My friend Jamie has checked in with some thoughts on the great big world of comics outside of my little super-hero/Peanuts/early-Cerebus bubble, and naturally this trumps my plan to discuss the slough of Despond that is Mars… I will, however, rejoin you on the other side of Jamie’s Black Hole entry with a response to this post on “Turnabout”, where they’re playing “Red Sheep, Blue Sheep” these days…
Black Hole by Charles Burns.
Okay Motimers, you’re tired of Mr.Fiore’s vision of the comic world and you’re gasping for a word from the outside, from the alternative adult world of comics or comix as some mid-lifer writing for the New York Times might say (though many of us have known this since Tony Stark started drinking). What I’ve brought you today is THE comic of the 21st century. The Penultimate issue hit stands at the beginning of the month. The covers are gorgeous. The characters sublime. Charles Burns’ Black Hole.
Burns has captured teenage life in all its beauty. The discomfort of change that we have all or are still going through (I’m 28 and still battling the puberty demons) expressed through the metaphor of actual metamorphosis. A sexual transmitted disease known as The Bug is rampant amongst teenagers in the 1970s. Anyone who is contagious is literally transformed – antlers, shedded skin, etc. Burns’ images of these transformations are contagious themselves – shivers, goosebumps, grimaces – as a reader you want to look away and pretend this is not happening, that you haven’t seen a face that actually looks like that. Unlike those laughable b-horror movies of the fifties which seem to have been an inspiration for Burns comic you never doubt that the transformations in Black Hole are anything other than for keeps.
Another aspect of the comic to pay attention to is Burns’ use of the page. His juxtaposition of images, the portrait pages of characters, what the characters see, etc. As good as any shot in any art house movie, No, any movie period.
That’s Black Hole. In brief I want to mention Joe Matt’s on going storyline in Peepshow that started with issue 11 and has now reached 13. His series about the repetition of his life (porn, friendships, problems) is some of the best writing on this subject. Funny, truthful, and exact. In issue 12 he sits in his rooming house apartment taping porn from one VCR to another. That is all that happens. That is all that needs to happen. This issue should be thrown from every roof top to every citizen in every country of the world to prove that there are still honest ways to present ourselves to ourselves (and no you don’t have to watch porn or tape porn to appreciate this).
Okay–I’m back! And now that we’ve built up some Jamomentum (one thing you should know about me: I’m incapable of leaving a bad pun alone–something in my brain just screams–“exacerbate”!), let’s move on to our latest round of historian vs. “traditionalist”!
I’ve been teasing Jim Kalb for the last few days by calling him a “Foucaultian” (try that one next time they hassle you in the playground and see where it gets ya!), and I truly believe that the description is apt. Rose made a very good point tonight when she remarked that she’s not sure that the “marriage debates”
are debates at all–“because all of the terms are contested”. This goes for almost all of the “debates” that “conservatives” are fond of engaging in. The crux of the matter is always, in Jim Kalb’s words: “[the need for “liberal-rationalists”] first to put their view on the same common footing as other competing views, rather than on some pedestal of supposed neutrality that makes it a priori a superior authority for all other views… [and then] to contemplate its implications in life and thought and consider whether those implications really make sense.”
It’s about “what works”. “Proven ways of life”. You’ve heard these phrases before, I’m sure. But the problem is–you can’t make judgements about “what’s best for society” until you’ve decided upon the criteria you plan to use. So–if you are wedded to the idea that children “suffer” when they grow up in a single-parent or “non-traditional” household, then OF COURSE YOU ARE GOING TO OPPOSE THINGS LIKE GAY MARRIAGE AND, YOU KNOW, DIVORCE…
But is Jim Kalb willing to question that first principle? If he is, I have yet to see any evidence of it… You see–“conservatives” are fond of attacking “liberals” for adhering to “rational criteria” instead of “reality”, but if you compare me to Jim Kalb, you will quickly see that he’s the one clinging to abstractions!
My point of view is–and has always been–that no idea, no institution can possibly stand up to the mind’s scrutiny (and thus nothing in this line has any claim to our reverence), but that no human being has ever lived who did not deserve to be “looked in the eye”. You see, when you say that “the idea of the stay-at-home wife” worked very well in the past, what you’re really saying is–“the people for whom this did not work were effectively silenced in the past”. This goes double for the institution of slavery, which Jim tries to stay away from, because even he thinks that that’s wrong, but he has no answer when I ask him how it could have been eliminated without “heroic intervention” from outside of the Southern “body politic”. If you had asked most white Georgians in 1850 whether slavery “worked well” for them, they would probably have said yes. If you had asked most slaves, I think your impression of cultural unanimity would quickly dissipate (although, as Eugene Genovese shows us, many slaves also bought into the IDEA that slavery was a necessary, and Godly institution–they submitted to their own enslavement out of deference to an ABSTRACTION!)
It’s pretty clear isn’t it? Every time a “traditionalist” opens their mouth, they vomit abstractions. Gay marriage will erode public morals? Why? Because without two-parent heterosexual parent-couples, our children will suffer! Why? Because they will! You must have a mommy and a daddy. It cannot be questioned! That’s as “abstract” a statement as you’ll ever hear, but people are getting away with sounding like “realists” because they make an appeal to “tradition”, and “tradition” sounds rooted.
By contrast, liberalism is the most “concrete” political theory that has ever existed. The one fundamental premise of liberalism is that other people are real, and they matter, so consult them by gad! Find out what “works” for them–and let them arrange their lives accordingly… Sure there’s the rhetoric of “self-interest”–but as Jim is quick to note, what’s to prevent a self-interested atom from “cheating on the social contract”? The answer is quite simple Mr. Kalb–a concrete respect for other human beings, and a willingness to disregard “abstract” traditions when it’s clear that they’re just dead weight.
Jim’s chosen religion, in fact, has been built upon the most insane abstraction of all–“papal infallibility”. And what is papal infallibility? Quite simply, it’s a desperate “as-if proposition” on the part of freaked-out existentialists who cannot see that the way out of their metaphysical quandary is simply to accept their neighbours as real people… Catholic social theory boils down to this–everyone’s just a bad child on a rampage and someone’s gotta play “daddy”. So we find someone to fill the office, we build upon that foundation and we refuse to admit that our “tradition” is a compromise with fear. I don’t need to “understand” other people (you can’t!), I don’t need to know what my “role” is in relation to them, I just want to know if they’re being crushed–know what I mean?
Before I go, I’ll remind you to check out H’s discussion of Infinity Inc. #31-36, Steven’s thoughts on “narrative static cling” in Spider-Man & Morrison’s X-Men, and NeilalieN’s Barthesian dissection of a Doctor Strange cameo in Daredevil #56! (I don’t know about you people–but, at this point, I’m more interested in Doc’s appearances as triggers for Neil’s extended musings than for their intrinsic merit–and that’s saying something! I’m a very big Doctor Strange fan!)
I’ll do Mars tomorrow Steven–I promise!
Good night friends!