Soundtrack: Magnapop — Rubbing Doesn’t Help
(N.B. I’ve added some content to this entry, but I put the same CD back on… just to preserve the mood!)
Well, my class got cancelled this week, and I’m up early for no reason, so I’ll respond to a couple o’ questions floating around out there:
1. Bruce Baugh wonders: “Given that things pass whether I want them to or not, how to respond?”
So I’m choosing to make a virtue of preparing for change. I live comfortably right now, have the legacy that matters to me, and have freed up the space, interest, and resources it’ll take to get neat new things when they come along. I am moving beyond being the prisoner of every last choice I made in the past… Everything is ephemeral on some scale, and even sophistry aside, I simply don’t need my things to last forever. I need them to serve me well for the years I have them, until they’re subsumed or replaced.
My response? Somewhat similar–except that I’m all for getting rid of even this little “saving grace” that Bruce allows himself… Sure, you can prune your collections and make “strategic” decisions to “forget” certain things–but no matter what the people on TV tell ya, you are not in charge of your own mind–especially your memories. When you clear out your apartment to make way for new stuff, it’s a smart decision, and the new stuff will be thankful I’m sure. But if you try to cleanse your mind the same way, we call that “repression”. As far as I’m concerned, the only authentic way to live is to face every moment of your past every moment of your life, whilst somehow enduring–and enjoying the pleasures that come your way in the present… Great art forgets nothing! And if it’s true that not much, in this life, is up to us–then it must certainly be true that the “arcs” those lives take, and the “finales” they make tracks for are artificially constructed by our fearful minds, and we can (and ought to) discard these things!
2.Dirk wants to know if my theories re: the superhero are just–“pseudo-intellectual nonsense used to gussy up after-the-fact justifications of personal taste…”. And you know what? He’s right! (except maybe about that “pseudo” part…)
Listen man–that’s how criticism works! You encounter something that “hits you right”, and then you try to figure out why it had that effect. You don’t start from the opposite pole–armed with a theory, scouring for art that corroborates it! (of course, that is precisely what a lot of pomo theorists are doing–and that’s why their “criticism” isn’t very interesting–it never had anything to do with what it’s “critiquing”!)
But Dirk poses a very important question:
How exactly does this statement [my stuff about serial “jam sessions”] describe superhero comics, but not, say, television series like Doctor Who or Northern Exposure, or Godzilla movies, or V.C. Andrews novels, or… you could go all day throwing examples out there. How is the ability to tell an endless series of stories limited by a group of restrictive tropes that can be maintained by an endless string of faceless hacks a “greatest strength” unique — or even best performed — by superhero comics?
I don’t have enough time to give this my best shot, but here’s what I’ve got for now:
–cartoons don’t age–unlike actors (so we can rule out soap operas and anything else using live action people)… the spider-man I read in 1990 was the same guy that Stan & Steve created in 1962–and he remembered everything that had happened to him in the 300 or so issues that had come out in the interim–but he wasn’t much older, somehow… by necessity, a soap opera would have to do “growing up” stories, when the actors start developing liver-spots.
–a cartoon TV series (or a series of novels) could do this stuff (actually Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe series pretty much does–40+ novels from 1934 to 1976 and no one ages a day!) but there’s no opening for the readership to serve as chorus/repository of memories–which is the role it fills (filled?) in monthly superhero mags… and without that membrane of continuity, the feeling generated is entirely different. Hermetically sealed, despite the “open-endedness”… “Canned”, if you will. The letters pages implicate every reader in an eternal “now”, instead of an eternal “then”.
–another really interesting facet of ongoing serial publication is that Dirk’s “faceless hacks” all wind up teaching each other a very important lesson–namely that, in life, as in art, all of our careful attempts to create a coherent narrative for ourselves fall prey to reality and self-destruct the moment we let our guard down. So Roy Thomas re-envisions the Avengers, Gerry Conway re-envisions Spider-Man, and John Byrne re-envisions everything… it’s not always good, but–formally–it’s fascinating!!! How many times have you thought you had your “life trajectory” figured out and been sent “back to the drawing board”? Unless you’re psychotic, probably several times a year, no?
–In my reading, Marvel’s silver age model for superhero stories foregrounds existential questioning (not, as Klock–and Kirby–would have it: “power”). For Spider-Man, every issue is a moral dilemma, and there’s never any real question of learning (after the “origin story”/conversion), there’s only endurance–and a wider field of cognition. There’s no qualitative leap in the character’s undertanding of his universe, it’s all juxtaposition… I’ve never seen anything outside of Hawthorne that could do this so well… (Peanuts is close though!)
–but please don’t forget guys! I don’t write comic books/have no interest in ever doing so/haven’t even bought a new comic since 1991… (when I do get money, I spend it on novels, poetry, music, classic films, maybe a back issue or two…) I don’t really care whether the whole genre disappears completely! If it happens it happens… I’m obsessing on the formal properties of these series because they mean something to me in the work I’m doing on my second novel–Longing For Catastrophe. The work I’m doing as a critic is an attempt to create the best conditions possible for the reception of my novels… Obviously, you guys can take or leave my assertions–I’m well aware that my interpretation is far less attractive to people than Klock’s… But the fact remains: these works have been important to me (for reasons that have nothing to do with the Foucaultian critique of power, or Harold Bloom), and have helped me to think about what I, as an artist, want to achieve… At least you know I’m not pulling your leg, right?
3. Also–check out The Comic Treadmill, where H declares (re: the return of the repressed in the form of an inexplicable pet in Infinity Inc.)–“Viva La Kanga!… If they revive the Legion of Super-Pets – and they should – they better include the Kanga.”
4. Rose, at Peiratikos, has posted a review (complete with made-up names for the second-string lovers) of something called The Moon Lord, and it’s wonderful! I still don’t want to read the book though…
5. Steve Wintle is excited about volume one of The Complete Peanuts, which is almost upon us! (I’m with ya all the way Steve–Christine & I placed our order months ago!)
6. The Blowhards are interviewing a self-styled “conservative” (there ain’t no such thing in America dudes! haven’t you read your Louis Hartz? Jim is not a “conservative”, he’s a xenophobe who doesn’t understand/wants to ignore the principles upon which his own country was founded)
This is the kind of stuff he’s saying:
America isn’t just a legal framework or a means to an end, it’s the American people and their common life over time. The American people isn’t simply an aggregate, it’s a complex unity. So even though America can absorb new citizens, without a generally stable population there will be problems because it won’t have the coherence and specificity to be a concrete object of loyalty. It will be an ideological proposition rather than a country. I’d rather have a country to love than an ideological proposition to sign on to.
Wake up man! America is an ideological proposition! And it’s a good one… at least you guys have a way to judge how badly you’re screwing up! (remember–I’m from Canada–I know the pain of living without clearly articulated social goals… as Roy Daniells has written–“the only thing Canadians possess that other people do not is the top half of the North American continent”… we’ve got Paul freakin’ Martin, but, you know, we’ve still got the top half of the continent, so I guess everything’s alright, right? Wrong! But there’s no easy way to articulate why…)
My advice to Jim? Stop whining and start trying to live up to the (social) contract.
Oh yeah–and Forager is back, with an excellent post on the infinite regress that any search for “innocence” necessitates, what this says about cover songs, and how the concept of “tradition” can provide a bridge over the abyss that nostalgia-mongers and atavists force us to confront…(a very T.S. Eliot touch that–and, in the realm of the arts, I’m all for it! but on the political front, well, it all depends on which tradition we’re talking about–Eliot himself certainly demonstrates the unusual follies one can involve oneself in by embracing the wrong one)
Good night friends!