Thursday, August 31, 2006
Harold also does not know what it is he will create – though the landscape and everything in it is his own mental space he has the capacity to be surprised by his work. His tree “turns out to be” an apple tree, and he is frightened by his own dragon; he draws an ocean without realizing it and falls in. His imagination is both his, and something external (as "genius," in the ancient world, was a kind of daemon who followed us around).
This internal landscape is also one in which time does not exist: Harold decides what time it is when he creates the moon (I find it necessary to remind myself that the entire story takes place at night: even with the moon it is easy to forget that this is a nocturnal journey, as the blank page invokes a bright landscape). This is especially noticeable when Harold creates the apple tree: he creates the dragon to guard the tree to protect the apples from being destroyed before they ripen and become red, but the only reference to color (other than purple) in the story, along with the fact that all the images besides Harold are purple, only serves to emphasize that the apples will never get red. With its single tree this timeless Eden (Harold’s parents are never referenced in the narrative) breaks the second of Stevens’s commandments in Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction (following “It must be abstract” and “It must give pleasure”) that, “It must change.” Change is impossible here.
On an additional Genesis note, Harold goes looking for a hill to see where he is, but realizing that the higher he is the farther he can see decides to “make the hill into a mountain.” “Making a [mole]hill out of a mountain” is an expression that means to make a big deal out of something small (as I am doing here), but is most often associated by the parallel hyperbole “making something out of nothing” which is exactly what happens in Harold’s narrative.
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Art is order. But order is not necessarily just, kind, or beautiful. Order may be arbitrary, harsh, and cruel. Art has nothing to do with morality. Moral themes may be present, but they are incidental, simply grounding an art work in a particular time and place. Before the Enlightenment, religious art was hieratic and ceremonial. After the Enlightenment, art had to create its own world, in which a new ritual of artistic formalism replaced religious universals. Eighteenth-century Augustan literature demonstrates it is the order in morality rather than the morality in order that attracts the artist. Only utopian liberals could be surprised that the Nazis were art connoisseurs.
Monday, August 28, 2006
Harold and the Purple Crayon has only four elements: the blank page (which finds contemporary analogues in some images from Grant Morrson’s JLA and Animal Man, and the white room in The Matrix), Harold (drawn in black and white – clearly on a separate ontological level from his drawings), his purple crayon and the things he draws with it, and the text of the story. Harold and the text are colored with the same faded black, suggesting they are linked, so Harold and his Crayon are really the only elements of the story – no parents, no other people or animals, not even a landscape; the fact that Harold draws everything he interacts with makes him a curiously isolated: Harold’s world is as populated as the average Wallace Stevens’s lyric, in which the self, rather than the outside world, is the only subject.
Harold Bloom writes: “’what the solipsist means is right,’ a gnomic Wittgenstein truth, is in traditional American terms the Emersonian admonition ‘Build therefore your own world,’ which in turn is founded on the central Emersonian motto ‘what we are, that only can we see.’” This is the world of Harold and his crayon. The first image of the story is a page spread with crayon scribbles on the first page that connect to Harold and his crayon on the second; the caption that tells us that “after thinking it over for some time, Harold decided to go for a walk in the moonlight”: the crayon scrawls represent Harold thinking it over, establishing the crayon’s creations as mental objects, letting us know the journey home we are reading takes place in a fully internal landscape, populated only with creations of thought.
The poetic analogue to Einstein’s law of relativity is trope (from the Greek, to turn): movement is only meaningful when understood as being relative to something; poetic freedom is only meaningful when, as Bloom says, it is “achieved against a prior plentitude of meaning, which is tradition, and so also language.” Harold’s walk on the long straight path is meaningless – “he didn’t seem to be getting anywhere” – because the laws of perspective mean Harold cannot detect his own movement unless he moves against something: it is only by drawing the long straight path that he can leave it and notice his own movement, against the figures of his own thought, his internalized landscape (the poet tropes, not against tradition, but against his internalization of tradition, as Bloom points out). Harold's journey for the rest of the book is now from left to right, the way one reads, rather than the meaningless movement toward the horizon and away from the reader: he moves by rejecting perspective and “realism” in art and accepting the left to right movement of the words at the bottom of the page, continuing the horizon line and drawing objects to move against.
