The Unbearable Lightness of Persepolis: The Allegorical Register of Melancholy and Nostalgia

  • Abstract:

    Will Eisner coined the term sequential artto refer to comic books and graphic novels and he argued for a serious reading of comics and for the recognition of this art as a literary form. For Eisner, sequential art is a montage of two units, namely both word and image, while the unit of art (perspective, symmetry, brush stroke) and the unit of literature (grammar, plot and syntax) are superimposed upon each other. Hence, the reader of a comic book/graphic novel has to use both visual and verbal interpretive skills in order to read the story. This paper proposes to read Persepolis (2007), an animated film based on the autobiographical graphic novel written by Marjane Satrapi, in terms of memory-work and working-through the past.
    Through the formal analysis of the visual style of the film and an analysis of how the characters and their characteristics are depicted in terms of animation, several of the film’s themes and preoccupations with the past, as well as the questions it raises will be highlighted. What kind of cultural memory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran does the film attempt to generate and how? Is it didactic? This paper argues that the film presents a nostalgic, yet melancholic version of the past that does not seek to be didactic; it does not strive to give history lessons, but trigger critical response. Satrapi revisits the past in this film/graphic novel with deep sadness. She represents the past in terms of a melancholic narrative that promotes an allegorical reading of the film. Following this, the paper argues that this nostalgic and melancholic re-imagination of this particularly traumatic past is allegorical and as such communicates a quest for identity in contemporary societies.