Thursday, October 13, 2016

THE DUMBEST TIJUANA BIBLE I EVER SAW

When R. Crumb illustrated Bible stories in comic book form, some critics complained, "the power of the text seems diminished, not enhanced or illuminated, by these images." If the pictures don't enhance the text, what's the point?

Crumb himself said, "I decided just to do a straight illustration job." For example, he portrayed God as the traditional old white guy in a toga with a long beard.  He even gives us the perfunctory starburst to symbolize the creation of heaven and earth.
 

I would've enjoyed seeing Crumb's demented imagination applied in earnest.  Instead, he handled the Bible "just like [the Classics Illustrated comic books from the '50s]. You know, it's no big deal." 

You might wonder why the world needs another comic book version of the Bible, a book which raises the world's most challenging and complex subjects.  After all, there are plenty of versions out there already for lazy students seeking a study guide the night before exams. Do any of these illustrations contribute anything original on the subjects of creation, mortality, sex, destiny, spirituality, love, passion, miracles, etc.?  From the Classic Comics version to the Kubert version to The Graphic Canon treatment to The Action Bible, the graphic novel format seems to dumb down, rather than enhance, the text.

As Mario Naves wrote, "An artist who trades in trivialities should know well enough not to mess with themes that are beyond the scope of his talent."

Which brings me to the new book, Garden of the Flesh, biblical stories by Gilbert Hernandez. [CAUTION: EVEN WITH MY REDACTIONS THE FOLLOWING IMAGES ARE NSFW.] 

According to the cover, "Beginning with Adam and Eve and continuing through the story of Noah's ark," this book offers "biblical tales of Original Sin."  Inside is perhaps the most barren treatment of the Bible or of sin I've ever seen.

 

What in the world was the artist thinking?  These awful drawings-- flat, bland and unimaginative--together with the sparse, inane dialogue suck the IQ points right out of your head.



(N.B.: I promise these are not unfair excerpts.  The entire book limps on like this, page after page.)


If these drawings had been scratched on a men's room wall I'd say, "go for it!"  I agree with the wise man who said, "Bad drawing, even bad bad drawing, almost always has character.... the vision has a weird purity you kind of have to admire, no matter what."  But bad drawing loses some of that "weird purity" and no longer deserves the benefit of the doubt as it become more pretentious.

Today we're all good post-modernists; we evaluate pictures based on the artist's success at achieving his or her individual ambitions.   But that doesn't mean we have no standards whatsoever.  A book that is essentially a Tijuana Bible at heart gets evaluated differently when it takes on the ambitions of a deluxe embossed book which presumes to address Biblical stories of original sin.  It's hard not to feel insulted by this book.

Authentic Tijuana Bibles may not get reviewed in prestigious journals but they are superior works of art, more successful at achieving their artistic ambitions. 


Many of the artists who drew Tijuana Bibles were technically unskilled but their drawings were more genuine and human and lusty than the thin, pleasureless drawings in Garden of the Flesh.  

Not only that, but their plots were more intelligent.

John Dillinger stops to aid two pretty girls who are having car trouble.




76 comments:

kev ferrara said...

A truly excellent satire of something awful, regardless of the entertainment or political value of the satire, essentially doubles the awful in the cultural atmosphere. Similarly, calling attention to something awful that would otherwise remain invisible, is actually providing that awfulness as well as critiquing it... and providing the awfulness, I would argue, is always a more provocative act than critiquing it. So, on balance, dredging up crap in order to expose it is more akin to marketing it than anti-marketing it. The way of the appreciator wends to the opposite horizon.

Li-An said...

1. I’m drawing at the moment a "Jesus life" for Bayard Editions. Don’t know if it will be "better" than Crumb’s work :-)
2. Erotic comics is a very strange thing to handle. If you try to go "arty", it’s not erotic because it speaks to the brain directly and erotism is not something you have to think about. The best erotic comics I know have been made by very good artists and they accept to make pornographic work and don’t try to made "artistic" work.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- If the point of your circumlocution is that one shouldn't gratuitously poke at bad work because it might call attention to "something awful that would otherwise remain invisible," I generally agree.

However, what I'm trying to focus on here is not invisible. It is a rather significant trend over the past several years: a number of artists with limited abilities have felt encouraged to use a limited medium (comics) to retell some of the most complex, profound classics of world culture in graphic novel format. Examples of this trend include superstar alternative artists such as Hernandez, Chester Brown and Crumb as well as dozens of lesser known cartoonists. Their works have received rave reviews from a number of major publications. If you check them out, you'll see that my blog, not the Hernandez book, is invisible.

For example, have you seen the 3 volume "Graphic Canon" which retells the Bible, Shakespeare, Chaucer, Dante, Homer and other classics in comic format? Publishers Weekly called it "The Most Beautiful Book of 2013." The School Library Journal said “The Graphic Canon is startlingly brilliant.” Publishers Weekly called it “The graphic publishing literary event of the year.” You'll find the same kinds of gushing, giggling reviews for the ridiculous Hernandez book as well. One reviewer wrote lauded "the artistic glory of the work (and, in brilliantly confident full color, this book is among Gilbert’s most aesthetically pleasing)." I believe these reviewers are ignorant and I would like them to educate themselves about graphic art before they uncork all the grandest hyperbole they can find.

What is behind this trend for comic treatment of sacred or profound texts? Do the artists seriously think these shallow drawings contribute something meaningful to the original texts? Or do they think their drawings will gain stature by rubbing up against the classics? Have these artists become emboldened by their favorable press clippings over the past few decades so that they now delude themselves into thinking they are capable of handling such material?

I would not say that the graphic novel medium is per se unsuitable for these kinds of texts. Would you? I would say that a lazy graphic novelist should be prepared to work harder or else look elsewhere for material. In the 1950s, Bible Comics were viewed as a tool for children who weren't ready handle a full page of text and who required pictures as a lubricant. Some of today's Bible comics are just as simple minded but with explicit adult content. In my opinion, that addition is not enough to make these books "brilliant" achievements of modern culture.

Anonymous said...

I'm not very impressed with what I've seen of Garden. Frankly I think the idea that these stories can be re-told without diminishing them is laughably naive, on par with the notion that a "modern language" paraphrase version of the Bible is an improvement on the King James, just because it's "easier to read."

The reviewers who are gushing over this can't be familiar with Hernandez's work. He's done much better comics. For that matter he's done much better porn. The reviewer over at TCJ called it "mediocre," which is telling, since they know comics and are usually supportive of his work.

Thank you as always for this blog. I learn something new every time I visit.
Best regards,
Lee

kev ferrara said...

David,

I wasn't trying to be evasive. I was trying to make a more general philosophical point about what distinguishes Illustration Art from most discourse-cum-attention-seeking on the net. Your blog has always seemed a welcome (and at times lonely) counterpoint to the common trend. Which is, among other reasons, why this blog has been so refreshing and worthwhile; because of the hard-headedly positive nature of it, because you unearth (or unpaginate as the case may be) true hidden gems and gem makers and then talk around their charms without being leaden about it. In sharing your appreciations so deftly, leaving the art to generally speak for itself, you multiply your appreciation for every mind that comes here to share in your interests.

To your point about how ignorant, tasteless, and childish so many "cultural intellectuals" have become... at the risk of retreading an old road: this is what comes of a rampaging cultural philosophy that has demanded the eradication of judgement and has thoroughly discouraged any attempts to discern and defend objective standards for cultural products. Many of our well placed cultural minds have simply been purged of the great sin of discernment. And now we are all living in the 1960s hippy dream of having no aesthethic standards at all.

This state of grace exists in parallel with another infecting culturistas; which is to be slavishly obsessed with being youthful and hip at any cost. Which is also to be reflexively anti-authoritarian. (And of course, standards are authoritarian. So is reason and logic.) Such an anarchic mind state is diametrically opposed to connoisseurship; for the only way to stay hip and youthful for a lifetime is to willfully mold yourself to remain a shallow hull of a human being, to shun growth, depth, heartfelt appreciation, and wisdom at all costs; to always hunt for the next new bling thing, or the next hothouse thought pattern; the next taboo to flaunt, the next correct enemy of the 20 year olds to mock along with... never to be caught unboxing the unfashionable old hat, no matter how wonderful the make or fit.

So here we have a situation where so many of the supposedly clever people are being trained to be everchildren, without any coherent philosophy, without a single reference point for artistic quality, barely able to concentrate due to the constant bombardment of shallow stimulations, all with a raging undercurrent of anxiety, depression, resentment and powerlessness. What can be expected from such people but thumbsucking? Why wouldn't they feel kinship with Hernandez's coloring book-level roboporn, and his depiction of sex acts without physicality, idiosyncrasy, intimacy, or personality. After all, isn't that the dream of the aging teenager class?

Any reference to Shakespeare, Aristotle, or the Bible amidst all this philosophical vacuity and dissipation functions purely to signal class status; signals with ever fainter frissons of prestige as the burgeoning hordes of Zoloft Pans overwhelm the culture.


David Apatoff said...

