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It’s Jamotime!

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…


Okay–enter Jamo!

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).

Yours,

Manny Hernadez

Thanks Jamie!
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!
Dave

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4 comments

  1. Dave,

    I’ve got a lot of thoughts and little quibbles and don’t know whether they’ll end up here or eventually back on my blog or what. First, though, I wouldn’t get too worked up over papal infallibility. As I recall, its only use in the last hundred years or more was to make a statement in favor of the Immaculate Conception, which is hardly the sort of moral micromanaging most people conceive of w/r/t the topic. Catholics are actually noteworthy for not supporting frequent telegrams from god about the state of the world. As someone raised by “politicaly conservative” (more contentious terms! More on this later!) parents and sent through Catholic schools until I went off to college, I have mixed feelings about Catholicism and its role in my life. But I also find it harder to just dismiss conservatives or Catholics as being intellectually lazy or anything like that, because these are my parents I’m talking about! They just have a worldview that my own must have somehow arisen from but that is in many ways incompatible with mine.

    And I guess that’s where the language issues arise. You blame this on the “conservatives,” who I assume consider this a liberal problem. First, I think you’d like an interview with George Lakoff (yay, Lakoff!!) I found through Elayne’s blog, http://www.buzzflash.com/interviews/04/01/int04003.html It’s his impressions of how American “conservatives” use language to be able to debate their issues on their turf, which is really not such a bad idea for an argument you want to win, although maybe some people would have moral qualms. “Liberals” do this too, although perhaps not in the same ways Lakoff describes. An example: in college, largely through my own actions, I got stuck in the middle of a debate about, among other things, whether a feminist organization can be both “pro-choice” and inclusive. One impassioned debater said to a “pro-life” member, “See, that’s why it should be pro-choice because it’s your choice if you want to be pro-life and that’s included and so you could still be comfortable in the organization.” And he was quite sincere about this point, but he’s just not speaking the same language as someone who thinks that abortion is murder is a social justice issue that calls for politicized action.

    Anyway, I’m sure you know this stuff. And it’s because the language is contested and I don’t feel like participating in the intellectual exercize (well, and am not comfortable with the personal declarations it might involve) that I don’t see a point in entering into debates on marriage and so on (yet). It goes on and on, but I haven’t seen any blog where some commenter has said, “Ah, I’ve seen the light! I’ve now changed my ways completely to conform with your brilliant opinion!” I do think having the open discourse allows for people to change gradually or to admit and understand other points of view, and I’m really being selfish in not participating when I’ve enjoyed reading the somewhat diverse views. I’m not as much of an optimist as you seem to be about the progression of society. I guess I just don’t think of it that way, and I’m not sure what it would take or if it would be a good thing for people all over to come to liberal consciousness. I guess I’m just at a time in my life when I’m interested in individuals but don’t really see a grand plan. I try to influence the people around me and to be open with my beliefs and opinions and equally open to hear theirs, but I’m not holding my breath for revolution. Maybe this is pessimism born of having two married parents. Who knows?

    Then again, I’m very much a Foucaultian, so you’ll have to come up with some new mockeries. (In fact, my turtle Foucault is eating a carrot in the panopticon behind me right now.) As someone who has more control of the discourse than I might have had in the mythical past I was discussing, I still don’t have enough to think I can have a huge impact. I do think marriage and all these religiopoltical issues are about “what works” but more importantly about the self-aware, consensual distribution of power. For my parents, Catholicism works. For me, that’s not really an option. That doesn’t mean I’d take Catholicism away from them, and that’s where I have trouble with all of these people who are able to jum from what works for them to what works for everybody. I realize I’m doing that in saying “Be thoughtful, be considerate, be honest, be aware….” And I’m doing it because I haven’t found a good alternative, but for now I think encouraging people to “be” is better than pushing for “do.”

    -Rose

  2. Rose,

    I’ll check out that Lakoff interview!

    On the subject of “papal infallibility”–you’re right of course, I was just using that term as short-hand for traditional authority/doctrine as a (thoroughly arbitrary) firewall against human inquiry.

    I think Foucault is the perfect name for a turtle, and I do think the philosopher of the same name offers us some valuable insights (his stuff on prisons, and the Philadelphia panopticon in particular), if we remain mindful of the fundamental conflict at the heart of structuralist thought–namely, if “structure” really was as powerful a determinant of behaviour/thought as Foucault believes, we couldn’t even begin to discuss it, because it would be transparent.

