Pretending is Lying. Dominique Goblet. translated by Sophie Yanow. New York Review Comics. 2022 paperback edition. 144 pp. $24.95
I follow this book from end to end, with all its shifts in style and experimentation, and the ambiguous title makes more sense to me, maybe even more than the author had intended to express. Truth slips out in unexpected ways. At first, leafing through the pages, I spot the titular scene: a ghostly figure right out of Edvard Munch’s The Scream is yelling (or screming!), “Pretending is Lying!” The scene is as haunting as it could be but what does it mean – or is the meaning meant to be elusive?
Truth is elusive and yet, the more you seek it out, the more it emerges and won’t go away. Werner Herzog’s latest film follows the trail of writer Bruce Chatman’s pursuit of the truth. Herzog concludes that Chatman was great at embellishing the truth in order to get to a greater truth. And that is what is happening in Goblet’s book even if Guy Marc Hinant, her ex, says in the endnotes that Goblet’s depiction of their torrid love affair is “not just about life itself but about Art,” which, for me, leans more towards reaching an interpretation of the past rather than pinning down some essential truth.
Just keep in mind that truth matters and you don’t dare want to see it distorted and deflected out of existence. I say this because truth is very important to Goblet. Throughout the book, through the prism of her comics, she is seeking a greater truth. She would like to better understand her father and her mother. Were they as abusive as she remembers? Why was her father so dismissive? And did she end up in relationships with men who treated her just as poorly? Goblet takes the casual insults from her father, the sort of comments that can be easily denied later, and pins them down into her comics. In order to make sense of how she was betrayed by her lover, she ends up having Hinant collaborate with her since he’s the prime source for providing information on where he was and what he was doing when he suddenly wandered away night after night. That data gets pinned down too. So, no one can argue that the bones of the story are not true, no matter how artfully rendered. Goblet achieves her goal of finding the ultimate truth.
The cold hard fact is that Hinant was very selfish and betrayed Goblet. It’s hard for Hinant to confront these facts. That is only natural. He demonstrates this to me by how he parses his words in the endnotes. That said, once these events have been pinned down into words and pictures, they become a tangible lifeline in order for Goblet to speak her truth. Goblet has a beautiful way of revealing the truth with her comics: all the players are left to their own devices to show themselves for who they are. To be fair, Hinant describes himself in the book as “disturbed and deceitful” but he seems to gain some cover by emphasizing in his endnotes the artistic process over reality. That’s the feeling I get. Well, whatever the case, truth has a way of spilling out and making itself known. Sometimes, if we’re lucky, it looks like the pages in this book.