Li-An-- It sounds like you are in the perfect position to be an expert witness for us on this issue. Can you tell us about your project? What are your ambitions for it? Are you handling it as a "straight illustration" the way R. Crumb did? Have you been asked by Bayard to handle it from a particular perspective? (I assume they aren't looking for an erotic approach.) Why did they think a new version is called for? Do you feel you have a longer leash to be imaginative and original than the 1950s classic comics version? Did you review previous treatments of the Bible to shape your approach? Are any samples of your approach available on the web?

There are a lot of interesting things to be said about eroticism in comics (other than the obvious fact that 75% of all comics are mildly erotic from the perspective of adolescent boys-- unrealistic women figures in spandex with gravity defying breasts). I have dozens of examples I'd love to discuss with this community, but blogger would shut us down so I'll have to find another forum for those someday.

Anonymous / Lee-- Thanks very much for coming. I agree that comics don't seem to be a medium well suited for conveying the profound and meaningful aspects of the Bible (beyond the basic plot). It's difficult to achieve the full potential of art if you employ a medium that chafes and works against your ambitions. Still, even with its size and brevity and simplicity and poor reproduction quality, the comics field has had its moments of genuine brilliance. Can you imagine what Herriman would do with the Bible's themes? Do you recall that there was once a book called "The Gospel According to Peanuts"? Vaughn Bode used to do underground comics where God turns out to be an immense toad. It takes a special kind of imagination to simplify Biblical scale messages down to comic book scale but I've seen it done by Richard Thompson, Bill Watterson and a few others.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- You make a good point. The whole reason for doing this is because I love the good work so much, and it gives me pleasure to share artists who I think are under appreciated or unfairly forgotten. (In fact, all artists in this field-- comics, illustration, commercial art-- start out with a structural disrespect based on what you describe as "class status" rather than the quality of their work. I think that's a cultural blind spot that it is worthwhile resisting.)

Back at the dawn of this blog I thought that "the only polite response when critics publicly embarrass themselves is to look the other way, just as you would for someone whose bodily functions got the best of them during a momentary lull at a party." However, more and more I come across fawning, uninformed praise for pictures that I regard as objectively horrible (such as the critic who extols the "artistic glory" of those crummy Hernandez drawings). It's hard for the rest of us to talk publicly in a serious, disciplined way about the quality of work when the vocabulary has been devalued and debased by a sea of indiscriminate hyperbole.

That may explain why, from time to time, I feel compelled to say why I disagree with such perspectives. (I do try to restrict myself to popular perspectives, such as a series of New Yorker covers, or the trend in "graphic novel classics" described in this post, where my position is clearly the minority view.) Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that the only valid justification for saying mean things about artists was William Blake's: "When I tell any truth, it is not for the sake of convincing those who do not know it, but for the sake of defending those who do."

But I agree, none of this relieves me of the responsibility to walk the tightrope. There is a real danger that one could come to enjoy trashing bad art and dumb critics, especially in the interests of defending "those who know." But ultimately bad work is a distraction. And art is ultimately a subjective enough enterprise, and people are sufficiently different, that humility is always warranted.

So your opening point is an important reminder. As for the point about "how ignorant, tasteless, and childish so many 'cultural intellectuals' have become," I'm particularly concerned about how ignorant we have become about drawing. Intellectuals have always been an insufferable bunch, and our society is so affluent we've ended up with more than our share of well-fed, self-indulgent intellectuals. But somewhere in that morass I think there is a lot of excellent work being done in literary and related fields. For example, I love the work of critics such as Gopnik, Lepore and Kinsley. There's no arguing that David Remnick isn't an excellent journalist but his taste in art for the New Yorker is a far cry from that magazine's tradition of excellence. There are many possible reasons why art (and drawing in particular) might be lagging behind other intellectual pursuits. For example, the de-defintion of art over the past 50 years may have emboldened ignorant people to be more aggressively ignorant about their opinions. Or, it may be that the expansion of technology at the grass roots level (everyone can now make pictures move and talk on their cell phones; everyone can use Photoshop) has diminished respect for stationary drawing in the eyes of the public, so fewer people believe it is worth investing the time to learn about it. The laziness and ignorance you detect may just be the result of a cultural mass migration, and I am arguing over the value of the leavings abandoned on the trail behind us.

kev ferrara said...

There are many possible reasons why art (and drawing in particular) might be lagging behind other intellectual pursuits.

Well, for one, drawing is far more than an intellectual pursuit. Good art does not come about from a keyboard connected to a brain in a jar. The whole person must always be invested, body, soul, intellect, energy, passion, practice, prowess, finger, hand, arm, shoulder, neck, back, etc.

I contend that one of the main reasons wholly intellectual pursuits are so ubiquitous is because they are so easy, particularly as we get away from the sciences and math. As great as Gopnik is as a writer, he doesn't have to physically invent the very means of expressing himself with every thought that comes to mind. The essential and inescapable plasticity of art, and the mental energy and physical labor required to simply be articulate with it on a basic level, is utterly diametric to the read-made-ness of the literary medium, and the ready-made ness of social mediums in general; including obviously the internet.

For example, the de-defintion of art over the past 50 years may have emboldened ignorant people to be more aggressively ignorant about their opinions.

You mean 100 years, don't you? At least.

The submerged thing that keeps gnawing at me here, David, is that you do expect other people to share in your judgements. You expect others, duly, to notice and appreciate good drawing and be educated, sensitive, discerning, and opinionated enough to recognize terrible drawing - for all the ways it may be terrible - and to out it as such.

Which is to say, you believe that recognizing good drawing and distinguishing it from bad drawing isn't simply a matter of whimsical preference or indoctrination or nostalgia or some other subjectivity. Rather, good drawing is like logic or math... that its inherent qualities and its value transcend opinion; good drawing is objectively good. It isn't good or bad just because somebody says so.

Yet, you seem loath to entertain the notion of objective criteria for drawing excellence (and by extension, Art in general). So you are in this impossible position of expecting people to share your judgments without there being any way of specifying the basis for your judgments. So not only can't you debate the foundational principles by which you judge drawings, you can't even share them.

So the question begs, without being able to specify the points of quality that cause excellence in drawing, how might points of agreement or disagreement be established in any discussion of it? How might you persuade anybody of the righteousness of your judgement?

"Can't you see how good this is, and how bad this is?" doesn't really cut it as an argument, does it?

MORAN said...

This comment section is always good reading.

Øyvind Lauvdahl said...


"You might wonder why the world needs another comic book version of the Bible"

Since you seem to be arguing that expression via the medium of comics, a language in which an infinite number of signs can be utilized in both linear and non-linear statements, is somehow more limited that mono-alphabetical writing, I'm surprised you fail to see how a literal approach to the Book of Genesis reveals precisely the inanity of literal interpretation of such texts? What better way -is- there to warn and argue against the rising adherence to comic book versions of "a book which raises the world's most challenging and complex subjects"?

Now, one might argue that such an interpretation is in oposition to the stated intention of Crumb, but appealing to authorial intent in a matter that concerns texts that are claimed to have born out of language/God, seems a limited approach.

Sean Farrell said...

Without knowing a lot about comics, I think David is onto something which is more than a little curious. My daughter came home with a copy of Scott McCloud's book from her AP language arts class and okay, it is an introduction to visual language which is fair enough, but I've heard that comics may be widely used as a teaching tool in public schools. Also, there are more experts on art therapy and art education for early years of formation than ever before and such is coming from our top colleges. Granted, there is learning going on in the areas like music and art therapy, but what can one say when taking the kids on a playdate is socializing and taking kids to a park is physical therapy? There certainly appears to be an over intellectualization of so many simple things which is having the effect of eliminating all kinds of intonations of spoken and behavioral language and replacing such with a monotonous flat language and flat art.

We now hear people talking in rhythms mimicking the brainless lack of inflections of SIRI and other computer-talk. Kev makes a great point about art being a physical performance and about the objective measures of good drawing. Likewise certain literature possesses its own musical reality which is also performance and observations which transcend the obvious.

If ever one has written a book saying mankind is loved, let them step forward. Of course no sane person would make such a claim we are told in our modern world, despite the countless psychoanalytic sessions of people seeking order and love in their lives. So here we have it, the din of literalism, the ever present drone of car tires in our ears, migrating birds flying into buildings, a carload of teens each tapping their own cell phone laughing at the one kid who lacks a phone because they are without a social life. This isn't the Twilight Zone of imagination, but the Twilight Zone of a flattened literalism with flattened expectations where simplicity itself is stripped of its senses.

Anonymous said...

All I have to say about the Hernandez work (which, sorta being out of the 'going to the comic book store every tuesday' loop), is it really surprised me seeing it. It looks like someone just looking for a payday. I would have thought Gilbert would have been a great candidate to take that text and make it interesting...but he seems to have done the opposite. Does anyone have any backstage knowledge about the project at all?

Ken Meyer Jr

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferra wrote: "Well, for one, drawing is far more than an intellectual pursuit. Good art does not come about from a keyboard connected to a brain in a jar."

