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Thursday, 12 August 2010

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Rich Puchalsky

"it is indicative of how Sim would later come to abuse the very creative freedom that once allowed him to become one of the strongest and most innovative in literature, of the graphic variety or otherwise."

There's the decline-and-fall criticism of Sim, or -- put another way -- the genius-gone-crazy summary of Sim.

And I don't think it meets the facts of a close reading of Cerebus. Whatever his biography was, Sim as author always was a misogynist. It's true that as the series went on, he elaborated more and more complex crazy theories to justify his misogyny. Is that an abuse of creative freedom? Or is that a bigoted person giving full development to the artistic expression of his bigotry?

As I've said before, I think that the genius-gone-crazy bit is more for the benefit of the critics than it is a really valid critical reading of his work. The critic says that a) Sim's a genius (something which I dispute, but never mind that for now), b) his views are really objectionable. As insulation from the second of these, they invent two Sims, the second of which failed the first. But the first was doing moronic, sexist jokes from day 1. And really, I think Sim's view of his character Jaka always being the same, and changing more because of the narrative viewpoint on her than anything else, is more accurate than yours.

Compare a reading of PKD. Did PKD go crazy and start writing a lot of religious gibberish? Well, yes. Were his later, religious novels notably different from his earlier ones? Again yes. But the religious themes in his later work were always there in his earlier books. He flipped out and lost the ability to write as he previously had, in many senses, yes. But that isn't "an abuse of creative freedom" -- since PKD by that time was starting to get a certain degree of creative freedom too -- it's an unfortunate mental-health-disease event in the life of the author that brought out, in exaggerated form, what was there already.

SEK

And I don't think it meets the facts of a close reading of Cerebus. Whatever his biography was, Sim as author always was a misogynist. It's true that as the series went on, he elaborated more and more complex crazy theories to justify his misogyny. Is that an abuse of creative freedom? Or is that a bigoted person giving full development to the artistic expression of his bigotry?

I think I mentioned this last time, but I lump Sim in with Faulkner: great artists with obvious character faults that they could, if they chose to, struggle to overcome. I think Faulkner came closer: he was born, raised and died a racist, but a work like Light in August documents the struggle of a mind attempting to overcome its own prejudices. I think Jaka's Story represents the last bit of struggle Sim would attempt, and as such is an interesting document in its own right. There's a reason I contrast the Wilde quotation from 126 to the unhinged rant in 182 in that first post: they're indicative of two incompatible, if intuitive, theories of the value of and rationale behind artistic expression, and they differ so strongly from one another that it's almost difficult to believe the same person endorsed each of them in a little under four years.

Rich Puchalsky

I understand the point about Faulkner, but I guess I think it's important to distinguish between "abuse of creative freedom" in style and in content.

Did Sim abuse his creative freedom by diverting his comic into long rants that had no appreciable aesthetic value -- irrespective of content? Perhaps we can agree on that in some form. The rants began in his letter pages, if I remember rightly, and spread to the comic itself. I think that some of the later pages that are basically nothing but rant can be judged as artistic failures without really getting into what is being ranted about.

Did Sim abuse his creative freedom by taking once-complex female characters and flattening them into stereotypes, as consistent with his elaborated misogynist ideology? That's what you seem to be getting at with the "It is indicative" quote at the end. Sim asserts that the character of Jaka was always a self-absorbed aristocratic airhead, and that the later Jaka is consistent with the middle Jaka. And this is held up as an example of what happened in the work itself.

And I'm not sure I believe it. I guess I should hold off here -- or go back to the earlier posts? -- but to show this, you're going to have to show that Jaka has some complexity that goes beyond what the male narrative viewpoint of the comic imputes to her. I know that authorial interpretation doesn't control the meaning of a work. But I'm particuarly suspicious of counter-authorial interpretations here because people basically create two or three Sims in order to do it, an early one who writes trivial parodies, a middle one who creates art, and a later crazy one who "abuses the creative freedom" won by the middle one. And I don't see as much difference between the three as all that.

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