Code Versus Code in Bechdel’s Fun Home by Lauren Allen
In Hatfields “The Otherness of Comics Reading,” he deconstructs the main tensions when reading and analyzing comics, one of those tensions being code versus code or word versus image. This tension is extremely prevalent among Bechdel’s Fun Home; Bechdel is able to obscure authenticity through her discovery of the power of symbols versus words. This code versus code tension is latent throughout the text, but is ultimately distinguished by the way Bechdel describes the “gaping rift” between symbol and meaning when writing in her journal (Bechdel 142). The tension, then, created by code versus code challenges the idea of truth for Bechdel, who ultimately finds more authority behind images than words, and shows us this through her recreations of her diary entries.
Hatfield explains that “pictures are open, easy, and solicitous, while words are coded, abstract, and remote. Yet in comics word and image approach each other: words can be visually inflected, reading as pictures, while pictures can become as abstract and symbolic as words” (36). Bechdel redraws her journal entries from childhood, morphing words into images while simultaneously including symbols in those redrawn pictures that signify the words “I think.” This contradiction plays directly into the hands of the code versus code tension because Bechdel gives more agency to a symbol that she only knows the meaning to than the actual words themselves. The tension goes further for as readers, we are reading the journal entries as an image enwrapped by a panel; it is not narration. For Bechdel to redraw these journal entries and translate them into an image essentially makes them more concrete and authentic if we as readers understand the importance that Bechdel places upon image versus word. The code versus code tension in Fun Home is multifaceted, including these redrawn images, the words within them, and the symbols that create meaning at the end of each sentence.
Eventually, the symbol representing “I think” covers her whole diary entry, which to Bechdel represents a sort of preservation. Words no longer hold as much truth or authenticity than symbols do for Bechdel. Hatfield deconstructs this tension further by “collaps[ing] the word/image dichotomy: visible language has the potential to be quite elaborate in appearance, forcing recognition of pictorial and material qualities that can be freighted with meaning (as in, for example, concrete poetry); conversely, images can be simplified and codified to function as a language” (37). The difference between the word which is “freighted with meaning” versus the image that is “simplified” creates the “gaping rift” for Bechdel, and challenges the integrity of her own personal journal entries. The relationship between the word and the image then creates another meaning which the reader must parse out, which in Bechdel’s case is the emotional conflict of anxiety created by the rift between image and word, an emotional conflict that is also shared by the reader (Hatfield 37).
In contrast, Bechdel is amazed by the relationship between words and images when coloring her Wind in the Willows coloring book (147). There is tension between her perception of the word and the symbol that she herself produces versus that of an image labeled with a word. Bechdel understands the relationship between image and word to be a “mystical bridging” rather than her perception of her own words versus symbols which is a “gaping rift”. Hatfield explains “At its broadest level, then, what we call visual/verbal tension may be characterized as the clash and collaboration of different codes of signification, whether or not written words are used” (41). The codes of signification between the coloring book and the journal entries are contrasting due to integrity behind each as well as the use of the image. Bechdel’s whole life is constructed by artificiality, therefore her words are questioned to be just the same as the life she is writing about. The symbol representing “I think” is concrete and constant- knowing that she does not know. In contrast, the coloring book is constructed of a fictional image then labeled by words that make it real.
Ultimately, the code versus code tension is multiversed in Bechdel’s Fun Home. Her journal entry as image refutes the exact point that she is trying to make as a child, and creates new meaning as an adult. She feels as though her words hold less weight than the images do during her childhood, but her words are now translated into images through the process of redrawing the entries when she is an adult. This “clash” of codes adds a tremendous amount of significance upon the theme of authenticity by combatting the indefinite meaning behind words with the concreteness of images.