Joyce Carol Oates and the Vortex of American Violence

Joyce Carol Oates just put this brilliant comment on Twitter:

all we ever hear is NRA. who exactly are the gun manufacturers whose merchandise is being peddled? whose guns are killing citizens, thousands a year? CEO’s certainly have names. the anonymity of NRA gives it a spurious aura, like “act of God.” blood on the hands of–exactly whom?

 She has the most profound understanding I know of American violence, its cover-up, and its eerie connection to a current of Edgar Allen Poe/H.P. Lovecraft that runs through the country.
If you haven’t read her incredible 1966 story, “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been,” you must.

It is a masterpiece beyond compare.

There’s Not a Riot Going On

This is the piece that put a huge crack in the foundation of my reverence for Malcolm Gladwell (yes, it’s about school shootings). I’m not sure Winkler’s recommendations at the end of the piece add up to much, either, but there’s no question she’s right about the flaws in comparing school shootings to riots. Since reading this, I’ve noticed Gladwell often has the fatal structure of superficially compelling argument based on a messed-up premise. Of course, the New Yorker goes ahead and reprints his essay about school shootings as though nobody had said nothing.

On “Binky Brown”

Reading about this groundbreaking undergrounder in Hillary Chute’s Why Comics? reminds me of the time I first came across it (I believe it was the second printing) in a Missoula “head shop.” The cover alone was “WHAAAAAAT?” This will fill you in on its history and significance.

I couldn’t believe this comic — every page was a revelation (as well as disturbing) that touched on society, the sexes, religion, growing up, and of course psychological disorder of the OCD type. It’s a bit like Elvis — it’s impossible to convey the jolt of surprise as one encountered “Binky Brown” when it was new.

I was on the inexperienced and naive side myself. I was certain Justin Green was going to become a prolific comix genius. For a long time I thought of him with a twinge of disappointment. Older and at least a couple (white) hairs wiser, I now see what an unrepeatable performance “Binky Brown” was. But hey — lots of artists have long and large careers without producing even one masterpiece. I bought the fancy 2009 reprint and thought Green’s work deserved every bit of the celebration.

Oliver Sacks From Beyond the Grave

I’m so insanely behind in my reading that I don’t dare get this yet — but it is on the must list.

A book I ran across when all I had to do at night in Cambridge was drink or read was Sacks’s Awakenings and I didn’t put it down for a moment after I got home from work until I was finished and went back and re-read the most intense accounts. A report from a world I had only encountered in glimpses. Few years later he tripled down with The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and I was a fan for good. Search “Oliver Sacks” in this blog and you’ll see he comes up more than I might think.


Funny Ha-Ha or Funny Pervert?

As I noted recently, comics after Jonathan Winters are off my screen. [Male ones, anyway, I know, if anything, even less about female stand-ups, but don’t have the same specific objections to them.] Nobody’s ever accused me of being humorless, so I don’t feel bad about this outlook at all. What surprises me is how much reinforcement my attitude has gotten over the years. I thought The Sophisticates was a huge indictment of all the stand-up society. When I first moved to Boston in the late ’70s, comedy clubs were undergoing quite the boom. So I went to a show, I don’t remember who. I found the atmosphere relentlessly icky. Making members of the audience uncomfortable and encouraging those who were yukking it up to look down on them was a clear component of the act. It was a divisive collective experience the opposite of what I enjoyed about music performances. The final conclusion I came to is that far too many comedians are like what I consider the utter worst kind of fiction writer — those who create feuds and disasters in their own life to use as raw material.

R.I.P.: Michel Jouvet

I knew only bits about his remarkable career. My mother was fascinated by dreams and astrology (thought they were related in some way I could never quite understand — dreams predict the future, maybe). But for her (born 1910) and my father (born 1890) dreams were utterly mysterious, unexplained in any way. (The one item I most wish I could find in my mother’s possessions is her paperback The Dictionary of Dreams — it’s a kind of lost fantasy compendium.) Neither had read Freud, but he’s gone more into the wastebin than I imagined way back when. So Jouvet’s work is very profound.

But why do dolphins and whales not dream?