Friday 30 November 2012

Comic Strip: The Motes

Hi all,

About a year ago, a very talented artist friend of mine inspired me to try my hand at writing a web comic. So being the lover of modernist literature that I am, I thought it'd be funny to pair a crudely drawn, anthropomorphic puff named (yup) Puffy with an androgynous ghost-friend named Laura, and locate them on some sort of (also crudely drawn) purgatorial planet à la Le Petit Prince. The comic had a pretty short run, though I often thinking about going back to it. In any case, here are the comics I managed to complete.

Monday 26 November 2012

"The Big Lebowski" and Defining Death

Recently, I sat over a pint with one of my closest friends at one of my favorite pubs. The chilliness of the air outside and the warmth of the pub's fireplace more or less made for an ideal evening. As my friend and I chatted over this and that, our conversation eventually turned to the Cohen Brothers' cult classic film, The Big Lebowski. It was only because the evening was so serene that I was able to reveal to my friend that, contrary to what I'd been pretending for the past ten years, I truly did not like this movie (sadly, I was one of those men on the street who'd always agreed that the emperor's clothes looked truly beautiful).  My friend argued that the movie was a work of genius, filled with classic scene after classic scene. I, however, argued that a film needed to be more than the sum of its parts, and that classic Goodman/Bridges exchanges or slow-motion shots of John Turturro weren't enough to make a movie good.

Finally, he countered with the undeniable fact that Lebowski is, plain and simple, an incredibly funny comedy. This might be the case, but there is something about the Cohen Brothers' comedies that has never done it for me. Whether it's Fargo, Burn After Reading, or yes, the irreproachable Lebowski, I can't help but feel that the laughter of these movies is nothing more than a Nietzschean cackle sent off into a random and godless universe. The amorality of the laughter in these movies is too close to Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent for my liking, because in short, I believe that life is best spent trying to make the world mean something rather than embracing its supposed randomness.

The conversation carried on for some time after that, and eventually brought us to the subject of mortality. I asked, somewhat rhetorically, if my friend knew what death was. With a snort, he threw his hands up and said no one did. I had no real answer for this, but having had too many pints to stop talking, I pressed onward and asked him what year he'd been born. He answered 1984; so I told him that death - in his case - was 1983. Simply put, the world existed at that time and he didn't. The same goes for that moment in the future when he (or any of us) will die. The world will still be here, but we won't. It stands to reason that our attitude toward death should be the exact same as our attitude toward the year before we were born.

Death isn't anything we haven't experienced before. We get a very limited window of self-conscious existence between the bookends of non-existence, so I think our time is best spent following the credo of American poet Wallace Stevens, who once said that poetry (or art in general) was "a violence from within that protects us from a violence from without." The task of art is not to reveal the randomness and/or emptiness of the universe, but to wage an endless war against it - in short, to force it to be beautiful.

There is not a clear line of argument leading me from the Lebowski conversation to my meditation on death. But that's the great thing about blogs; you can just post anything that seems interesting to you, even if you don't really know what you're talking about.

Tuesday 13 November 2012

"Bavarian Gentians" by D.H. Lawrence

Lately, I've been having these weird visions while I'm falling asleep at night. In these visions, I imagine myself walking down a spiral staircase, being led by a floating blue flame, and coming to the threshold of the kingdom of the dead. For me, this vision is a metaphor for what really great literature accomplishes: it seduces you down its serpentine corridors, and brings you to the very edge of your own non-being, to the brink of that dark kingdom where all of the people you love will one day vanish. And, of course, where you too will vanish.

It turns out that I've been getting this image from a poem by D.H Lawrence that I read a long time ago. When I was young, I assumed the poem was just about flowers; but only recently have I begun to see it as a metaphor for literature and the reading process in general. In any case, that's as far as my fragmented thinking on the subject has taken me at this point. I really hope you enjoy this poem.

As an added note, you might notice that in this poem, Lawrence forms a very deep association between our approach to the limits of experience and the image of the god Pluto "ravishing" the young and beautiful Persephone. I would like to think that we can salvage the beautiful aspects of this poem while still recognizing the ethical dubiousness of Lawrence's gender politics, which are very heavily based on the insane male libido that he's so well known for writing about. If you want an incredible analysis of gender in Lawrence's writing, start with Simone de Beauvoir's "D.H. Lawrence and the Phallic Imagination," found in "The Second Sex." With her seamless logic and conversational tone, de Beauvoir breaks down Lawrence's views of men and women in a way that is both compelling and (because of de Beauvoir's impeccable style) very enjoyable to read. I was really hoping to provide a link to this piece here, but I'm having trouble finding it online.

"Bavarian Gentians"

By D.H. Lawrence

Not every man has gentians in his house
in Soft September, at slow, Sad Michaelmas.
Bavarian gentians, big and dark, only dark
darkening the daytime torchlike with the smoking blueness of Pluto's
ribbed and torchlike, with their blaze of darkness spread blue
down flattening into points, flattened under the sweep of white day
torch-flower of the blue-smoking darkness, Pluto's dark-blue daze,
black lamps from the halls of Dis, burning dark blue,
giving off darkness, blue darkness, as Demeter's pale lamps give off
lead me then, lead me the way.
Reach me a gentian, give me a torch!
Let me guide myself with the blue, forked torch of a flower
down the darker and darker stairs, where blue is darkened on blueness
down the way Persephone goes, just now, in first-frosted September
to the sightless realm where darkness is married to dark
and Persephone herself is but a voice, as a bride
a gloom invisible enfolded in the deeper dark
of the arms of Pluto as he ravishes her once again 
and pierces her once more with his passion of the utter dark among the splendour of black-blue torches, shedding fathomless darkness on the nuptials.

Bavarian gentians, tall and dark, but dark
darkening the daytime torch-like with the smoking blueness of Pluto's gloom,
ribbed hellish flowers erect, with their blaze of darkness spread blue,
blown flat into points, by the heavy white draught of the day.

Monday 12 November 2012

"Boss and Worker"

Boss: The great destroyer of sympathy is the rage at feeling ungratefully relied upon.

Worker: The great destroyer of sympathy is the rage at feeling unfairly exploited.

George Orwell on the Religious Emphasis of Eliot's "Four Quartets"

I've just been doing a little bit of work on T.S. Eliot's "Four Quartets" for an online learning module, and have realized that this long sequence of poems fills me with a certain ambivalence about its poetic "quality." On the one hand, I think it's the most beautiful thing Eliot ever wrote; on the other, I think that the thing is really prosaic and (as Eliot himself feared) hastily written compared to his earlier stuff. Maybe the whole thing wants the intervention of Ezra Pound's red pen...

In any case, I came across the following review that George Orwell wrote about the first three poems in "Four Quartets," and can honestly say that this guy is a genius when it comes to articulating some of the things I feel about Eliot's work. I think this is a piece of great criticism, and just wanted to share it:

Friday 2 November 2012

My Generation

Members of my generation are not incentivized by money, status, or power to the degree that others have been in the past. We’re incentivized by our insatiable need to have the whole world care deeply about what we’re doing with our lives. To satisfy this need, we would forego almost any creature comfort. Historically speaking, this need for acknowledgement has made us one of the worst groups of material bargainers ever, and considering that we are going to become the employees of people who matured during the decade of Reagan and Mulroney, this obsession with acknowledgment (and distaste for scrappy negotiating) is going to put us in a very difficult position. In this situation, advanced skills and/or education don't inspire us to demand more from a job, but coerce us into accepting less.