OneCluesClumsyComfortComplications Compulsive ActsConfessions of a Cereal EaterConfessions of a Former ChildConfessions of a Grieving ChristianConfessions of the Other MotherConfidingConquering the Beast WithinContesting ChildhoodCrackedCrazyCry Depression, Celebrate RecoveryDamned to EternityDancing at the Shame PromDante's CureDaughter of the Queen of ShebaDavid Sedaris Live at Carnegie HallDays With My FatherDefeating the VoicesDementia Caregivers Share Their StoriesDepression and NarrativeDescartesDetourDevil in the DetailsDiagnosis: SchizophreniaDirty DetailsDirty SecretDivided MindsDivine MadnessDon't Get Too ComfortableDown Came the RainDress Your Family in Corduroy and DenimDrinkingDriving My FatherDrunkardDryEarly Embraces IIIEarly ExposuresEinsteinEinstein and OppenheimerElectroboyElegy for IrisElijah's CupElliott Smith and the Big NothingElsewhereEnough About YouEpilepticEvery Girl Tells a StoryEverything In Its PlaceExamined LivesExiting NirvanaFaces of Huntington'sFamily BoundFast GirlFearless ConfessionsFind MeFinding Iris ChangFirst Person Accounts of Mental Illness and RecoveryFirst Person PluralFixing My GazeFlanneryFolie a DeuxFor the Love of ItFortress of My YouthFrank Ramsey (1903-1930)Franz KafkaFraudFree RefillsFreudFreudFreudFriedrich NietzscheFrom Joy Division to New OrderFumblingFun HomeFuriously HappyGalileo Get Me Out of HereGetting OffGirl in Need of a TourniquetGirl Walking BackwardsGirl, InterruptedGirl, InterruptedGirls on the VergeGoing BlindGoing Through Hell Without Help From AboveGraysonGrowing Up JungGuttedHalf a Brain Is EnoughHardcore from the HeartHead CasesHeal & ForgiveHeal & Forgive IIHeavier than HeavenHeinz KohutHeinz KohutHello from Heaven!Hello to All ThatHer HusbandHer Last DeathHigh PriceHole in My LifeHolidays On IceHolidays on IceHope's BoyHouse of Happy EndingsHouse of Happy EndingsHow I Stayed Alive When My Brain Was Trying to Kill MeHow to Lose Friends & Alienate PeopleHow to Make Love Like a Porn Starhow to stop timeHumeHunger Makes Me a Modern GirlHurry Down SunshineI Am Dynamite!I Am I Am I AmI Feel Bad About My NeckI Never Promised You a Rose GardenI Remain in DarknessI'd Rather Eat ChocolateI'd Rather LaughIf I Die Before I WakeImagining RobertIn Search of FatimaIn the Realms of the UnrealIn the Wake of SuicideInside TherapyInternInvisible No MoreIt Happened to NancyIt Takes a Worried ManJack Cole and Plastic ManJean-Paul SartreJohn Stuart MillJourneys with the Black DogJust CheckingKafkaKantLa SierraLab GirlLast Flight OutLearning to FallLet Me Make It GoodLife As We Know ItLife InterruptedLife ReimaginedLimboLincoln's MelancholyListening in the Silence, Seeing in the DarkLittle PeopleLive For Your Listening PleasureLive Through ThisLiving in the Shadow of the Freud FamilyLiving With SchizophreniaLiving with SchizophreniaLockeLonelyLong ShotLook Me in the EyeLooking for The StrangerLoose GirlLosing Mum and PupLosing My MindLove Is a Mix TapeLove SickLove Times ThreeLove Works Like ThisLove You, Mean ItLuckyLudwig WittgensteinLyingMad HouseMad PrideMadame ProustMadnessMagical ThinkingMalignant SadnessManicMarcel ProustMarcus AureliusMary BarnesMaverick MindMaybe You Should Talk to SomeoneMe Talk Pretty One DayMeaningMelanie KleinMemoirMemoirs of an Addicted BrainMemoirs of My Nervous IllnessMen-ipulationMisconceptionsMiss American PieMockingbird YearsMomma and the Meaning of LifeMommies Who DrinkMonkey MindMore, Now, AgainMortificationMy Age of AnxietyMy Body PoliticMy Brain Tumour AdventuresMy DepressionMy Father's HeartMy First Cousin Once RemovedMy Flesh and BloodMy Horizontal LifeMy Life Among the Serial KillersMy Sister LifeMy Stroke of InsightName All the AnimalsNeural MisfireNever EnoughNietzscheNietzsche: The Man and His PhilosophyNinety DaysNo Apparent DistressNo Hurry to Get HomeNo Impact ManNo More ShavesNo One Cares About Crazy PeopleNolaNotebooks 1951-1959NothingOdd Girl Speaks OutOedipus WreckedOf Spirits & MadnessOn