I agree. I should have made clear that I was talking about the class of educated, cultured intellectual types who form the audience for the arts. In the 18th century most cultured young ladies and gentlemen aspired to learn the basics of drawing and watercolors, and often did little landscapes in their journals as they traveled. Today, this group no longer seems to value drawing or to care about its qualities.


"You mean 100 years, don't you? At least."

Well, I wouldn't disagree if you said 100 years, but 50 years ago in 1966 was Mel Bochner's seminal exhibition of drawings that many say was the beginning of the conceptual art movement. Bochner put together a show of random jottings by non-artists and called it, "Working Drawings and Other Visible Things On paper Not Necessarily Meant to Be Viewed As Art." Many believe that is the point, assuming we could identify one, where drawing finally left expressive mark-making behind, but of course I agree there with other milestones along the way. MOMA only established its department of drawing in 1971, in response to the new trend.


"You seem loath to entertain the notion of objective criteria for drawing excellence (and by extension, Art in general). So you are in this impossible position of expecting people to share your judgments without there being any way of specifying the basis for your judgments. So not only can't you debate the foundational principles by which you judge drawings, you can't even share them.

So the question begs, without being able to specify the points of quality that cause excellence in drawing, how might points of agreement or disagreement be established in any discussion of it? How might you persuade anybody of the righteousness of your judgement?"

Ah, the dilemma of the post-modernist: We know there's no such thing as a single absolute truth, yet we know that terrible things happen if we give up looking.

On this blog I do a lot of thinking out loud about individual examples of art, trying to articulate what I like about the good things and dislike about the bad things. I believe that if we're going to express an opinion, we have an obligation to explain ourselves. Either our reasons are persuasive or they're not. I do believe that, given the subjective elements in our reaction to the arts, a lot of humility is warranted from those who would pontificate on the subject. But sometimes drawing is so bad, it is safe to brand it as "awful."

MORAN-- I agree. I learn a lot from this section.

Øyvind Lauvdahl-- Well, I wouldn't argue that "a literal approach to the Book of Genesis reveals precisely the inanity of literal interpretation of such texts." The Biblical illustrations by Gustave Dore, or the earlier illustrations by Rembrandt or Michelangelo, were pretty literal yet they were fabulous works of art. Have you seen Rembrandt's etching of Adam & Eve recently? I think it's breathtaking.

David Apatoff said...

Sean Farrell-- I think that "an introduction to visual language" is a good idea in theory, depending on how it is taught. Perhaps an AP Language Arts Class (or an art appreciation class) could find a better starting place than comic books, but I'm sure that's what make the subject relevant and interesting to teenagers. There is a lot of complexity to visual language beyond comics.

I think "flattened literalism with flattened expectations" is a good way to characterize what Hernandez has done here, and a lot of what seems to be going on in these graphic novel treatments of the classics.

Anonymous / Ken Meyer Jr.-- You know, "someone just looking for a payday" seems like the perfect way to explain this lazy, bloodless treatment of Biblical sex. Sex is topic A-- always interesting-- and it's pretty easy to tell when someone is just phoning it in. If Hernandez was striving to make sex look unappetizing on behalf of some chastity league, his drawings would make more sense.

Anonymous said...

Payday? Are you guys under the impression comic artist's make a lot of money? It's pretty much mostly volunteer work.

kev ferrara said...

We know there's no such thing as a single absolute truth, yet we know that terrible things happen if we give up looking.

David,

Something about the way you attempt to duck and bob when you hit into difficult questions reminds me of a vacuum cleaner robot stuck in a pantry.

Asserting that you "know there's no such thing as a single absolute truth" is an absolute truth claim, ffs.

The reality (as we know it) is that both in science and art there are beautiful truths and important discoveries to be found at every layer of the onion. Truth, as the ancients said, is what is hidden. And no fool would deny the existence of the hidden. Demanding certification as to whether any particular discovery is absolute in some cosmic unimaginable sense is to make the perfect the enemy of the good, Plato the enemy of Pragma.

Given that there is gold at all levels of such investigations (if they be honest, clever, and rigorous), and assuming we want better and better art and science, it seems quite essential to obey C.S. Peirce's pragmatic commandment, "Do not block the way of inquiry!"

Since Postmodernists actually do want to block the way of inquiry and so they are, actually, enemies of art and science - against actual progress - you surely do not align yourself with them.

So what in the holy cheese porn are you talking about?

But sometimes drawing is so bad, it is safe to brand it as "awful."

Who would you be safe from exactly?

Anonymous said...

I wanna see an Apatoff original.

Øyvind Lauvdahl said...


The medium is the message.

I find myself wanting to write that the very flatness of these comic book versions shreds the centuries of hermeneutical sophistication from supposedly holy texts,
but that would be false – such disentanglement is impossible. Instead, I'll have to settle with claiming that the format both manifests the horror of biblical literalism, and problematizes the text in such a way that it cannot hide in plain sight, so to speak. It is instead put to the fore and put on display for the poetically and intellectually inclined reader to not only look at, but actually see. The text is, simply put, simply put.

The backdrop to all this is, of course, not only (the consequences of) the Muhammad cartoons controversy, but the very fact that (a growing number of?) people
actually believe that these texts -should- to be taken literally.

My point is that I'm at least allowing for the possibility that Crumb understood that the most subversive approach to holiness is to "just to do a straight
illustration job". By (self-)consciously not injecting irony into the work, the disruptive effect is doubled. And, while not having read The Garden of Flesh,
judging from the title and the pictures you've posted, I wouldn't be surprised if Hernandez were thinking along similar lines.

These comics are blatantly showing their awareness of the fact that they are "comic book versions". The medium has evolved greatly since the world of "the Classics Illustrated comic books from the '50s", but the majority of the readership hasn't.

David Apatoff said...

Anonymous-- Neal Adams used to say that a comic artist is someone who would be content to live in a closet and work around the clock drawing assignments that someone shoves under the door.

Kev Ferrara wrote, "Asserting that you 'know there's no such thing as a single absolute truth' is an absolute truth claim."

Sure, and asserting that there is an absolute truth but you don't know what it is because it remains "hidden" is a statement of faith, not "reality."

I understand your temptation to conflate "science and art"-- ever since the scientific revolution, subjective fields of human endeavor such as art and ethics have looked enviously over the fence at the accomplishments of science and tried (always unsuccessfully) to simulate the scientific method. But scientific truth is fundamentally different from artistic "truth."

"it seems quite essential to obey C.S. Peirce's pragmatic commandment, 'Do not block the way of inquiry!'"

Isn't that what I said? "terrible things happen if we give up looking."

"Who would you be safe from exactly?"

Informed dispute.

Anonymous-- Would you settle for a brief on biotechnology patent arbitration?

Sean Farrell said...

Øyvind Lauvdahl, in Kev's first response to David earlier on, he takes intellectuals to task and it's worth reading along with your comment above. Modernism is reductionism and that's also the nature of intellectualism itself. To formulate a thought, much is discarded. But that doesn't mean the thought and the existing thing that inspired the thought are the same thing, nor can the thought be greater than reality. A brilliant observation is based on some preexisting reality and intellectual hierarchy is based on which thoughts most accurately describe a situation. Modernists don't make such distinctions and tend to discredit reality as inferior to their explanations of reality, rather than recognize hierarchy as being a measure of valued thoughts or human acts; a category. This realm of the intellectual or creative act is not actually divorced or liberated from reality or its experiential dignity, but it forgets experiential simplicity and dignity.

Drawing is a creative act and falls into an area where its existence has to be judged as a drawing. The preexisting dignity in a chipmunk, a bumble bee, a child, an old man isn't applicable because the drawing isn't alive, but is itself the result of a creative act.

Communists strip away all cultural meanings in order to reach a preexisting dignity, but they strip away all the accumulated understandings which participate in our relationship with reality and it's our accumulated knowledge which determines with what regard we treat the preexisting dignity. Your observation that Crumb was showing the absurdity of literalism by illustrating the bible in a literal way was nicely formulated, is also much appreciated and may well have been his intention, but it proves the point that love and the unknowable is a difficult thing to translate into language. In the same way, reducing human sexuality to an exploitive function commodifies the human being and such is precisely what sin is. So it works both ways. It always works this way because it's the nature of language to be selective and discarding, but the dignity of what is discarded isn't reduced by language, thus we are inclined to mistreat things. Scientists claiming to have discovered the meaning of life are also prey to oversight and so their claims also make for some odd comedy.

In other words, if we view the complexity of a single cell and that we are made up of 13 trillion of them and the summation is a human being with an ability to experience beauty, dignity and love in simplicity and all such preexists our commentary, then what is missing in the drawings? If you were offered all the answers in the world, or all the beauty one could experience, which would you choose?

Sean Farrell said...

Sorry for the screwed up syntax in the sentence, but love and the unknowable are shared in the preexisting being. Love does have an unknowable nature as it is part of being. We recognize its qualities, but it will forever elude adequate explanation. It should read, love and the unknown are difficult to translate into language.

