Month: December 2003

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Well Goddamnit, Dave Sim actually succeeded in making me feel bad for abandoning Cerebus after “Melmoth”… even though, along the way, he did compare himself to Douglas MacArthur, and there’s no sane way to interpret that! (but does this mean he “shall return”?)

via Neilalien

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I guess maybe I’m the only one who finds this valid (obnoxious, yes–but no less true, for all of that… and no, I’m not a member of PETA, and I’m not temperamentally suited to be an activist–but I’m glad they exist):

via Neilalien & Bill Sherman

Okay–I’d better get back to aesthetics! and comics! (speaking of which: H, at The Comic Treadmill plans to blog Roy Thomas’ Infinity Inc. next! I can’t wait!)

See ya soon!
Dave

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Mark it on your calendar folks! It’s “renounce everything day”!

Somewhere, the disembodied fragment of the All that once was Schopenhauer is smiling upon certain regions of the blogosphere… Aaron Haspel waded into the little conversion re:”transcendence”, and–for his pains–was admonished by AC Douglas to wash out his mind with The World as Will and Representation. Meanwhile, Forager tried to carve out a position for himself somewhere in between AC’s and mine, and there’s something in what he says, but not enough to convince me…

Of course, these debates are largely semantic–but that doesn’t mean they can be dismissed! After all, each of the participants in this discussion has less corporeality than Schopenhauer possessed in the wildest of his renunicatory fantasies–we’re just so many words to one another…and the meanings we ascribe to words like “art”, “limitation”, and “striving” are very important!

I’m exhausted, and I just trudged for a solid hour through some pretty cold air, but goddamnit, this is fun! Onward!

George Hunka wants to know: “What was it, after all, that Beckett failed at in his art? What the hell is it you mean by “real”?

I’ll tell ya George–he failed, as everyone must, to make himself known to the world. It’s a sad fact of life, but there it is–we’re born with this crazy desire to “speak the language of our hearts”, to create an objective record of our subjective position. There’s no possibility of doing this successfully, because we cannot know anything as it is in itself, not even our own minds. It goes without saying, I think, that if you don’t know your own mind, you can’t express its’ contents to others, right? Schopenhauer understood this, and chose a logical (but ridiculous) path–use up every volt of your consciousness in a war on desire. Go ahead and do it, by all means, waste your time on this earth mortifying your flesh and contemplating the beauty of works of art–just please, don’t try to tell me that you’ve found a better world in the process! All you’ve done is abandoned your primary responsibility as a human being and given up any chance you ever had of meaning anything to anyone else… Enjoy!

All of this stuff about the drive to impose one’s Will upon the world is just nonsense–what we really want is to make ourselves known… Unfortunately, the most we can do is make our presence felt. Become, in effect, sublime objects ourselves. Now, if you think that I’m recommending that you pursue Bodhissattva status–just to help poor George and his like make their way up the safety ladder outta this pool of slime–then you haven’t been paying attention. Or you’re too hopped up on asceticism for me to help you–it’s bed(of nails) time baby…

What I’m saying is this–you aren’t ever going to make yourself known (no matter how many brilliant stories you tell, symphonies you compose, or contraptions you invent), so just deal with it and keep going. There is no last word–at least, not until that fateful moment of “Eternal destruction” that claims each of us eventually, for no reason at all (Jonathan Edwards has been absent from this page for too long!)… However, your person–or its’ extention in a work of art–might serve another as an anchor against solipsism/pantheism, by providing forceful evidence of a contrary subjectivity in the world. That’s what the artist can do–give a sensitive reader/listener/viewer something unassimilable to ground them–not a blast of hot air to fuel their ascent into space… Anyone can achieve a glimpse of something like what AC calls the “transcendent”–all you need are some good drugs or some fucked up brain chemistry… It’s a lot harder, and a lot more meaningful (but by no means “satisfying”–strike the word from your dictionaries please!) to learn to pay attention to your surroundings, with the object of catching a glimpse of something human that has nothing to do with you! This is not about communion, or “All-feelings”, or any of that tripe–this is about coming to know (as opposed to acknowledging in theory) that there are other minds in the world…

