Reading Online: Truth is Fragmentary

Travelogues - Gabrielle Bell





This was posted on PostSecret this week, and I found it very relevant to this reading. As I discussed in my previous essay, the internet has a conflicted relationship with both our reading lives and real lives and how this affects the urges to engage in memoir and sharing comes through in this thoughtful graphic novel.


Named after a line from Tennessee Williams, Truth is Fragmentary is a collection of Gabrielle Bell’s autobiographical diary comics from 2010-2013, many of which were published online previously, including her yearly July Diaries. This is a great description of much of the web, particularly the fragments we share of our own lives on social media (whether reviews, pictures of food, or memoir comics) that may or may not reflect our true selves.


“For an impoverished cartoonist, I do an awful lot of international traveling,” Bell writes as she discusses the trips to Scandinavia, France, Switzerland, Colombia to promote her work, but her diaries also illustrate just hanging around her apartment reading or visiting friends, or using (or not using) the net. Discussing art with fellow comic writers, enduring awkward encounters with other people, forgetting things, eating with friends, daydreaming surreal encounters with zombies, bears, and alternate versions of her life, Bell shares her life in such an idiosyncratic way, I feel she is one of the most perceptive and affecting comic memoirists working right now.


Gabrielle Bell’s comics have always fascinated me and these are no different, they way that she can make the most banal aspects of day to day life interesting, or even beautiful, intimate and yet distant. I find much that resonates; as Bell reads the difficult works of the Renaissance writer Michel de Montaigne, she shares this quotation, “I make silly and stupid remarks unworthy of a child, I have a dreamy way of withdrawing into myself and a dull and childish ignorance of common things,” (very familiar sounding sentiments) marveling that 16th century nobleman could have such identifiable ideas. Reading such things illustrates what is so fascinating about autobiography and reading, seeing how another person lives, thinks, and feels, what is different and what is the same. Bell wrestles with the contradictions of being a very private person who blogs and publishes very personal journals, sharing them online, the most public of venues. As she struggles to express in a panel in Colombia, the internet can be a contradictory place to share for writers and artists, hoping to put their work into the world but can also drain energy from other projects with real resonance.


There is much I identify with in Bell’s works, yet also much that seems guarded, unstated, both as she relates to her reader and to the other people in her life. How does one share one’s unique perspective yet make it accessible to others? How does our act of writing autobiography change us, and how does our act of reading other people’s? Is it easier to understand people through books than through interaction? As Bell expresses in her July 15th 2013 comic,  interacting with other people can be exhausting, painful. As an introvert, I know this as well and I often feel like withdrawing from “other people tell me who I am supposed to be, other people tell me what reality is.” Does the internet allow one to escape more easily or does it trap one in constant connection?


In a way, my reviews are all autobiographical as well, as I try to reflect and define myself through the books I read, and the reactions and feelings I get from them. As Bell reads the work of Montaigne, or as I’m currently reading (aloud to myself) the difficult, intriguing poems of Robert Burns, I try to connect myself with the world through the lives of other people. Now, I also attempt to share some of these ideas, in a little way, with others.