Eleanor Hallowell Abott is Moe

https://www.gutenberg.org/files/43025/43025-h/43025-h.htm

1.

And when She came! Just a girl’s laugh at first from the street door! An impish prance of feet down the dark, unaccustomed hallway! A little trip on the threshold! And then personified—laughing—blushing, stumbling fairly headlong at last into the room—the most radiantly lovely young girl that you have ever had the grace to imagine, dangling exultantly from each frost-pinked hand a very large, wriggly, and exceedingly astonished rabbit.

“Oh, Uncle Charles!” she began, “s-ee what I’ve found! And in an ash-barrel, too! In—a—” She blinked the snow from her lashes, took a sudden startled glance round the room, another at the clock, and collapsed with confusion into the first chair that she could reach.

A very tall “little girl” she was, and very young, not a day more than eighteen surely. And even in the encompassing bulk of her big coon-skin coat with its broad arms hugging the brown rabbits to her breast she gave an impression of extraordinary slimness and delicacy, an impression accentuated perhaps by a slender silk-stockinged ankle, the frilly cuff of a white sleeve, and the aura of pale gold hair that radiated in every direction from the brim of her coon- skin hat. For fully fifteen minutes my Husband said she sat huddled-up in all the sweet furry confusion of a young animal, till driven apparently by that very confusion to essay some distinctly normal-appearing, every-day gesture, she reached out impulsively to the reading table and picked up a book which some young man had just relinquished rather suddenly at a summons to the doctor’s inner office. Relaxing ever so slightly into the depths of her chair with the bunnies’ noses twinkling contentedly to the rhythm of her own breathing, she made a wonderful picture, line, color, spirit, everything of Youth. Reading, with that strange, extra, inexplainable touch of the sudden little pucker in the eyebrows, sheer intellectual perplexity was in that pucker!

But when the young man returned from the inner office he did not leave at once as every cross, irritable person in the room hoped that he would, but fidgeted around instead with hat and coat, stamped up and down crowding other people’s feet, and elbowing other people’s elbows. With a gaspy glance at his watch he turned suddenly on the girl with the rabbits. “Excuse me,” he floundered, “but I have to catch a train— please may I have my book?”

“Your book?” deprecated the Girl. Confusion anew overwhelmed her! “Your—book? Why, I beg your pardon! Why—why—” Pink as a rose she slammed the covers and glanced for the first time at the title. The title of the book was “What Every Young Husband Should Know.” . . . With a sigh like the sigh of a breeze in the ferns the tension of the room relaxed! A very fat, cross-looking woman in black satin ripped audibly at a side seam. . . . A frail old gentleman who really had very few laughs left, wasted one of them in the smothering depths of his big black-bordered handkerchief. . . . The lame newsboy on the stool by the door emitted a single snort of joy. Then the doctor himself loomed suddenly from the inner office, and started right through everybody to the girl with the rabbits. “Why, May,” he laughed, “I told you not to get here till four o’clock!”

2.

It was just as everybody drifted back from the dining-room into the library that the May Girl wriggled her long, silken, childish legs out of the steamer-rug that encompassed her, struggled to her feet, wandered somewhat aimlessly to the piano, fingered the keys for a single indefinite moment and burst ecstatically into song!

None of us, except my Husband, had heard her sing before. None of us indeed, except my Husband and myself, knew even that she could sing. The proof that she could smote suddenly across the ridge of one’s spine like the prickle of a mild electric shock.

My Husband was perfectly right. It was a typical “Boy Soprano” voice, a chorister’s voice—clear as flame— passionless as syrup. As devoid of ritual as the multiplication table it would have made the multiplication table fairly reek with incense and Easter lilies! Absolutely lacking in everything that the tone sharks call “color”—yet it set your mind a-haunt with all the sad crimson and purple splendors of memorial windows! Shadows were back of it! And sorrows! And mysteries! Bridals! And deaths! The prattle alike of the very young and the very old! Carol! And Threnody! And a fearful Transiency as of youth itself passing!

She sang—

“There is a Green Hill far away
Without a city wall,
Where our dear Lord was crucified,
Who died to save us—all.”

and she sang

“From the Desert I come to thee,
On a stallion shod with fire!
And the winds are not more fleet
Than the wings of my de-sire!”