Being RapedOn the Edge of DarknessOn the MoveOne Hour in ParisOne Hundred DaysOphelia SpeaksPagan TimePassing for NormalPeople Who Eat DarknessPerfect ChaosPerfect ExamplePermanent Present TensePersepolisPlanet of the BlindPlaying with FirePlease Don't Kill the FreshmanPoisoned LovePollockPOPismPortraits of Huntington'sPoster ChildProzac DiaryPsychiatrist on the RoadPsychosis in the FamilyPuppy Chow Is Better Than ProzacQuitting the Nairobi TrioRaising BlazeReasons to Stay AliveRebuiltRecovered, Not CuredRelative StrangerRescuing JeffreyRestricted AccessRevengeRewind, Replay, RepeatRichard RortyRiding the Bus With My SisterRobert Lowell, Setting the River on FireRoom For JRosemaryRough MagicRunning After AntelopeRunning with ScissorsRXScattershotSchizophreniaSchopenhauerSecond OpinionsSectionedSeeing EzraSeeing the CrabServing the ServantSet the Boy FreeSex & Single GirlsSex ObjectShakespeareShe Bets Her LifeShe Got Up Off the CouchShut the DoorSickenedSilencing the VoicesSimone de BeauvoirSinging in the FireSkin GameSlackjawSlut!SmashedSome Assembly RequiredSome Kind of GeniusSometimes Amazing Things HappenSometimes Madness Is WisdomSongs from the Black ChairSongs of the Gorilla NationSoren KierkegaardSpeak to MeSpeaking Our Minds: Revised EditionSpecial SiblingsSpentStandbyStick FigureStill LivesStretchSunset StorySurviving OpheliaSwing LowTales from Both Sides of the BrainTales of PsychotherapyTalk to HerTell Me Everything You Don't RememberTellingTelling Tales About DementiaThe Accidental BillionairesThe AddictThe Anatomy of HopeThe Anti-Romantic ChildThe Art of MisdiagnosisThe Bastard on the Couch CDThe BeastThe Bell JarThe Best Seat in the HouseThe Big FixThe Body SilentThe Boy on the Green BicycleThe Boy Who Loved Too MuchThe Boy Who Loved WindowsThe Bright HourThe Buddha & The BorderlineThe Burn JournalsThe Camera My Mother Gave MeThe Cancer Monologue ProjectThe Center Cannot HoldThe Chelsea WhistleThe Churkendoose AnthologyThe Day the Voices StoppedThe Devil WithinThe DisappearanceThe Discomfort ZoneThe Doctor Is InThe Eden ExpressThe Family GeneThe Family SilverThe Farm Colonies: Caring for New York City's Mentally Ill In Long Island's State HospitalsThe Fasting GirlThe First Man-Made ManThe First TimeThe Geography of BlissThe Glass CastleThe Good DoctorsThe Hillside Diary and Other WritingsThe Incantations of Daniel JohnstonThe Infidel and the ProfessorThe Last AsylumThe Last Good FreudianThe Last Time I Wore a DressThe Liars' ClubThe Lives and Loves of Daisy and Violet HiltonThe Lives They Left BehindThe LobotomistThe Long GoodbyeThe Looked After Kid: Memoirs from a Children's HomeThe Loony-Bin TripThe Madness of Our LivesThe Making of a PhilosopherThe Making of Friedrich NietzscheThe Man Who Couldn't EatThe Man Who Shocked the WorldThe Man Who Tasted ShapesThe Marvelous Hairy GirlsThe Maximum Security Book ClubThe Me in the MirrorThe Memory PalaceThe Mercy PapersThe Mistress's DaughterThe Mother of Black HollywoodThe Naked Bird WatcherThe Naked Lady Who Stood on Her HeadThe Neuroscientist Who Lost Her MindThe Night of the GunThe Noonday DemonThe Notebook GirlsThe NursesThe Only Girl in the CarThe Only Girl in the WorldThe Orchid ThiefThe Other HollywoodThe OutsiderThe Philosopher's Autobiography The Philosophical Breakfast ClubThe Philosophical IThe Pits and the PendulumThe Pornographer's GriefThe Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner The Professor and the MadmanThe Psychopath TestThe Quiet RoomThe Quiet RoomThe RecoveringThe Red DevilThe Rescue of Belle and SundanceThe Ride TogetherThe Rules of the TunnelThe Secret of LifeThe Shaking Woman or A History of My NervesThe Shared HeartThe Shiniest JewelThe Siren's DanceThe Statistical Life of MeThe Story of My FatherThe Strange Case of Hellish NellThe Summer of a DormouseThe SurrenderThe Talking CureThe Thought that CountsThe Three of UsThe Undoing ProjectThe Vagina MonologuesThe Velveteen FatherThe