27 April 2006

So I Read Comic Books

When I was but a wee slip of a thing, the original Superman movie came out (1978). I responded to it on so many levels that I can scarcely describe them all here, but the sheer romance and scope of the narrative: parental fidelity (doubled!), the injunction to do good, the sadomasochistic flirtation with Lois (to be explored in its full, self-denying fruition in the sequel), the helplessness of that first taste of Kryptonite, the humor, the drama, the tenderness of finding Lois dead, the erotic fixation on Chris Reeve, believing a man can fly.... This has been explored elsewhere, but the bottom line is that this began a fixation on comic books that was just this side of addiction. We're talkin' sneaking comics hidden in my tube socks under my jeans into the house, we're talkin' being kicked out of the Wawa in South Jersey for reading comics with the phrase, "this isn't a library," we're talkin' switching from bag lunches to school lunches to grub food off of friends and use the lunch money to buy comics. This lasted from age nine to my college years when, finally, the hold began to wane, but not before Alan Moore upped the ante of comic writing with "The Killing Joke," "Swamp Thing," and "Watchmen."

Nothing was so sweet as coming home with an issue of Moore/Bissette/Totleben/Wood's "Swamp Thing" and a fresh roll of Sprees, to lie on my stomach on my bed, the comic on the floor, and scan, then re-read the damned four-color addicting object. That's what it was like.

I gave up comics in college about the time that Marvel decided to use the X-Men craze to tell stories across multiple titles--some you couldn't give a rat's ass about--to get you to buy even more comics. It was a craven, cynical market move, and it killed my interest.

Sure, from time to time, I would pop into St Mark's Comics or Forbidden Planet to bewilderlngly examine the many titles I couldn't find myself caring about. This all changed last year (plus) when DC started to amp up their Infinite Crisis event with "Identity Crisis" and the "Countdown" (and mind you, I was cajoled into even caring about this by friends who were following it: to wit: DC had hired a dude to oversee production, and he had the idea that they could tell a story on an extremely large canvas, using all the books they were publishing. This ambitious scheme involved 1) creating a stronger continuity among all the books where there wasn't one before, 2) highlighting the "Big Three" of the canon, being Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, and drawing a specific series of relationships among them, including Batman's obsession with Wonder Woman and the constant speculation, among the people living in this world, that Superman and Wonder Woman were lovers, and 3) pulling it all towards a Crisis (the twentieth anniversary of the "Crisis on Infinite Earths" [which I read in the original] that did away with the much-beloved [to me] multiverse of Earth-1, Earth-2, Earth-S, etc. [which DC feared was "confusing," but frankly if you don't get the idea of a multiverse or a time-paradox, for that matter, you shouldn't be reading comic books in the first place]), which would shake up the DCU and make for clarifying, and hopefully, exciting new possibilities. The sheer gall of the enterprise captivated me, and I started buying comics again--on a weekly basis--for the first time in almost two decades. Wednesday became Comics Day.

I think the two--the only two--media that have the ability to explore narrative on a very large scale these days are comic books and, yes, TV series. After resisting for five years, and after the many demands of well-regarded, smart friends, I finally got into Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. You have to understand that I don't watch TV, and the title itself was enough to turn me off, but "Buffy" became a major education in surprises. It turned out to be an amazingly well written, very intelligent, exploration of a panoply of themes that got me in a way I wasn't expecting. I don't particularly care if you're a Buffy fan, but Joss Whedon was doing stuff with "Buffy" something that has been hailed on The West Wing, Six Feet Under, Deadwood, Veronica Mars, and The Sopranos as ground-breaking stuff before those shows were even an itch in their Daddy's pants. And on network TV. AND on fuckin' the WB. And all the while, you thought "Reality" TV was the bomb.

