Frankly, it would be ridiculous not to consider Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home literature. It propounds a diverse array of character dynamics—from daughter-father to husband-wife to man/woman-society to person-self—many of which deal with human conflict and speak to subjects like artistic creation, gender, sexual orientation, illusion, identity, and interpersonal connection both familial and beyond. It presents an authentic account of the residential landscape in America, sculpting a household setting that evolves into its own character and autonomous presence. It embraces readers, welcoming them in with intimacy, honesty, and open arms like a close-friend or lover. It is witty and cultured, contemplative and hilarious, tragic and inspirational. It is a poetic, pictorial meditation on self and family enriched with more literary aptitude than it can rightfully handle. It is literature. I’m sure of it.
While both textual and visual, though, Fun Home is derivative literature, but literature nonetheless. Just because it steps outside the linguistic confines of conventional literary texts does not disqualify it as literature. That would be to encage the discipline, to draw unnecessary boundaries where there is ample opportunity for further elaboration and expansion. In a time of extreme, relentless change such as our own, it is essential for the literary medium, in general, to extend its creative frontiers, not limit them. Fun Home is a prime example of such advancement, so let’s inhibit the pessimism and skeptic mindsets at work and give it its proper classification of being literature, or perhaps, you know, one of those weirdly important stories we study in class on a daily basis, full of text and pictures and figures and all sorts of worldly verisimilitude—whatever semantic representation we choose for this kind of stuff, Fun Home is just that.
Overall, I have always been reluctant to offer a proper criterion for all of literature. The field is so amazingly heterogenous that to establish a specific standard for others to follow or conform would, again, be to limit its capacity for experimentation, for restructuring, for creativity, and, by extension, evolution. Instead, I find it much easier to identify literature when I see it, rather than give an standard, absolutist account of what “it” is to start. Furthermore, I wouldn’t be hesitant to apply this to other instances like comic strips in The New York Times or further newspapers so long as—and I find this be absolutely integral to the fundamental nature of literature as an art form—they use text to accompany the images and/or further symbolic vehicles inherent to the medium. If we extend beyond words themselves then, it seems, literature as a whole would lose its meaning and become something else, something indiscriminate and arbitrary in all of what entails literariness. This is my only reservation. The rest is fair game. Though, still, what we define as literature should not be a general law, which is to say, examples of (non)literature should be judged by its manifestation, by its narrative and the text that branches therein, not some discrete paradigm based in theoretical ramblings. We can save that awfully difficult and perhaps impossible task for another time. Next week, let’s say? Good. Call it a date.