Winter of Our DisconnectThe Woman Who Walked into the SeaThe Years of Silence are PastThe Yellow HouseThe Yipping TigerThick As ThievesThinThis Close to HappyThomas S. SzaszTiger, TigerTits, Ass, and Real EstateTo Redeem One Person Is to Redeem the WorldTo Walk on EggshellsTransforming MadnessTrue CompassTruth & BeautyTruth Comes in BlowsTuesdays with MorrieTweakTwitch and ShoutUltimate JudgementUndercurrentsUnholy GhostUnlikelyVoices of AlcoholismVoices Of Alzheimer'sVoices of CaregivingVoices of RecoveryVoluntary MadnessWaiting for DaisyWar FareWashing My Life AwayWastedWaveWe're Going to Need More WineWe're Not MonstersWeather Reports from the Autism FrontWeekends at BellevueWhat Did I Do Last Night?What Goes UpWhat I Learned in Medical SchoolWhat's Normal?When a Crocodile Eats the SunWhen Breath Becomes AirWhen Do I Get My Shoelaces Back?.....When It Gets DarkWhen the Piano StopsWhen You Are Engulfed in FlamesWhere Did It All Go Right?Where is the Mango Princess?Where the Roots Reach for WaterWhile the City SleptWhile They SleptWho Was Jacques Derrida?Why I Left, Why I StayedWhy I'm Like ThisWildWill's ChoiceWinnicottWinnieWish I Could Be ThereWith Their EyesWomen Living with Self-InjuryWomen, Body, IllnessWrestling with the AngelYou All Grow Up and Leave MeYou Must Be DreamingYour Voice in My HeadZeldaZor
Tahneer Oksman has written an impressive book with an enigmatic title: How Come Boys Get to Keep their Noses? Fortunately, the subtitle elaborates on her thesis: Women and Jewish American Identity in Contemporary Graphic Memoir. The frontmatter hints at the significance of what is to come, for Oksman quotes Nicholai Gogol, the Russian author of The Nose (1835-6). Gogol's narrator muses, "My own nose, which, surely, is, for all intents and purposes, myself" as he searches for his missing nose and then learns that the nose developed a life of its own.
As Professor Oksman examines seven graphic novels/memoirs written by "secular" [sic] Jewish women, she explains literary concepts to non-specialist readers and taps into her background in writing and literature. She also emphasizes the books' ethnographic significance.
Several pages of colored graphics punctuate the midsection of the 274-page text, and complement the occasional black & white images scattered throughout. These images familiarize the less familiar reader with the visual stylistics of specific authors. For Professor Oksman, these illustrated memoirs function less as art historical artifacts and more as literary creations, yet she acknowledges artistic influences when available. In a footnote, she references a personal communication with Liana Finck, subject of the book's conclusion and author of A Bintel Brief. She notes that Finck attributes her stylistic influences to "Marc Chagall, old Yiddish illustrations and prints, Molly Picon films and the 1937 Yiddish film classic The Dybbuk" (all of which hold prominent places in Jewish tradition albeit it not necessarily in formal religious observance).
The bibliography and endnotes are especially impressive and wide-ranging and are useful for further scholarship. She alludes to Sandor Gilman, historian of medicine and author of The Jew's Body and histories of cosmetic surgery--read "rhinoplasty" or "nose jobs" --as well as Henry Roth (and not just Philip Roth), Erica Jong, Maurice Sendek, Irving Howe, Frieda Kahlo, and Sartre (the 20th century existentialist philosopher who contended that anti-Semitic creates Jewish identity) and much, much more. Her erudite approach distinguishes this book from fanzines, blogs or a website synopsis--although, admittedly, some comics fanzines, blogs and websites compete favorably with academic counterparts. This book exists on a continuum with related scholarship in this growing field. The author draws upon Hilary Chute's earlier book on Graphic Women (see review)but circumscribes her topic yet expands the depth via wide-ranging references.
