Archive for 2007

i’ve been a fan of nicholas gurewitch’s perry bible fellowship comic strip for years. the first time i visited the comic’s website gurewitch had been drawing the comics for a while. so i compulsively pored through every one, addicted to their unpredictable humour. ‘unpredictable’ is a common point of praise for the series, and can be said to relate both to the nature of the punchlines themselves, as well as gurewitch’s artistic versatility.

here are a couple of my favourites: nice shirt, not today little one and no one is thirsty.

though each strip is a stand-alone three or four panel piece, the artwork differs from comic to comic, with some beautifully intricate, others reminiscent of 40s crime comics and yet others featuring utterly simple linework. but the varying artistic styles are united by what gurewitch calls ‘a certain type of storytelling’, which often involves a final panel rendering the whole tableau ridiculously funny.

it requires restraint and skill to craft such hilarious perfection, which is reflected in gurewitch’s comparatively slow production rate. the hit rate of the series is also uneven; sometimes my reaction is solely intellectual rather than tickled. but many of the strips are comic sledgehammers – as likely to elicit a belly laugh as having a very clever friend tell you her most wily joke. and you can be sure that if you aren’t so sweet on a certain one, someone else will be. i have read through these with sam and our approving laughter alternated fairly predictably.

the trial of colonel sweeto is gurewitch’s first published collection and has deservedly already hit the amazon bestseller list. you can try out the goods on the internet too, for free.

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Shit. Did you see a little brown dog run that way? Potato!
Are you sure? Potato! He must have just run out. Potato!
I wasn’t paying attention.
Well, you would have seen him. Shit. Potato!
Jesus. Well, if you see him, grab him and bring him back over here. He’s a little brown dog, his name is Potato. Potato!

- from “Majesty”

There are sixteen stories in this, Miranda July’s debut collection of short stories. Many of them have been published before in publications such as The New Yorker, which is important enough to have a capital ‘T’ in its ‘The’, and The Paris Review, which has the same distinguished definite article as well as the significant advantage of being at least nominally Parisian.

Each story is told by or about a person who faces an obstacle. This obstacle seems to take the form of something very specific, like a dog, or a vanished voodoo lover, or another person. But if the person would be honest with themselves they would realise that:

a) the obstacle is really their self, and
b) on the other side of this obstacle is life and the world.

This state of affairs is pretty confronting. As such this book might be said to have an instructive purpose. But the author is very loving about it. The naive, underdeveloped affect of July’s protagonists cannot obscure a simultaneously abject and absolute humanity, the humus in the dirt. Read this if you are a person, even if you do not like the colour yellow. To cultivate empathy and strength, read this book.

oh vienna. you won’t feel the same about the city again. the piano teacher stabs all the senses, a disparate flinging of words unified by the protagonist erika kohut’s austerity and the author jelinek’s control. to gingerly peer out at jelinek’s vienna through peeled fingers is to chafe your hands as well.

with barely a hint of gentleness, the triangular becomes the linear as the imagined and actual interactions between erika, her mother and erika’s student walter klemmer fail to resist the banality of infected self-awareness. though the main source of misery is patently the inflamed relationship between mother and daughter, much more in the novel than in michael haneke’s 2001 film does the relationship between erika and klemmer attain its horrific and destructive character from the sense that they are both diseased, not just erika – two blind bulls thrusting their crenellated horns at one another.

the volatility of the interplay between the kohuts and klemmer eventually explodes in a painful, technicolour rumination on sequestration and etiolated delusion. though the novel thrusts individual acts of violence upon the reader, most terrible is erika’s fate; she is not wholly self-destructive but is able to sustain her cursed context. an anti-triumphal masterpiece, the piano teacher‘s every word is lacerating.

the best thing about reading this book is annoying the shit out of everyone saying that everything they do is ‘freudian’. seriously, try it.

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i juxtapose this with no logo for the following reasons. whereas no logo is radical, thorough, wide-ranging and empowering, judith levine’s not buying it is whatever words occur to you as the opposite of those preceding. i probably deserved what i got for buying this. i assumed that this book would be at least predominantly one of the following: a) radical, b) inspiring, c) instructive, d) entertaining, e) heart-warming. but i did not feel radicalised, inspired, instructed, entertained or heart-warmed by it in the least.

not buying it is a title which speaks to radicalism, but levine’s method wasn’t aimed at, or informed by radicalism at all. levine allowed herself to buy things, albeit basic ones. however, these things weren’t necessarily radical in themselves, like fruit trees. she still bought food (though restricted types) and other necessities. this strategy raises the question of what her goal is – to actively and sustainably reduce materialist wastage? or ‘just to see’? there is no question that not buying it treads the latter path, which makes for minimal education and challenge.

equally ambivalent is levine’s writing style. occasionally her use of personal anecdotes as jumping boards for wider discussion of consumption and capitalism works, but it doesn’t happen enough. there are lots of cute stories about making gifts for family members and joining non-consumption groups that fall slightly flat once you realise levine has a limit in terms of how far she’s willing to go. at the resolution of levine’s travails, her relief is palpable, which is discouraging to say the least.

end with a ready-made joke right here:

October 9, 2007

people are real assholes about naomi klein these days. i don’t mean media, because i haven’t noticed any, but normal people. when i was reading no logo, someone asked me why i was reading ‘that‘. but it is honestly the most influential book i have read this year. i know i am a little late. and it is outdated, though not due to any missteps on klein’s part. but i passed by her new book the shock doctrine: the rise of disaster capitalism in borders last week, for fuck’s sake. and i thought ‘oh shit. i’ve got to get onto that’.

i’m fuzzy on the detail of no logo because i read it months ago now. but when i did, it galloped around lassoing many of my left leanings with logic, research and optimism. i think i would have killed myself if i was naomi klein by now. i should probably still consider some kind of self-punishment: i still own nike shoes. i still have friends who go to starbucks. but i am trying to be more political with my money. everyone should read this.

“six times eleven isn’t sixty-eight. it isn’t ever. it’s sixty-six, i know for a fact.”
“she said so. she admitted it. what else did she lie about?”
“i don’t know,” he said. “stuff.”
“what stuff?”
“well.” he swung his legs back and forth. “you ever see an animal that was half lion and half bird?” he crossed his arms. “it sounded real fakey to me.”

- from
gryphon by charles baxter

hey so i was talking to this guy right. he was a real nice guy, looked real good, and he had no rings on his fingers, no watch on his wrist, he wasn’t wearing anything on his hands at all. i only met him by chance, a helped chance – a friend said to me, i think you’ll really like this guy. we were talking, and everything he said made me think “yes! yes! yes!”

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