Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Relevance is what you bring to the situation.

Long couple of threads at LGM on geek gatekeeping (and here)--I was procrastinating there instead of working on a piece of bricolage and pastiche in the form of a visual scrapbook of my daughter's life at school for her graduation.  At any rate I thought parts of this comment were on point for the Proust/Genji project.

aimai says:
I read that long interaction with anon and I actually thought her points were really pretty good–if you didn’t mean yourself to come across that way you really need to re-examine how you are expressing yourself. In the absence of traditional forms of power and repression–money, ownership, copywrite, patriarchy, labor relationships no heritage is going to be transmitted free of some kind of change–like a game of telephone. If you don’t have a really strict oral tradition which includes beating people for making mistakes or changing the oral text novelty is just going to creep in. People are going to interpret things differently, talk about them differently, introject their own experiences differently. That’s just the way its going to be. You can mourn that and see that as a loss of purity or a loss of tradition, or you can celebrate it, but you simply can’t stop it.
I’m engaged in a totally pointless and self centered blogging project in which I blog a bit every day about Proust, or the Tale of Genji, and/or in a subsidiary fashion whatever I’m reading about. Today I was reading Walter Benjamin on Proust, and Hanna Arendt on Walter Benjamin–that’s all about tradition, cutting bits out of tradition, rearranging quotes and ideas into pastiche, reflecting on our experience through a kind of bricolage of things we’ve read, seen, cared about, held, talked about–In Benjamin’s essay on being a book collector and in his essay on Proust he specifically talks about the ways in which we try to stop time by holding onto the experiences we associate with a thing–like a book–and how we value the search for the book more than even reading the book. How finding it in an out of the way shop, in a new city, is more meaningful than merely ordering a specially bound copy. You might argue–and he does–that Proust tried to do the same thing with particular memories.
But when we read Proust, or a comic, or a comic that we read as a child or a teen–we are not the same person as that person back then, or as Proust. We bring something new to our own experience. So each new geek, coming to geekery (if its a thing) with their own experiences and their own memories, is going to enrich each new interaction. They can’t replicate your (Brad’s) experience anymore than when they eat ice cream they remember cold icecream sitting at Brad’s Aunt Betsy’s table while reading his first Green Arrow. But maybe their telling of their experience can enrich this timeline’s Brad and change his feeling about Green arrow retrospectively?


  1. The example I often use is rereading/seeing King Lear (one of my favorite plays) at different ages. (As a teenager I judged Lear the character more harshly than I did in my 20s, and so on.) Art can say more than thing at once, and speak differently to different people. One of the hallmarks of great art is that we can discover new things about it (and ourselves) with repeated visits.

    For that matter, the (serious) Russian approach to theater does this, too; rehearse a Chekhov play for two years, try to capture and represent real life on stage (those are the stakes and the standard), then perform that play once or twice a month for years, maybe a decade… and each time, you will bring something slightly different, based on an encounter on the subway, or a fight at home, or a small kindness.

    I've never liked those who feel the need to be "intellectually correct," or hipster before the term existed… For instance, reveling in Lichtenstein and Warhol (which is fine) when they really want to say,' I like pop culture, dammit!' but they're afraid of being judged negatively, so they have to like things ironically or through some other sheen of in-group respectability. Typically, they can only "enjoy" the approved notions about the thing and not the thing itself. (Or there's that martinet of a doctor at the end of Mrs. Dalloway, looking at the name plaque of the painter – rather than truly gazing at the painting itself – to gauge its worth.)

    Not all pop culture can stand up to the same depth of scrutiny as, well, true classics, but that's fine. (Hey, Shakespeare wrote some mediocre plays, too; they're not all masterpieces.) And some pop culture does work very well on the revisiting level. Alan Moore and David Gibbons' Watchmen is deliberate and multilayered, and one of the great works of the medium. Carl Barks' Uncle Scrooge comic books are a sheer delight even as an adult (and were a great way to learn history and mythology when I was a kid). In other cases, maybe something doesn't hold up, but that doesn't mean one needs to denigrate one's past experience of liking it. Such realizations spur their own type of reflection. Ain't that kinda the point?

    Last thought: I'm generally turned off when someone tries to "pull rank" in certain fields where I've dwelled – film, theater, language, comedy… The people who will say, "You're wrong [to like that]" and not even with a wink, essentially trying to shut down a discussion with a power game. I find it's more helpful to say (genuinely) 'Really? That's interesting. What did you like about it?' or 'See, that didn't work for me, because…" Then, rather than a pissing match, we're having a conversation. I don't always achieve that, but I think the key is actually being interested in other people's thoughts and experiences. Funny how that works, huh?

