Monday, February 18, 2008

Barthelme and Gaines

A couple of years ago, I had a subscription to Bookforum, the bi-monthly magazine of book reviews and literary essays. I stopped getting it not because the quality had diminished (it hadn't), but because it made me want to buy dozens of books that I'd never have time to read. As I've grown older, more responsible, and busy as hell, I've found that comics are perfect for me not just because I love the pretty pictures, but because I rarely have an extended stretch of time to focus on a single narrative. The brief, 10-minute dose of a comic book story fits my schedule, and my newfound attention span, perfectly. While I might read five or six comics in a row, it's rarely without interruption--the kind of interruption that would ruin the effect of a nice, deep literary novel. But that's my problem.

Anyway, I picked up the newest (Feb/Mar 2008) issue of Bookforum the other day because it had two articles I was interested in. And I figured that if I'm interested in them, then you might be interested in them, so let me give you a few slices from each.

The first, entitled "The Beastly Beatitudes of Donald B.," by James Wolcott, champions the greatness of Donald Bartheleme (in conjunction with the re-release of several Barthelme volumes--most notably, to me, Not-Knowing: The Essays and Interviews which I was able to track down online several years ago, and has remained one of the books I return to again and again when I think about how to approach literature and narrative, from both a critical and creative perspective). Rather than summarize Wolcott's essay, I'll provide you with some snippets that might make you want to explore the works of Donald Barthelme (which, by the way, are often very brief, and thus, still fit into my 10-minute attention span):

"...part of the original exploding-alarm-clock novelty of Barthelme's Pop fiction was the pristine context in which it was first presented--the modest decor with which it clashed."

"His mastery of incongruity and curveball allusions helped liberate the whiz brains in the office and scramble the genetic code of [The New Yorker's] humor and fiction irregulars."

"His fan base probably will be a select band of aspiring wizards, and why should that be a cause for lament?"

"In 'The Sea of Hesitation,' reprinted in Flying to America, the narrator reflects, 'I pursue Possibility. That's something.' Barthelme did more than pursue Possibility--he enriched it, leaving the playground bigger and brighter than he found it."

The second section of the new issue of Bookforum that interested me was the excerpt from David Hajdu's book The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How it Changed America. Those of us interested in comic books know all about Seduction of the Innocent and the fall of EC Comics etc., etc. But Hajdu's excerpt indicates that his book will go into fascinating detail about this transformative period in American comic book history. I was vaguely interested in the book before, but after reading the excerpt, I'll be sure to pick up the book when it's released in March. Some snippets:

"To enforce the law [forbidding the sale of crime comics], the [Cleveland] police department established a permanent detail of two officers dedicated to the comic-book beat."

"The Cub [Scout]s who had gathered the most comics would have the honor of applying the torch to the books."

"'We got a lot of mileage out of scheming wives and vengeful husbands,' Gaines said. In EC's horror paradigm, the true graveyard was the living room of the American home."

"Feldstein supposed that word of the hearings had spread around Little Italy, and Gaines was now presumed to be in with the Mob."

Interesting, no?

1 comment:

marcwrz said...

Hmmm I'll pick up the latter, I love comics history and have done a few presentations and papers on it.