    I’m not sure if I’m that much of an optimist–there are things that make me insanely ill, like the way we treat animals, which I didn’t even bother to get into with the Turnabout folks–but I am convinced that no problem was ever solved by silencing dissent, or cultivating a willfull blindness to the suffering of those whose views of life cannot be reconciled with “the way things are”.

    Just to close, I thought I’d cut and paste my final comment on the Turnabout blog–it was clear that neither side was making any headway… but perhaps you’lll take up the baton and run with it in a far more inclusive direction someday! I’ll be reading! Peiratikos has very quickly become one of my favourite blogs to visit!

    Okay [Turnabout]—I think this has gone far enough. We can’t come to terms here, because we aren’t even using the same terms, and we aren’t ever likely to.

    I applaud Fitz for being forthcoming enough to express the problem in existential terms… Believe it or not, I sympathize. Really. I do. But the fact is that, even though I’m only three years younger than Fitz, I don’t feel like we’re part of the same generation at all.

    Let’s look at the evidence:
    My parents divorced when I was three. There’s a history of alcohol abuse in my family. I did not benefit from privilege of any kind. And yet—I’ve never done anything harmful to my body or mind. I’ve never done anything because MTV told me to. I have many friends and I live with a woman I love and three wonderful cats. I’m on my way to a nice PhD and a good career, and I’ve published a novel… I’ve been productive. I’ve been sociable. I think I’ve had a positive impact upon the people in my life. And I did all of this without even coming close to flirting with religion or traditional structure of any kind. In fact, the only thing that could possibly have held me back is the kind of “pre-assigned role culture” that you folks are craving.

    Have I ever felt “alienated”? Sure. But I think that has only made me appreciate the people I care about all the more. All I have to do to keep those thoughts from affecting my mood or social behaviour simply to interact, borne up by a fundamental understanding of the reality of the people I’m interacting with—an understanding that can only come out of the experience of loving a person very much… I imagine it’s the same with a devout Christian and God—with the difference being that all I get from the experience is the grounding I need, while a Catholic/Muslim/strong traditionalist of any kind has to accept the massive structure that has been built upon the sacred ground they were seeking in the first place.

    Whether you guys believe it or not, people in the West today are finding new ways to relate to each other, and from what I can see they’re doing just fine. And for those that fail—or crave a predesigned role, well, no one’s saying you can’t become a Catholic/Muslim/Strong Traditionalist, all I’m saying is—don’t ask other people to give a freedom that has enriched their lives.

    My objections to Mr. Kalb’s position has focused upon his seeming desire to bury the liberal traditions of the West in a Catholic Social philosophy that has never had any place on this side of the Atlantic (outside of Quebec)… Be Catholic, by all means, but don’t expect the rest of the continent to embrace Catholic first principles! And recognize, please, that many people my age or younger are pleased (if not altogether satisfied—there will always be room for improvement) with society as it is. We’re not all directionless hedonists!

    And Paul—it seems that there ARE people who like being slaves, and they’re welcome to find “masters” and play out that role, if that’s what they want to do with their lives (sounds ridiculous to me—but so do a lot of things, and it’s none of my business) But if these slaves wanted to force the government to bring back the institution of slavery (thus re-enslaving a lot of people who have other plans), I’d be just as opposed to their position as I am to yours—they amount to the same thing.

    Pace Turnabout!

    Our discussion is at an end (but feel free to visit my blog sometime—I’m not on about liberalism all of the time!)

    Dave

  3. Rose,

    I’ll check out that Lakoff interview!

    On the subject of “papal infallibility”–you’re right of course, I was just using that term as short-hand for traditional authority/doctrine as a (thoroughly arbitrary) firewall against human inquiry.

    I think Foucault is the perfect name for a turtle, and I do think the philosopher of the same name offers us some valuable insights (his stuff on prisons, and the Philadelphia panopticon in particular), if we remain mindful of the fundamental conflict at the heart of structuralist thought–namely, if “structure” really was as powerful a determinant of behaviour/thought as Foucault believes, we couldn’t even begin to discuss it, because it would be transparent.

    I’m not sure if I’m that much of an optimist–there are things that make me insanely ill, like the way we treat animals, which I didn’t even bother to get into with the Turnabout folks–but I am convinced that no problem was ever solved by silencing dissent, or cultivating a willfull blindness to the suffering of those whose views of life cannot be reconciled with “the way things are”.

