Sunday, November 28, 2004


I'm not going to apologize yet again for the lack of updates, because I decided that if I keep apologizing for the same thing over and over it'll just be annoying. Actually I did write a short, peevish post on The Singing Detective (the TV series, not the film remake), but decided not to post it because I was starting to sound like the guy who hates everything -- particularly after Johanna Carlson linked to my complaint about Jason, and brought me at least sixty extra hits. (Who knew that there were so many people waiting to see someone put Jason down? Not me, that's for sure.)

Over the past year, I had several chances to buy the highly-praised fourth volume of the anthology Kramer's Ergot; but every time I looked at it, while there were a couple of pieces that looked good, I could never persuade myself that I was likely to get twenty-five bucks worth of enjoyment out of it. I'm even less inclined to spend thirty-five bucks on volume five, which just came out. I'd have been more likely to buy both volumes if the Ft. Thunder/Highwater group of artists didn't basically leave me cold; but as it is, there's too much stuff in volume five that interests me only marginally or not at all. I would have liked the chance to purchase the David Heatley and Souther Salazar pieces for a more reasonable price, but I'm sure they'll eventually show up elsewhere.

There were a couple of other books I also passed up the chance to buy when I was up in Chicago this week. I didn't buy Julie Doucet's My New York Diary for half price: to be honest I lost interest in her when she cleaned up her art, and her autobiographical stuff doesn't do anything for me either. I also passed up Doing Time by Kazuichi Hanawa, a memoir in manga form of prison life. I felt guilty about this one, since translated art manga such as this is just the sort of thing I want to see more of, and therefore should support; but again, when I looked through it, neither the story nor the art were compelling enough to persuade me it would be worth twenty bucks. (These latter two were both at Comix Revolution in downtown Evanston, on Davis St. west of Chicago Ave., in case anyone is interested, though I can't guarantee that they'll still be there.)

Among the comics I did buy were Go Back in Time and Fix Things and Feeble Attempts, both minicomics collecting strips and drawings by Jeffrey Brown (the former containing pre-Clumsy material, the latter recent work). I won't make extravagant claims for Brown; but I will say that his seemingly simplistic art gives me more pleasure than a lot of more highly touted alt-cartoonists. (I picked these both up at Quimby's, by the way.)

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Sunday, November 21, 2004


Not to "nullify my life" (I'll refrain from making any of the obvious Bush-re-election jokes here), but to get rid of my Derek Bailey records.

I never actually liked Bailey's music that much, or understood it for that matter, but I bought it because a lot of people kept saying how great it was, and so I hoped that if I listened to it enough I would come to understand and enjoy it. But that never happened. And, having just passed my forty-seventh birthday, it's long past time for me to have confidence in my own tastes, rather than seeking validation from others. (I've been trying to do this for a while, actually, but it's not easy.) So I'm going to sell my Bailey records, to allow them to get into the hands of people who might actually enjoy them.

I did the same thing with my Anthony Braxton records, of which I had a ton, about a year ago. I'd listened to them more, so it was easier to come to the conclusion that I'd got everything out of them I was going to get.

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Friday, November 19, 2004


I checked Jason's Tell Me Something out of the library a couple months ago, and I finally got around to reading it. (Inconsiderate of me, I know.) As I was reading, I realized that I didn't like Jason's stone-faced anthropomorphic birds and dogs. And I don't much care for stone-faced characters in other alternative comics, for that matter. One of the things I like most about manga is that its characters' emotions are displayed on their faces. This is one of the things comics are good at; and unless the cartoonist wants to make the point that his characters are repressed (as with Ware), I don't see why s/he would want to throw this away. (Perhaps it's an overreaction to contemporary superhero comics, where the characters display "emotion" mainly by grimacing, at least in my limited experience of them.)

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Wednesday, November 17, 2004


Sorry for the lack of updates; I've been out of town, mainly visiting Manhattan. I brought back a bunch of Japanese-language manga, some of which I hope to report on eventually. I also brought back a couple of pieces of info which may be of interest to those who buy Japanese-language manga and live in, or plan to visit, the New York City area.

