Metafiction: I was a Teenaged Postmodernist

Because conventional blogging hasn't quite stuck with me, I'm now attempting some more comfortable semi-autobio sort of writing, since I assume we're still basically reader-free. Tomorrow it will move more toward criticism. Ok, that's my disclaimer.

Last weekend I finished The Athenian Murders, and now Steven has done the same. This leaves me madly recommending other (and better) metafiction to em. But what makes metafiction good or interesting? I'm not sure I can answer, but I can tell my own story, a meta-answer, maybe.

I've always been obsessed with words, which is probably something that happens to a lot of friendless children, only a small subset of whom grow up to be Greek majors. I remember that in my sophomore year of high school, when asked to pick an epitaph (presumably the last time that exercise was assigned, since it came only a few months before a suicide), I chose lyrics that I said I wished I could find true before dying, although I'm still only somewhat sure this is the case:

"I use these words pretty loosely.
There's so much more to life than words."

(a quote from Over the Rhine's song "Latter Days," off the Good Dog, Bad Dog album, thus proving the falsehood of what I just said. The album came out while I was at GSP after my junior year, thus indicating that, in fact, this was an assignment for my senior English class under the same teacher. And yet I'm uncertain, which is my whole point. It's impossible to extricate "truth" from the stories, but without stories, we couldn't create truth.)

My idea was that I could live only a mediated life, which was certainly what I was attempting to do. I followed the young Sylvia Plath, another sign of misspent youth:

"I look at you and all the world stops dead.
I think I made you up inside my head."

No, I didn't go so far as to create an imaginary boyfriend the way some I know have, and in fact I think this may be normal behavior. Instead, I knew that any friend I had was at least partially a creation of my own imagination. In fact, I thought that was why I liked them, which is not what I would have told them, since they didn't like the idea of fictional selves to begin with.

I didn't read Heideggar until college, but I started reading metafiction by midway through high school -- Borges, Calvino, Eco, Cortazar, and I'd toss in Rushdie. There must have been some women in there somewhere, but I don't recall them clearly. Perhaps many women's books were metafictional to me because I read them as covert autobiographies and as coded hints for a literary girl like me. Even if they weren't about the creation of the text, they instructed me on construction of myself as text.

I don't really know where I'm trying to go with this except soon to bed. When I was a very little girl, 4-6 or so, especially as I got tired I would apparently narrate my conversations. I don't remember this, but it's been told to me by reliable sources, but the way I believe it to be real is part of the creation of memory and of narrative. I would say, "'I'm sleepy,' she said." At some point, I must have learned that this was not appropriate in conversation, but I still catch myself mentally adding attributions and epithets during conversations.

"So do other people do this, and if they do not, why not?" she inquired, adding "I'm sleepy."

More to come.

Nongendered Pronouns

We use nongendered pronouns on this blog (which is not to say we expect people to use them in comments). For an explanation of NGPs and why it's a good idea to adopt them, see here. We use what is called, on the previously linked website, the Spivak Variant:

NGPs, Spivak Variant
SubjectObjectPossessive AdjectivePossessive PronounReflexive

Dare I read Stephanie Zacharek's review of Northfork? You'd think that somebody at Salon would notice that Stephanie Zacharek hates movies which require such strenuous activities as thinking and being patient and start limiting eir assignments to romantic comedies starring Ewan McGregor and Renee Zellweger or whatever the fuck ey doesn't hate, but I guess they're all too busy masturbating over Sydney Blumenthal books and writing biting and relevant critiques of such conservative leaders as Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh.

Rose claimed at one point that ey was going to write a critique of Salon's politics, so you'll have to wait for that if you want more than cheap shots like this. And yes, I am going to write a real blog entry someday.

Lois Lane: I am Curious (Black)!

It's issue #106 of Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane. It opens with a shocking scene: Lois Lane, temporarily African American, confronts Superman and says, "I'm now black! But you're white! I want a simple answer! 'Yes,' or 'No!' Will you marry me?" OK, first of all, the rather unfortunate old comics tradition of ending every sentence with an exclamation point robs this story of any dramatic subtlety it might otherwise have possessed (which isn't much anyway).

Now, you can probably just about guess the story. Lois Lane is assigned to do a story on Metropolis's Little Africa, but ey can't get any of the black people to submit to an interview for the piece -- they all hate em because ey's white! Even young children and little old blind ladies -- the black people of Metropolis seem to have some kind of anti-whitey hivemind, which I guess is actually plausible considering this is a superhero comic and all kinds of crazy stuff can and does happen, but I don't think that's supposed to be the idea. So Lois and Superman (despite being Superman's girlfriend, Lois doesn't seem to have noticed that Superman is also Clark Kent -- this was back in the innocent days before the rise of the nitpicking fanboy) use the Plastimold and the Transformoflux Pack (invented by Dahr-Nel, Kryptonian Surgeon) to turn Lois into a black woman! Ultimate undercover journalism! It's Black Like Me, but with more Superman. This is really good stuff. Lois eventually meets the radical anti-white black rebel who earlier called em "whitey." There's a drug deal, and radical guy Dave Stevens says, "Stay here! This is a man's business!" a statement Lois declines to challenge, which I thought was interesting in a story about social inequality. Then Dave gets shot and needs a blood transfusion fast, which leads to the following classic dialogue from Lois: "I -- I'm O-negative! Just like him!" The thematic content is virtually palpable! So Lois donates blood, and Dave wants to thank em, but then Lois turns white again! Will Dave accept the whitey blood now flowing through eir veins, or will ey remain the sworn enemy of whitey forever? Superman, demstrating eir superhuman political saavy, cuts straight to the core of the situation: "You must see him, Lois, or you'll never find out! If he still hates you... with your blood in his veins... there may never be peace in this world!" Oh, the suspense!