Like an Innocent pouring kerosene on the Flame-of-the-World the young voice soared and swelled to that lovely, limpid word “desire.” (In the darkness I saw Paul Brenswick’s hand clutch suddenly out to his Mate’s. In the darkness I saw George Keets switch around suddenly and begin to whisper very fast to Allan John.) And then she sang a little nonsense rhyme about “Rabbits” which she explained rather shyly she had just made up. “She was very fond of rabbits,” she explained. “And of dogs, too—if all the truth were to be told. Also cats.”

“Also—shells!” sniffed young Kennilworth.

“Yes, also shells,” conceded the May Girl without resentment.

“Ha!” sniffed young Kennilworth.

“O—h, a—jealous lover, this,” deprecated George Keets. “Really, Miss Davies,” he condoned, “I’m afraid to-morrow is going to be somewhat of a strain on you.”
“To-morrow?” dimpled the May Girl.

“Ha!—To-morrow!” shrugged young Kennilworth.

“It was the rabbits,” dimpled the May Girl, “that I was going to tell you about now. It’s a very moral song written specially to deplore the—the thievish habits of the rabbits. But I can’t seem to get around to the ‘deploring’ until the second verse. All the first verse is just scientific description.”

“Adorably the young voice lilted into the nonsense——

“Oh, the habit of a rabbit
Is a fact that would amaze
From the pinkness of his blinkness and the blandness of his gaze,
In a nose that’s so a-twinkle like a merri—perri—winkle—

And—”

Goodness me!—That voice!—The babyishness of it!—And the poignancy! Should one laugh? Or should one cry? Clap one’s hands? Or bolt from the room? I decided to bolt from the room.

Bite-Sized: John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War

I completed John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War lately.

There’s a rule that Scalzi seems to follow, and it falls in line with another book which I completed lately – Frederik Pohl’s Gateway. That rule is – alien randomicity is fun. This also seems to be the principle behind Roadside Picnic (and any Stalker related material) as well as the Call of Cthulhu RPG.

While Pohl’s novel was all about exploring the psychological consequences of randomicity and the greater unknown on a person’s head though – Scalzi’s Old Man’s War is simply about milking as many alien worlds and battles for all the fun you can have, while throwing snarky joking characters into the mix, and expounding on all those general themes of military SF like the horrors of war etc…

So that makes Scalzi more or less the minimal standard for having character-oriented SF that uses its ideas for something more entertaining. It’s a pity – I also picked up the Three Body Problem lately (I’m on a military SF binge for some reason) – and that was astounding in its ideas and the science was probably ten times harder but it didn’t reach the level of fun that Scalzi was able to generate in 300 pages.

An issue to some would probably be that the character voices and personalities aren’t exactly well-distinguished. The snark carries over to more or less everyone in the novel. This, though, isn’t necessarily a problem if you know how to play it correctly. Romeo seems to suffer from this at times too, when he’s trying to maximize the jokes in the scenario and all of the characters start doing the same high-flown Romeo comedy exchange. He gets over this hump by relying on basic character stereotypes and modulating them away from their premises in order to develop something else. The rest of it comes in the strength of his themes, poetry, and psychological observations.

But Scalzi is touching on the same kinds of things that you’d expect in a lot of other Military SF, like the death of comrades and facing up against uncertain and inhuman enemies. That’s his limit. A higher level writer would probably be mixing up things that don’t seem as central to the narrative, but builds up the narrative still. Lately I’ve been diving into Kundera as well, and he’s a writer that makes frequent digressions and ironic ruminations, drawing from other philosophy, literature, and using metafictive techniques – but he still manages to maintain an emotional base because of how he fits it all together – and isn’t overbearing in his poetic prose.

I’m not, of course, saying that a person needs to have that kind of repertoire to be a good writer. Pohl tried to create a second layer to Gateway, for example, by interspersing a conversation between a therapist robot and the protagonist in between the action. The problem in that was that it felt like Pohl was writing in that ‘new wave sci-fi’ vein where everything is steeped deep in Freudian sexual angst and stuff like that. It made those portions of the novel a drag to go through.

But, if that kind of ‘experimentation’ is the alternative – then it may be a good thing that Scalzi doesn’t try to over-reach and focuses on merely making gripping good fun.

I also have to do a brief examination on the Action front. Scalzi does come up with some interesting (and also funny) battles and innovative solutions. Yet you won’t really see any of the ‘grand skirmishes’ that comes with other kinds of insane military-focused action fiction. Neither does he understand the art of Chuuni, so he doesn’t milk the action beats for all their worth. The battles will either be descriptive with character thoughts laden in, or they’ll lead up to a punch-line (e.g. Bender getting fried while trying to open diplomatic communication with an alien race).

