24 November 2015

Palestine, by Joe Sacco

There are a lot of off-putting things about this book. The subject matter, obviously, is no walk in the park, and you can certainly quibble with whether or not it's a balanced account (or what balance means in such contexts); the artwork is borderline unpleasant; and the narrator is frequently awful, openly concerned with his comic first and foremost in ways that frequently seem exploitative or callous, crossing all kinds of moral lines (example: we get three panels showing a guy in a bed; the narrator wants to photograph him and he says no. No mention of whether he agreed to be drawn), and generally seeming like a pretty gross dude.

But he also obviously chose to portray himself that way, and I wonder if he did so precisely to emphasize that any story comes from a particular perspective. Maybe this is one of the book's strengths. It is willing to be unlikable. The narrator is really not the point, but he is unavoidably in the way, and that is part of the point -- that he always will be, and we should be aware of that.

For the most part, the book is a collection of stories from Palestinians, and this seems to be its main goal, really -- an act of witnessing. Towards the very end, it makes some effort to consider the perspective of the average Israeli, and Sacco notes that he himself has come to see Israelis as occupiers and soldiers first and foremost. Again, not redressing bias per se, but actively pointing it out. Overall, the book absolutely attests to the power of the graphic novel as a genre in really incredible ways, and it is a valuable contribution to a larger conversation about Israel and Palestine. I read it because I was wondering if it would be a good addition to two different courses I'm half dreaming of, one on the graphic novel, the other on the idea of war and how it is represented in different cultures and mediums, and I think it would be an excellent choice for both.

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