Anonymous said...

David,
Thank you. Your reply was more thoughtful and considered than my rather glib comment probably deserved.

I should have been more specific. I think the stories in Genesis resist this kind of adaptation because they are so elemental, so self-contained. Any attempt to expand them destroys them in my opinion; they shatter. Adding side plots to pad the story to acceptable length is the only real recourse and I've never seen it done successfully.

I do think Crumb's attempt was more successful, mainly because he took the whole book and left the text alone. Crumb said that if you read Genesis closely you will see that it is a very strange book and that he tried to preserve that strangeness. I've read Genesis and that was my reaction as well.

I haven't read Crumb's Genesis yet so I can't comment on how effective the drawings are or aren't but from what I've seen they're better than what we see here in Garden.

Point taken about Herriman, Schultz, Watterson, et al. Again I should have been more specific. There are plenty of stories in the Bible better suited to adaptation and the right artist could do so successfully. For example, I'd love to see what Jaime Hernandez might do with the book of Esther. That's a great story and it hasn't been done to death.
the story of Job might make a good comic also, come to think of it.

Thanks again and best regards,
Lee

Øyvind Lauvdahl said...

Sean Farrell - I'm not sure I understand what you mean. Are you saying that there are limits to what we can speak of and that there's stuff going on beyond these limits that we can still meaningfully speak of?

kev ferrara said...

I'm at least allowing for the possibility that Crumb understood that the most subversive approach to holiness is to "just to do a straight
illustration job".


This is a good thought. Crumb's work is comedic work, which is by nature unfair to its subject, absurd, reductionist, exaggerated, and silly. The spoofy effect would be the same if Crumb were to tackle any subject of import, myth, grandeur, heroism or the like. And I don't mean just stuff like the Peloponnesian War or Lord of the Rings but literally anything sincere at all, from The Snows of Kilimanjaro to "Cindy is Saved." It would all come out looking like a goof on the subject.

The medium, (comics) though, is not the message. The messenger is the message.

kev ferrara said...

Isn't that what I said? "terrible things happen if we give up looking (for absolute truth.)"

Sure, and asserting that there is an absolute truth but you don't know what it is because it remains "hidden" is a statement of faith, not "reality."

David,

I never said, nor implied, there was an “absolute truth” whatever that even means. Truth, it seems to me, is a word we use to name formerly "hidden" relations that strike us as accurate beyond words or facts or the individual; but just how far beyond, we cannot know. But as a pragmatic matter, our ability to recognize, symbolize, and successfully apply what accurate relations we uncover is sufficient evidence of a necessary and sufficient correspondence for us to apply the provisional honorific "truth" to such discoveries. Which is about as much as one can hope for, given our monkey nature.

ever since the scientific revolution, subjective fields of human endeavor such as art and ethics have looked enviously over the fence at the accomplishments of science and tried (always unsuccessfully) to simulate the scientific method.

I am not someone sitting in the art camp peering over the fence at science in envy. I love both endeavors and see very valuable connections between them, which I am not nearly the first to note. Relations, in fact, are the core of each.

Declaring, out of hand, that the entire Aesthetics endeavor is utterly mired in subjectivity is punk bluster and pretense. Baumgarten defined Aesthetics in 1735 (long before Einstein hit the charts) as "The Science of What is Sensed and Imagined." And the best of the genre certainly lives up to this billing. Just because Kant and Hegel became entrapped by their own dreamcastles, and most Aestheticians pontificate without clue or portfolio and talk past one another, doesn't mean all of Aesthetics is equally fallen.

The fact is that Aesthetic philosophers have not been, on the whole, of the same intellectual caliber as Scientists, nor nearly as organized and self-policing. Mainly because Science far more easily weeds out both the inapt and the inept, due to its rigorous and longstanding ethic of defending its walls from nonsense and fakery.

Part of this ethic is mathematics itself. All the theoretical constructs of true science, because they are wholly written in the language of math, are bound and confined to that which is convertible into mechanisms, (the functionality of which either confirms or denies the value of the predicates in as objective a fashion as possible). Point being that there are predetermined and basic constrictions involved in Science discourse that has kept it on the rails.

Whereas the literature of Aesthetics has been utterly wild in quality and sprawl, the field rife with half-truths, high priests, fakes and fools of all manner and kind. Which makes it an exceeding daunting task to gather its basic principles into a unified framework with a shared and consistent language -- in order to consistently create aesthetic mechanisms -- the operations of which might objectively test the legitimacy of the purported discoveries of the field – thus separating bluff from nut flush once and for all.

In other words, Aesthetics has not yet ascertained and formalized its own suite of helpful linguistic constrictions. In this sense, the field of Aesthetics is still naive and new. This is no mark against the endeavor in general.

kev ferrara said...


But scientific truth is fundamentally different from artistic "truth."

I would argue they are qualitatively different, but not fundamentally different. Again, relations are the noumenon of each; a profound point, I would say.

But I do understand how one could become so seduced by the formality, consistency, and practical applicability of hard science as to consider it the only model for knowledge.

Yet nothing is more evidently true than change. And nothing is more ubiquitous than possibility. So, clearly, what is inarguably so is not always translatable into formality, math, mechanism, text or any other common symbolic or practical currency.

This is the problem of thinking of language per se as the arbiter or limiter of the actual or experiential, which is a point Sean was just making as well. Truth is merely an apt relation. And the language that relation is communicated through is only a vehicle. Each language we have references but a small subset of relations carved out of the totality of possible relations, which is then formalized and standardized as a linguistic system. To decide that only one kind of relation is true because we currently have a sturdy rule set for how it can be translated into language and back is really quite a big block in the way of inquiry indeed.

Sometimes drawing is so bad, I would be safe from informed dispute if I branded it as awful.

Okay then... What exactly constitutes the suite of understandings which makes one "informed?" And what are the bases for those understandings? (You've transposed one undefended claim into a prior one, proving they are equivalent.)

Sean Farrell said...

Øyvind Lauvdahl, I'm saying that being and explanation are two different realms and that explanation, though it is part of our human experience is never fully being and can never suffice for being, as we are embodied. Knowledge is always about, but not actually what being is. We can never be superior to being. Life is the primary reality of our being, whereas explanation can never exceed being because being is by nature, not knowledge. A number of things which puzzle people like human relations, love, worry etc. exist in the present and are always exposed to elements of unknowingness, the future, our own end, which are confounding. There is a dignity in this living state of being, as life clings to itself and is always attached to the unknown or the future or what is never fully knowable, but living.

Our knowledge should help us understand how to treat or be apart of this thing called life and what we are as part of the dignity of life, which is inherently inseparable from life or being. But our knowledge today is a separate reality which considers itself superior to being and thus has the audacity to confuse the unknowable with ignorance. We are not fully knowable, because we are alive. We are always in some state of unknowableness as being is not a knowable state as one may know a subject. People become cynical and prone to abuses because they long for experience, not knowledge, but are cordoned off into categories of knowledge. We don't learn how to be with being, how to treat being. Such takes trust, to be at peace in a state of being. No amount of knowledge can fully resolve the insecure nature of being and if it could, it couldn't do so without leaving people thirsting for experience.

Art is an expression of being and judging art is in how much and in what manner a part of reality is captured. When mockery is the primary motivation, we are not dealing with being and reality but intellectualism as it becomes an idea commenting on another idea. I hope that helped a little bit.

Øyvind Lauvdahl said...

kev ferrara -

"The medium, (comics) though, is not the message. The messenger is the message."
Well, in the sense that all expression is self-portraiture, yes.

Øyvind Lauvdahl said...

Sean -

Thank you for attempting to elaborate your position. Your first post ended with a question about which of the two given choices I would prefer. I suppose the best answer I can give to that question is: Either. They are subsets of each other.

Now, instead of attempting to fully engage with your epistemological (or should that be "ontological"?) position, I apologize in advance for merely hazarding an assumption: If you had to choose, you'd favour Plato over Aristotle.

"Art is an expression of being and judging art is in how much and in what manner a part of reality is captured. When mockery is the primary motivation, we are not dealing with being and reality but intellectualism as it becomes an idea commenting on another idea."

How do you know ("Knowledge is always about, but not actually what being is.") this to be true?

Sean Farrell said...

Øyvind Lauvdahl, Being is perceptual, experiential, of awareness. Knowledge is accretive. Epistemology I think has to do with testing the truth of something as knowledge. Being has more to do with recognition. I'm not sure if set philosophical premises are the only way to address these matters. Yes, I agree with you that knowledge becomes apart of us, is important and has an effect on our being depending on whether it is in relationship with being, lost in itself or even dismissive of being. The point of my going into being and unknowingness is that the accumulative process of knowledge gets enamored with itself and gets deader the more it does so. Modernism also sees being as preceding knowledge and now sees the accumulation of knowledge in an evolutionary light. So we have a type of modern evolutionary snobbery regarding being as the tabula rasa of development.