It seems to be that the secret to writing good action is actually the opposite of the sacred “Show, don’t Tell” rule. That’s because good action is, really, anything but the action itself. Action is fun because there are extended stratagems based on human intellect behind what appears to be a mere series of physical moves. You wouldn’t find a chess game, sports or fighting game fun unless you knew the exact value-exchanges and tactical intentions of the two players.

So there was this scene in Old Man’s War which was five one-on-one battles between top-class supersoldiers and aliens with nasty bladed arms. The actual depiction of the battles themselves were nothing but a flurry of body part descriptions. There was no explanation (the same kind Kawakami might pull) as to why these moves were important. Neither was there any overtly cool/Chuuni descriptions – except maybe a bit in the last battle. Perhaps the later books in the series will have larger and cooler battles, but for now it doesn’t seem like it.

Of course it could also be because they want to convey all the ‘horror of war’ stuff and tone down on the fun action aspect – making all the battles either gritty or ironic dark humor – but those aren’t really mutually exclusive since Hanachirasu can pull it off while keeping both grit and dark humor.

Overall Scalzi definitely stands as the basic template for how to do fun but also dramatic and gritty Military SF – but he also represents quite a few things that have to be unlearned for anyone who’s planning to break the bounds of the genre. At the very least – he created that magical effect within me where I thought I would be just having a light read before sleeping, and found myself going through all 300 pages in a single session.

It also reminds me that I still have yet to touch Legend of the Galactic Heroes.

Bite-Sized: Excerpts From Brother Odd by Dean Koontz

For some reason I randomly started reading Dean Koontz’s Brother Odd. It was given to me by a friend some time ago, but it was on my bookshelf untouched until now.

Holy crap, the way the prose enters straight into your brain is something to behold. This type of information condensation intermixed with the forward push of action, as well as crazily Gothic descriptions is the pinnacle of action writing. It has just the right mixture of snarky, poetic, and straightforward.

Excerpt A

I hurled myself through the snowfall, so it seemed as though a wind had sprung up, pasting flakes to my lashes.

In this second minute of the storm, the ground remained black, unchanged by the blizzard’s brush. Within a few bounding steps, the land began to slope gently toward woods that I could not see, open dark descending toward a bristling dark.

Intuition insisted that the forest would be the death of me. Running into it, I would be running to my grave.

The wilds are not my natural habitat. I am a town boy, at home with pavement under my feet, a whiz with a library card, a master at the gas grill and griddle.

If my pursuer was a beast of the new barbarism, he might not be able to make a fire with two sticks and a stone, might not be able to discern true north from the growth of moss on trees, but his lawless nature would make him more at home in the woods than I would ever be.

I needed a weapon, but I had nothing except my universal key, a Kleenex, and insufficient martial-arts knowledge to make a deadly weapon of them.

Cut grass relented to tall grass, and ten yards later, nature put weapons under my feet: loose stones that tested my agility and balance. I skidded to a halt, stooped, scooped up two stones the size of plums, turned, and threw one, threw it hard, and then the other.

The stones vanished into snow and gloom. I had either lost my pursuer or, intuiting my intent, he had circled around me when I stopped and stooped. I clawed more missiles off the ground, turned 360 degrees, and surveyed the night, ready to pelt him with a couple of half-pound stones.

Nothing moved but the snow, seeming to come down in skeins as straight as the strands of a beaded curtain, yet each flake turning as it fell.

I could see no more than fifteen feet. I had never realized that snow could fall heavily enough to limit visibility this much.

Once, twice, I thought I glimpsed someone moving at the limits of vision, but it must have been an illusion of movement because I couldn’t fix on any shape.

The patterns of snow on night gradually dizzied me.

Holding my breath, I listened. The snow did not even whisper its way to the earth, but seemed to salt the night with silence.

Some parts of the book are also so ridiculous but fun that they remind me of Romeo digressions, like how Odd Thomas will randomly commentate about the ridiculous history of the physicist living in the basement, being attacked by the mass media, with amazing wit and speed. Sadly, I’m 100 pages in and I can already tell that he won’t be able to link it up to that greater macrocosmic view that Romeo is always able to pull off. The poesy, jokes, and descriptions, are more for entertainment than for meaning – although some parts manage to breach something a bit higher.