Coming soon–“Deep Space” vs. “Layered Space” Aesthetics…


Good night friends
Dave

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“I like your tan–that’s very Christmassy…”

We watched one of my favourite X-Mas films tonight–Robert Montgomery’s The Lady in the Lake, co-starring the wondrous Audrey Totter. Chandler’s novel, upon which the film is based, is probably the worst of the Marlowe narratives–it belongs to the period of “cannibalized” books that intervened between the great 1930’s short stories and the even greater one-two punch of The Little Sister and The Long Goodbye. In the early-to-mid-forties, ol’ Ray was drunk and torpid (as opposed to later in the decade, when he was drunk and on fire!), and who knows what stagnant bottle his novel about corrupt police and perfume executives wafted out of… Montgomery (and screenwriter Steve Fisher) wisely chose to switch the setting to a publishing house and made Marlowe (the world’s most demented abuser of simile) an aspiring writer, and they decided the whole thing would work better at Christmas–of course they were right on all counts. The film is best known for its’ virtually unrelenting use of the “subjective camera” technique to simulate first-person narration (Montgomery’s excellent performance is almost all voice-over). I’m not sure if it does that, but it’s a fascinating viewing experience nonetheless, mainly for the way it forces us to look the crazed participants in the drama (particularly Audrey Totter) in the eye!

Friedrich, at Two Blowhards, declares that “nihilism is dead”. Along the way to this statement, he asks:

I mean, who really thinks they are here on earth to pursue perfect liberty, perfect justice or perfect fairness as ends in themselves? Aren’t liberty, justice and fairness valuable only as means to some end? But can we really be surprised that the average American ends up living a life of ‘mindless consumerism’ when he or she can’t state a social goal more profound than ‘eliminating injustice’?

As a matter of fact, I think “liberty, justice and fairness” are valuable things in themselves… There is no shame in embracing a political system that limits the ability of the thumotically inclined to arrogate power over other human beings to themselves (whilst making excellent use of their power-lust–someone’s gotta run the country, might as well be the damned!). I do agree that much of life is about “overcoming resistance”, but this battle ought to remain within the confines of the mind–other people are not objects of resistance to be overcome–they are objects to rejoice in! “Overcoming the other” only brings the strong thinker closer to complete isolation–and the madhouses are filled with “Supermen” who made it all the way to the state Nietzsche was so eager to achieve.

Book of Illusions–major thumbs up! And Mr. Auster is right–“Nothing that happens to us is ever lost”. He also does wonders with Hawthorne’s great story, “The Birthmark”. I should stop right now–I’m prety exhausted, and I’ve been coughing so much that a customer who phoned the store tonight greeted me as “Madame”! That’s not good…

Good night friends
Dave

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Special to AC Douglas (and George Hunka)–there is no transcendent world, and no work of art can help you reach it. However–(fake-concerned voice-over, beautiful daffodils swaying in the wind) if you insist on trying, may I suggest you ask your doctor if new Letho is right for you!

Seriously guys, I think every artist worth his/her salt works in order to “open up intercourse with the world” (that’s Mr. Hawthorne’s phrase, not mine). It’s not about accessing the divine (Beckett said “to be an artist is to fail”), nor is it about “self-expression” or anything so godawfully Oprahish (Opraish? Opratic?) as that–it’s about creating something irreducibly “real” (in the same way that the people in our lives who mean the most to us are “real”–meaning that we are drawn to them for what they are and not for what they can do for us).

What’s it all about?I think Frank O’Hara’s mocktrine of “Personism” is the finest answer anyone is ever likely to come up with:

Personism has nothing to do with philosophy, it’’s all art. It does not have to do with personality or intimacy, far from it! But to give you a vague idea, one of its minimal aspects is to address itself to one person (other than the poet himself), thus evoking overtones of love without destroying love’s life—giving vulgarity, and sustaining the poet’’s feelings towards the poem while preventing love from distracting him into feeling about the person. That’’s part of Personism.

