Thursday, December 20, 2012

Tintin on the Couch

The trouble with literary criticism - he said, starting a piece of literary criticism - is that one can easily analyse a thing to death, eeking out symbolism, metaphor and allegory where the author probably created nothing of the sort. Today I read Tom McCarthy's Tintin and the Secret of Literature which psychoanalyses Herge's oeuvre to within an inch of its life. Some of it's fun and revealing: the stuff on characterization, subplots and Herge's right-to-left politics is spot on. 
But when McCarthy starts quoting Barthes, Baudelaire, Bataille, Balzac (and others not necessarily beginning with B), and goes on about the symbolism of tombs, Captain Haddock's relationship to Louis XIV and Tintin as "the avatar of the secret whose possibility guarantees the possibility of literature" (eh?), then he's lost me.
Mind you, McCarthy knows his stuff and it's clear he's a fan. And although ridiculous, the Freudian interpretation of The Castafiore Emerald in a chapter called Castafiore's Clit has to make you smile. Interestingly, McCarthy declines to suggest that Tintin is gay (as many others have done), preferring to concentrate on more lofty matters like his politics. (As an aside, I have two interesting bootleg books on both issues: the seedy Tintin in Thailand, which doesn't need describing, and the deeply political Breaking Free in which Tintin is an anarchist in south-east London).
But being the huge Tintin fan that I am - I have all the books, DVDs, T-shirts, mugs, key-rings, fridge magnets, you name it - I prefer him adventurous and neutral. And it is this persona, free from the forensics of Freud, that I am foisting on my children. 

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