This makes me think – what will happen to Romeo 50 years later when we lose half of the references that he sticks all around his works? Koontz is already suffering from a bit of datedness in his writing because he has a lot of references that merely hang there without any greater import. I would say that Romeo’s ideas will still come through, although his jokes would probably seem a lot less ‘perfect’ to those of us who have a better access to what he’s talking about. This is another reason why I view the structure and characterization as important – while other things will fall away, those will remain as foundation.

Excerpt B

Wondering if the brain-damaged girl had made room for a visitor, I wished the bottomless blue eyes would polarize into a particular pair of Egyptian-black eyes with which I was familiar.

Some days I feel as if I have always been twenty-one, but the truth is that I was once young.

In those days, when death was a thing that happened to other people, my girl, Bronwen Llewellyn, who preferred to be called Stormy, would sometimes say, “Loop me in, odd one”. She meant that she wanted me to share the events of my day with her, or my thoughts, or my fears and worries.

During the sixteen months since Stormy had gone to ashes in this world and to service in another, no one had spoken those words to me.

Justine moved her mouth without producing sound, and in the adjacent bed, Annamarie said in her sleep, “Loop me in.”

Room 32 seemed airless. Following those three words, I stood in a silence as profound as that in a vacuum. I could not breathe.

Only a moment ago, I had wished these blue eyes would polarize into the black of Stormy’s eyes, that the suspicion of a visitation would be confirmed. Now the prospect terrified me.

When we hope, we usually hope for the wrong thing.

We yearn for tomorrow and the progress that it represents. But yesterday was once tomorrow, and where was the progress in it?

Or we yearn for yesterday, for what was or what might have been. But as we are yearning, the present is becoming the past, so the past is nothing but our yearning for second chances.

“Loop me in,” Annamarie repeated.

As long as I remain subject to the river of time, which will be as long as I may live, there is no way back to Stormy, to anything.

Shit. Too bad this scene is off-hand and used more for an explication on general love angst than for something else – but it points to what Dean Koontz could have done if he had a better sense of structure rather than merely wishing to leave things in pulp. The “loop me in odd one” part is a bit precious, but the part about time reminds me of the opening of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. The fact that it’s structured after speedy cascades of Gothic touches gives it the potential to be an ‘out’ – had the situation packed the punch.

Once again, I outline the difference between poetry and prose. If a writer can structure the push of the situation around a certain idea, he can create a great impact without much flowery poetry, while in a poem it has to be sustained. That’s why Hesse’s Siddartha doesn’t have to be as hallucinogenic as something like Nabokov or Joyce in its descriptions, but by placing the poetics at the correct intervals, he can create a sense of a full life reaching something deeper.

That is why, if Koontz had chose to structure that statement around something better than general love angst, it would have been his gateway into greatness. This, sadly, is denied to a writer who has such great technical prowess in his prose and a potential methodology (using a ridiculous gothic scenario from the start allows for a greater sense of the illusion, which allows him to be more tempestuous in his comic side – although a bunch of reviewers around will disagree). He remains on the threshold. He cannot as yet press in.

Then again, maybe some amazing thing will happen in the next couple hundred pages.

Bite-Sized: Brandon Graham’s King City (and, also, Multiple Warheads)

(King City is an indie comic masterpiece-objet d’art by Brandom Graham. It’s hard to explain what his style is like, so you should go Google-Image search it yourself. Clutter after clutter of detail, strange alien scenery mixed with brief descriptions of everything everywhere, and pun after pun after pun. His other comic, Multiple Warheads, is also a same kind of Beast. This review was written on Goodreads, as a response to two primary critiques of the comic: That the story was non-linear and ‘nothing happens’, and that Graham, with his background as a porn artist, is objectifying women. So… spoilers, but, really, it doesn’t quite matter, because the ‘spoiler’ stuff isn’t the core of the comic.)

Brandon Graham’s closest analogue, in another medium, is probably the French Comedic Master Jacques Tati, especially his film Playtime. Both are less linear works and more spatial set-pieces that seem to expand multitastically into actionic and comedic structures.