I don't know if this is a new thing since the last time I was there, or if I just didn't notice it before; but the Book-Off on 41st St. between 5th and Madison has a whole bunch of shounen-ai and yaoi manga. They aren't given an official section of their own, but the ones I saw were clustered on the back wall. As with all the manga there, they're not only cheaper than new manga, but they're not shrink-wrapped, so you can thumb through them before you buy. (Which I would recommend, particularly if you're only familiar with what's been published in the U.S.; otherwise you may be unpleasantly surprised. Some of the material in those books is significantly rougher than even the books that have been shrink-wrapped here, from what I've seen of the latter.)

(Incidentally, did you know that the Japanese actually have a word meaning "standing and browsing at a bookstore"? They call it "tachiyomi.")

A while ago I reported that the Asahiya in Manhattan (Asahiya and Kinokuniya are the two major Japanese bookstore chains with branches in the U.S.) had closed. Since then, it's reopened in a new location, on 45th St. between 5th and Madison (though the address of the building it's in is actually 360 Madison Ave.). Unfortunately, if my memory isn't playing me false, the new store is significantly smaller than the old one, including the manga section. So, while the old Asahiya had been a better place to find Japanese-language manga than the Manhattan Kinokuniya, particularly "alternative" titles, now the positions are reversed. Still, I did find two titles in Asahiya that either Kinokuniya didn't carry or I'd overlooked there.

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Following up on the thought expressed in this post, as I read the scene of drunken revelry triggered by Slothrop's drinking game at the Casino (pp. 248-9, Bantam edition) it struck me that the scenes of riotous merry-making at the Drones Club, which Wodehouse often alluded to but never (as far as I know) described, must have been very much the same sort of thing, though undoubtedly less extravagant.

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Sunday, November 07, 2004


After posting it, it occurred to me that my second post on GR wound up being primarily critical. And there will undoubtedly be later posts that are partly or mainly critical, as well. Readers might conclude from this that my overall opinion of the book is negative. Not so. As I said at the start, my goal here is just to write down my thoughts and impressions in an unstructured way. And it's probably true that I am noticing more flaws on this reading than I have on previous readings. Mainly this is because, since this is my fourth or fifth reading, many of its virtues are familiar to me by now, and don't bowl me over the way they did on my first or second reading.

But the main reason why some posts may come out predominantly critical is simply that nobody would be interested in a post that said nothing but "here's a great passage, and here's another great passage, and here's still another." What I said about Pynchon's prose in my first post still goes; in fact, right now I'll go so far as to say that Pynchon's prose in GR is better than anyone else's, living or dead. A couple weeks ago I picked up Philip Roth's latest novel, The Plot Against America, out of curiosity. I read about thirty pages of it, and then quit: I might not have quit if I hadn't been reading GR at the same time, but as it was, the gap in the quality of the prose was just too great. Like Pynchon, Roth is fond of long sentences, and especially lists. But compared to those in GR, Roth's long sentences are flat and lifeless. And although the historical setting of Roth's book is that of his own childhood, while Pynchon could only have learned about the setting of GR from books, it's the setting in Roth's book which feels like it came out of a book and the setting in GR which feels like it was experienced firsthand, such is the difference in vividness between the two writers' prose.

Anyway, certainly don't let anything I write on this blog discourage you from reading GR. It may not be a perfect book, but few great books are, and I'm convinced that it is a great book.

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Saturday, November 06, 2004


People have found echoes of many writers in Gravity's Rainbow, but never of Wodehouse as far as I know; and when the idea of a Wodehouse influence on Pynchon first occurred to me, it seemed so unlikely that I decided not to mention it. But when one of the amorous adventures Slothrop relates to Tantivy is described as "the bizarre masquerade involving Gloria and her nubile mother, a quid wager on the Blackpool-Preston North End game, a naughty version of 'Silent Night,' and a providential fog" (22, Bantam edition), this sounds to me an awful lot like one of Bertie Wooster's references to (for instance) "the complex case of Gussie Fink-Nottle, Madeline Bassett, my Cousin Angela, my Aunt Dahlia, my Uncle Thomas, young Tuppy Glossop and the cook, Anatole" (Brinkley Manor, Chapter One). Slothrop himself resembles a Wodehouse protagonist to some extent: not Bertie Wooster, but one of Wodehouse's empty-headed young men who are always chasing after some girl or other and getting into "scrapes," like Freddie Widgeon. And last (so far) but not least, in the following piece of dialogue, the second line sounds quiteWodehousean to me:

