A book review in comic form: The alphabet vs the goddess

October 24, 2013 – 9:31 pm

(The actual comic is at the end. Scroll to skip my ramble.)

I had to summarize a book related to Gender, Race, and/or Class for homework, and came across The Alphabet vs the Goddess, which intriguingly purported to show how feminine/holistic/visuals lost out against its binary complement of masculine/linear/words in spirituality, science, politics, and everything else under the sun. Knowing nothing other than that (gleaned from the blurby back cover), I borrowed the book from Alice and flew to NYC the weekend before the thing was due, intending to do my summary as feminine/holistic/visuals in order to play with whatever points the book was going to make about it.

The book turned out to be full of masculine/linear/words, an irony that did not escape me. Irate at the self-reflexivity of the book, Mel-commentary exploded all over my “summary,” turning it into a book review. It’s not a bad book, I just… why is this a bestseller? It has interesting ideas from an obviously very smart and curious author, but that’s what it is: a semi-researched, not-particularly-backed-up braindump of (eloquently-phrased) thoughts that sound more solid (thanks, eloquent phrasing!) than they actually are under scrutiny.

For instance: the author mentions that printing presses — which used both the force of compression and the material of linen strips — arrived in China around the same time female footbinding (which used both the force of compression and the material of linen strips), and goes on about the agonizing pain of young girls! in such vivid prose that it’s easy to forget that correlation and causation are not the same thing. Harold Hill’s character in The Music Man used the same tactic: “You’ve got trouble / Right here in River City / with a capital T and that rhymes with P and that stands for POOL!” (For those unfamiliar with the tactic, think: does the fact that the first letter of a word rhymes with T make that thing inherently troublesome?) Here, we’ve got Trouble with a capital T and that rhymes with P and that stands for Printing… and I don’t buy it.

Anyway. My book review was full of the following sentiment: I wanted to like this book and I do like parts of it but BOY does it overstep with NO DISCLAIMERS on the boundary between backed-up arguments and the author’s personal poetic conjectures.

Not that my book review itself is spotless. I like the first page a lot — and then my own argument goes awry, and the pieces seem disconnected to me, in part because I didn’t want to do it in sequential comic-frame format, in an attempt to swing way to the feminine/holistic/visual side of that binary the author sets up so strongly. It’s pretty reflexive. It’s also very much a “look, Mel’s experimenting with a new format!” experiment. I am proud of the way I thought of to do citations of a visual work (on the last page of the pdf).

I’m still trying to figure out how to best store/catalogue my (growing) collection of sketches so it’s easy for people to access it, so here’s an experiment: evernote embedding. (I have a nagging suspicion this might force browsers to download the entire pdf to view this page, but if so, I will leave this up as a concrete example of my terrible mistake.)

The Alphabet vs The Goddess: a graphical book review

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  1. 5 Responses to “A book review in comic form: The alphabet vs the goddess”

  2. Comic not visible – is it in a private notebook, perhaps?

    I find it easier to use a blogging tool (maybe ScribeFire for you?) or WordPress’ editing interface to add images directly to a blog post. Extra backup, too. Here’s a sneak preview of some more notes on how I organize and publish my sketches, in case that helps. Happy to chat with you if you have questions or if I can help you set things up!

    By Sacha Chua on Oct 25, 2013

  3. In Europe at least, words and writing were traditionally the gift of “sexually ambiguous” gods (e.g., Hermes and Odin). (Odin was accused of the “womanly” art of witchcraft.) Communication is all about crossing between binary opposites. Perhaps literacy or its lack were used to enforce sex roles, but I would imagine that early medieval Europeans might have seen literacy as a matter for effeminate “third-sex” clerics.

    By Mark Hoemmen on Oct 25, 2013

  4. funny thing, I used ‘links2 -g’ and it made me download the pdf(https://www.evernote.com/shard/s50/res/efa196d8-0206-4a82-95d6-8a3b7b8e2b2e/alphabet-vs-
    goddess.pdf)
    but chrome just showed a plugin error. Such a cool report. And the index.

    By Kevix on Oct 25, 2013

  5. Thanks, Sacha. I may wait ’till winter break (or at least after my prelim) and then sit down and copy-paste-tweak your sketchnote workflow so that it becomes mine — so you might get those questions at some point in the next 2 months. ;)

    By Mel on Oct 30, 2013

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