To the ontological question, I think the notion of logos or God is incomprehensible to modern people, so let me try something else where I try to address the idea that there is no truth, or absolute truth, by listing a bunch of small truths and this is addressed to David and Kev too who have wrestled the matter of truths on different topics.

Is it it curious that the denial of absolute truth demands that truth adhere to the most stringent verifiable measures of reality? Hardly would anyone argue with such truths, but truth is also in so many unmeasurable realities. It's in the triumphant and in the defeated, in awareness as well as in conclusion, in children trusting their parents, though their trust is trust based on limited knowledge. There is good and truly bad. Truth is implied by error and error is in much supply and such is also true. Truth is in sorrow but also in a silly joke. Truth is in formulas, yet truth is in the deed. There is the theological idea that each is loved according to their need and though such is a belief, it may have a beneficial effect on being which is itself true, implying that there is truth in hope. There are truths that appear at one point of life but are not longer true at an another, such as memory, hopes, abilities, survival, wisdom, the future. There are truths in compliance and truths in dissent. There's the truth of our limited lifespan on earth. Truths seem to apply for each individual in a different way, yet each is often convincingly true. There are truths of pure logic, but also truths derived by reason. If there are all these truths and errors implying truths, based on a multitude of measures, fact, deed, trust, formula, our love for, relations, love received, loves imagined, efforts, hopes, talent, failures, resentment and forgiveness, all of which undeniably exist, is truth then a mechanism, or is truth a type of being? Why are modern people more inclined to believe in mechanisms when they are themselves beings? Truth exists and expresses itself in a daunting amount of ways and is mysteriously more complex than our proud and insecure desires to restrain it.

Richard said...

David,

Just for a bit of clarification; why suggest the artist of Garden of the Flesh was having pretensions about their work?

It seems to me like Hernandez was just having a go at it.

That idiot marketeers and critics hold it up as something transcendent doesn't say much about the pretensions of the artwork, does it? Why do the pretensions of the audience imply pretensions upon the work?


Thanks

kev ferrara said...

Clarifying just in case...

I'm saying that we must be agnostic on ideas of the "absolute," neither asserting the existence of absolute truth nor denying it. Doubt must be a key element in the endeavor to develop knowledge, because only doubt allows for provisional mental models to be checked, corrected, evolved, or dissolved. We must even doubt doubt.

Truth is a necessary mental tool, truths being the relations we extract from, and test through experience. Truths are first provisionally so, and after much successful testing, provisionally absolute.

This habit we have of grabbing hold of a word like truth, idealizing it and then obsessing over the idealization, seems a mistake. All words and their meanings are colloquial, folk artifacts. They are all cartoons, even scientific words, signs pointing at makeshift models of the world which point at the world. In expecting perfection from our understandings, we can easily deny that they are knowledge at all. We then deny ourselves their usefulness, becoming dumber in the process. This is exactly what the analytic philosophers did to western intellectual life when they slandered and prohibited the notion of truth based upon some puffed-out, deified version of the word.

Truth is a tool just as a hammer is. Nobody worries about whether there is such a thing as an Absolute Hammer before picking one up. Nor is anybody's mental toolbox absent the tool of truth, for it is in constant use by all, even those who deny it exists.

Sean Farrell said...

Kev, Thanks. Then I should clarify as well. Of course, prudence and testing when determining the truth of an assertion, determining knowledge. That is a particular concern. People are each a unique expression of truth even with their errors or deceit, that is, a state of being is a truth as is, a truth of condition. Being is not a word, nor an assertion of knowledge, but a state of reality. They are two areas of truth, one a condition of reality, experiential, the other determining the truth of knowledge.

kev ferrara said...

Sean,

I have considered the possibility of a distinction between knowledge-gathering and being. But, it occurred to me, there is no being outside of context, which is to say, relation; in this case the relation of sensation, which is an omnipresent fact of life. People exist in a sensate state, in a neverending sensual relation to themselves and the world beyond their skin, which makes human learning, understanding and knowledge-checking a constant feature of life. In other words, to be is to reflexively, through the senses, acquire knowledge about one's self and the local environment and to test it for truth value or change. Where the constant knowledge-gathering of the senses goes silent, we find death. So there is no distinction between being and knowledge gathering.

Øyvind Lauvdahl said...

Sean Farrell -

As I understand it - and if I entirely disregard the the problem of your claim to knowledge of a state of being which preceedes knowledge - the core of your argument seems to be that the accumulation of knowledge is a corruption of being. Yet, somehow, "Art is an expression of being and judging art is in how much and in what manner a part of reality is captured". I find it difficult to understand your posistion as being more than a yearning for (mental) infancy, or - in other words (but still in words) - a return to the flatness of the Garden.

I'm sure you don't mean to imply that toddlers and puppies are superior artists, but that is what seems to follow from your line of reasoning.

Regarding truth, I'd ask you to consider why scientists never use the word.

Tom said...

I think David mentioned Rembrandt. His etching of the expulsion from the garden of Eden addresses the true concern of the religious or spiritual impulse, man's suffering or how can one find peace. The Hernandez's drawing narrows it focus on such a small part of a person's life experience it simple becomes pornography. It doesn't address the issue of human suffering, it doesn't bring the power of the Bible into being. It doesn't bring the reasons why so many people have read the book for so long.

Making literal pictures (illustrations) of the Bible seems a petty objective, and so that exactly what the pictures feel like. When one ask shallow questions one gets shallow answers. After all the questions we ask only reflects our own depth and humanity.

Sean Farrell said...

Kev, I agree with what you just said, but to your earlier characterization of language, I have something to say. I agree to the value of neutrality in scientific rigor, but language is an arbiter of regard and to that end, viewing language as a cartoon is similar to treating the subjects of the illustrations as cartoons, which is too dismissive, streamlined and so subversive.

Nature exists as force and its many forces are true, thus they are truths and as forces, these truths are not cartoons. Error is also a force and as a force is real and so true as well. How we regard the forces of reality is greatly determined by our relationship with language as is our general and cultural worldview. In this way, language is also a force, not a cartoon.

Language is not only a force, but a force with a certain residual presence, such as we have in sensory reality from looking at a hard contrast and changing light, residual color, etc. Through the development of habits, language acts as force residually as well. So language is a force among forces and all these forces are truths. Regard is our morality and a lack of regard is our immorality. We have a relationship with language itself and with the implications of meaning in language. Let us say one person has a relationship with a worldview of benevolence and his worldview is checked by reality, but his worldview of benevolence is also real and has a benevolent effect on himself and his behavior. So there's an interplay of forces at work and so no, the tenderness of a benevolent worldview isn't going to stop the rain, but it might soften a reaction in a situation which could be otherwise explosive. All of these things are and therefore are true and are truths. Yes, they are relational. Being though is real as an artist observes reality. So being is sensory, perception, awareness. In our current environment, we not only have a replacement of being with language, but we have a replacement of a language of benevolence with a language of hard suspicion of all truth and language. The combination is making for quite a mess and this mess is itself a nasty destabilizing force as it has dismissed regard in exchange for a type of truth and language devoid of tenderness and regard. The Rwandan machete massacres share such disregard with the sophistication of modern warfare and the modern positions on language.

Sean Farrell said...

Øyvind Lauvdahl, Thank you. I'm not disagreeing with your concern for literalism as it regards the bible or any religious book, but reducing the bible to a work of literalism is itself a form of simplification akin to literalism. David, Kev and Tom made this point as well.

Being is our real physical place among the forces of nature and it involves a perceptual relationship with those forces. Language becomes one of the forces we have a relationship with and it is also a perceptual relationship in that it has an effect on our perceptions, feelings, etc. By separating language as idea from being as a reality, I was trying to make it clear that we are beings, real and substantial. In comparison, art commenting on other art starts becoming art as one disembodied idea commenting on other art as another disembodied idea and what I mean by disembodied idea is that the idea is devoid of perceptual observation, perceptual sensitivity. When knowledge starts denying a relationship with perception we move into troubling areas of will, or unchecked force, ideology, etc.

Was I exalting innocence? To some degree I was, but it does serve people well to spend more than a little time in silence once in a while.

Truth as a tool as Kev put it, yes, or truth as a measure of what is real is another way to put it and both imply an important status for truth. Acknowledging reality as being true and something true as real, makes such truth, greatly expanding its presence around us. The tricky stuff is in the areas of knowledge and understanding. Scientists also use language fraught with presumptions and confusion. Ironically, in The Meaning of Human Existence, by Edward O. Wilson, the writer exalts the unthinking nature of evolutionary selectivity as “meaning”. Does that help confuse matters further?

kev ferrara said...

Sean,

A few points of disagreement...

(Language is not Cartooning) A cartoon is an oversimple symbolism which people enjoy using and consuming because of its clarity. That a cartoon might have real consequences in life, possibly even physical consequences, does not stop the cartoon from being a cartoon.