It was founded by me after lunch with LeRoi Jones on August 27, 1959, a day in which I was in love with someone (not Roi, by the way, a blond). I went back to work and wrote a poem for this person. While I was writing it I was realizing that if I wanted to I could use the telephone instead of writing the poem, and so Personism was born. It’s a very exciting movement which will undoubtedly have lots of adherents. It puts the poem squarely between the poet and the person, Lucky Pierre style, and the poem is correspondingly gratified. The poem is at last between two persons instead of two pages. In all modesty, I confess that it may be the death of literature as we know it. While I have certain regrets, I am still glad I got there before Alain Robbe-Grillet did. Poetry being quicker and surer than prose, it is only just that poetry finish literature off.

I do agree with Mr. Hunka (whose blog–Superfluities–is excellent, by the way) that works of art have no utilitarian purpose–but while he treats them as quasi-mystical portals into the realm of the Ideas, I think of them as undeniable ends-in-themselves, as real as the first person you ever loved (or your love-letters to them).

In other news–I’m just about finished Auster’s The Book of Illusions (I would have read it straight through in one sitting if it weren’t for this insane flu-related cough that just won’t quit!), and I’m happy to say, it’s almost as brilliant as Oracle Night! I feel pretty safe in contending that Auster’s project (like mine) is intimately tied to Hawthorne’s Blithedale Romance (the greatest novel ever written), and I’ll go into this in more detail later in the week.

Good night friends
Dave

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I keep hoping to mush on with my Yule-Blogging, but other things always interfere–tonight it’s…

1. The Expos have signed Carl “Poochie” Everett–I can hardly wait for the crazy interviews to begin! For those of you who don’t know, Everett is a man who denies that men ever set foot on the moon, that dinosaurs ever existed, that human beings evolved from apes…he refuses to accept anything on faith. Based on this track record, I expect Mr. Everett to begin questioning the urban legend that the Saint-Lawrence Valley is one of the inhabited regions of the earth–because he won’t be seeing anyone in the stands at Olympic Stadium next year…


2.Aaron Haspel awards the title of Champion Cover of the Universe, Blogosphere division, to Devo’s version of “Satisfaction”… I came forward, a few days back, with these nominees. After further consideration, I want to add:

–Bobby Fuller’s versions of “Summertime Blues”, “I Fought the Law”, and “Anytime at All” (Beatles)
–The Pixies’ version of “Head On” (Jesus & Mary Chain)
–Sheryl Crowe’s interpretation of “D’Yer Maker” (Led Zeppelin)
–Nirvana’s version of “Lake of Fire” (Meat Puppets)
and Peter Parker’s maniacal take on the Spice Girls’ “Wannabe”


3.There’s been a fair amount of talk goin’ round about Comic Book Letters pages lately (and other editorial contributions that have vanished from the pages of contemporary issues)… All I can say about this is–keep it coming! As far as I’m concerned, abstracting Silver Age narratives from their original context (which includes lettercols, editorials, and–yes–even the ads) does the works a great disservice. From where I sit, Masterworks, Essentials, and your basic TPB volumes look like a great way to embalm a popular, unabashedly commerical artform (“commercial” doesn’t have to be a synonym for “bad”!)… And if this kind of tribute is the best the world has to offer these days, then I may be forced to concur with Alan David Doane’s proclamation of the death of the super-hero… Meanwhile, my humble attempt to get people on The Comics Journal Messageboard thinking about lettercols hasn’t gone anywhere…

4.Tonight’s All Star Squadron Post at The Comic Treadmill is even more interesting than usual, as H brings our attention to Roy Thomas vs. The John Birch Society! Reader Steve Smith (from Tipp City, OH–which is also the title of a great Kim Deal Amps song!) takes exception to a favourable mention of A. Philip Randolph, a prominent Civil Rights leader in the pre-King Era. Smith argues that Roy neglects to mention that HUAC declared Randolph a “COMMIE”–and not just your run-of-the-mill “Red” either, apparently the man was asscoiated with “twenty…hard-core communist fronts”! To all of this, Roy replies that he doesn’t care if the whole civil rights movement was in direct contact with the Kremlin and asks readers to consider the significance of the fact that the task of politicizing racial equality was largely left to Communist organizations for so long (makes me want to re-read Richard Wright’s brilliant Native Son)…