And the words at the bottom of the page are words that, at several points, connect to the images not only as captions but also as puns: When Harold lands the ship he “makes land” and at the end of the story he “makes his bed” and “draws up the covers.” The words don't simply describe what Harold does, they participate in the kind of mental space the story is about.
Thursday, August 24, 2006
Traditionally television shows falter with the second, third and fourth episodes of season one, and with good reason. Months of work is poured into the pilot episode because there is no time limit, that is the basis on which your series will be picked up, and if not this year, the next. You work forever on the script, and on the production, and then, when it gets bought, you get the green light to have six more episodes by next Tuesday, or whatever, and you scramble. The second episode of Satacracy 88, however, is even better than the first, and the stakes for the main character are much bigger.
We begin with the boyfriend, in an opening not unlike the openings in season one of Lost. In an episode revolving around Angela's nightmare, he awakes from a nightmare, though we are not privy to it. The tricky part of Brad's job here is that he has much less than four minutes to establish a connection between the audience and this guy, who we have never seen before, so that Angela's decision to stab him or not is meaningful (otherwise her decision will be like a decision of whether or not to take out a nameless stormtrooper -- not a decision at all). One thing that makes Brad's job tougher is that he is -- thankfully -- determined to avoid one of the most annoying aspects of run-of-the-mill team superhero comics -- the way, in the first few pages, everyone speaks to everyone in clunky direct address, so new readers can learn everyone's name. "I don't see how we are going to get through that wall, Wolverine." "Can't you just teleport to the other side, Kurt?" "No, its has a magic barrier; and please, call me Nightcrawler when we are on a mission. I don't call you Logan." No one in real life ever spoke like that, and Satacracy takes place right where we live, so the name of the boyfriend, Martin, is not highlighted. Realism is in the details. But it's tough to care about a character when you don't know his name; casting saves the day: Marc Samuels (the actor playing Martin) seems like a real person immediately, not easy to pull off when the temptation is to play up the pulpy sci-fi madness, and cardboard fun. Diahnna Nicole Baxter (Angela) crosses both registers with ease (much as Naomi Watts does in Mulholland Drive).
I have said the show is sci-fi based deeply in the real world, but in the dream sequence we get to see the hypercolor weirdly lit and shadowed sci-fi melodrama take over for a bit, and it is more powerful for being grounded. (Imagine how much less engaging the scene would be if the whole of Satacracy was like that). Red, blue and yellow mark the scene (sheets, the hooded figure, the dagger): Superman's colors. It is the dream of a comic book fan.
Race and gender is not something I want to go into just yet, but Alien versus Predator is the only science fiction film in which a woman of color is the protagonist (this has been pointed out to me by Jason Smith and Ximena Gallardo, authors of Alien Woman). And now we have Satacracy. The dagger, the mask on the wall, the drums, the tribal marks on the hooded figure -- Brad's sci-fi world is not the whitewashed world of Star Trek's global village. It's a real place, where race is still real.
And those details: the most beautiful "last time on..." montage I have ever seen, a rush of black and white images super imposed on key moments, frozen. (The only other "last time on..." montage I can think of that was more than just exposition was the one for the 100th episode of Buffy). The way the sythe coming a the screen almost, but not quite, invokes and revises the old Superfriends transitions (the lights headed at the screen for every scene change). The way Angela's scream disrupts the lights (and she senses her own power without the pills) before it can become the cliched "cry at the abyss" (see Garden State, an otherwise great movie). The powerful freeze and zoom at the end of the episode, which gives the impression of zooming in on a photograph; it is a device Brad learned from Powers, where Oeming uses it to great effect; rather than draw an image of a face, then draw it again closer, Oeming copies the first face but enlarges it without enlarging the panel -- we see the inking up close for example. It is an intense effect. And one last detail -- Angela has a sister.
Go tell everyone to watch it, and vote. In the meantime, we return to Harold and the Purple Crayon, part two of four, Monday.
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Astonishing X-Men 16, Morrison's second Batman issue, Brad Meltzer's first JLA issue, Wonder Woman 2, and the second Ultimates annual all out today. Plus -- the absolute edition of Frank Miller's Dark Knight work ($99).
