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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Monday, August 15, 2011

RATIOCENTRIC REBELLION

After my dream I lost command of words. All the chief words, anyway, the most necessary ones. But never mind, I shall go and I shall keep talking, I won't leave off, for anyway I have seen it with my own eyes, though I cannot describe what I saw. But the scoffers do not understand that. It was a dream, they say, delirium, hallucination. Oh! As though that meant so much! And they are so proud! A dream! What is a dream? And is not our life a dream? I will say more. Suppose that this paradise will never come to pass (that I understand), yet I shall go on preaching it. And yet how simple it is: in one day, in one hour everything could be arranged at once! The chief thing is to love others like yourself, that's the chief thing, and that's everything; nothing else is wanted—you will find out at once how to arrange it all. And yet it's an old truth which has been told and retold a billion times—but it has not formed part of our lives! The consciousness of life is higher than life, the knowledge of the laws of happiness is higher than happiness—that is what one must contend against. And I shall. If only everyone wants it, it can be arranged at once.
-- Dostoyevsky, DREAM OF A RIDICULOUS MAN, 1877 (tr. Constance Garnett)

Once or twice I've tossed out the neologism "ratiocentrism," loosely defined as a reaction against what I deemed false impositions of rational/reductive interpretations-- especially of literature, though the same principle could apply to any human activity. Ratiocentrism is my reaction against the post-structuralist concept of logocentrism, best defined as the "small-r" rationalist's extreme wariness of any system's evocation of a "Logos" in the form of an organizing principle or principles.

The last lines of the Dostoyevsky quote apply particularly well to those individuals goverened purely by reductive rational principles. For them "the consciousness of life is higher than life, the knowledge of the laws of happiness is higher than happiness." One hears echoes of this attitude in every elitist critic who insists that a given reader is intrinsically better off to read that which gives him a deep sense of that which is "grave and constant in life" rather than that which makes him happy.

Of course this attitude is far from exclusively modern, as Eccelesiastes tells us:

The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.


The rise of Derrida's form of logocentrism and of its literary response in post-structuralism was enchanced by a society that has enshrined the rationalization of life's processes over life itself. As a pluralist I would argue that one may learn as much, if not more, about the nature of life in the House of Mirth, whereas the House of Mourning may be a place where a given body may be subjected to dissection and/or embalming before it's properly dead.

That said, I don't agree with the vision of Dostoyevksy's narrator in his thinking that living by the Golden Rule alone could so transform society. And yet practitioners of literary pluralism should, after a fashion, value loving others as one does oneself, and, by extension, cultivating some degree of love for genres or literary modes even if one doesn't like every manifestation.

For example, I'm not fond of autobiographical comic books. Sometimes this has been a specific reaction against a particular creator, as with Harvey Pekar. Years ago, having read only one odd issue of AMERICAN SPLENDOR, I praised one of the sequences in a long essay written for COMICS JOURNAL (though it was unceremoniously re-routed to AMAZING HEROES, presumably because the essay said nice things about certain superhero books as well). Later, after I got to know Pekar's works more fully, I considered him a less than admirable practitioner of that genre. Nevertheless, I still esteem that one experimental sequence that I liked, even if I can't see much value in most of Pekar's work.

OTOH, I started buying YUMMY FUR early in its Drawn & Quarterly phase as a B&W independent. With the conclusion of the "Ed the Happy Clown" sequence, Chester Brown veered for the most part away from surrealist fantasy and concentrated far more on autobiography. And yet Brown's work retained a fascination for me despite his more mundane subject matter.

I might even characterize the two of them in terms Dostoyeskian: Brown gives the reader his life, while Pekar merely gives the reader his particular intellectual (or, in my judgment, pseudo-intellectual) take upon his life.

Therefore, thanks to Brown and occasional other toilers in this genre, I can stop worrying and learn to love autobio, at least as much as is humanly possible. I suppose there may be elitists out there who make some comparable on behalf of the occasional "good superhero," even if they disdain the genre as a whole.

Chilling thought, that there may such a thing as a conscientious elitist.

Not that I've run into many on the 'net lately. But hope springs, eternally ridiculous.

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