Sunday, 20 March 2011

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Enid and Rebecca aren't winning Ghost World Given that I already related my attempt to make the final day of my "Slow Horror" course memorable, it only makes sense to do the same for the "Confessional Narratives." The final works we studied were the print and film versions of Daniel Clowes' Ghost World, both of which I hate with a pre-critical vicerality that—to pat myself on the back for being responsible—doesn't prevent me from acknowledging their importance and teaching them anyway. That said, I find the book far more unlikeable than the film. Consider the scene in which Enid and Rebecca first meet the waiter they dub "Weird Al" in the novel: It's not that they mock the decor of a restaurant they patronized solely to patronize, but the manner in which they treat Allen. Enid responds to his "Hi! My name is Allen" with "Hi, Al!" If he had wanted to be called "Al," presumably he would have introduced himself as such. Enid renames him on the spot, and without getting all pop-philosophical about the significance of the act of naming something, her behavior here is indicative of her general belief that she's superior to people who look and are employed like him. But Rebecca's response is even more indecorous: the insult that had been implicit in Enid's renaming is explicit in Rebecca's question, "Can we call you 'Weird Al'?" That she asks whether "we" can call him "Weird Al" is significant, because throughout the book she's only emboldened to behave in this manner when Enid initiates such encounters. In short, then, Enid's culpable both for her own statement and for Rebecca's, because Enid's responsible for the dynamic that makes Rebecca feel perpetually, if not always consciously, egged-on. At this point in the analysis, it's possible for readers to attribute the pair reveling in their unearned sense of superiority to an authorial critique, i.e. that Clowes is representing their reprehensible behavior, not endorsing it. But as I noted in my earlier post, Clowes' own—albeit earned—sense of superiority infects most of his work, in this case in the fifth panel above. Despite my formalist tendencies, I don't normally place too much stock into matters like the placement of speech bubbles, but between teaching this and Alison Bechdel's Fun Home, I'm compelled to ditch my insistence that where the text is placed on a page matters less than whether readers can quickly ascertain the manner in which it was intended to flow. So, for example, in the second panel above Enid's conversation-stopping "Whatever" is separated from the mock-Fifties banter not only for the pragmatic reason that it wouldn't fit, but because it's meant to indicate a distinct break in the established conversational rhythm. Clowes could've drawn the panel in a manner that placed it immediately beneath Rebecca's question, but that would suggested that Enid responded immediately; instead, placing it beneath the table suggests that she paused a beat before humiliating Rebecca for playing the language game Enid herself had initiated. Apply the same logic of placement to the...

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