Let me see if I’ve got Caro’s basic “Likewise” argument right. The relative newness of the graphic novel as a distinct art form means that it has not yet evolved the deep and complex machinery necessary to successfully compete with the richness of the bi-i-ig novel.
And therefore it’s not very useful to discuss things like “Likewise” using the same concepts and vocabulary, because the bucket just isn’t big enough yet to carry that kind of water.
This isn’t a smash on Schrag; she couldn’t do what couldn’t be done, and her intent wasn’t to write “Ulysses II” anyway. But it is a recognition of the nature of the graphic novel, the state of the art currently, that a “Ulysses II” is not yet possible in the genre. The question then becomes, how does “Likewise” stack *within the current possiblities of the genre*.
My own sense is that the formalist playfulness is there but isn’t extraordinary, nor is it even the strong point of the work; if Schrag hadn’t put the Joyce and Gifford into so many frames, that topic might not even have come up at all. But those who knew me in high school know how I brandished my Kafka and Vlad McNab, so I can absolutely accept why the book plays the role it does. To say the structure of “Likewise” reflects the book in a profound way is to imply that Schrag has given it a profound reading, and I’m not convinced a 19-year-old can read it profoundly. I know that’s true for me; I was 18 the time I first read “Lolita,” and the part I remember liking the best was the games with the license plates in the hotel registeries — “WS 1564” and stuff like that. What a yotz! Reading it now makes my eyes well up.”if Schrag hadn’t put the Joyce and Gifford into so many frames, that topic might not even have come up at all.
I don’t agree with this. It seems to me that Joyce is very important, both as an inspiration for style and structure and as an icon of (male) artistry which Schrag both embraces and I think undermines.
It’s the undermining that is a sticking point for many (Caro says it’s one for her, if I understand her comments aright.) Critics see Schrag’s failure to write like Joyce, or to get Joyce’s level of metatextual control, as a sign of immaturity, or as indicative of the historical difficulties of writing a graphic novel rather than literature, or just as a failure of competence.
To me, though, Schrag’s distance from Joyce seems thematic; it seems to be what the book is about. It’s a feature, not a bug. I actually think that it would be thematically *incoherent* for her to have gotten much closer to the experience of Ulysses than she did. Likewise is really in many ways about not succeeding — at being Joyce, at being an artist, at being a man, at being straight — as it is about succeeding. That failure isn’t tragic; in fact it’s the point; the book ends up accepting the inability to be Joyce, or to be straight, or to be a man, as a kind of triumph.
Caro says at the beginning of her post:
he title of the last volume of Ariel Schrag’s graphic memoir, Likewise, appears four times in Joyce’s Ulysses, most prominently in Episode 7, Aeolus, as one of the hyperbolic newspaper headlines: What? – and Likewise – Where?
(Aeolus is the Greek god of wind and Episode 7 is the chapter where Joyce satirizes “windy and inflated” reporting. Suat might call this poetic irony.)
Schrag’s Likewise, it seems to me, is about inflated rhetoric and desires, about embracing them and stepping away from them at the same time. It’s also about being like and not being like, and about how somewhere between the two you find yourself.
The whole Likewise Roundtable is here.