Academic journal article Shofar

How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses

Academic journal article Shofar

How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses

Article excerpt

HOW COME BOYS GET TO KEEP THEIR NOSES By Tahneer Oksman. New York: Columbia University Press, 2016.

Tahneer Oksman's How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses is a literary study of Jewish women's graphic novels. Or, more to the point, it is a study of graphic memoirs by Jewish women. From first to last, the book maintains an insightful and unsteady relationship to both its subject-the graphic memoirs themselves-and to the authors and subjects of the memoirs: the women who wrote them and whose lives they represent.

Oksman's book opens with a discussion of Aline Kominsky Crumb's 1989 comic "Nose Job," in which Kominsky Crumb is at odds with her own face. The book closes with a reflection on Leanne Finck's book, A Bintel Brief, in which Oksman reflects, "Revisiting and revising the past in the present is a way from Jewish women to create spaces in which to dwell." Both of these capture much of what happens in the intermediate pages as Oksman carefully and meticulously examines graphic memoirs by Jewish women and finds, over and over again, struggles and conflict over categories of identity.

Yet, in focusing so keenly on the question of identity, she invariably ends up wrapped around a nearly endless chain of representation. Attending to graphic memoirs means reading, closely, a representation-a self-representation, in fact-of a person for whom the categories of "Jewish" and "woman" are not only mutable but contested. The underlying theme of the novels, Oksman argues, is to make sense of those identity labels by both reclaiming and resisting them. As Oksman observes about all of the books in her book, "self-representations can help revise or reconfigure feelings of being an outsider."

This is the heart of Oksman's argument: claiming an identity also functions as an act of rejection. Her authors don identity categories like ill-fitting clothes, itchy and uncomfortable, but without other options for ways to present themselves in public. So they turn their dissatisfaction and discomfort into performance that changes both the ways in which we see the clothes and the sense we make of their wearers. Oksman turns what looks, sometimes, like fidgeting, into something that resembles a more carefully choreographed dance.

As a result, one of the strongest themes in the book is that of a persistent sense of discomfort. It is already present in the examples above, but she also refers to the comic memoir genre as a kind of "outsider art," refers to one character's "recurrent sense of exile," and claims that the books about Israel that occupy her penultimate chapter "reimagine home. …

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