  2. Yes, I agree. I was thinking about this in terms of performances as well--not just from the performative aspect but about how the classics are always being re-interpreted, that's part of our delight in watching (somethings) when they are well done. Discovering the motifs and allusions in an updated or altered version of the Jesus story--oh, Buffy is Jesus! She sacrifices herself!--or this character is Adonis and returns, or this character is Orpheus (Buffy has an Orpheus) and goes to hell and returns. And not just Buffy but Shakespeare. Or the all gospel/black musical version of Guys and Dolls my husband swears he saw years ago of which we can find no trace.

    In fact I could say the same about my Passover Seder, or any Passover Seder where you have composed your own Haggadah, picking and choosing the relevant passages, their order, their explication and performance, their illustrations. This process can be an hommage, a parodty, a pastiche or even an attack. Its not wrong that you are doing it--this is how people participate in the making of their own culture.

    But, I suppose, reflecting back on the intense animus shown by some guys who like to assert the primacy of their own experience, it can be seen as an attack by an outsider, a wrongful appropriation. Too bad, very sad. As I pointed out elsewhere on those threads absent a serious boundary keeper (other than language) a group which can't reproduce, or ban outsiders from citizenship, isn't going to outlast the outsiders. The huns are within the gate on the kind of geek culture (if it exists) which is pathologically afraid of women, non whites, and skillful practitioners of outsider arts like attractiveness and style. Once they are in they are in and the world is theirs.

  3. BTW: I love the Watchmen and (if I may boast) was collecting Alan Moore before he was cool and started with his Swamp Thing re-write. I have all the Swamp Things back to Number 1 in order t understand what he was trying to accomplish in his revision. But I admit I stopped collecting comics about 20 years ago and only dipped back in for Promethea.

  4. Thinking of some friends of friends, particularly the glibertarian ones who work for gaming companies, they tend to be extremely opinionated and express themselves very forcefully. Mostly, they just expect everyone to deal with them the same way, and that's their standard for conversation, but at the worst, it descends to asshole behavior. (Since they've aged, a few have managed to get married.) I don't think they were ever actively misogynistic as much as clueless about other humans in general, although in their earlier years that veil of clueless surely was thicker when it came to women. But cluelessness is different from the hateful crap that's been spewed from male geeks toward women and that's so troubling. Not thinking a woman can be a good gamer is imbecilic, for instance, given all the counterexamples, and will not fly in some gamer communities or guilds. (Homophobia is dying more slowly.) But seriously, death threats? Crazy.

    (Also too, the dorktower cartoons linked at LGM were right on point.)

    As for comics, cool! I don't follow the scene anymore, but was an avid reader at one point. I only have a few issues of Swamp Thing (I'll have to pick up the trade paperbacks at some point), but have all 12 original issues of Watchmen, and a fair amount but not all of Moore's other stuff. I enjoyed Promethea, and the Top 10 stuff is great. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is a bit hit or miss; he has flashes of brilliance, but goes off on these cruelty kicks (oh, and plenty of sex). I think of Alan Moore, Terry Gilliam, and Werner Herzog as true mad geniuses. Their best work displays actual genius, and they are also a little bit insane, and not just in the charming, eccentric way.

  5. I agree about Alan Moore, I don't love all his work and I think he just isn't interested in discipline and fan service so he can wander off the rails. But he blew my mind with Swamp Thing, Watchman, V for Vendetta and Promethea. I found the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen incomprehensible--and I even caught all the references to victorian porn characters.

  6. ...Damn.

    I did see a blog that tried to list all the references in Extraordinary Gentlemen. Meanwhile, Gene Ha, the artist for Top 10, has huge fun with crowd scenes. There's an issue that features a flying accident, and in the background of different panels you can pick out virtually every flying character and ship from all of pop culture (plenty of comic book characters, but also the Jetsons and more). In a crowd scene for gladiatorial games, he sneaks in (among others) Asterix, Obelix and Dogmatix. And in a "multiple worlds" hub/grand central station, he puts in every time traveler from pop culture, from the 4th Doctor, to the Voyagers duo… you get the idea. Someone's probably taken the trouble to identify them all, but it just goes to show that true geek love – loving something for its own sake, with all its beauties and flaws, and often with no hope of material benefit from all that time invested – can be a very pure form of love. (Yeah, yeah, love of pets… and those pesky humans, too, if you're into that sort of thing.)