It’s getting to be a critic cliche to say that ‘the main character is the setting’, but Graham is the artist to actually make that line ring true. Multiple Warheads is narratively slacker, and explodes even wider into landscape after landscape after object after object after person after person, but King City isn’t lacking on that front at all. The amount Graham crams into a single image is ridiculous. His sensibility is wholly Manga + Underground + Graffiti… actually, its probably everything ever existent. I’m following him on Twitter, and he posts some of the most obscure subversive art stuff from everywhere.

There’s a quote at the end of King City, which I will probably keep in my head forever

“With Great Power comes a great response: Go fuck yourself”

This is the essence of the story. Joe is a Cat-Master. He’s given one of the most powerful abilities in the world he lives in. He spends his time floating in and out of various dangerous jobs (usually given by a mysterious femme-fatale anarchist-revolutionary, Beebay), strange conspiracies, and lusting silently after his ex-girlfriend. It’s revealed as the Nature of the City, to be perpetual struck by that kind of dangerous. It’s a wild and flamboyant style of life that requires a heady detachment to churn through.

On the opposite side is Max. An ex-vet from zombie-Korea. It’s a brilliant touch that he’s suffering from a drug-addiction, where he himself is turning into the drug. Compared to Joe, he spends most of his time re-cuperating from his war experiences, and his ghosts. He’s at the farthest end of the King City lifestyle. He’s toned down. This reflects off those moments which shows him in full battle-gear, revving up zombie hordes with double chainsaws. He remembers a time when he felt ‘invincible’, until it all slowly went downwards. King City is a kind of drug.

Yet Anna attaches herself to Max. In Joe’s reminisces, she’s seen as the ‘pixie-dream girl’ character (although, actually, the whole cast is high, but still…). She’s anarchistic. She spray paints billboards. She rocks, basically. Yet, you can get some sense that the degraded relationship occurred because King City was too fast for both of them. They were split by the tide. King City flows with alien prostitutes and mysterious femme-fatale bomb-revolutionaries. Scenes after scenes after scenes state that largeness and fullness, and, yet, sometimes, emptiness, of the streets. Joe’s relationship is with the city. It pushes into him, sends him into strange trajectories, and just doesn’t let go.

The ending is pretty much the perfect way to tie it down. Joe learns to wind down. He helps Max and Anna. He rejects Beebay’s advances. He chills down with his friends in an apartment, watching the other Cat Masters deal with the destructive Lovecraftian beast. Afterwards, life carries on. He’s gotten slacker, taking his own stride within the flow of the city.

And people said there was no character development.

Of course, if you come in expecting linearity, or resolution, none of that is ever to be found. King City is a subtle mood piece placed together under a razzle-dazzle of profound activity. Multiple Warheads is the same, except that it expresses the opposite flow. In MW, Sexica starts moving from stasis. In KC, Joe gets it together. Multiple Warheads is a Journey, King City is a pit-stop. Multiple Warheads is Discovery, King City is Observation. Together, both comics provides one of the fullest expansions of a whole World.

In the meantime, people critique female body proportions, and objectification, forgetting that within these pages (MW and KC combined) Brandon Graham has created probably more than a thousand different body types of ambiguous alien genders. Beebay’s helper for one, is this rotund lipsticked masked thing that she kisses with slight adoration. In MW, beyond Sexica, her double exists in the form of an adventurous masculine-looking blue -haired bounty hunter. In other pages of MW, a feminine male dancer is a couple with this small blue armadillo thing, and their bed has about three other aliens in it.

Such an expectation and critique probably results from the eschewed linearity. People see the pulp sexploitation plot, rather than the larger aspect of Joe’s relation with the City as a whole, pushing in and out into a state where he realizes, that, his own meagre story is really not that important. Furthermore, he doesn’t get the girl, and it isn’t played in a cheap way, nor is it played didactically, to prove a strained point. It is what it is. A lot like Life.

Likewise people focus on Sexica as the ‘porn character’, although most of MW isn’t even her story. And the parts that are, aren’t about her sexuality.

(Now, if you want to see sexual objectification played didactically, AMAZINGLY well, just go read the whole Empowered series by Adam Warren – which goes beyond plain sexual politics into a whole larger larger picture, of media as a whole, and what it means to be a Hero or a Villain).

Such smallness of interpretation is really saddening, because Art like this should be breathed and trumpeted from the heavens, while the rest of the industry is being consumed by a flaming fullisade of Superhero comics.

You don’t ‘get’ King City. You breathe King City. You don’t ‘read’ the story of Joe. You read the story of a World.