In the same editorial reply, Roy asks his readers to think of ASS as somewhat akin to a “historical novel”–which, obviously, I’m totally on board with!
Steven Grant is right to point out that there is very little actual “comics criticism” out there, and that scholars have yet to evolve a methodology that is alive to the unique aspects of the medium… In the case of super-hero comics, at any rate, I think the criticism that exists (which usually relies upon film and/or fine art aesthetic criteria) is way off the mark. {{{Platitudinous disclaimer II: don’t forget, this is only my opinion!}}} Too much attention has been paid to iconography of character and things like the placement of panels on the page–and nothing has been done with the labyrinthine structure and narrative convulsions of these texts. As far as I’m concerned, we’re not going to get very far beyond Arlen Schumer-style splash-pageology until we start treating the super-hero series as a close relative of the post-modern novel!

Finally, here’s a pretty mindless Quiz–via Eve, who is anything (everything?) but mindless:
kermit.jpeg
You are Kermit the Frog.
You are reliable, responsible and caring. And you
have a habit of waving your arms about
maniacally.

FAVORITE EXPRESSIONS:
“Hi ho!” “Yaaay!” and
“Sheesh!”
FAVORITE MOVIE:
“How Green Was My Mother”

LAST BOOK READ:
“Surfin’ the Webfoot: A Frog’s Guide to the
Internet”

HOBBIES:
Sitting in the swamp playing banjo.

QUOTE:
“Hmm, my banjo is wet.”

What Muppet are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Good night friends
Dave

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All-Star Revue

H over at The Comic Treadmill discusses his dissatisfaction with the Detroit Race Riot/Real American storyline in All-Star Squadron #38-40 (1984)… He makes some good points–however, now that I’ve re-read the three issues, I’m prepared to offer more of a defense than I was able to put up in the CT comments section earlier this evening…

First–H compares the series unfavourably to a similarly-themed storyline in Avengers #73-74, which featured the Sons of the Serpent. I’m ashamed to say I’ve never read those–but I will certainly try to get my hands on ’em (I actually do still have a goodly number of the Thomas Avengers–including good runs from #54 to 60 and #66 to 72–and I love what Roy did on that title in the sixties)

Second, H makes much of the fact that the “villain” of the piece–“Real American”–is later exposed as an android (designed by the goddamned Monitor!) with extremely potent hypnotic abilities, thus affording the reader the luxury of concluding that the troubles in Detroit are just the result of a mass delusion… At first, I was willing to accept this claim–but now I’m not so sure. Roy brings in so much authentic data from newsreels and headlines (from Life Magazine) that the reader pretty much has to remain cognizant of the fact that these events really happened, and that, of course, there was no hypno-hustling android there to rouse the rabble in Earth-Prime Detroit!

The story derives its power from the tensions aroused by a government project (the Sojourner Truth Homes) designed to provide proper housing for African-Americans who had migrated to the Motor City from the deep south in between the wars… Up until that time, these people (who had come to Detroit in order to help fuel the exponential growth of the auto industry there) had mainly been forced to live in the ironically-named slum Paradise Valley… Each of these citizens had paid their rent in advance–all they wanted to do was move in. But, of course, the SJ Homes were situated smack in the middle of a middle-class area, and there were objections…

I think Thomas did a great job with this storyline, actually. The various androids and super-powered characters are just there to raise the stakes–they don’t instigate or resolve the drama. Roy addresses a lot of concerns that you wouldn’t expect him to–i.e. some of the opposition to the project comes from the “black bourgeoisie”, and there’s some frank talk from FDR about how “domestic issues have to take a back seat to the international situation in wartime”–as well as some of the more obvious stuff, like the way that the undeniable equation racial discrimination=Nazism forced Americans to begin making a real commitment to cleaning up their act as liberals… There are many books out there on this subject, but a good, accessible one is Eric Foner’s The Story of American Freedom–I’m not crazy about Foner–he’s too much of an economic determinist for my tastes, but it’s well worth your time…

Anyway–I think the essential dilemma of liberal society is very nicely dramatized by this exchange, which occurs on page 20 of issue #40:

Amazing Man (Will Everett): Things seem to have calmed down at last, but there are still too many of my people behind bars–and not enough of the ones who baited them.

