Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Glynnis Fawkes' Alle Ego

Glynnis Fawkes mini Alle Ego is the middle chapter of a longer work about becoming an archeological illlustrator, but it's also a story about personal agency. As the book begins, Fawkes (at the time, a recent college grad) is on her way to Athens, pondering her relationship with her fiance'. The trip was a working one at the American School, but Fawkes' wandering eye (and feet) led her off on the first of her many side adventures when she arrived. She quickly met Svetlana, a Russian woman whose strong personality and fierce independence combined with great empathy and perceptiveness made her a close friend right away. In many respects, Svet served as her own personal Greek chorus, causing Fawkes to rethink a number of her choices without directly trying to influence her.

The comic is a cross between absolutely academic rigor with regard to places, people and dates and a whimsically fluid series of fantasy sequences where Fawkes sees herself in the past. The key sequence is one where Fawkes tells Svet that her fiance' Ingo "has a hold on me." In the fantasy, she's a Minoan in occupied Knossos and her fiance' is a conquering Mycenean. The Mycenean way was not just to conquer an area, but to utterly dominate them culturally, starting with their iconography on the pottery and sculptures. The pictorial, ornate Minoan drawings were out, and the abstract Mycenean methods were in. This is all historically true, but it also served as an extended metaphor for a man who basically told Fawkes what to do, how to paint, what to eat...everything. It isn't stated, but this behavior is clearly abusive and controlling. 

Now there are dominance and submission relationships where the dom dictates a number of things, but that's done within the specific and understood rules of the relationship as a mutual and loving exchange, not as a one-sided way of controlling your partner's every move. Fawkes, who is clearly an intelligent and independent woman, hints about this to some degree when she notes that in her fantasy "I don't mind Mycenean domination!..In fact, it's what I've been waiting for my whole life. Clear rules about how things are done. No more self-doubt. And he...cares about me." Intentional or not, this is very much the language of a sub, of someone who longs to enjoy that paradoxical sense of freedom felt when surrendering to a trusted other. It's the agency of choosing to give that control to others. 

That sense of agency pervades the comic, as Fawkes is paradoxically a rebel who doesn't want to go along with all of the touristy stuff and stereotypical nights out with the other Americans at the bars, but at the same fantasizes about that sense of total, willing surrender. She relates a story of when she was younger and in Italy, having drunk something particularly potent. She went outside for air and the numerous lecherous men in Italy immediately started hitting on her and one started making out with her...but she found herself totally drawn into the experience before a friend came along and rescued her from a potentially dangerous fate. Fawkes once again returns to mythology and speaks longingly of the idea of being a Maenad, one of the followers of Dionysus, whom in the context of ritual are completely uninhibited in terms of raving, running, drinking (and presumably) fucking. As she explained this to Svet, she wondered which part of her was going to be with her fiance'--the Maenad, or the "sane and decent" Nymph, to which Svet replied "Aren't you always both?" 

It's a fascinating and open-ended exchange, as Fawkes makes herself quite vulnerable here in discussing the ways in which her desires contradicted her rational self and fiercely independent academic identity. Svet's reply implies that until Fawkes was able to reconcile all of her different selves, she wouldn't truly be happy. The very title of the book can mean both "good friend" and "other self". Svet fills the bill for both of these roles, but Fawkes being honest about her desires and sense of feeling split also refers to her various other selves. This comic (and chapter) feels like a kind of crucible of self, where Fawkes did a lot of the hard work on her discovery quest but didn't quite put it all together yet. I'll be curious to see how these themes conclude when she finishes her larger project. 

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