Tuesday, 10 February 2009

The rubble of a prolonged catharsis. Checking up that “proud cock” is two words, not one, so that I might strut it out, I came across the entry for “beast language“ in the Dictionary of Poetic Terms. The diction of the entry is either unconscionably vague or deliciously derisive: Theoretically, it seems the language of the poem moves backward from conceptual words to an intelligence of pure sound utterance that calls attention to the form, meaning, and derivation of the word. The form is probably meant to be experienced more than intellectually understood, an experience that presumably links the reader with his own senses and the animal origins of language. Since my knowledge of post-1940 American literature amounts to what I’ve read for pleasure and the Lord set Sunday aside for whimsical researches, I decided to find out whether the entry ought to be applauded or condemned. First up, according to Google Book Search, was a work I inadvertantly committed to the memory hole: William Gass’s The World Within the Word. In “Food and Beast Language,” Gass talks about something else entirely; namely, the forced materiality of Henry Miller’s prose. Of its effect on Miller’s signature subject, Gass concludes: Alas, the penis is such a ridiculous petitioner. It is so unreliable, though everything depends on it—the world is balanced on it like a ball on a seal’s nose. It is so easily teased, insulted, betrayed, abandoned; yet it must pretend to be invulnerable, a weapon which confers magical powers upon its possessor; consequently this muscleless inchworm must try to swagger through temples and pull apart thighs like the hairiest Samson, the mightiest ram. Because of this, Gass argues, Miller’s works traffic in compensation: They are not written, and do not belong on a page like Pynchon’s; nor are they spoken as Gaddis’s are; nor do they employ the formal oral eloquence of Sir Thomas Browne; they are talked, yarned like a sailor, endlessly gabbed; and his male readers at last must be reminded of the bluff good-fellow voice of the locker-room brag . . . well let me tell you when I saw her huge X, my! it was so Y that I nearly Z’d. The formulaic nature of Gass’s final clause typifies Miller’s mode of repetition without recursion. Miller endlessly repeats himself because he has reduced the world to things and the human body to meat. For Gass, embracing this reduction signals the lamentable end of a great talent gone stale—though it renders Miller quite easy to anthologize, as one can find the most suitable iteration of a thought without worrying that it might have been developed more carefully elsewhere. Michael McClure, the poet who schooled American literature in the niceties of “beast language,” thought differently. In The San Francisco Renaissance, Michael Davidson quotes McClure as saying: Every man has his treasure. It’s inside him. It’s called meat. I’m tempted to quibble with his formulation: if “it” equals “meat,” then “it” isn’t “inside him,” it is him. That aside, it’s not entirely clear how meat...
Lesson Planning 101: How to teach comics responsibly in a composition class (Watchmen) Same thing I did with The Dark Knight, only this time about the fourth issue of Watchmen. The same caveats apply. In Making Comics, Scott McCloud argues that there are six means of transitioning from one panel to the next; in the fourth issue of Watchmen, Alan Moore aims to confound all of them. (Heads up: I don't discuss them all here.) Unless otherwise indicated, all citations are of McCloud. The issue opens with Dr. Manhattan brooding on the pink Martian soil: In the first panel, Moore establishes the present moment via the present tense: "The photograph is in my hand." The word-picture combination here is duo-specific; that is, the words and the pictures deliver roughly the same message, such that the elimination of either wouldn't change the meaning of the panel. Note how specific Moore and Gibbons are here: the nouns in the sentence correspond precisely to the images in the panels because they went with a close-up of his hands holding the picture. That said, it could be argued that this panel is not duo-specific because the tense of "to be" provides readers the temporal baseline from which the narrative will diverge. In that case, the word-picture combination would be intersecting, meaning "the words and pictures cover some of the same ground, but each add significant detail or perspective to the scene." Given the importance of time to the issue, the tense of "to be" could certainly qualify as a significant detail. But you would have to argue that. One compelling reason to think of the combination as duo-specific is tonal: duo-specific panels evoke the tone of children's books. When a book implores a child to "See Dick run," the words render the picture redundant and vice versa because the book's trying to teach the child how to read. So when Moore informs with words what Gibbons tells literate adults with pictures, the effect is one of condescesion, i.e. the very emotion in which Manhattan traffics. In the second panel, the dialogue is word-specific; that is, "the words provide all you need to know, while the picture illustrates aspects of the scenes being described" (130). Word-specific captions are often used to compress time—slap "thirteen years later" on any picture and there you are, thirteen years later—but here Moore uses them to move us back and forth through time. Without the captions, the transition from the first to second to third panel would seem occur via action-to-action, because the panels follow a single subject in a series of actions: Dr. Manhattan holds the photo, drops it, picks it back and sits down. (Keep in mind for later: were that the case, we would have inferred actions not actually pictured.) The word-specific captions inform us that the transition is actually scene-to-scene. McCloud defines scene-to-scene as "transitions across significant distances of time and/or space" (15). Moore deliberately confounds that expectation in order to prepare the reader for twenty-six pages focused on a character for whom: the year 1959 (mentioned in the...

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