Liberty Belle: I’d feel better if you thought all Americans were your people, Will. But under the circumstances, I don’t guess that comes easy.

No kidding Libby! But she’s right! Obviously, liberalism makes a claim upon cultural insiders to welcome all human beings into the fold–however, it also makes a (much more difficult) demand upon “outsiders”–or outsiders-on-the-cusp-of-“acceptance”–to let go of the badges of their former (and possibly ongoing) oppression… That’s a tall order–and we’re nowhere near fulfilling either part of the bargain…

Good night friends!
Dave

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Tonight is The 11th Annual It’s A Wonderful Life Party!!

More Yule-Blogging soon!

hmm… just a few quick questions/notes–before the guests arrive:

1.Where is Rick Geerling? I’m not ashamed to admit that I miss him!

2.Good post on movements vs. the artists who take part in them over at Two Blowhards.

3.AC Douglas is at his best when he vents his Olympian spleen upon the yuppie excresences of our (basically incredibly desirable) middle-class culture. He’s done it again!

4.Like everyone else, I’m dumbfounded by the horrific implications of the Comics Corner Crisis.

5.Forager has a post up that mentions talk radio… As you might guess, anyone interested in comic book letters pages will probably have some thoughts on call-in radio shows! I’ll be posting on this subject in the very near future! (when in Jim Rome…)

6.Steve Chung article about Amazing Spider-Man #130–it’s part of the Pulse’s X-Mas Past series, and this one features a festive party at Betty Brant’s, more of Conway’s new, improved Mary Jane Watson, and the wonderfully tongue-in-cheek Spider-Mobile!!! As I’ve opined before–I think Conway’s whole run on ASM was incredible, and I’m going to have to do some serious, in-depth musing out loud on this topic too!

Good night all!

Dave

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Random Notes & Responses, Composed Whilst Listening to Garrison Starr’s Eighteen Over Me

First off! Always cogent commenter Justin Colussy Estes has a web site up and running–it’s called Argument and Persuasion! If you click over there, you will find an excellent account of an important conversation between Lyndon B. Johnson and Ladybird, and several tantalizingly-titled conference papers (one of them concerns the art of lettering!) that I intend to read in the very near future. I’ll race you there!

Next up, I want to thank Big Sunny D for his kind words yesterday–and rest assured, this blog will deal with everyone on my list of “American Romancers” (and then some) in the weeks and months ahead! I’m pleased that there is at least some interest in my anti-Foucaultian take on super-heroes–and I also want to second D’s proviso that, of course, there’s a great deal to be learned from the Power/fascism critiques that are in circulation out there… Personally, I’m prepared to read–and enjoy–any criticism that proceeds from a profound engagement with a particular work toward a sophisticated analysis. I become annoyed by scholarship that does the reverse–you know, picks up some new theory and starts applying it to whatever comes to hand, with the idea that the critique is more powerful than the original material (if you want an example of what I mean–check out Jane Tompkins’ Sensational Designs, which proceeds from a very sound idea–namely, that

male-dominated scholarly tradition controls both the canon of American literature (from which these novelists are excluded) and the critical perspective that interprets the canon for society. For the tradition of Perry Miller, F. O. Matthiessen, Harry Levin, Richard Chase, R. W. B. Lewis, Yvor Winters, and Henry Nash Smith has prevented even committed feminists from recognizing and asserting the value of a powerful and specifically female novelistic tradition.

but loses its’ way, thanks in large part to the fact that Tompkins is so committed to her theoretical position that she is unwilling to admit that Susan Warner’s The Wide, Wide World is an atrocity that no one could ever want to read in its’ entirety!