Because comics and TV series are basically trash media, no one wants to really give them their due. But the truth is that there is a generation of writers who came up through theory-ridden programs of lit and film, and they are using that education to write some of the best drama available in our culture in, that's right, TV and comic books: the only two media that afford such a large space to explore character, narrative, and storytelling in such a big, operatic fashion. Twenty-two episodes a year is an amazing gift; unending runs of a comic are the same; these people are exploring the uses of their media in a way that no one has done since Laurence Sterne, Woolf, Joyce, or maybe the postmodernist writers of the 1950s. [I don't have the energy to include the non-narrative arts: cubism, architecture, surrealism, etc. Oh wait, maybe I just did.]

Girls, this is exciting stuff.

So, suffering Sappho, that's why I read comics.

I'm not sorry that you don't know what I'm talking about, but I'm glad as hell that I do. There is so much more going on in the world than you think, and it might just be happening in places you don't expect. Open your heart to trash, motherfucker; it just might be smarter than you are.

And, again, that's why I read comics.

A great big shout out to Michael's So I Like Superman and his Uncle Mikey's Funnybook Round-Up and GayProf's Center of Gravitas, which offers a vintage Wonder Woman cover for every post, and most especially this goes out to the unfortunately-titled, but admirable Joe.My.God, who has never, ever, touched a comic to my great sadness.

O Joe. O Joe, My God; O Joe, my fuckin' God, how can I keep praying to you with this knowledge? Oh, my God, Joe. Oh. I am heartened, not that my opinion matters at all, by your enjoyment of this post, which can only be inscrutable to you [My favorite line is: "Random Woman, you stay low. We're moving in."]. Oh, Joe, My God. My God, why have you forsaken me?

25 April 2006


Okay, autobiography and memoir are the genres I am most dubious about. Why, you may ask? Well, I'll tell you: it is because they claim to tell the truth, or at least we expect them to tell the truth. Awright, I'll admit there is another, though closely related literary genre you may have heard of that also claims to tell the truth, and it is essentially the mama of all truth-claiming literary genres and that is course is (let's say it all at once, boys and girls:) [<-- oh look, I made a smiley-face] HISTORY. I think it's instructive (and I am hardly the first to note this) that in at least French and German, the word for "story" is the same word for "history": respectively histoire and Geschichte. And let me remind you that the root of "fiction" in English is a Latin verb, fictio, which means "to shape" or "to mold."

My Masters in the world of memoir-fiction are "of course" Vladimir Nabokov and Edmund White. There is no doubt, to my mind, that Nabokov presented versions of himself--which multiply across his novels in what one could construe as an autobiographical way--as fiction: this gesture arrives in its clearest representation (is it a turning inside-out of our expectations) in the changing of the title of his avowed memoir, originally called, Conclusive Evidence, but which was finally titled, after some revision, Speak, Memory.

That's quite a title change.

In the first example, we have Nabokov, stating a facticity that is conclusive, then we get a title that's more ambiguous, where he exhorts "memory" to "speak." Anyone familiar with Nabokov well knows this is a specific and careful dissembling, in which, the first title declares an evidential expression, but the second, while more poetic, offers an almost metaphysical hopefulness that can only be construed as ironic at best, and derisive otherwise. To my way of thinking, the only other greater ironist in English heretofore was probably Chaucer. But at this point, I'm jest sayin'.

Then we have the example of Edmund White, who has never disavowed the roman a clef nature of his novels, but presents them as fiction. Yet, they are in some sense "true" representions, especially in his trilogy (originally a quartet), A Boy's Own Story, The Beautiful Room Is Empty (thank you, Kafka!), and The Farewell Symphony (thank you, Haydn!).

Thus, we have two examples of writers, one who moves further away from presenting himself as his fiction, and the other who does the opposite (his last novel notwithstanding). White is an interesting case of a writer who composed extremely novelesque [I intend that in the Barthesean-sense] works at the beginning of his career--the brilliant Forgetting Elena and Nocturnes For the King of Naples (not to diminish his later output at all)--but then wrote semi-autobiographical fictional pieces (already mentioned), a highly-regarded biography of Genet, a portrait of Proust, and declared memoirs about his life in Paris. The relationship between "fact" and "fiction," the ways one nourishes the other, and vice versa, the draws of composing for one over the other, are highlighted, in opposition, by the output of these two writers. [I note, only now, and briefly, that, Nabokov more or less gave his imprimatur to White, when he reviewed his Fire-Island-cum-"gay"-cum-Kafkaesque first novel for the New York Times, back in the day, and to some acknowledged degree, White has been living it down ever since--his other, competing mode of writerliness being Christopher Isherwood.]