On Newsarama an interview with Matt Fraction, the genius behind Casanova -- the best comic book I have read in AGES -- and all the fallout about Civil War being late (which became a debate about whether books should have fill-in artists to stay on schedule or not -- everyone here knows I stand for late books with aesthetic unity rather than fill-in rush jobs, but feel free to argue the other side). Also the Previews for Marvel and DC are out this week.
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Some phrases seem to me to get special, extra energy from substantively unharnessed, usually unharnessable, relationships among their parts, or between them and their contexts. "Fast Food," a recently coined but now standard phrase, probably benefits as much from the unacknowledged presence in it of a label for abstinence from food -- "fast" -- as it does from alliteration in f. The operative sense of "civil" in "civil war" makes the term straightforward, but it is also a paradox: war and civility are ideas at odds with one another. And I suspect that the English language clings to the term "dry wine" precisely because, whatever else it is, it is oxymoronic.
[On the subject of the title of the Prince song Purple Rain] I never heard any comment on the regal ramifications of "purple," traditionally the royal color, or the sound of "reign" in its homonym, but I think the title got energy from its unheard wit -- much more than it could have had the title somehow pointed up its cleverness. More complex and more interesting is the experience of hearing "Rolling Stones" as the name of the famous rock group. ... The wit and energy in the name is kept leashed by its open allusion to the proverb about not gathering moss. I suggest that, having acknowledged the allusion, minds feel no inclination to think further about the name and, by examining it, deaden the energy "Rolling Stones" gets from the unadvertised wit of using "stones" -- rocks -- with "rolling" in the name of a rock and roll band.
Monday, August 21, 2006
Under the shape of his sail, Ulysses,
Symbol of the seeker, crossing by night
The giant sea, read his own mind…
“There is a human loneliness,
A part of space and solitude,
In which knowledge cannot be denied,
In which nothing of knowledge fails…
This is the true creator, the waver
Waving purpling wands …”
In the introduction to the revised edition of Enjoy Your Symptom Slavoj Zizek quotes the “wise Jesuit motto” “give me a child till he is seven, and afterward you can do with him whatever you want” as an opening to his reading of Shel Silverstein’s The Missing Piece and The Missing Piece Meets the Big O: there will always be hope for Lacan in America, says Zizek, as long as American children are exposed to these parables of the Lacanian opposition of desire and drive. It is in this vein that I want to go through Harold and the Purple Crayon as illustrative of a certain kind of solipsism that is central to the increasing internalization of post-Enlightenment poetry in English.
Harold and the Purple Crayon is the story of Harold, a toddler, and his crayon. On a blank white landscape, “after thinking it over for a while,” Harold decides to go for a walk in the moonlight, so he draws a moon and a long straight path (so as not to get lost). Because he appears to be getting nowhere he walks perpendicular to the path to “where he thought a forest ought to be,” and he draws a forest with a single tree (again, so as not to get lost). It “turned out to be” an apple tree and Harold, thinking the apples would be nice when they got red, draws a dragon underneath the tree to guard the apples. The dragon, however, frightens him, and, backing away with his hand shaking behind him he accidentally draws an ocean and falls in. He draws a sailboat, lands on a beach, and makes a picnic of pies; he draws a moose and a porcupine to finish the leftovers. Getting tired, he draws a mountain to see if he can see his house from the top (he knows the higher he goes the farther he can see) and go home. He falls off the top, through thin air because he only drew one side of the two-dimensional mountain. He draws a balloon to fly in; still not able to see the window to his room he lands and draws a house, but none of the windows are his. He draws more and more, finally drawing a city full of windows, none his. Deciding to ask a policemen for directions he draws one, but the policeman only dumbly points the way Harold was going anyway. Harold wishes he were home, and then remembers that his window is always right around the moon (which has been on every page since he first drew it): he draws a window around the moon, “[makes] his bed,” “[draws] up the covers” drops his crayon and drops off to sleep. The end.
That's the end of my setup. I will start the main discussion Thursday. Try to find the book in the meantime if you can. It's fantastic.