(Language as a force) It is a mistake to think of language as a force. Language is effective or coercive only in conjunction with a human mind that is subject to its subliminal implications and suggestions. People who are aware of the often manipulative nature and poor quality of linguistic communication can generally come to a point where they reverse their parental training, which conditioned a wholly aesthetic response to verbal commands, which guaranteed childish obedience to linguistic instruction. Reversing the parental training disempowers language as a force in the aesthetic sense. Allowing the reader or listener to first analyze the code being offered anesthetically and analytically before deciding whether to run the program emotionally.

One of the crucial tasks of Art is to overcome this resistance by visually admitting upfront that the offer is a work of decorative fiction.

(Being as truth.) Truth is a tool of human judgment. Things as they actually are, do not require our judgment in order to be so. They are just so.

Sean Farrell said...

“(Language is not Cartooning)” ….“All words and their meanings are colloquial, folk artifacts. They are all cartoons, even scientific words,”

“It is a mistake to think of language as a force.”

Kev, Even if you have defused language as a force in your own life, you still have to deal with the realities of language as force in others and the culture at large. When a musician plays an instrument the notes dissipate into thin air never to be heard again, but no one would say the notes weren't real, or a force of some quality. Words occupy a span of attention and are real even if only temporarily. A person's relationship to language can tell us something about a person and that is evidence and therefore real.

“Truth is a tool of human judgement”, for discerning what is real. What is real is accepted as a truth. Yes, being and reality should be self evident, but political correctness is challenging our notion of reality and linguistic designations of reality are being stripped from our language. The destruction of language is eliminating cultural forms, but we are also seeing a destruction of physical forms themselves in multiple parent embryos and other novelties. Our new world hasn't just conquered God and nature, but form itself and its behaviors reflect its new language. Whole mountains are leveled to get a mineral. All is reduced to force and language as an arbiter, as a counterforce, is being eliminated.

kev ferrara said...

Sean,

We are probably running into some disagreements here which derive solely from definitions, which makes them meaningless.

For example, in my understanding, language alone is just code. The code needs an operating system to run on or else it is powerless. So language alone has no force. But I don't think you are actually referring to language per se. Rather, I think what you are actually talking about is effective linguistic communication... which entails linguistic signal, reception, and effect. And I would agree that this is indeed a social force. But one whose effect and power is difficult to presage. Thus I would distinguish such communication from natural forces, which are physically deterministic, ineradicable, and unavoidable. (Related: The natural force of audio signals - pressure waves of air - which directly, physically contacts the listener's eardrums, should not be confused with the signal's encoded linguistic content. Force also shouldn't be confused with the aesthetic. Rather it is physic.)

One area where I think our disagreement is more than semantic is on your suggestion that human beings can have perfect, unassailable knowledge. I am trying to point out that the knowledge we deem to be true through testing is good enough to be called true and used as the basis for action. Whether such knowledge is ultimate, cosmic truth is unknowable. And frankly, it does not matter whether it is or isn't. That is the point of Pragmatist philosophy.

Such an epistemic recognition, that our judgments are circumscribed by the limitations of our senses, did not, and does not lead to the destruction of language or meaning. Rather, pragmatism is the very thing that rescues meaningful language because it understands it as a crucial tool for knowledge development and archiving, (and pragma demands every tool be kept in the best of working order.) Another tool kept sharp by pragmatism is judgment, also a crucial tool for knowledge. And it is the rejection of judgment, I would argue, which is at the core of so many of the societal breakdowns you decry, including of language. Because it is the rejection of judgment, the hatred of it in fact, which leads people to attack the words used to articulate judgments and the reasoning used to form them; to misrepresent and stigmatize both until they are all but destroyed as meaningful conceptual currency. That most human virtues necessary for a civilized society are also based upon sound judgment, and thus have fallen under constant attack, is worth noting as well.

Sean Farrell said...

Thanks Kev. I'm not going to pretend I exactly understand what thought is or why some thought arises not simply from programing but organically. There is an organic relationship with thoughtfulness, even if one learns something of it earlier, just as there is organic relationship with other thought/emotions. You raise the big question, why is there a hatred of judgment? My point about truth is not to prove a supernatural existence, but simply to state, if truth is the measure of all things (as real), then it follows that it has a universal quality, even if it or thought acts in a provisional manner.

Language is the signal, reception, effect, yes, and all that happens in the recognition of the symbol even if it is not a word, even if it isn't yet understood. That is how I was using the term real, thus a force, a real thing occupying a space of attention even if momentarily and I'm still not sure how it could be anything else.

Kev, I hear you and I respect what you're saying, but I think a pragmatism, perhaps not your philosophy, but a pragmatic way of seeing things, (commercialism, economics?) is the source behind the elimination of much language involved in the useless practices of generosity, forgetfulness, forgiveness, openness, thoughtfulness, tinkering, trust, silliness, joy, regard and practices of silence associated with the leisurely and wasteful process of creativity, love and being. Things which have no place in the evolutionary “unthinking” meaningfulness of the modern viewpoint.

kev ferrara said...

Sean,

I don't think you've gone deep enough on the subjectivity question and the complexities of semiosis, so I'm going to beg off the discussion of truth, universality, and the transpositions between experience, sensation, thought and language.

I don't agree and am confused by what you have said about Pragmatic philosophy and the "elimination of much language involved in useless (social) practices..."

Just to take one from the list, "generosity." Most disciplined, pragmatic people I know are also generous. I've known generous poor people and stingy wealthy people, and vice versa. Sometimes generosity is a disguise for the expectation of future return, so it is really a kind of manipulation. True generosity expects no reciprocity, and is done purely out of the positive feeling one gets from giving. Several traits tell against generosity, like narcissism, solipsism, egocentrism, bitterness, materialism, and various other sociopathologies. (Although I've known materialists who thoroughly enjoyed sharing their accumulations of wealth and expensive toys. Maybe they were just showing off, or were lonely for company.)

Now, I am not disputing that there has been a huge uptick in the negative traits I've just mentioned. But I find your simple assignment of blame to this or that party or philosophy to be flailing and unexamined. I even find my assessments of blame for what I worry about to be flailing and unexamined, upon rereading them and reflecting. These matters are just too complex and it is easy to be glibly tribal when trying to unpack them.

Sean Farrell said...



No problem Kev, The comment on truth was a statement of reason and relates directly to your question of judgement. The two are intertwined. I had excused philosophical pragmatism in my list and placed it on economic pragmatists, which is different. Yes, the whole matter of thought is barely off the ground. If force doesn't sound like an accurate description of what challenges attention or perception, partially or fully, then presence is fair enough. Whatever one calls it, it's real enough to cause serious accidents. I think a professional Nascar driver makes it around eleven laps before they start having concentration issues. Amateurs make it around three laps, before those non existent things interfere.

“One area where I think our disagreement is more than semantic is on your suggestion that human beings can have perfect, unassailable knowledge.” Kev, I never made such a suggestion.

The entire reworking of language goes back better than 100 years and people have written tomes on the subject, so yes it's more complicated than what can fit into a few lines, but placing it on economic efficiencies was the least political manner of identifying it. Take care.

David Apatoff said...

Øyvind Lauvdahl wrote, " the format both manifests the horror of biblical literalism, and problematizes the text in such a way that it cannot hide in plain sight, so to speak."

I agree that Biblical literalism leads to some mighty curious results. However, I think that what Hernandez has done-- diagrams of vanilla figures copulating on a rock and saying "ha ha" together-- falls far short of a literal treatment of the Bible. These are really juvenile speculations about what must have taken place between the lines of the Biblical text. Crumb has a better claim to a "literal" approach (and draws far better than Hernandez) but there is only so much of the Biblical narrative that even Crumb can relate literally. When he draws the creation of the universe, he has no choice but to resort to symbols and imagination.

"These comics are blatantly showing their awareness of the fact that they are "comic book versions". The medium has evolved greatly since the world of "the Classics Illustrated comic books from the '50s", but the majority of the readership hasn't."

Do you think that's true? It seems to me that the readership of comics has become older and better educated than it was in the 60s. It seems to me that their taste is for sex and violence that the '50s readership couldn't even comprehend. And it seems to me that children today have little patience for comics. Children in the 50s had no alternatives to comics. Television didn't even kick it until the mid- '50s, and children's fare was limited. Now video games and the internet have stolen that demographic.

Anonymous / Lee-- Thanks. I agree that Crumb's effort is more successful. He draws better than Hernandez and he apparently spent four years working on those Genesis drawings.

"Adding side plots to pad the story to acceptable length is the only real recourse and I've never seen it done successfully."

Do you view all illustrative attempts to elaborate upon the Bible as "side plots"? Rembrandt's portrayals of Adam and Eve or Potiphar's wife, or of Christ healing the sick (in the hundred guilder print) are true to the text, but add great richness and beauty in his treatment of Biblical characters. (I love the way that Rembrandt's Adam still looks like a scruffy half-beast, just out of the trees, while his Eve, even as she holds the apple, has a beatific face. Something to think about) You don't have to be Rembrandt to illustrate the Bible; so many other artists have done fascinating, profound, thought provoking things with the Biblical stories. But that's one more reason Crumb might have thought twice, and Hernandez should have been downright ashamed of himself.

