Saturday, 15 January 2011

The man is determined to lose. Jack Cashill — the man who claims his literary sensibilities rival those of a latter-day Auerbach — proves yet again, again, to have problems being intellectually honest. In “Obama Does Best When He Says Nothing,” Cashill compares the President to “Chauncey Gardiner, [who] is the protagonist of Jerzy Kosinski’s 1971 prescient satire, Being There, which was later made into a movie of the same name, co-scripted by Kosinski.” Because his ethos, such as it is, relies so heavily on the impression that he is a man of letters, he neglects to inform the reader that the quotations he draws from Kosinski’s “prescient satire” are not, in fact, in the novel. They are, however, in the film. As I am the last person about to denigrate film as a medium, my point here is not to belittle Cashill for quoting from a film, but simply to note that, like most disreputable literary critics, he believes his credibility relies on always being the first to “lose” a game of Humiliation.* *From David Lodge’s Changing Places: He taught them a game he had invented as a postgraduate student, in which each person had to think of a well-known book he hadn’t read, and scored a point for every person present who had read it. The Confederate Soldier and Carol were joint winners, scoring four points out of a possible five with Steppenwolf and The Story of O respectively, Philip in each case accounting for the odd point. His own nomination, Oliver Twist — usually a certain winner — was nowhere. “What do you call that game?” Melanie asked Philip. “Humiliation.” “That’s a great name. Humiliation …” “You have to humiliate yourself to win, you see. Or to stop others from winning. (96)
On wordiness and time in Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead I'm transitioning from teaching film to comics in my unfortunately named "Slow Horror" course tomorrow and so I'm preparing to introduce my students to comic conventions using Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead. Kirkman's wordiness works to my advantage, as with duo-specific word-picture relations: Kirkman didn't need to inform the reader that Glenn returned with toilet paper because the paper is clearly visible. Because the characters are constantly carrying on, examples of them pointing out the obvious abound. The same applies for interdependent word-picture relations: Notice the difference between the examples McCloud used at the link and Kirkman and penciller Tony Moore's panel? The examples use textual elements in a variety ways—be it thought balloons or captioned narration—but the Kirkman and Moore panel only uses them as a means for delivering direct dialogue. It wasn't until I wrote the previous sentence that I realized the same might be true for the entire run of The Walking Dead. After I flipped through the first few issues to confirm my suspicions, I thought about why he might have chosen to eschew one of the formal properties of comic grammar that differentiates it from televisual media: natural interiority. Unlike first-person voice overs in television and film, thought balloons and captions provide a window into the mind of character without calling attention to themselves as narrative devices. In other words, there is nothing special about the audience's access to the mind of the characters because such access is a feature of the medium so ingrained as to be beneath notice. A comic book in which such access is never granted creates characters whose motivations seem cryptic despite the fact that such access is almost never granted on television or in film. To be uncharitable: Kirkman is writing a television show that happens to be in a comic book and the fact that it was adapted is a function of its easy adaptability. But to say that would be to miss the point, which is that the ease with which it could be adapted obscures what has been lost in the translation to the small screen: because interior access is only very rarely granted, whatever is gained by withholding it in the book is lost in the transition to the screen. The characters will no longer be ciphers whose thoughts must be inferred from their words and actions: they will merely be characters on a television show. The implications for the television show are obvious: recreating the suspicious atmosphere of the comic must be done by other means ... which I will discuss when I teach the show next week. Returning to the panel above: the wordiness of that specific panel and the book generally creates some interesting formal difficulties, the most interesting of which relates to the disconnect between the single expression on his face and the time it would have taken him to speak all those words. As represented in that panel, time is both slowing to a halt (visually) and speeding up (verbally)....

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