4.

Fatherly Advice – Meeting – Spheres – Arrival – The Witness, a story – with readings on possibility, appreciation, influence, appropriation, commitment, and transience in art (The following is a work of satire. The people and events depicted, including those based on real people and events, are all entirely fictional.)

*****

Probably anyone who’s ever had a daily train commute has thought of something like The Witness. I’d had the basic elements of the story for years, though I couldn’t seem to make them work together. It wasn’t until I decided to look up The Girl on the Train (after more than a year at the top of the bestsellers list, it suddenly occurred to me I’d probably been scooped again, anyway—I could hardly believe it when I found out I hadn’t been, that Ms. Hawkins had apparently forgone the more interesting possibility after skirting it so closely) that everything finally clicked into place. I figured I should still try to get it out before the movie release.

*When I think of the problems of contemporary literature, I often think of Jonathan Franzen. This is not entirely fair: I have never read a whole book or essay by Mr. Franzen; but then, after reading a few sentences in one or another, I have never felt compelled to, either. This interview is the most I have ever read of the author in his or anybody else’s words, and I think it will probably be enough. A lot has been made of his reluctance to write about race, and of the specific reasons he gives for that reluctance. And, to be sure, these are all patently ridiculous. But they also seem to me fairly typical. The Romantics, the Realists, the Modernists, and even the Postmodernists all argued for expanding the possibilities of art, at least to some extent (Becca Rothfeld’s piece on W.G. Sebald offers as good a rebuttal to Franzen as any); the current trend is decidedly toward restriction.

*As a reader of comics, I think a lot of what I respond to is the creators’ confidence, not only in their chosen medium (sometimes more like defiance in light of the fact that comics makers still feel they have something to prove, while fiction writers are desperately trying to cling to preeminence), but in the importance of art itself—in other words, their faith. James Cartwright profiles a handful of independent comics publishers and true believers here. (Chicago record label Trouble in Mind has a similar approach.)

*Mark Ford writes about T.S. Eliot (also a publisher, don’t forget) and the fine line between reading and writing: “Certainly Eliot’s mind was a vast, labyrinthine echo chamber…”

*Digital copies of the first two volumes of Cerebus are available here for free. It’s an important work: a sort of comics echo chamber, and a milestone in self-publishing; and although it eventually devolves into an unhinged, misogynistic jeremiad (even then worth looking at, if only for the contributions of long-suffering background artist Gerhard), that doesn’t really start to happen until the second half of the fifth volume (Jaka’s Story). A 2005 article by Douglas Wolk (excerpted here), marking the completion of the series after twenty-seven years, was a huge influence on me long before I began reading comics again.

*Love and Rockets is another major influence. Jack Kirby and Glen Baxter, too.

*Jean Grey’s god-like power and death loomed over my childhood. Jason Middleton explains the continuing appeal of the Dark Phoenix Saga, and of comics collecting and reading more broadly. In the process, he also touches a little on what I am trying to do in prose:

Grieving is conventionally described as a process of seeking closure. Artist-theorist Scott McCloud describes “closure” with a different meaning the cognitive process of observing the parts but perceiving the whole — as central to the experience of reading comics. He suggests that the space between panels termed “the gutter” activates the human imagination to form a single idea from two separate images. For McCloud, closure is the very grammar of comic books, through which readers construct “a continuous, unified reality” from a series of discrete moments.

But this “continuous reality” is continuously in process. The kinetic bodies of beloved characters give way to lines and gaps on a page and back again; closure is deferred the moment it is achieved. In turn, the serial form of comic book narratives offers temporary resolutions only to introduce new conflicts. And collectors add pieces to a vast puzzle, fitting sections together even as the puzzle grows larger with each new issue. Comic books work best when each of these interconnecting types of closure — cognitive, narrative, and archival — feels present but fleeting, possible but just out of reach.

from Comic Book Melancholia, LARB August 25, 2016

*The diary comics of Gabrielle Bell and Laura Lannes, and These Days, a story in progress by GG, are all new sources of inspiration. (Digital versions of GG’s previous books are also available for free; though if you like them—and I don’t see how you can’t—please consider supporting her work with a donation.)

*An excellent piece of short fiction by Jonathan Basile has made me reconsider a story of my own I’d abandoned a long time ago.

*This article about Dennis Cooper and the most likely accidental deletion of his beloved website, The Weaklings, reminded me of the review I’d linked to earlier of Don Delillo’s Zero K. Volunteer archivists are trying to save as much writing as they can after the more purposeful destruction of Gawker. Even David isn’t going to last. Recently, in addition to Middleton, cultural critics Vinnie Mancuso, Justin Joffe, and Jessica Ritchey have all written something about fleetingness as well, about art and its relation to both the ephemeral and the eternal.

*Another reminder that my publishing schedule calls for Decembers off, and that the November issue will be posted on the third Tuesday of the month. As always, if you would like to discuss any of this in real time, make sure to follow dreadfulpoint on Twitter, and thedreadfulpoint on Instagram.

Next issue: October 4th

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