Clayton Hollifield said...

I've read Crumb's "Genesis," and have seen the originals in a museum setting twice now, but I still can't wrap my head around the purpose of the work. Particularly in a museum, the purpose seems to be to revel in Crumb's technical mastery, and perhaps the choice of a Biblical story allows readers to do so in a way they wouldn't allow themselves to do with Crumb's usual work. But I didn't feel like Crumb brought anything "new" to the story; the only real purpose to tackle something as well-trod as the book of Genesis is to offer an interpretation of it. As such, I felt Crumb's "Genesis" was nearly unreadable. The excerpts of Gilbert Hernandez's book don't seem to have much charm to them, either.

Perhaps the problem is that Genesis doesn't really lend itself to visual interpretation as well as some of the other parts of the Bible. Basil Wolverton's illustrations of Revelations are spectacular (particularly in person, as they're very over-sized pieces, not standard 11x17 pieces). That's a bit more "actiony" story than "Genesis," which frequently seems like a talking head comic book. There's more room for visual interpretation in the material that Wolverton chose, which combined with how familiar the "Genesis" story is should be a great reason to avoid making comics out of it.

David Apatoff said...

Sean Farrell and Kev Ferrara-- I agree with you both that that there is more than one kind of truth, or at least that people use the term "truth" in different ways. Kev writes, "I never said that there was an absolute truth" and "Truth is a tool just as a hammer is. Nobody worries about whether there is such a thing as an Absolute Hammer before picking one up." Sean writes, "People are each a unique expression of truth even with their errors or deceit, that is, a state of being is a truth as is, a truth of condition."

But it seems obvious that these different types of "truth" are not equally useful. Despite popular efforts to blur the distinctions between the two, the marketplace has no trouble valuing them differently. Scientific truth is "absolute" in the sense that it is uniformly applicable and objectively verifiable, and that has one type of value. Subjective artistic truth is not, and that has a different type of value. Not surprisingly, the traffic to conflate the two all seems to be coming from the subjective side. As I noted earlier, "ever since the scientific revolution, subjective fields of human endeavor such as art and ethics have looked enviously over the fence at the accomplishments of science and tried (always unsuccessfully) to simulate the scientific method." Everyone wants the certainty and the credibility that that the scientific method bestows. Not many scientists are saying, "I wish my scientific principles could be 'a unique expression of truth even with errors or deceit.'"

I'm not impressed that "Baumgarten defined Aesthetics in 1735 (long before Einstein hit the charts) as 'The Science of What is Sensed and Imagined'" because the scientific revolution, and scientific method, were jump started a century earlier (Francis Bacon's Novum Organum came out in 1620). By the time Baumgarten rolled around, the scientific method had so impressed the enlightenment philosophers that everyone was trying to use that same methodology to achieve advancements in ethics, politics, art and other areas of human judgment. That's why Kant aspired to discover the moral imperatives that operated like universal laws of nature.

Kev, I disagree with your point that "Nobody worries about whether there is such a thing as an Absolute Hammer before picking one up." Everybody does worry about whether there is such a thing as an Absolute Airplane (that is, whether the scientific facts of aerodynamics and metallurgy and physics are objectively true, and will remain true consistently regardless of where that airplane flies) before climbing aboard. The aesthetic truths of the west may differ from the aesthetic truths of Asia which may differ from Islamic aesthetic truths. But an airplane designed in the west and manufactured in Asia and flying with jet fuel refined in an Islamic country must remain aloft anywhere in the world, at any hour of the day. Scientific facts must remain universal and absolute, 30,000 feet over the Atlantic at noon or at midnight.

(cont.)

David Apatoff said...

to Sean Farrell and Kev Ferrara (cont)--
Kev argues that scientific and aesthetic truths are not fundamentally different, and tries to explain their differences by saying that aesthetic philosophers are "not nearly as organized and self-policing" as the scientists, but given time this "naive and new" field will ascertain and formalize its own suite of helpful linguistic constrictions. I see no evidence for this. If aesthetic philosophers are working with an entirely different table of elements than scientists, why should the scientists' process produce comparable rules?

I think Sean puts his finger on it when he says that aesthetic truths involve "unmeasurable realities." But once you surrender the measuring stick, you've lost the objective arbiter that is the hallmark of scientific truth. It doesn't mean that such realities can't be meaningful, and it doesn't mean that we are totally cast to the winds. I agree that "truth [can be] implied by error," which means that knowledgeable and humble questers might still get together and at least agree what artistic truth is not. But those kinds of truths can never be made into an airplane or a computer or a thermonuclear weapon.

kev ferrara said...

given time this "naive and new" field will ascertain and formalize its own suite of helpful linguistic constrictions. I see no evidence for this.

Nor are you looking. Let's be honest.

The problem with philosophizing with intelligent people who come from different perspectives and knowledge sets begins with the very basic matters; agreeing on definitions, sharing necessary evidence, agreeing on where the real disagreements fall in the tree of argument, trying to understand each others’ points before attacking them or waving them away, agreeing even on the language to be used to discuss the disagreements in question, etc. And of course, there are the old bugaboos of motivation; being more interested in winning or destroying the argument on behalf of some pet issue than being rigorous, or simply being unable to process certain kinds of understandings, leading to confusions and talking past one another, even accusations of pretension.

As I understand our motivations: David is here to hold science up above the fray and he has no other interest in the discussion except to indemnify science. Sean is here to argue that over-rationalization and over-analysis of time-honored aspects of life adds nothing to life and in fact detracts from it because it leads to dehumanizing compartmentalization and emotional frigidity. And I’m here to testify on behalf of a vast, disorganized mess of a philosophy, and to try to wedge into the conversation the point that relations are the immaterial core of all thoughts and that languages are just respective formalizations of certain classes of relations. (An observation which links language, thought, conception and observation, paving the way for a deeper understanding about the commonalities between all forms of honest inquiry.)

David Apatoff said...

Sean Farrell wrote: "I think the notion of logos or God is incomprehensible to modern people."

Yow, would you like to explain that? I could understand if you said that God was incomprehensible to humans, but "modern people"?

The most complex issue you raise, from my perspective, is your point that "we can never be superior to being." Readers of this blog (and before that, humanity for about 10,000 years) have struggled over that issue. Yes, the consciousness that holds us apart from the primacy of experience is a terrible weight sometimes, and we often wish that we could exist fully in what you describe as a "living state of being." Dubuffet urged it would help if we eliminated "Art." He wrote that "What is true of art is true of many other things whose virtues fly away as soon as their names are spoken.... [I]t is quite probable that soon the painting, a rectangle hung with a nail on a wall, will become an outdated and ridiculous object-- ....[T}he notion of art... will have ceased to be conceived of and perceived when the mind will have ceased to project art as a notion to be gazed upon, and art will be integrated in such a manner that thought, instead of facing it, will be inside it...." Do you agree? Wallace Stevens phrased the importance of "being" over mere "seeming" a little more poetically:

Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

But despite these and millions of other efforts, (including striving through zen or contemplation to become one with nature) this does not seem to be a choice available to us. Whether you say "being and explanation are two different realms" or you say that being and explanation are our creative polarity that makes us fully human, the schism seems to run deep and inescapable through our history. Whether it's the duality of yin and yang in eastern taosim or the western dichotomy between the Dionysian and Appollonian ways of looking at the world, the break between body and soul, theory and practice, illusion and reality, reason and intuition, etc. etc. seems omnipresent. It's not clear to me that the world would be a better place if we could shed this duality.

Richard wrote: "Why suggest that the artist of Garden of the Flesh was having pretensions about their work? It seems to me like Hernandez was just having a go at it."

Artists are welcome to "have a go at it" in their sketchbooks or on envelopes or on bathroom walls. After that they are supposed to look at the work and decide whether their "go" was successful enough to merit sharing with the world. Hernandez obviously looked at these crappy drawings and said, "Yes, that is how I would like to hold myself out to the world in a book, despite the fact that no one in their right mind would ever want to have sex with me after they see how shallow, puerile and devoid of poetry my notion of sex is."

Øyvind Lauvdahl said...

Sean Farrel -

Well, I'm European, so I suppose I'm culturally inclined to refuse the possibility of knowledge about the unknowable. Even statements that concern knowledge beyond language are little more than Strange Loops to me, I'm afraid.

David Apatoff -

"When he draws the creation of the universe, he has no choice but to resort to symbols and imagination."

I am reminded of something David Foster Wallace wrote:

"There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how's the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

Language. We're swimming in it.

Tom said...

That's an old zen story Oyvind,

Where is the great ocean of life the fish asked?
You are swimming in it repliers the other fish.

David wrote
"Whether it's the duality of yin and yang in eastern taosim or the western dichotomy between the Dionysian and Appollonian ways of looking at the world, the break between body and soul, theory and practice, illusion and reality, reason and intuition, etc. etc. seems omnipresent. It's not clear to me that the world would be a better place if we could shed this duality."

