(Im)Proving the Rule
(Soundtrack: Team Dresch — Personal Best)
Time for me to come out of the closet–I am a formalist critic (a neoformalist? a New New Critic? I think of myself as a “self-aware close-reader”–but maybe I’m not as self-aware as I think I am?)
The only difference between me and a modernist critic is that I believe that the reader is at least as responsible for the “structure” of a work as the author. Let’s be clear here–I’m only talking about narrative. It’s the only thing I care about! If that limits me as a critic, I’m ready to accept the fact! We’re all limited, after all…
So. Maybe there are folks out there who don’t read the way I read–and it was wrong of me to claim that I can speak for everyone–but it’s my belief that, whenever you encounter a word, a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter, a sequence of ideas communicated through language, (in words or, as is often the case with comics and movies, visual language–yes, Virginia, I do believe in visual language!) you make a choice about what value to ascribe to the signifiers in question. You turn the thing over in your mind, and when this interpretive wheel stops spinning, you’ve got yourself a “reading” of what you’ve been reading (and if you’re lucky-it’s “big money!”). You’ve imposed a limited meaning upon a thing that is, in theory, unlimited! The reading process is composed of millions of those decisions (and you constantly “re-read” what you’ve “already read” in the light of whatever you’re reading). The lines of communication, after all, are kept open by our willingness to tell “noble lies” to ourselves (and each other!) about the possibility of intersubjectivity.
Alright. So. What does this have to do with Squadron Supreme? Am I overestimating the formal ingenuity of the series? Well, I’m not ready to admit to that! (not that it’s not up to me, or any other indvidual, anyway! there is no objective standard to which we can appeal in this matter… the work’s formal ingenuity–or lack thereof–can only be established provisionally, through a consensus of opinion on the part of its readers)
But here’s a question: does a work suffer–formally–when it deviates from its own rules? I don’t think so. In fact, this is exactly the kind of thing a formalist critic usually pays attention to! If a narrative is able to generate a certain expectation in the reader’s mind, and then thwarts that expectation, at strategic points…well, that’s a very clear example of where “reader-decision” comes into the process! You could view it as “sloppiness”, or you could interpret it as a creative variation that places emphasis upon a certain aspect of a text. This is, as far as I know, how all musical ingenuity manifests itself, isn’t it? There’s nothing exciting about a metronome. It’s those deviations from the established pattern that generate the excitement in a listener! A great musical composition is like a metronome that goes crazy at very specific moments…
But here’s my problem with music qua music (and anyone who takes note of the “soundtracks” I use here will probably have recognized that I don’t listen to music…not really…I listen to “shouted-word” poetry tangled up in three-chord excitement): it’s a purely autistic artform–i.e. it’s not open to conversation… Narrative, on the other hand, is conversation!
But now you’re asking yourselves–so Dave, last time you talked over these deviations from the pattern of the “one day-per-issue pattern” with the Squadron Supreme, what did the two of you come up with?
That’ll have to wait until next post, because I just took way too long of a break here!!!!!
Good Afternoon Friends!