In the words of the Cat-Master: “Go fuck yourself, I’m not your pet Cat-Master”

Bite-Sized: The Sinfest Effect

http://www.sinfest.net/

For the uninitiated, Sinfest is a webcomic that started in 2000, and its basically been continuing one strip a day ever since. The format is in the style of old newspaper comics (kind of like Sluggy Freelance) whereby the first 6 days of the week are 4 panel single strips, and the Sunday strip is in full color. The plot started off as some kind of supreme American satire, with its respective ‘normal’ main characters duking out its various matters with a whole host of archetypes like God, Satan, Buddha, a religious fundamentalist archetype, Uncle Sam etc…

If you go and look at any kind of review online though, you’ll know what the main deal with Sinfest is.

I’ll just quote TV Tropes since it describes it a whole lot better

“However, in October 2011, Sinfest began a huge shift in theme and focus with the introduction of the Sisterhood. This was the first step in the comic ditching almost every aspect of its old nature and turning toward a radical brand of second-wave feminism. In the current setting, society is brainwashed by a Matrix-like Patriarchy controlled by the Devil, and the comic’s world is connected to an alternate reality where greed, lust, and other traits fueled by the Patriarchy are the norm.”

So kind of like Dave Sim, except that while Sim went crazy and started to espouse heinous reactionary views against the mainstream in favor of things like misogyny and mysticism and all that, Tatsuya Ishida went, instead, to take the mainstream extreme of espousing radical feminism. And many claimed the change was so sudden that they felt alienated by what the artist was doing, and they also felt he used too many strawmen in setting up his cases, and of course Ishida did not help by supposedly attacking the detractors by accusing them of not upholding egalitarian ideas and that kind of stuff.

Now I’m basically a non-standard reader of Sinfest, in that I like to take lengthy breaks rather than follow a strip day-by-day, so that I can get the full rush of reading multiple story arcs at once without anticipation, so it was probably about 2-3 years since I read the last strip, and only caught up with the whole thing now. I think that’s the best way to read it, because really when you have a daily strip like that, and when it’s fully self-created without any backing from a major newspaper and editors and all that, you have one of the most organic styles of art you can find out there. You get to experience day by day shifts in mood, changes in art style, subject matter, all that kind of thing.

So Sinfest is interesting to me because it represents how an artist adapts and accommodates new visions within himself, and how he reacts to the world in opposition to him.

It’s quite interesting because David Foster Wallace spoke about the easy and cynically destructive qualities of satire, and tried to make a manifesto calling for new forms of sincerity, and Ishida lives up to the task completely. He shows us what it’s like to be brutally not-funny and preachy and trying to live up to some ideal after spending several years laughing everything away with excessive amorality. How many satirical cartoons or whatever you’re seeing nowadays have ever even tried to stake a claim on some sort of belief at the cost of alienating everyone who just wanted the laughs and the quick and easy critiques without any resolution? No matter how wrong or extremist you think the stand is, its quite a thing to do in this day and age.

By 2015 I feel that Ishida has pretty much full control of his vision and has quite frankly a CRAZY BEAUTIFUL art style Now every single Sunday strip is just an exercise in pure mood. His Sunday strips are usually tied to the plot, but they can also set up a single atmosphere just within one strip:

http://www.sinfest.net/view.php?date=2015-01-25

http://www.sinfest.net/view.php?date=2015-02-08

http://www.sinfest.net/view.php?date=2015-04-19

http://www.sinfest.net/view.php?date=2015-07-19

And it never fails to be beautiful even while he’s espousing the most radical of his views

http://www.sinfest.net/view.php?date=2015-05-17

That’s probably what happens when you draw a script reclusively every day for 15 years.

At the bottom of it all, to probably appreciate Sinfest at its finest, you probably have to realize that the main character of the story isn’t any of his archetypes or any of his strawmen or whatever, but its really Ishida himself. Although the way he’s fine tuning his characters per strip, making them more rounded, less straw-like, more empathetic, while also using the Sunday strips as emotional punctuation to develop their character further, makes me genuinely interested in their stories. In fact I don’t get why people levy that his pacing is off, but then again not only did I read the whole thing in bulk, but I also read it in such a way that my speed was fully controlled, so any place that felt like a drop in the story, I was quite okay with going through it at quite a fast pace. I guess that’s the great curse of being a daily artist, in that people are never able to see the broad strokes you’re painting out because they experience things so minutely.