Isn't the idea of duality a thought? And thought isn't permanent. One thought enters your mind and it is soon replaced by another thought. It's like a TV screen, the screen is always there while the shows are constantly changing. The mistake is thinking the shows are the screen.


Another zen expression that drives this point home is, " don't mistake the finger for the moon."

kev ferrara said...

Even statements that concern knowledge beyond language are little more than Strange Loops to me, I'm afraid.

Evolution is not a linguistic process, its consequences not symbolic. For the survival of all organisms is conducted on a wholly physical basis.

Øyvind Lauvdahl said...

Tom -
I did not know that.

kev ferrara -
I doubt I understand your argument, but...Are you proposing evolution as a uniting principle between knowledge and being? As in knowledge being a consequence of language, which is a consequence of evolution, which again is an attribute of being?

As I understand it (which I probably do not), the theory of evolution does in no way qualify our (human) language as somehow properly representational. Evolutionary speaking, we were not bound to happen. Nor are we bound to continue evolving. And -if- our ability to think, reason, and communicate metaphorically -is- fatally flawed, we might just as well naturally not be able to know it.

David Apatoff said...

Clayton Hollifeld-- I agree that Crumb didn't bring anything new to the story of Genesis. I suspect he loves to draw all the time, and chose a story that would enable him to do a whole lot of conventional drawings. But his imagination was apparently in hibernation the whole time. One interesting lesson I take away from this book is that Crumb's subversive, offbeat imagination is a huge part of his success as an artist. When we see his drawing skills stripped bare in a conventional situation, Crumb is really very unremarkable.

On the other hand, I have to disagree with your point that "Genesis doesn't really lend itself to visual interpretation as well as some of the other parts of the Bible. Looking at Michelangelo's or Rembrandt's success with Genesis, I don't think the fault is in the text. I confess I didn't even know about the Wolverton Book of Revelations. Thanks for the referral.

Kev Ferrara-- I can't say that I was looking this week, but there was a time when I looked very, very hard and even read a few of the millions of great thinkers who tried to formalize a suite of helpful linguistic constrictions for aesthetics in the centuries before I came along.

I wouldn't dispute that science and aesthetics are both about relations, but the former is about relations between liquids, solids and gases, while the latter is about relations between emotions, magic, lust and pride. I'm not saying there isn't some overlap (for example, there are liquids involved in lust or in emotions) but not enough to come up with the reliable system we've been talking about.

Øyvind Lauvdahl-- I agree that we are swimming in language, and that language shapes our thoughts in ways that it's difficult for us to appreciate fully. At the same time, haven't we all been to a place where we leave language behind? Returning to our subject of Biblical art about sex, I'd say that sacred awe and hot sex are, at their essence, monosyllabic experiences where mere eloquence (either in vocabulary or in technical drawing skill) has few favors to bestow. Language is waiting respectfully for us outside, holding our coat.

Tom-- I suppose the idea of duality is a thought. I mean, it's at least a thought; it's difficult to say whether it corresponds to something in the "real world." I don't believe it's a thought that we would naturally gravitate to for amusement. If we have feelings of alienation from others or society, our thoughts about the great schism are our way of coming to grips with it. If we fall in the cracks between theory and practice, or between mind and body, are we making that up, or is our mind struggling to comes to gripwit the world?





kev ferrara said...

there was a time when I looked very, very hard (...) I wouldn't dispute that science and aesthetics are both about relations, but the former is about relations between liquids, solids and gases, while the latter is about relations between emotions, magic, lust and pride.

Yes, and there was a time when I studied The Law very, very hard. And found out it was all about the relations between egomania, bulk xeroxing, precedent, and dark oak paneling.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- That's ridiculous. The paneling is mahogany.

chris bennett said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
chris bennett said...

David:

If there was not some ontological basis in the relations governing aesthetics, in other words; specifiable effects innately within works of plastic expression, an artist struggling with their picture would not be able to recognise the moment when they had finally 'got it right'.

Øyvind Lauvdahl said...

David Apatoff -

Yes, isn't it strange how the self-aware animal yearns for the loss of self? I suppose I believe that this too is a consequence of that analogous aspect of our language which allows us to suppose that this language itself pales in comparison with what it is not.

Like King Midas, we cannot help ourselves from engaging with the world. And thereby turning everything we process into metaphor.

kev ferrara said...

I doubt I understand your argument

Language never touches what actually exists. Yet existence is the only predicate we have for any aspect of experience. You may doubt the accuracy of all interpretations, even all sensations, but you cannot doubt predicate, or cause as existent. Which then entails you accept the idea of process, and then effect or consequence as existent. Predicate, process and consequence all entail each other and are inextricably tied up with all, thoroughly suffusing experience, including all mental experience. We are all safe in this knowledge.

Øyvind Lauvdahl said...

kev ferrara -
Well, I can agree to this: language exists. An we are all safe within that knowledge.

kev ferrara said...

language exists.

By saying "language exists" you are declaring a phenomena to be a noumena. So you are thoroughly contradicting yourself. A strange loop indeed.

Maybe the problem is that you haven't been exposed to the distinction between what actually exists (noumenon) and what is "real" to us in our experience (phenomenon).

Øyvind Lauvdahl said...

kev ferrara -
It was merely a follow up to your seemingly non-committed "existence is the only predicate we have". A poor jest.

"you haven't been exposed to the distinction between what actually exists (noumenon) and what is "real" to us in our experience (phenomenon)."

Well, I haven't been touched by God, if that's what you mean. I am however, vaguely aware of the philosophical tradition you're more likely referring to.

kev ferrara said...

If predicate, process and consequence were not so, even the components of thought would be unable to interact to produce meaning.

Also, to assert all cognition is metaphoric is simply wrong. Metaphor is only one kind of relation.

Øyvind Lauvdahl said...

First, I am not speaking from a strict philosophical position here. I approach these matters in the way one would in a essay, not a treatise.

I understand metaphorical thinking to be the act of comprehending something in terms of something else, that's all.

Laurence John said...

one of the main purposes of satire is to send up the absurdities of the thing being satirised, however, Hernandez doesn't seem to be doing this in Garden of The Flesh. it appears that the Bible gets off pretty lightly and is really only used as a setting for a porn scenario.

i can only assume that the book is an attempt at camp parody of porn conventions, and therefore the stilted dialogue, bad acting and stock sexual positions are deliberate and supposed to be funny.

of course, if you're going to parody such an easy target as porn-acting you'd better have something rewarding up your sleeve to make it all worthwhile, say for instance... some sort of psychological insight into human nature, or at the very least, some great jokes. otherwise the end result will be a complete waste of time.

kev ferrara said...

I understand metaphorical thinking to be the act of comprehending something in terms of something else, that's all.

So noting diametrical oppositions, say the absolute contrast of black and white, is now a metaphor? So antonym is a synonym for synonym?

kev ferrara said...

i can only assume that the book is an attempt at camp parody of porn conventions, and therefore the stilted dialogue, bad acting and stock sexual positions are deliberate and supposed to be funny.

This would be a plausible explanation if you had never seen any of Hernandez's other work. It's all like that.

Øyvind Lauvdahl said...

kev ferrara -

A rock ptarmigan in winter plumage landing on a patch of snow instead of a rocky field sees the difference between the black rocks and the white snow.
You, "noting diametrical oppositions, say the absolute contrast of black and white", are doing something entirely different. You are performing mental acrobatics (with)in language. (Note: I wanted to write "zero-gravity field" here, but choose not to as it would mess up the metaphor).

Once the ability to understand stuff in terms of other stuff arose, communication gradually became language. Now we're stuck in it.

Maybe I should add that, pragmatically speaking, what I'm saying is irrelevant. Contemplating the possibility of one's self being nothing more than a metaphorical point of reference within a language field doesn't magically save me from death and taxes. But, like Crumb's cartoon version of The Book of Genesis, it can revitalize dead metaphors.

kev ferrara said...

Once the ability to understand stuff in terms of other stuff arose, communication gradually became language.

Are you saying that there is a difference between communication and language? That there is communication that is not linguistic? Or not "metaphoric" (in the broad sense in which you are using it)?



Øyvind Lauvdahl said...

kev ferrara -

Yes. Synaptic transmission, fruit fly courtship, a baby's smile - these are communicative events. Writing about them is a manifestation of language.

Anonymous said...

Kev I checked out Hernandezs other work and you're right this isn't a parody it all looks like this same shit. How come he wins all the awards? He's really popular.

JSL

kev ferrara said...

Yes. Synaptic transmission, fruit fly courtship, a baby's smile - these are communicative events. Writing about them is a manifestation of language.

A baby's smile represents its emotion. It isn't actually the emotion. So it is metaphoric according to your definition.

A female fruit fly's pheromone output represents her willingness to mate. It isn't actually her willingness to mate. So it is metaphoric according to your definition.

A synaptic transmission, if it constitutes a thought, is a more direct manifestation of language than writing.

Øyvind Lauvdahl said...

kev ferrara-

Maybe the problem is that you haven't been exposed to the distinction between communication and language.

kev ferrara said...

I guess that makes two of us.