Archive for April, 2005

INVASION OF THE PANCAKE PEOPLE

Sunday, April 3rd, 2005

“Did you hear what happened tonight? What happened tonight? I saw a pancake person. You did? And what did the pancake person say to you?”

Richard Foreman is good at naming things. He’s a dramatist whose Ontological-Hysteric Theater is now showing his final play, THE GODS ARE POUNDING MY HEAD (aka. LUMBERJACK MESSIAH). He recently stopped by Edge.org to bounce a theory off the resident technofetishists, futurists and AI theorists: Does this renaissance make me look flat?

He wonders if the basically instantaneous access to vast tracts of information is destroying the value of internalizing cultural knowledge and history; the depths and intricacies of a classical education drained away by a bilge pump named Google. It’s terrible, really. (As a side note, I used Google’s “define” feature to make sure I knew what a bilge pump was, because here at Baboon Palace we value analogical integrity. Does everyone know that you can type “define: x” into Google’s search and it will return definitions of x? It’s awesome. I love you, Google! You are magical!)

Foreman writes:

I see within us all (myself included) the replacement of complex inner density with a new kind of self-evolving under the pressure of information overload and the technology of the “instantly available”. A new self that needs to contain less and less of an inner repertory of dense cultural inheritance—as we all become “pancake people”—spread wide and thin as we connect with that vast network of information accessed by the mere touch of a button.

The most interesting responses, I think, are by Stephen Johnson and Rebecca Goldstein. Johnson correctly points out that the old “information overload” trope is a sham: informaton technology has increased our ability to sift through huge quantities of data, not the opposite. Goldstein, on the other hand, accuses Foreman of being a luddite, comparing his fear of computer networks with Plato’s disparagement of written word. You see, Plato thought of books as capable only of dumb, mechanical repetition, rather than dialogue and persuasion, the real source of human knowledge and understanding.

It seems to me we’ve come full circle. Books have long now been the repository of cultural knowledge and learning, and now that networks are threatening to usurp this role, we find ourselves reverting back to the ancient discursive, social model of public knowledge.

Or not. At any rate, I find it distinctly odd that anyone would identify the metaphysical foundations of personhood in something as banal as research methods. Who would have guessed that the answers to problems of personal identity would be uncovered by Library Science?

THE CLOCKS OF THE UNIVERSE ARE CHIMING THE HOUR OF ‘NOW’

Saturday, April 2nd, 2005

I read this essay by Jeet Heer and Kent Worcester, linked from Arts&Letters Daily, entitled “Intellectual Marijuana: comics and their critics.” It’s about what the literati has had to say about comics over the years. It includes a nice, witty one-liner from Dorothy Parker, whom I love.

Oh hey, I have a witty one-liner too. Ready? Here it is: “Can I get some sexual chocolate with this intellectual marijuana?” Heyo!

But seriously, that article kind of sucks and is boring. There is no real analysis, just a binary “approve/disapprove” from various intellectuals and critics, and the conclusion is is nothing more than “comics are now studied.” Which is no big deal, really, anyone can study anything these days. I remember as an undergrad reading an essay titled something like ‘A Marxist-Feminist Interpretation of Madonna’s “Material Girl.”‘ Merely being studied doesn’t quite have the cachet it used to, which I personally think is great. Here in the postmodern era, we know that interesting things can be said about any area of culture if you’re smart and creative enough.

They do mention how great Krazy Kat is, but without describing what it is, or giving any hint as to why ee cummings “would pen a paean to Krazy Kat as a “living ideal” superior to “mere reality.”” Krazy Kat was drawn by George Herriman, and was first published in 1913; it features the titular cat acting out humorous scenes of social, racial and sexual alienation, and who, in a recurring gag, get smashed in the back of the head with a brick, thrown by a Jewish mouse named Ignatz. Here is some Krazy Kat, pour vous:

Zip…POW

Self-reference is common.

More can be found here: http://www.iath.virginia.edu/crocker/.

There’s nothing inherently “high-brow” or “low-brow,” satisfying or empty, improving or corrupting about a media. Smart, creative, funny people (like George Herriman) can say smart, creative, funny things in any media, and it will be worth looking at, thinking about and laughing along with. When Heer and Worcester warn us that “intellectuals are fundamentally divided about the worth of comics, and there is always the possibility of a backlash,” I wonder what this division amounts to. The word “fundamental” seems to indicate that the disagreement is deeper than just the ‘nay’ side believing, contingently, that no-one has yet managed to write a worthwhile comic. Perhaps it’s the combination of words and pictures that makes it an inherently debased form of literature, with the brute semiotics and literal-ness of the Image intruding upon and corrupting the sublime abstraction of the Word? I don’t know. Someone should write an article about it, maybe.