Anyway the great narrative of Sinfest is Ishida’s Osamu Dazai level male angst towards himself hidden behind all of his character arcs and political messages. Because while an abrupt shift into feminism is jarring from a narrative point of view, you have to read the respective epiphanies behind it. I wouldn’t say something like Sinfest is Ishida’s strangled cry or something stupidly interpretative like that, but when you have a work that is built day by day over the gradual changes of a personality, then how can you not have the artist put himself fully into a strip? The whole shift is like Kanye West levels of interesting.

In fact what Ishida is seemingly doing to himself per strip is kind of amazing and beautiful. Destroying the various relationships of his characters and re-orienting the comic away from the males to the female characters wholly opposite of his main sensibilities, and mixing satire with stuff that looks suspiciously fraught with personal grief (like the whole Uncle Sam going to strip clubs of ‘oppressed countries’ and indulging in ‘XXX Imperialism’ on his computer), yet despite all that still trying desperately to retain heartwarming and warm character moments everywhere with his new artistic capabilities. Most of the male characters are locked up in this horrible cage of sexual self-devastation (which may possibly be Ishida’s own), while the female characters are desperately trying to carve a spot for themselves in a world where they have to receive the excess brunt of the pent-up rage, and they’re the main ones who are getting any genuine friendship or romance or calm heartwarming moments.  There’s a whole struggle behind it that we aren’t seeing and quite frankly, in my opinion, it all the more reinforces the now radically feminist message of the comic, because while the arguments, on a logical level, are quite superlative, the strife of depicting the amount of self-loathing a man can do to himself is wholly real.

And so that’s Sinfest, one of the greatest male psychosexual internal dramas you’ll ever read on the web in your life.

Bite Sized: Bigelow, Point Break and Verticality

The ongoing wisdom of the current generation is vertical as opposed to horizontal, in that worth, or value, in life, is solely dictated by the crests. That’s why you have the whole idea of bucket lists, and telling you to do things like jumping out of airplanes and experiencing overstimulated highs on various other such life-things, and every other moment is time that you slough through in order to reach such highs.

You can say that most Army marketing works on the same principle. But the strangest thing to me has always been the assertion that such experiences last ‘a lifetime’. That’s always the saying, that “the pain is temporary while the experience lasts a lifetime”.

Yet at every moment we only really have around maybe 4 slots in our working memory, and long term memory works through correlation chains that pieces together various bits of disparate parts into fully integrated concepts. If you really want an experience that lasts a lifetime, then you have to find a way to attach that ‘thrown a grenade’ concept to the correlation chains or patterns of whatever the heck you’re doing at any moment in time. Otherwise, I don’t think that any experience or supposed ‘high’ I’ve had in the Army so far really extends to ‘a lifetime’. In fact maybe the experience of pain correlates better, because everybody has a certain upper limit for pain that is constant throughout their lives as long as no interference is experienced, and, like Orwell states:

“There is another feeling that is a great consolation in poverty. I believe everyone who has been hard up has experienced it. It is a feeling of relief, almost of pleasure, at knowing yourself at last genuinely down and out. You have talked so often of going to the dogs–and well, here are the dogs, and you have reached them, and you can stand it. It takes off a lot of anxiety.”

And that is what the Army teaches you, your threshold and tolerance for dealing with suffering and boredom. The experience is temporary, while the pain lasts a lifetime.

But then again it isn’t necessarily good to tout this, like Army marketing does again, as a good thing. There’s the possibility that knowledge of this correlates with conscientiousness, that is, the standard idea that suffering begets tolerance which begets diligence. Still, this goes by a case-by-case basis. Wittgenstein probably became a better philosopher from the Army, but I don’t think Kant would have worked out his Critique if he had to burn time in the barracks. Conscientiousness is a tool, but Judgment is essential to its direction, and rarely does regimentation breed good Judgment.

But anyway I’ve strayed too far from the main point, which is vertical living. Kierkegaard is quite a ridiculous writer, but I have to thank him for his ideas on ‘crop-rotation’ and the Aesthetic lifestyle. Kierkegaard’s main idea is that an aesthete’s time is severely broken into parts, and he swings from moment to moment in idle appreciation. Spirituality or morality brings a continuous base that unites the whole of life into a life worth living, because such lifestyles are bought through a continuous ‘leap of faith’ at every moment. You don’t say “I want to be a Christian for days 1,3, and 5 of the week, and a Buddhist for 2 and 4” (even though some people probably live like that unknowingly). Likewise you don’t call yourself an egalitarian on public holidays and a conservative on working hours.