Sunday, August 20, 2006
Saturday, August 19, 2006
In the meantime, go get the first three issues of Matt Fraction and Gabriel Ba's Cassanova. I picked them up when Ping33 recommended them, and found the best comic book I have read in I-can't-remember-when. Shockingly good. It is as good as the best of Grant Morrison, and I love Grant Morrison. I will blog about the book soon, when all this is sorted out.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
I came across John Bayley’s Good Companions: An Anthology to Inspire, Amuse or Console, and realized that this blog has a genre, though a little known one: the personal anthology. Bayley was the husband of novelist Iris Murdoch (played by Kate Winslet in the film Iris) and supervisor of my supervisor at Oxford. Good Companions collects extracts from novels, poems, letters and diaries that he found useful in his daily life: everything from Victorian nonsense poetry to a passage in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep. He introduces each short quotation with a small paragraph about why he thinks it matters. Bloom does something similar in his later books. His book Genius has massive quotes with short commentary; change the balance a little and you get Bloom’s anthology The Best Poems of the English Language : From Chaucer Through Frost, in which he, like Bayley, writes short introductions to each poet he anthologizes (and the collection, though it is supposed to be universal, is of course very personal). Terry Eagleton slights Bloom by identifying his work as coming from the “quote and dote” school of literary criticism, which – while a fair complaint – misses how nice these kinds of personal anthologies can be.
So let’s call this blog a personal anthology of sorts, at least so far. I can feel like I am working on a book and you can feel like you are getting one for free. I am even going to give it a title: Remarkable: Short Appreciations of Poetry and Popular Culture.
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
And as a prelude to thinking about Marvel Zombies, let's try to generate a list of genre-hybrids. I am thinking of Brick, Serenity, Dark City, A History of Violence, Kill Bill, Samurai Jack, From Dusk Till Dawn. Let's hear others, if ya got em.
Monday, August 14, 2006
Even such an apparently trivial domain as fashion provides a nice example of how ideology displaces/conceals class antagonism: the fashion for stonewashed jeans, for instance, imaginarily resolves class antagonism by offering jeans which can be appropriated by those who are 'down' and those who are 'up' -- the upper strata wear stonewashed jeans in order to appear in solidarity with popular strata, while members of the popular strata wear them in order to look like members of the upper strata. So when members of the lower strata wear stonewashed jeans, the seemingly direct coincidence between social status (poverty) and clothing (worn, torn jeans) masks a double mediation: they are imitating those who are imitating an imagined popular class look ... The ultimate irony here is that the company which specializes in such products -- destined to blur/displace the class gap -- is called, precisely, Gap.
But single weirdest assembled cast list in the history of cinema is Transformers The Movie: Eric Idle, Casey Kasum, Judd Nelson, Leonard Nimoy, Robert Stack (the guy from Unsolved Mysteries), the fast-talking guy from the Micromachine comercials, and Orson Welles. And Weird Al Yankovic provided original music, which means that Weird Al Yankovic and Orson Wells did a movie together. No kidding. Surprise your friends and family.
Another bit of pointless movie fun: in A Clockwork Orange, when Alex returns to the house of the man whose wife he raped, the man is living with another man who is working-out and who opens the door for Alex. That man is Darth Vader’s body in Star Wars: A New Hope.
And Monica Bellucci, the woman with the strangest resume in Hollywood: the wife of Vincent Cassell (the master thief from Ocean's 12), she was Dracula's bride in the 1992 Dracula film, she was the weird hot woman in Matrix: Reloaded, she was Mary Magdalen in The Passion of the Christ, and, in the film Irreversible, her character was the victim of an anal rape scene that played on screen for a single, uncut nine minute shot. (A reviewer on Salon.com said of the scene "It's just nine minutes, but it feels like an hour, or a year. It was enough time for me to think about my life and wonder how I wound up as the kind of middle-aged ex-bohemian who would go to see a movie like this on purpose.")
And not quite movie trivia, but something worth noting in passing: a friend of mine, a costume designer, one told me that the best costume design in cinema was Cameron Frye’s outfit at the beginning of Ferris Buller’s Day Off, because it subtly but perfectly and instantaneously communicates what you need to know about his character: the neurotically worried Cameron Frye has both suspenders and a belt, a double back up.