Well, yes, of course Dave is shocked at first and then grins and they grasp hands in a universal symbol of togetherness. Utterly touching.

Let's go into numbered-list mode.

  1. Black people are portrayed pretty negatively, considering this is presumably supposed to be about the plight of the poor oppressed black people. Lois, the only major white character and thus representative of white people, is kind and not particularly racist. All the black characters, in contrast, are hateful anti-white militants (at least until the sappy togetherness ending). I'm sure the moral is supposed to be because they're so oppressed that they assume all white people are out to get them or something, but it's overblown. I'd say this may be making some point about how you don't have to be white to be racist, but nothing else in this story indicates to me that writer Robert Kanigher is interested in reaching of that level of nuance.
  2. There's that gender-politics scene I mentioned above. Yay for thoughtless writing about social issues.
  3. Lois gets hardcore about marriage with Superman! Here's the razor-sharp dialogue:

    Lois: "Look me straight in the eye! And tell me the truth! Do you love me? Suppose I couldn't change back? Would you marry me? Even if I'm black? An outsider in a white man's world?" [More gender politics! This is the November 1970 issue, by the way, just about pre-Women's Lib.]
    Superman: "You ask that of me... Superman? An alien from Krypton... another planet? A universal outsider? I don't even have human skin! It's tougher than steel!"
    Lois: "But... your skin is the right color!"

    Maybe ey's just sick of Superman blowing off eir marriage proposals and decides to play the race card now that it's available. Superman tries to weasel out of it by pointing out that ey's already refused to marry Lois on account of not wanting to place em in "deadly danger from [eir] foes," but Lois isn't taking any of that shit! Luckily, Superman is off the hook when Lois is distracted first by eir sudden detransmogrification and then by the sappy ending. I don't know what this marriage confrontation has to do with this story's plot, but it's pretty good stuff anyway. Heavy drama!

I haven't read the letters column or the backup stories in this issue yet. I paid $20 for this on eBay, and it's worth every penny! If you can find a copy of this, read it!


So now I'm the one to have read Volume One of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I've got lots and lots and lots of comments, so I'll try to keep them segmented thematically, though this is almost certainly a doomed process.

So point the first, and most major -- is nothing sacred? I'll say from the outset that I'm not being a good New Critic (this is not news) and separating Moore's work from his other books or his public persona. Still, what I found discouraging about The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was the insistence on taking every opportunity to mock the Victorians for being so, well, Victorian according to the popular conception of the period. I do like historical fiction, and the premise of historical metafiction was promising, but Alan Moore seems only capable of creating caricatures and then mocking them, which is simply dumb. I'm sure I have a preference for subtlty, but I don't think the best way to talk about, say, double standards in Victorian sexuality is to feature a gaudily explicit S/M girls' school. Add to that that the characters being impregnated by "The Holy Ghost" are wealthy Americans, vulgar innocents abroad, and I don't think much is being done to get beyond cheap stereotypes.

In Moore's defense, maybe the purpose of the League is to make pulp physical, to dwell in a world where all of these stories are true, but I'm not sure why the excesses of Victorian erotica would be chosen over, well, anything else, except that shocking people is apparently good, or maybe it breaks them out of their complacency.

I wasn't shocked but merely annoyed by most of the sexual politics in the book, which seems to fall back on the excuse of using Victorian sources or mores when convenient and also being snidely modern. It's very hard, because I have an emotional response, to explain what I mean by this.

Steven has already talked about Mina Murray's constant sexual endangerment as plot device, but it's worthy of more mention. As the only female member of the team, Mina takes on sexualized roles, whether as a mother or streetwalker, in their adventures. Undertones of sexual violence are prominently featured, from an attempted gang rape when Mina rescues Quatermain to Hyde's violent attack on Mina-as-prostitute. Even beyond this, the only purpose in Mina's near-rape is that it goads an opium addict into action, proving emself a hero in rescuing Mina. Similarly, all the men rush on Hyde to protect Mina's honor and life, probably in that order. Now, taking this book on its own terms, it makes sense that Mina would go undercover in a variety of roles and probably use sex to eir advantage, but it's unpleasant and all the more so because of its frequency. The men in the story are appalledand perhaps made nervous by Mina's power and self-assurance, yet seek to undermine and subdue em by either making em fall in love, sexually assaulting em, or attempting to show em up by rescuing em.