    Just to close, I thought I’d cut and paste my final comment on the Turnabout blog–it was clear that neither side was making any headway… but perhaps you’ll (Rose) take up the baton and run with it in a far more inclusive direction someday! I’ll be reading! Peiratikos has very quickly become one of my favourite blogs to visit!

    Okay [Turnabout]—I think this has gone far enough. We can’t come to terms here, because we aren’t even using the same terms, and we aren’t ever likely to.

    I applaud Fitz for being forthcoming enough to express the problem in existential terms… Believe it or not, I sympathize. Really. I do. But the fact is that, even though I’m only three years younger than Fitz, I don’t feel like we’re part of the same generation at all.

    Let’s look at the evidence:
    My parents divorced when I was three. There’s a history of alcohol abuse in my family. I did not benefit from privilege of any kind. And yet—I’ve never done anything harmful to my body or mind. I’ve never done anything because MTV told me to. I have many friends and I live with a woman I love and three wonderful cats. I’m on my way to a nice PhD and a good career, and I’ve published a novel… I’ve been productive. I’ve been sociable. I think I’ve had a positive impact upon the people in my life. And I did all of this without even coming close to flirting with religion or traditional structure of any kind. In fact, the only thing that could possibly have held me back is the kind of “pre-assigned role culture” that you folks are craving.

    Have I ever felt “alienated”? Sure. But I think that has only made me appreciate the people I care about all the more. All I have to do to keep those thoughts from affecting my mood or social behaviour simply to interact, borne up by a fundamental understanding of the reality of the people I’m interacting with—an understanding that can only come out of the experience of loving a person very much… I imagine it’s the same with a devout Christian and God—with the difference being that all I get from the experience is the grounding I need, while a Catholic/Muslim/strong traditionalist of any kind has to accept the massive structure that has been built upon the sacred ground they were seeking in the first place.

    Whether you guys believe it or not, people in the West today are finding new ways to relate to each other, and from what I can see they’re doing just fine. And for those that fail—or crave a predesigned role, well, no one’s saying you can’t become a Catholic/Muslim/Strong Traditionalist, all I’m saying is—don’t ask other people to give up a freedom that has enriched their lives.

    My objections to Mr. Kalb’s position has focused upon his seeming desire to bury the liberal traditions of the West in a Catholic Social philosophy that has never had any place on this side of the Atlantic (outside of Quebec)… Be Catholic, by all means, but don’t expect the rest of the continent to embrace Catholic first principles! And recognize, please, that many people my age or younger are pleased (if not altogether satisfied—there will always be room for improvement) with society as it is. We’re not all directionless hedonists!

    And Paul—it seems that there ARE people who like being slaves, and they’re welcome to find “masters” and play out that role, if that’s what they want to do with their lives (sounds ridiculous to me—but so do a lot of things, and it’s none of my business) But if these slaves wanted to force the government to bring back the institution of slavery (thus re-enslaving a lot of people who have other plans), I’d be just as opposed to their position as I am to yours—they amount to the same thing.

    Pace Turnabout!

    Dave

  4. Ok, I’m not really a Foucaultian, or at least not entirely, but I do find a lot of his analyses and theories useful. His classics work is in many ways utter bunk.

    And I was definitely unclear in accusing you of optimism! I guess what I meant is that you have such conviction in how the world works and your understanding of it that you project that in conversations about how the world could/should be. This doesn’t mean you really believe everyone will – or even could – take your advice and find Inner Bliss. Maybe I’m sort of jealous, though, because I’m not sure my own beliefs are that strong.

    As for Catholicism, and also Islam, which has much in common with it, you’re right to be uncomfortable with authoritarian aspects. However, what I find compelling in both religions is the concept that what god wants most is for you to use your mind. Obviously god’s happiest if your rational functions bring you to the conclusion that you ought to be a member of whichever religion we’re discussing, but that’s beside the point a little. Certainly various historical circumstances have encouraged authoritarianism, but I think it’s impressive that such a core can get through, if not always unscathed.

    As for Peiratikos, Steven pointed out that I haven’t really written about comics yet, which I probably should. It’s an experiment and so far a fruitful one. Having an audience has been good for me, and I’m trying to let it be a challenge for me to do more and better thinking. We’ll see how well that turns out.

    Rose

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