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Tuesday, 21 April 2009


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Comics a form of written and artistic narrative; invoke historical and literary tropes familar to literature but also advance new narrative forms; lots of canonical literature was aimed at children (Twain) or very commercial (Poe), and comics are a popular form of literature more influential culturally than most late 20c authors.....




Adam Roberts

I believe you were going to argue something about cricket. Which Jack London loved. And about which there are comics. Or comics.

Martin Wisse

Confusion of genre, medium and inherent litary value; the trajectory of acceptance of comics as objects worth studying being the same as that of earlier examples like film or television first as illumination of societal trends then as worth sutyding in their own right; yadda yadda.

Rich Puchalsky

Many of the above are good guesses, but don't focus on London specifically. So Martin for instance should just replace "earlier examples like film or television" with commercial magazine stories by London, Ahistoricality should replace his Twain / Poe examples. You'd probably use some of London's caveman character names.

But to really be an archetypal Acephalous post, let's see. While looking up canonical comics examples for the post, you run afoul of your university's anti-piracy initiative, which flags you for providing free electronic copies of comics to your class. You have permission to give them away, but before you can present this evidence, you receive a form letter saying that your employment will be terminated. You agonize about this for 1.5 weeks, until you meet the committee charged to determine your fate, at which all charges are dropped. However, by that time some right-wing comics fans on a site named, hmm, Back-Door Punisher (which they do not see any humor or double meaning in) have written a post about piracy which you commented on to explain your use of material for your class, and a commenter there freaked out, decided you were a Communist, and started sending posters of you to every comic store in the country, with your picture and contact information, labelled "COMIC BOOK PIRATE". While tearing down one of these posters, you receive a paper cut which becomes infected and actually have to go to the hospital because your doctor isn't available over the weekend, and there is a long, comical story in which you try to explain to a harried emergency room doc how you got the injury and given all the confused references to back-door piracy he mostly asks you questions about your possible STD exposure.

And then another post about Jack London.


Given the London angle I'm guessing:
Thirty years of Cultural Studies and New Historicism in literary studies (hyperlink to SEK's NH post) mean that: a) we study literature and expressive culture for reasons other than just greatness; b) there is no bright line to draw between works that we study for their awesomeness and ones that we study for their cultural insights; c) it's hard to tell if Benzon's saying that it's impossible for comics to be great or if he just doesn't know any; d) canonical authors can write some crap. I mean, have you seen this short story that Jack London wrote about cave people? God, it's awful!

Also (and this may not be your point, but it sure is mine) canon wars are stooopid. I agree with todd and Martin that film studies would be a good angle for you here. Also, to play the history thing again, wasn't there a point when anything in the vernacular would have been considered beneath study?

Also, also, the linked web essay is fine and all, but, seriously, does no one read Ariel Dorfman any more?


And I see that Martin already made that last point at the other place.


London's stck-in-trade was believable impossibility (as opposed to implausible probability)? But that's true about a lot of fiction.

The Black Avenger

Um, err, folks, Benzon himself doesn't give a crap about greatness or canonicity in his choice for objects to study. He was just trying to make some distinctions that were implied by SEK's discussion, but not made explicitly. But he really is interested in how much and in what way SEK cares about comic greatness, if at all. Or perhaps SEK is prepared to take a properly Devil-take-the-hindmost attitude on such shillyshallying.

FWIW when Benzon published a book chapter on Tezuka's Metropolis he made no claims of greatness nor did he apologize for doing serious analytical work on a text intended for pre-adolescent boys. He just went about his work with will and vigor.


I love that serious scholarship has been reduced to convention and propriety. So we really are the new Victorians, eh?

High art canonical texts: "Jane Austen, yes; Ernest Hemingway, yes; T. S. Eliot, yes; Rider Haggard, no; Agatha Cristie, no"

Since when did Jane Austen become high art? Let's do that again: "Virgil, yes; Dryden, yes; Chaucer, no; Rabelais, no" How does that look? I would love to see Bill try to argue for the "highness" of Rabelais...


I figured my little experiment would be successful, but I'm not sure how I feel about it being so much so. To begin:

Ahistoricality, you're almost on the money, but as Rich noted, I aimed it at London; todd., I wish I could've worked that in there, but alas! I could not; Martin, yes as to medium and yes as to gradual acceptance of film scholarship (television's on the border, so I went with the already established object of scholarly study); JPool, yes as to why we study what we study and yes as to whether we can justify it according to definitions of greatness; nk, JPool addressed that claim obliquely above, inasmuch as not only is much of what canonical authors wrote absolute crap, but because we don't read the crap, we're left making judgments like the one you did, because if you only read the "Best of" or "Collected" London, you get a much different picture than if you read "The Complete."

And Bill, thanks for letting me run this little experiment on your post. (I sent him an email, so he wouldn't be offended, because this could've been taken like "Duh, what SEK thinks is pretty obvious Bill, if you use your head for a second." It wasn’t that at all.

Also, Rich, you're getting far too good at spinning yarns about my misfortunes. If ever I need a ghostwriter, I know who to contact . . .

The actual post will be up shortly. I think it might be more interesting now that you've thought about what I'd say. In a way, this is sort of like what I'm doing with the class blog: priming my audience in order to make the performance more engaging. But we'll see.

P.S. JPRS, your comment wasn't up here when I wrote this earlier this afternoon, but I'll address it in the post.


Ahistoricality, you're almost on the money, but as Rich noted, I aimed it at London

Unfortunately I don't know enough London to know which works you'd aim at, so I used what I know. I could have referenced Heinlein, too ("the Jack London of SF") but you don't usually go for the golden age stuff.

Bill Benzon

Scott, you've not said anything about Adam's remark, which may be the most cogent of all. After all, he's English, no?

JPool's "a" & "b" are on point. That's certainly what I think. But I'm not sure how you folks got there: cultural studies and new historicism? But, for myself, I went through anthropology and cognitive science.

Still, I wonder, how many scholars are really THERE? And how many still retain residual ties to awesome greatness? (I know I do.)

JPRS, high cultural greatness is defined by standards of current academic respectability (in conjunction with Nigel Beale*) and has nothing, nada, to do with historical circumstances. Get with the program. Or learn cricket.



high cultural greatness is defined by standards of current academic respectability

Tautology alert!

Bill Benzon

Um, err, that's how canons work. All of them. Including the comics canon. They're all justified from the inside.


They're all justified from the inside

But from inside the academy?

And there's a great deal of "academic respectability" tied up in attacking the canon, in explicitly and deliberately examining works outside of the canon (and not for the purpose of canonizing them). There's a great deal of "great" culture which is, at best, ignored by the academy even though the vast majority of (at least reasonably educated) people consider them important, worthwhile, repositories of value and history and beauty.

Some of it can be justified (if the academy needs justification) on the grounds that they were academically respectable at one time, but to limit it to "current" fads and norms is to miss the point of culture.


No, go ahead with the current fads and consider Austen "high art"--just don't be surprised when we create our own fads and put her right next to Samuel Delaney and Chuck D on the shelf of "interlocutors with whose texts we can productive engage." Alexander Pope is there too, but so is Gene Roddenberry. Get with the program. Or learn to bowl a googly.

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