By no means do I want to imply that sexual violence is not a serious issue, now or in the past. In fact, it's because it is so serious that I feel somewhat demeaned by Moore's flippant insistence on Mina's existing as a purely sexual object (and certainly an object, not subject) and one to be used by any of the men.

For a book about famous characters, it certainly lacks characterization, and the use of sexualized shorthand to encapsulate character traits just seems like bad writing.

So, as I said, there's plenty more I could say about it, but my feeling is that Victorians, and especially Victorian sex, were far more nuanced and subtle than Moore allows them to be and, while problematic in many ways, perhaps more progressive in others as well than this story admits.

I don't think I'll be in a hurry to continue the story, since from what I've heard the next volumes address rape and retribution, or at least feature them, if "address" is perhaps not the right word for a fairly superficial book. However, I wouldn't mind someday reading a different version of this story that notices race and class and gender and yet also deals with the mindsets of the period, but The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen doesn't seem to be it.

Bitching about comics I don't like

Warning: I'm not in a rational mood right now. I just feel like bitching about comics I don't like.

Another warning: Spoilers ahead!

Let's start with Watchmen. Everybody in the world seems to think this is the greatest thing to ever happen to comics, so I figured I should read it. So here's my quick bullet-list review:

  • What's up with that pirate comic? First of all, it sucks. Second of all, it's totally thematically redundant with the main story of Watchmen. It adds nothing that I can see. OK, it answers the question, "What comics would people read if superheroes actually existed?" But we didn't need an entire lame comic story about zombie pirates written in overwrought purple language to answer that question.
  • Sally Jupiter was a slutty pin-up action girl who was raped and then had an affair with eir rapist. Excuse me, Mr. Moore, could we get some nuance in here? (I'm probably being unfair. Not all the characters were as flat as Sally Jupiter, and anyway I'm probably forgetting some minor roundness in Sally's character. Actually, it's not Sally Jupiter as an individual character that bothers me, but Moore's tendency to use sexual abuse as facile characterization. It's also evident in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. It would be evident in From Hell, but I'm willing to give Moore some slack there because, hey, it's about a prostitute-murdering crazy Freemason -- it sort of has to involve lots of sexual abuse stuff.)
  • Actually, I thought Watchmen was pretty good for the first 11 chapters. Then Veidt's plan is revealed. OK, I'm willing to believe that Veidt is crazy enough and has the resources to put this plan in motion. However...
  • As far as I can tell, Moore expects us to believe this is actually a sort of viable plan. Uh huh.
    1. Like the nations of the Earth are going to just drop the Cold War and start working together to stop the extraterrestrial threat? Un-fucking-likely, sez I. Even if you could convince every nation that it's not just some crazy trick the US is pulling, or something like that, and you could convince them the best way to deal with the threat is to create a peaceful world alliance, it'd take some serious diplomacy to get such an alliance together and coordinated.
    2. And by the time it's coordinated, somebody's going to have figured out Veidt was behind it all along, and that's the end of the alliance. If crazy fuck Rorschach managed to figure everything out, the CIA and the KGB and whatever other intelligence organizations are going to have it figured out it about 5 minutes.
  • Related to the above point, Moore has Dan Dreiberg and Laurie Juspeczyk, after a few minutes of horror, decide they should let Veidt get away with it all because they apparently think the plan will work. I don't really see Dan and Laurie being stupid and/or crazy enough to think the plan will work. I think point the is that there are no heroes, so Moore has to have Dan and Laurie sacrificing their heroic ideals and all that, but ey should have come up with a way to make that point that doesn't make them look like incredible idiots.
  • Anyway, what's up with this stuff about there being no heroes? Lots of people do heroic things in real life, so why can't there be heroes in superheroland? I'm not bitter or cynical enough to appreciate Watchmen's thematic content.
  • Dr. Manhatten's murder of Rorschach was despicable plotting on Moore's part. Up to that point, I thought Dr. Manhatten was about the only sympathetic character for me in the entire story (on the surface ey's the least human character, but really ey strikes me as the most human in depth, since ey's not based on shallow caricatures like the rest -- "slutty rape victim," "megalomaniacal supervillain," "costume fetishist," "psychotic vigilante," blah blah blah). Then -- why? Couldn't Dr. Manhatten just erase eir memories or something? It's not like Dr. Manhatten's powers are limited by anything other than plot necessity, so Moore must have had some reason for turning Dr. Manhatten into a cold-blooded killer. What was it?

Yeah, so I didn't like Watchmen much. Why do so many other people do? What do they see that I don't? Another pertinent question is, what do I see that they don't? I ask these questions not just about Watchmen, but about Alan Moore in general. I rarely see others mention Moore's constant and troubling (to me, at least) use of sexual mistreatment of women in eir stories, but I find myself extremely reluctant to read any more Alan Moore because I don't like reading about the Invisble Man raping schoolgirls, and moreover, I don't like reading about the Invisible Man raping schoolgirls who attend a nonsensical sledgehammer-subtle parody of Victorian British girls' boarding schools. I don't get it. Why is this stuff worth reading?