Habibi and Thompson: A Dialectic of Love

I know, it’s a little irregular for me to add more to a previous review, but after reading another book I realized I’d be greatly remiss in explaining another reservation that I had about the narrative

One thing that I really forgot to mention about Habibi was its emphasis–at least with regards to its characters and their experiences growing up–on the negativity of sex. Physical intimacy, passion, and sex are depicted as tools of degradation against which the purer esoteric love that is breath, unity, and wholeness must struggle against. It is your basic Zoroastrian or binary opposition of the physical as something base–being in the realm of Ahriman or the God of the Earth–and the spiritual love of Ahura Mazda and the God of the Heavens being pure and the real thing to strive for.

It is a theme that is identified with Zoroastrianism that is credited with influencing the Essenes, the Manichean Heresy and Kabbalism as well as Judeo-Christian theology. It is also something I don’t really agree with: though there is an immaculate order to the logic being employed.

I also realized something else. This is not the first time I have seen this. I know, I just made a whole bunch of religious and cultural references earlier that say that I did, but I’m talking about Craig Thompson in particular. Because now I remember a little more of Thompson’s other graphic novel Blankets. Thompson depicts himself with his first love in a more spiritual and emotional way. Even though there are moments of very clear physical and auto-erotic interaction, I recall the illustration around them seemed more airy, as though those moments were less to do with Earth than with the idea of clouds and the Heavens. I also remembered Blankets was just as much in some ways Thompson’s meditation and debate with the fundamentalist Christianity he was forced to grow in as much as it was a first love story.

For some reason, I feel as though Thompson was more successful placing that dialectic or narrative model in Blankets than in Habibi. I mean to say, he was very successful in creating stories around this theme, but in Blankets it seemed more subtle and seamless, whereas I feel in Habibi it was … awkward somehow. Perhaps the autobiographical narrative of the first graphic novel suited the theme more because it was about Thompson, while with the second it wasn’t about him–perhaps–it felt as though it were applied to something outside of himself that he wasn’t as sure about?

The idea of two kinds of love: manifesting in physical passion and then divine adoration is not a new one, but it wasn’t until–pretty much now–that I really see just how far this goes as a narrative and how it echoes other works. I just find this–and how it functions differently from autobiography to fiction–very fascinating: especially with regards to the graphic novel that I am about to review next: Chester Brown’s Paying For It.

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