In the case of Nabokov, we have a man composing words (in at least two languages), inspired by events in his own life and subjectivity. White, on the other hand, condenses and completes, but the shape of the narrative is closer to his own experience than Nabokov would ever feel comfortable with or admit.

So, who is the memoirist and who the fiction-writer?

This boundary is what interest me--if it exists as a boundary at all--and therefore this writing, and therefore my previous post(s) on the nature of writing and "truth." Therefore my reticence, in this blog, toward writing about myself, explicitly. If this is an autobiography at all, it is one of ideas, attitudes, and prejudices; not what I had for lunch today.

In my understanding, language itself is the disfiguring medium which causes the problem. Language and memory. Both are imperfect media of recording experience--and that word itself (I mean "experience," though I could have suggested "media" or "recording," just to be a dick) shrugs off the possibility of fact. Look at the example of the courtroom: first-hand testimony is valuable but ambiguous (the court knows that memory is fallible, even inventive). Even in photography, which until recently, the court of law--that place of facts, evidence, testimony, and circumstantial evidence--regarded as the "safe" and "objective" domain of recorded fact, has been degraded as record by the distorting presence of Adobe Photoshop.

Not only has the frame--the context, memory, genre, intention, forgetfulness--been questioned, but the objects inside that frame are now manipulable in ways that the Nineteenth Century, and its little sister the Twentieth Century, didn't really--I mean "truly"--consider.

So, what are we left with?

Well, we are left with a place of pleasingly confusing ambiguities. To be upset that "the record" offers no solace is no solace at all. In fact--or should I say "in fact"--this question really undoes our relationship to truth. Perhaps we are seeking the truth in the wrong places; perhaps the legal notions of experience are suspect; maybe we have been on the wrong track this entire time. If the "scientific" record of photography or videography has become a space of ambiguity, or even invention, what is a person to do?

I ask this question only to be a dick. Or perhaps a tool.

I suspect I have a hunch to the answer, but this post has already gone on far too long, and I applaud you if you made it this far.

21 April 2006

A Rilke Post: Archaic Torso of Apollo

Miletus Torso (Apollo), Louvre, c. 480-470 BCE, Marble, H 132 cm

Archaic Torso of Apollo
Rainer Maria Rilke, New Poems, the Other Part [1908]

We cannot know his unheard of head,
in which his eyes like apples ripened. But
his torso glows still like a candelabrum,
in which his gaze, though turned low,

holds firm and gleams. Otherwise the bow
of the breast could not blind you, and in the gentle turn
of the loins a smile couldn't go
to that center, there where procreation endured.

Otherwise this stone would stand defaced and stumped
under the shoulder's translucent downturn
and not shimmer so like a predator's fur;

and not break out from all its edges
like a star: because there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.

Translation by L. Steve Schmersal, 4 July 2003

Archaïscher Torso Apollos
Rainer Maria Rilke, Der neuen Gedichte anderer Teil [1908]

Wir kannten nicht sein unerhörtes Haupt,
darin die Augenäpfel reiften. Aber
sein Torso glüht noch wie ein Kandelaber,
in dem sein Schauen, nur zurückgeschraubt,

sich hält und glänzt. Sonst könnte nicht der Bug
der Brust dich blenden, und im leisen Drehen
der Lenden könnte nicht ein Lächeln gehen
zu jener Mitte, die die Zeugung trug.

Sonst stünde dieser Stein entstellt und kurz
unter der Schultern durchsichtigem Sturz
und flimmerte nicht so wie Raubtierfelle;

und bräche nicht aus allen seinen Rändern
aus wie ein Stern: denn da ist keine Stelle,
die dich nicht sieht. Du mußt dein Leben ändern.