"'We-e-e-ell, you see, somebody swiped all my clothes, and I was just on my way to complain to the management--'
"'But decided to put on a purple bedsheet and climb a tree instead,' nods the General." (233)


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Thursday, November 04, 2004


A few notes on my reading since last time (I'm now a few pages into "Un Perm' au Casino Hermann Goering"):

The portrayal of Pointsman is surprisingly empathetic for one of the bad guys. In fact, so far he's the most psychologically rounded character. What we've seen of other characters' psychologies has been basically determined by their function in the book, and in Pynchon's schema. But there's no functional reason for us to know Pointsman's psychology in such depth, at least none apparent so far: no reason, for instance, for us to be told in detail what Pointsman was dreaming when the news of Spectro's death arrived. I can't help wondering if Pynchon is here portraying his own "dark side," especially with the depiction of Pointsman's Nobel Prize ambitions (though, of course, this is a completely ungrounded speculation).

Talking about Pointsman's dream brings to mind a peculiar aspect of Pynchon's technique. Most novels, whether written from a first-person, third-person, or omnipotent perspective, have a "foreground" and a "background," so to speak: events, characters and settings in the foreground are described in detail, while those in the background are merely sketched roughly. But this doesn't appear to be true of Gravity's Rainbow. The dreams and fantasies of minor characters are described with as much specificity and detail as are the doings of the protagonists. It's as if Pynchon is trying to abolish the distinction between important and unimportant details--or elite and preterite details, to use his own terminology--and get everything in.

In the flahshback to Weimar Berlin, Leni Pokler (there should be an umlaut over the "o") refers in her thoughts to a Jewish woman's "Judenschnautze" [sic]. "Schnautze," whith that spelling, is not in the German-English dictionaries I looked at, but "Schnauze" means muzzle or snout; and the passage in which this term occurs describes this woman in animalistic terms. Of course I am not accusing Pynchon of anti-Semitism: it is clearly Leni, not Pynchon, who thinks in this way. But all the same, this is a passage that has always disturbed me, since according to the book's schema Leni should be a sympathetic character: she's left-wing, hangs out with spiritualists and believes in synchronicity, whereas her husband Franz will work for the Nazis, is an engineer and believes in cause-and-effect. However, rereading that whole Weimar section, I now find myself more sympathetic to Franz than to Leni, who comes off as censorious and ungenerous.

Whether this was Pynchon's intention or not, I don't know. But now that I come to think of it, nowhere in the book as far as I can recall does Pynchon display any affinity for socialism or communism; politically, he comes across as an anarchist if anything. In any case, now that I can feel myself free to dislike Leni, the "Judenschnautze" line doesn't bother me so much. (On the other hand, this makes Pynchon's treatment of women look worse.) I'm still a bit uneasy, however, about the role of Jews, or rather their non-role, in the book in general; but this is something I'll get to later.

(Please don't misunderstand me; I'm not saying that Pynchon has to pass a litmus test of "inclusivity" of women and Jews in order to be considered great. I'm just describing my reactions. On the other hand, I think our evaluation of his treatment of women and Jews has to affect our judgment of the book as a whole; but again, this is something I'll discuss later, if at all.)

The final section of "Beyond the Zero" was a bit of an anticlimax. I'm not a huge fan of Pynchon's songs in general, and the pantomime song doesn't make much sense, either in itself or as something that an actress would sing to comfort an audience of frightened children. Besides, when I read it now I can't help thinking of the parody of this scene in My Little Blue Dress by Bruno Maddox. (I don't remember if I've blogged about this book or not; if not, I should.) And the Roger-Jessica scene which ends the section doesn't work for me, for the same reasons that the earlier ones didn't.

The mention of "Qlippoth" in this section (205, Bantam edition) reminds me, though: those of you who think Grant Morrison is way cool owe it to yourselves to read Gravity's Rainbow. This is where Morrison got it from, either directly or indirectly (and my money would be on the former). And come to think of it, isn't Danny the Street a direct descendant of Byron the Bulb?

This isn't all I have to say about "Beyond the Zero," but I think I'll stop here and post what I've written so far.