I don’t have anything to say about this trivia, other than I think it is funny, and more people should know about it; our days are somehow better off for these things being true.
Thursday, August 10, 2006
Wednesday, August 09, 2006
The K-Punk thing is a little too much in the vein of Slavoj Zizek, who reduces movies to mere examples for his Lacanian theory, but it makes some good points, the main one being, I think, that everything in the film has the quality of a movie set, so that the whole thing looks artificial from start to finish. This gives it an uncanny quality exacerbated by the fact that when we switch from small town America to gangster-land we see one seamless world, but feel like we shouldn't.
Compare the effect to one used by David Lynch in Lost Highway. In that world we cross over from reality into fantasy but don't yet realize it. In the film Pullman kills his wife because he is ashamed he cannot satisfy her in bed. In jail he imagines that he is someone else, someone who has what he lacks; he imagines he is a virile young man and then is released because, in Lynch-logic, if he is someone else then he didn't kill her. But the fantasy cannot last and reality intrudes until the fantasy breaks down and he becomes Pullman again. Lynch obscures where reality begins and ends but you can still find the divide, once you get how Lynch thinks.
A History of Violence, on the other hand is ALL MOVIE, ALL FANTASY but TWO INCONGRUENT ONES. The Norman Rockwell world and the Gangsterland world are both important parts of the American psyche, but they don't go together. Freud writes that in the unconscious, there is no sence of logical contradiction, there is no organization on that level. A History of Violence gives us a genre film -- two genre films -- on this darker psychic register.
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
When I decided not to get the book after issue 13, I had not yet read 13. In the issue Elongated Man (Ralph) attends a ceremony designed to resurrect his wife. He brings Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Metamorpho, and Zauriel, who are undercover as members. The imagery is cultish. The group's crimes are that they tagged a grave, and stole a ring and a dress. Ralph decides he doesn't buy into their story. They smash the fake kryponite, Green Arrow destroys the roof, Green Lantern starts blowing stuff up, Ralph assaults the leader, everyone fights, and the building catches fire.
In an interview on newsarama, the book's editor, Stephen Wacker defends what the "heroes" did: that's what heroes do. But to me -- and to the interviewer, who should be given a raise for confronting the subject head on and not backing off -- it seemed like the equivalent of finding kids playing with a Ouija Board, beating them up and burning their house to the ground. This is what I think happened: any good screenwriting guide will tell you to build your plot around "plot points," major turning points in the story. First you figure out what your plot point is -- say, the ceremony is aborted but what Ralph sees makes him a believer and he clutches his wife's avatar in rubble, nearly insane with regret. Then you then write to reach that point. The problem with this method, basically a good one, is that often times you see writers coming up with bad paths to their plot points, which they are in a hurry to reach. 52 is a great example of a badly told story, in this (and other) respects.
The best part of the interview is when Wacker gets asked if the heroes acting badly is part of a theme of the series -- in a world without Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman heroes lose their moral compass. This is a smart "out" -- they guy is really throwing him a bone here -- but Wacker denies it. No more 52 for me. (Thanks to the Futurist; this post came out of a phone conversation we had).
Monday, August 07, 2006
Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry.
The librarian does not believe what she sees.
Her eyes are sad
and she walks with her hands in her dress.
The poems are gone.
The light is dim.
The dogs are on the basement stairs and coming up.
Their eyeballs roll,
their blond legs burn like brush.
The poor librarian begins to stamp her feet and weep.
She does not understand.
When I get on my knees and lick her hand,
I am a new man.
I snarl at her and bark.
I romp with joy in the bookish dark.
Frank Quitely most often composes simple clean images; your eye is immediately drawn to the most important thing in the panel (Superman’s chest or Lex Luthor’s desk or whatever); only after apprehending the main part of the image does your eye go roving to the details (in JLA: Earth 2, on a world in which evil always wins, Green Lantern saves a dog from a beating and a few panels later, if you look closely, the dog is run over by a bus).