If you would like to see an interpretation of this justly-difficult and famous poem, go here.

10 April 2006

A repost of a repost of a riposte: BigMuscle.com 2

Please don't read this.

I while ago, I wrote an installment on BigMuscle.com, which included my first rumination on said site. This is the second such vomitus. To get the proper effect, you should really read the first one first. But hey, this is a 'blog. Do whatever the fuck you want, killah.


For the male homosexual the central question always has something to do with the Feminine and his relationship to it. We say it is a question and as such it remains an open question for the individual but also in a general sense. The subject attempts to close this question for himself in any number of ways, and so answer it. And there are a series of standard responses, which for our purposes here we will term generic. Which genre the subject works toward has everything to do with his acceptance of the Feminine, his rejection of it, or most dramatically, its abjection. The subject may find satisfaction in the performance of the feminine, both or either the admiration of it or the imitation of it. Conversely, or would it be better to say obversely, he may instead build a fortress against it, a truly self-containing fortress in his mind and often times of his body. From here he may resist all the doubts that lay siege to his composure, his artful, careful composition. But in the long run, we do not really know what the Homosexual is, we can only discern whom he doesn't want to be.

NOW I WISH I'D READ THE FIRST BIGM POST (you still can!) <-- click here

06 April 2006

NOW I Know What Boyfriends Are For...

...among other things, a good boyfriend introduces you to crazy shit you wouldda never seen otherwise. Take the Gem Sweater Lady, Leslie Hall. I know you've always known about her, but I was astonished and delighted, even thrilled, to discover that this awesome art school chick--who turns out to also be an awesome, fat art school chick--did a project involving gem sweaters: rhinestone-encrusted, sequin-adorned, and otherwise bedazzled, well, sweaters.

It's almost too good to be true.

Leslie Hall in character

You can see a gallery of sweaters.

You can watch a sweet music video courtesy of youtube.com. There's more on her website, but this video is all you really need.

Don't confuse her with the earnest Canadian songwriter of the same name; no, the real deal is to be found in the links, right here. Yes.

I can barely describe the pleasure of seeing a woman work so many levels of irony, ambiguity, and just plain wrongness. If she'd worked with John Waters twenty years ago, shit, blood, chicken-rape, dying for art, or just plain murder might have been involved, but this may be the most dangerous bad taste we're allowed while living under Emperor Bush. Joe-Bob says check it out.

05 April 2006

01:02:03 04/05/06

I'm a sucker for number games with dates and stuff. The Krebs Cycle has a lovely post on stuff the author finds fascinating--scientific discoveries, mainly--and ends with the note that the date today, if you write it in the American style with the month first, is 04/05/06. And he posted this at 1:02:03 (or there abouts).

These sorts of coincidences, where something as insignificant as our sequence of numbers aligns, as it must occasionally (even a broken clock is correct twice a day), with the time or the date. Does it signify? Well, yes and no. Because we're meaning-based beings, coincidences like these tend to feel significant, which is to say they twinkle with a magical charge, like synchronicity. There's just something downright spooky about it.

When I changed my major in college (long story), and the registrar office lady handed me my official document--basically my receipt--I glanced at it and got a shiver from the fact that the computer had printed it as 8/8/88. Didn't mean anything really, but I've never forgotten it. I think that time is an elusive dimension, so the way we talk about it is mediated by metaphors of space (things are in the past or future) or money (you waste or spend time), for example. Yes, time is an invention that measures something that doesn't exist. So when such an abstract thing gets punctuated by birthdays; holidays; turning 40; anniversaries of deaths, weddings, and breakups; or funny "jokes" of a consecutive sequence of numbers like today's date, it gives us a little thrill of meaningfulness, a sense of design or order, or even paradoxically, a disturbing out-of-jointness. But for a moment--for a moment--time stops. For a moment, it's as though time sees you.

Trump v Manson

Aw, I can't resist this shit. If you haven't seen this already, some crazy person made an episode of "The Apprentice" for the ages. Consider this a short post to make up for the long difficult one I threw up last time.

Trump v Manson