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Wednesday, November 03, 2004


According to this thread on the Anime on DVD Manga Forum, the manga Kare Kano is entering its "final saga" in the Japanese anthology in which it appears. I'm not sure exactly what this means, but it suggests that the series will finish in 25 volumes or less (19 volumes have currently been published in Japan, of which I've read the first 18). Kare Kano is one of the best manga series being published in the U.S., and in the upcoming volumes (upcoming here, that is) it only gets better. I'll be sad to see it end, but I look forward to seeing what Tsuda does next.

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Monday, November 01, 2004


So far, I've largely tried to avoid approaching manga from the perspective of "wow, this stuff is bizarre." I've done this partly because there are more important things to say about manga; and partly because I don't think that Japanese are any more twisted than Americans, just a bit less repressed about it. But sometimes a manga, while very good, will feature a grotesque element so prominently that to downplay it would falsify both the manga and readers' likely experience of it. Today's manga is one of these.

Milk Closet is a manga about children with symbiotic aliens sticking out of their butts.

(You're excused to giggle, or make disgusted faces, or whatever you feel compelled to do.)

Now that that's out of the way, we can discuss the manga seriously. Miruku Kurouzetto [Milk Closet] is a four-volume manga by Hitoshi Tomizawa, the creator of Alien Nine which has been translated in the U.S.; and is similar in subject matter, except with a cosmic instead of a local setting. It begins in 2005, when there is an epidemic of children "disappearing": actually, jumping to parallel universes, which are filled with aliens similar to those appearing in Alien Nine. Some of the children, at least, jump and return repeatedly. Among these is the main character, 8-year-old Hana, who at this point is otherwise normal (i.e. has nothing sticking out of her butt).

Now you may think jumping to parallel universes would be pretty cool. But, as Harvey Kurtzman had Alice say in his otherwise unmemorable parody of Lewis Carroll: "By you it may be charming! By you it may be delightful! By me it's just one thing--scary!" All the places Hana jumps to are frightening. And since she has made six hundred jumps so far, and will likely make many more, she's pretty upset. But then a mysterious girl appears and gives her a pair of red ribbons, implicitly promising that if she wears them she won't jump to scary places. The ribbons don't work as advertised, however, instead placing her in a situation where she survives only by acquiring one of the symbiotic aliens mentioned above.

The alien's head sticks out from her butt, and looks like a large beaver's tail, but is capable of moving independently (a rather unsettling sight); while the alien's actual tail, which is several feet long, is inside her. We even see a shot of her nude (from the rear) to confirm that the tail is indeed inside her and not just hidden under her clothes. When I first read the manga, I assumed it was lodged in her rectum and intestine; but on rereading it, I can't tell whether this is the case or whether it's actually embedded in her flesh (I don't know which would be worse). As to how the alien gets there, as far as I can tell it actually ingests its host, and then somehow reconstitutes its host's body around its tail.

In any case, Hana gets to know several other children (mainly girls) with aliens, at least one of whom was "recruited" in the same way as Hana. Along with the aliens, they have acquired abilities to metamorphose different parts of their body: Hana, for instance, can turn her hands into knives, while another child can turn his entire upper body (including his head) into a large drill. The girl who gave Hana the ribbon organizes them into the "MILK [Macrocosmic Invincible Legion of Kids] Squad," whose mission is to rescue children who have disappeared, more and more of whom are not coming back; and the first volume ends with the completion of the MILK Squad's first mission. As with Alien Nine, though, there is a lot more going on than appears on the surface, and the next two volumes contain a number of horrific events and (even more) disturbing images. I can't say much more about these volumes without giving away spoilers. And I don't know how the story ends, unfortunately, because when I tried to order the final volume it was out of stock at the publisher's.

Milk Closet is similar to Alien Nine, but better: the art is better, and the story is easier to follow, at least in the three volumes I've read. (Readers of Alien Nine will also be happy to hear that Hana is not as whiny as Yuri.) Since Alien Nine has a fan base here, normally that would make Milk Closet a likely candidate for translation. However reasons that should be obvious by now, that probably won't happen, at least not in the near future. Fortunately, of all the manga I've read in Japanese, Milk Closet was by far the easiest (even though there are no furigana): there's not much dialogue, and what there is is usually simple. So if you have any Japanese reading skills at all, I encourage you to take a shot.

Milk Closet is published by Kodansha. Each of the volumes I own is 202 pages and costs 505 yen; the ISBNs are 4-06-314245-0, 4-06-314256-6, and 4-06-314270-1. The ISBN for the fourth volume is 4-06-314279-5.

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