In contrast to Hilary Chute's more global perspective, Oksman casts a narrow net and whittles it down even further. She reports exclusively on Jewish women comics/graphic novel creators--but only if they are "secular Jews" who came of age in what she labels a "post-assimilationist" society. It is unclear how she defines "secular" and it is unclear how she expects "non-secular" Jewish women to relate to this medium--or to Oksman's scholarship itself. In truth, it is a bit off-putting to find "non-secular" Jewish women marginalized in a book about marginalized Jewish women, especially since there are so many varieties of "non-secular Jews" who connect to Jewish tradition and who might be interested in her subject matter.
In her favor, she concludes her book with an examination of Liana Finck's 2014 publication, A Bintel Brief: A Love and Longing in Old New York. The original Bintel Brief was a popular advice column from The Jewish Daily Forward, a widely-read, left-leaning Yiddish daily that mutated into a weekly English edition many decades later, in 1990, and is now available online (www.forward.com), sans the Bintel Brief letters. Bintel Brief, translated as "a bundle of letters," was the forerunner of newspaper advice columns such as Dear Abby or Ann Landers, but represents much more. The Bintel Brief letters offer an unparalleled lens into the challenges of immigration and integration (or non-integration) in an unfamiliar American setting.
We can infer that members of the earliest generation of male comics creators were far-removed from the "post-assimilationist" mentality that interests Oksman. Most were sons of Eastern or Middle European immigrants. Some grew up in Yiddish-speaking households. All came of age after Adolf Hitler claimed control of Germany, aspired toward world dominion, and stripped Jews legal rights, property, education as basic human dignity. Those early creators had limited opportunities even in America, not just because they were Jewish at a time of extreme anti-Semitism in America, but also because they were teens and young adults during the Great Depression, when employment opportunities were few. Those young men were the creators of the "superhero stories" that have enjoyed a major renaissance in post-9/11 American society.
Many wonder why men who created comics left a legacy of triumphalist superheroes that symbolically "shoot for the stars" (or at very least leap over tall buildings), while Oksman's female graphic novelists and memoirists do the opposite: they produce personal "pathographies" that tell of their travails, psychological and otherwise, and reveal their weaknesses. Their biographies embed tales of psychopathology. Oksman offers an easy explanation. Oksman sees this anti-triumphalist approach as a deliberate maneuver by female graphic novelists, who sought to distance themselves from the superhero genre linked to Jewish male comics artists and writers and specifically strived to leave a different legacy than their male predecessors.
An ego psychologist might argue that Professor Oksman dissects her "subjects" [the comics creators and graphic memoirists] as if they were lying on a couch rather than sitting at a drawing table--but that is often the case with literary theorists and critics. Given that she is exploring "pathographies" that revolve around psychological wounds and reactions, Oksman's approach is valuable, especially since it is wedded to a much larger discourse about race, religion, gender, identity politics, culture at large, and a much larger and longer literary history.
Perhaps in her next book, Professor Oksman might consider contemporary female fictional characters in comics, notably Batwoman, who was reimagined as Jewish Lesbian, to spite the anti-comics and homophobic crusade of psychiatrist Dr. Fredrik Wertham, author of The Seduction of the Innocent (1954). Or explore Felicity of Arrow and how this temper-tantrum throwing computer genius and CEO fits into the mold--or breaks the mold--of fictional female Jewish characters in comics and elsewhere. Felicity's Jewish mother, the ever-annoying, always--clinging, Barbie doll look-alike who works as a Las Vegas cocktail waitress, deserves a separate study, as does Kitty (Katherine) Pryde of the X-Men and fictional Israeli comics characters, such as the super-powered Sabra and more. Oksman would be well-prepared for this challenge.
Until then, this book is recommended for mental health professionals and social scientists as well as for scholars of comics, literature, culture, ethnic studies and Jewish studies.
© 2016 Sharon Packer
Sharon Packer, MD is a psychiatrist who is in private practice in Soho (NYC) and Woodstock, NY. She is an Asst. Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Her books includeDreams in Myth, Medicine and Movies (Praeger, 2002), Movies and the Modern Psyche (Praeger, 2007) and Superheroes and Superegos: The Minds behind the Masks (Praeger/ABC-Clio, 2010). In press or in production are Sinister Psychiatrists in Cinema (McFarland, 2012) and Evil in American Pop Culture (ABC-Clio, 2013, co-edited with J. Pennington, PhD.) She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org .