June 26, 2016

No, You're Wrong: On Chuck Klosterman's "But What If We're Wrong?"

At this point, I must have read everything in book form that Klosterman has put out in book form.
I got turned onto him when I was in college, and my buddies gave me a book, and Klosterman was like the cool older brother you never had, throwing together essays that made you think and made you want to be the kind of guy Klosterman was. Except maybe not as ginger.

He’s grown up and I with him.  I followed him through his novels – even though I forgot that I had read one of them until I was looking at the list of books in the front of this book and I was like, “Yeah, I read that”.  I’ve now read two of the latest books, the one about bad guys and now this one. The current thing Chuck is doing is taking a whole conceit and stretching it out to a book length. I’m not sure if it works for a whole book. What made Klosterman’s earlier essays work was that the idea wasn’t worn out in the essay; it was the jumping off point for the kind of dorm room chatter that passes for male bonding. “But What if We’re Wrong” jumps off from a point to try to imagine what the current world will look like to the future. It’s one of those things that sound simple but has profound implications but it never really comes up. It’s because as a culture we are certain of ourselves; we always have been certain of ourselves. One of my favorite things in a book is when a character talks about the modern world, and then I recognize that that world is much less in advance than mine – so the idea that characters who uses horses for locomotion is risible. We are in a constant state of change, and what we have for comparison is the past, so there is a constant and ever-changing modernity that focuses on one day only. Today. Therefore, I think this works as a thought experiment, but the funny thing is that the book is almost certain to be 99% wrong. Most books are, but this one is just more conscious of the fact.

June 7, 2016

Twenty-Five Years of Tomorrow: Perkins Scales Mt. Cartoon

This, I think, was the hardest book I have ever read.

It’s cartoons, but so many words.

Even more specifically, the physical format was such that for me at least, you couldn’t hold it up and read it while you sat on the couch. It meant that for me, I had to read it as a bedside book, grabbing it off the stand as I went to sleep and trying to read as much as I could until I started getting the nods. It took a while to get through everything – and there’s a lot here. Perkins (Nom de guerre de “Tom Tomorrow”) packs in more than twenty five years of content here from his earliest pastiches (collages) to the children’s book he wrote that has nothing at all to do with George Bush.

I first became aware of Perkins’ work when I was in grad school about ten years ago, so some of the more contemporary cartoons were re-reading things I had seen before. More pleasant was finding the trove of all the new things that were actually old.

Well, it maybe wasn’t pleasant. One of the hard things about reading the book is that from someone to the left of the main stream of political discourse as I am, it seems that we are having the same fights over and over, resolving nothing. I was reading the cartoons of the Clinton years at the same time I read a couple other books that gave those cartoons perspective - Rall’s “Bernie” and Frank’s “Listen, Liberal”. Both reflected on what a horrible choice having a Clinton back in the running is – and this was only reinforced in my reading because those cartoons were a primary text of left-wing anger with the Clintons and all the fun New Democrat stuff they were doing (Triangulation, NAFTA, Ending “Welfare as we know it”, etc.) So that when liberals just tell the left to shut up and accept this version of evil that is not as evil as the other guy over there, it makes me all punchy. It just makes me sad for Perkins in that he will have to resurrect some of his cartoons to make more sequels for cartoons that he already wrote twenty years ago. 

The best thing about this book is that it allows the reader to get a full sense of the development of Perkins as an artist and a story-teller, and you can get a sense of the process he goes through both in the text that accompanies the cartoons (included are prefaces to the smaller anthologies he put out over the year) and the cartoons themselves. You can see how characters go in and out of favor as he tries to just make sense of the week’s happenings in greater context. You can also see when he had a deadline and was short an idea – but even Homer slumbered.

Grant Morrison's "Nameless": Not My Cup of Tea.

I don’t know if I’m missing something when I read this, but it just didn’t work for me. The plot, as far as I could tell, was subverted for trying to shoehorn in some cool mythical references to make things scarier and to give it all more atmosphere. There’s even a list of references at the back, and reading those didn’t make the plot any more accessible for me. But hey, maybe it wasn’t supposed to be about plot. Maybe it was one of those things where the atmospherics was the key and my own expectations subverted my enjoyment of the text. Who knows? At the very least, the art was very well done which plays into my thought that the doubt of what is going on and the suspense is what makes the book one that is more along the veins of space horror. Not entirely unsuccessful, but not my beverage of choice.

Nice Angle on an Old Classic: The Odyssey of Sergeant Jack Brennan by Bryan Doerries

If you were raised in western culture and you heard any old stories that did not necessarily have chapter and verse and some red letters in there, you were sure to be familiar with the story of the Trojan War as tradition tells us was told by homer in the two epic poems the Iliad and the Odyssey. Even if you don’t know the whole story (Trojan guy steals Greek wife, Greeks get mad and spend 10 years fighting outside of Troy (spoiler alert) then they leave but have a small army inside of a horse that the Trojans drag inside so the Trojans lose. Then the Greeks lead by Odysseus take another ten years to get back to Ithaca – a record in not asking for directions only surpassed by Moses. The he gets back home and has to beat up the guys that have been hanging out at his house waiting around to hook up with his wife who has been leading those guys on the whole time), then you know some of these parts of it – some of the more famous I left from the summary).

So there have been lots of versions of the text, but I like this version because it is able to make the story new by giving it not a contemporary by putting it in the current era as a setting, but using the story as a base to help understand the soldiers in current predicaments. It shows that though the stories can change, the soldiers over time have kept telling different versions of the same stories. It just seems that modern versions have fewer Cyclopes.