Anyway, I prefer to focus my attention on the things that I know I love, and then let my natural wish to communicate this love to others–fortified by the appropriate theoretical models–fuel my criticism, and this goes double for attempts to show commonalities between artists like Hawthorne and Steve Ditko–to quote Frank O’Hara (who should have been on yesterday’s list!!), “you just go on your nerve”…

Also, I hope every man woman and child takes that postmodernist quiz, because it makes a very interesting point: to paraphrase George Fitzhugh (a maniac for theory who would have done very well in our own time–if he could give up his idea that the great majority of people would be better off enslaved!) we are “postmodernists all!” (for Fitzhugh it was Cannibals All!)… You don’t have to make any special effort to be a postmodernist in the 21st century, your postmodernity is a foregone conclusion, even if–and maybe especially if–you pull an AC Douglas and start acting like the strawman foil in a pop-culture theorist’s wet dream! (it works for you AC, I wouldn’t have you any other way!) Seriously though, if there’s a flaw in the quiz, it’s that none of the choices for “hottest celebrity” was to my liking at all–I wound up choosing Audrey Tatou, but, you know, where was Jennifer Jason Leigh? Thanks also to Kevin, for his perplexed response–uncertainty is what we revisionist historians are all about my friend!

There’s more All-Star Squadron goodness going on at The Comic Treadmill, where “H” discusses the intro. to Infinity Inc. (“the worst team name in comics’ history”? I don’t know–what about Big Jim’s P.A.C.K.? as in Private Agents Crime Killers! I know I know, they’re just toys, but still!). Anyway, this time “H” worries that Amazing Man was a completely wasted creation on Roy Thomas’s part–and it’s hard to disagree with him… although, subjectively, I remember the “Race Riots in Detroit” storyline late in the series as being more effective than H seems to think it is (although he hasn’t made it there yet, give ‘im a coupla days!)…

Reading Auster’s Oracle Night was quite an experience, although I suspect I’ll have to re-read it… The ending strikes me as something of a cop-out, but you’ll have to forgive me, all endings strike me this way! Since I first read Auster a couple of years of ago (New York Trilogy), I’ve been reluctant to try him again–terrified actually! Why? The man’s influences & interests (Hawthorne, Hammett, Puritan theology, Kierkegaard, time travel to the past, not the future, even down to the minutiae of the 1982 baseball season–that was the year I decided that I wanted to devise a better means of measuring offensive contributions than Bill James’ runs created formula… of course I failed!) are so similar to my own that I’m always afraid I’ll pick up one of his books and read a more polished copy of the manuscipt I’m working on (does Auster like comic books? if he does, I’m doomed!). I’m only half-kidding about this, but Oracle Night was so good that I think I’m just gonna have to get over this and read the oeuvre… I don’t want to give away too much, but since I mentioned the “Flitcraft” episode yesterday: basically, Auster’s narrator, Sid Orr, takes Hammett to task for providing too trite an ending for the interpolated tale, and resolves to do something more with it–but he just writes himself into a funk, in more ways than one… Read it!!!

Good night friends!
Dave

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Fun Quiz via Rachel, who’s a “gender Nazi”, apparently
revisionist historian
You are a Revisionist Historian. You are the Clark
Kent of postmodernists. You probably want to
work in a library or in social services. No
one suspects you of being a postmodernist…
until they read your publications!

What kind of postmodernist are you!?
brought to you by Quizilla

Also–Neilalien is right, and amusing in the process–as usual. And Evetushnet offers up some good thoughts re: “being into comics”. Personally, I’m not “into comics”–I just happen to be very interested in a particular genre (Silver Age Marvels and the Morrison, Gruenwald, Thomas, Stern stuff that followed up on it) which I read as being in the American Romance tradition of Hawthorne, Melville, Henry James, Hammett, Chandler, Edward Hopper, Thomas Wolfe, Dawn Powell, Frank Capra, John Casavettes, Ramones/Fastbacks American punk (& perhaps it’s time to add Paul Auster, Sleater-Kinney, Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson, and Sophia Coppola to the list)–Dickens is an honorary member… Apart from that, yeah, I like a few other things like early Cerebus, everything by Ditko that I’ve seen, and, preeminently, Peanuts–but never just because they’re comics… It’s the sensibility that matters, not the medium!