Chris Bachalo, also one of my favourite artists, goes violently in the other direction, often giving the reader a chaos that must be carefully examined before its content can be understood; using a lot of beautiful monotone colour doesn’t help any either. Many people find this maddening, but I think it is a lot of fun (plus Bachalo has great designs and draws cute girls like no man’s business). To help us find characters in the mess he puts them in he gives them simple distinguishing characteristics; in Steampunk, Laslo has a union jack scarf. In one amazing fight scene, 24 panels over a two page spread, Bachalo shows Laslo’s battle prowess – his ability to move fast and hit every target – by drawing him leaping across the panel grid to strike his targets. Alan Moore uses stuff like this to make meta-textual comments as an analogue to visionary experience: characters walk above the panel page because they know they are in a comic book and are using its "cosmic" rules to accomplish something. Bachalo uses a character jumping above the page to make a great fight scene, which I think is better, if only because it is less pretentious and less common. To follow Laslo we follow the path of his scarf, which is not drawn as a realistic item of clothing but appears as an icon. (Click the image for a larger version).
There are two schools of thought on communicating chaos – or dissonance or trash – to the audience: do you make your own presentation chaotic (dissonant or trashy) or do you make it clean (harmonious or polished) and get the effect you are after in other ways? The fights in Kill Bill, for example, are chaotic for the characters involved, but are filmed with perfect clarity; Batman Begins went the other direction, communicating chaos by making the fights impossible for the audience to see (as it must have been impossible for the thugs Batman was beating on to know what was happening). In this scene Bachalo gets it both ways (as he can in the comics medium): he gives us a chaotic presentation to show chaos, but we can sort through it given time; what Laslo is doing is initially disorienting, but we can follow the path of his iconic scarf and figure it out easily.
Friday, August 04, 2006
look back to the days of childhood as of greatest happiness, because those were the days of greatest wonder, greatest simplicity, and most vigorous imagination. And the whole difference between a man of genius and other men is that the first remains in great part a child, seeing with the large eyes of children, in perpetual wonder, not conscious of much knowledge,--conscious, rather, of infinite ignorance, and yet infinite power; a fountain of eternal admiration, delight, and creative force within him, meeting the ocean of visible and governable things around him.
Thursday, August 03, 2006
Laurel Holloman is an actress primarily known for playing Justine on nine episodes of Angel and for playing Tina on Showtime's The L Word. She has a breezy North Carolina charm that I thought worth pointing out. I see no reason why a blog dedicated to short appreciations of poetry and popular culture should exclude short appreciations of actresses, especially sleeper television actresses.
Holloman has crows' feet around her eyes and laugh lines around her mouth. The platitude that lines give a face character is actually true. Pretty 18 year-old girls -- as anyone who has ever hunted for porn on the internet can attest -- are all pretty in exactly the same way. Holloman has a specific beauty based in what appears to be a tremendous emotional intelligence. She has lines on her face because she has not attempted to avoid or erase evidence of emotional intensity. She is the ideal middle point between a real person who happens to be on television and someone grown in a studio-lab for maximum appeal. On Angel she was cast because her pain at the loss of her sister was instantly believable. On the L Word she has a friendly, searching sensitivity -- the kind of sensitivity that reaches for something rather than one that simply responds to something that has crossed its path. I find her genuinely touching.
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
First, issue 13 of 52, out this week, will be my last. The series has been a chore -- a slog -- to read and I am not spending any more money on it. The only reason I read it is that Grant Morrison was listed as one of the four writers. Being generous that means he was only ever responsible for a quarter of the writing; with this week's issue 52 is one quarter complete, and as far as I am concerned my responsibility to follow it ends there. If I had to pick three things I hated about it most, it would be the rambling "and then something else happened" structure, the focus on minor characters I was not made to care about in 13 issues (and 13 is a lot -- an entire Ultimates run), and the decision to have the lesbian Batgirl be someone other than the cop I have been reading about. (That would have made a lot more sense). Also there was a glaring typo -- a big word bubble was printed twice in issue 12.
Second: what did people think of Grant Morrison's first Batman issue? I thought there was some interesting anxiety of influence stuff in the first few pages, in which Frank Miller's "psycho" Batman is invoked and dismissed, but I am going to withhold further comment on the issue as a whole. What did people think?