Split away from Kierkegaard’s philoso-speak, the easy way to describe the idea is that if you cannot find a foundational concept, project, vision, or worldview to correlate every moment of your life together, then it matters not how high your crests are because the experience of it wafts away as easily as it came. But Kierkegaard’s message was directed at even those supposed high-men of the humanities and the arts, in that poetry and music too is just a series of floating tasteful symbols and moods.

And even worse is this, that when you place your bets so tightly on these crests, you are, in the full Swedenborgian or Nietzschean conception of the word, building up your own Hell. This is the Hell where every choice you make, built towards those moments of slight sensory caress, vanishes away in a stream of banality and dust, and usually at the detriment of everyone around as well. Now even charity is made up like a crest of experience, and people think that one trip to the slums or some African village is enough to teach the whole world of constant wearing away that goes on in these places. Well, to all those guys, I say you should save your money. If you want to know gradual decay and suffering in its full splendour, just watch the whole cinematic output of Bela Tarr or Tsai Ming Liang.

Point Break is a movie about stimuli riding, and the best thing about it is that, like Spring Breakers by Harmony Korine, it is both amoral and subjectivized. The whole film works like a stimuli trip. It is both the drug and the medicine. It shows you the downwards spiral, and worst of all, it reflects the society back to itself when, like Spring Breakers, the box-office flows came rolling in solely due to the sensibility people had upon walking in. Point Break was one of Bigelow’s highest hits in cash terms, before the Hurt Locker won its Oscar. Its even parodied in Hot Fuzz, which is the film that tears apart every action movie genre trope, which probably indicates its worth as an action film.

The film is about an FBI agent, played by the stoner-speaking Keanu Reeves, going undercover as a surfer in order to find out the identity of a bunch of bank robbers called the Ex-Presidents (because they love to rob banks while wearing masks of Ex-Presidents on their head). Due to the frequency and location of the robberies, the robbers are linked to the beaches as surfers robbing banks to fund their surf trips.

Movie critic Steven Shaviro has written about the films of Bigelow here: http://www.shaviro.com/Blog/?p=862

His main comment is that Bigelow’s aesthetics “might have something to do with a kind of sensory immersion. This is aesthetics, both in the narrower sense of vicarious ravishment by works of art, and in the larger sense of “aesthetics” as a sensibility, a play of the senses, a kind of heightened reception”. She makes worlds and sensory assemblages and places you in these large scale stimulations. In Point Break you have the absolute tremor and beauty of the waves, and the visceral in-your-face action set-pieces. The robberies are all shot as cut-cut-cut-cut to one violence after another. Her style is quite mad in that way.

Point Break is what you call a smart exploitation film.

On the other hand Strange Days, usually considered Bigelow’s best in terms of her sheer vision, aptitude, and cinematography, is primarily about refuting the vertical lifestyle, despite itself also functioning as a straightforward action sci-fi noir.

The film centers on Lenny, a dealer of ‘memories’ in a cyberpunk society where experiences can now be recorded sense-for-sense into mini diskettes and played back directly into the cerebral cortex. Of course the result is that you have a whole underground full of ‘experience junkies’ and you have people purposely breaking-and-entering or committing crimes and then selling the bootlegged highs on diskette. Of course other than that there’s also a huge conspiracy involving police brutality and the record agency. Strange Days bounces a lot of these ideas around but its the memory-buying that I want to focus on.

Memory moments are shot in first-person, in a highly voyeuristic aesthetic. Lenny, the dealer, is stuck with replaying loops of sensations with his old girlfriend. These memories are played with high sensual closeness and nostalgia. Yet its this stuff that’s killing all these experience junkies.

That’s my whole view towards verticality, and, in extension, nostalgia (Sarah Horrocks critiques nostalgia here https://mercurialblonde.wordpress.com/2013/09/09/the-poisonous-bile-of-nostalgia-and-how-you-never-really-loved-anything/). You never forward-build to ideas, progress, ambitions, but you regress just buying hazy ‘good memories’. When your experiences are correlated to one another, you don’t have to rely on their merest sensations to span throughout the whole of life. And yet these correlations are built through sweat and constant re-evaluation, not on the experiences themselves.

Harder conceptions, rather than dreamier highs.