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## Friday, November 02, 2007

### Joel Turnipseed Interviews Douglas Wolk

I haven’t found the time to say it in too many words, the way I’d like. But to say it in just enough words: Douglas Wolk’s Reading Comics [amazon] is the best damn book of literary criticism I’ve read in many a moon. It’s just fantastic. Really. (I made a bit of fun of the learned gentleman, with this post. But I subsequently struck up an acquaintance, which has been even better fun.) I do mean to get around to writing that post about comics and canonicity. But not today.

Joel Turnipseed, author of Baghdad Express, did an interview with Wolk, at kottke. Joel opens with a passage from a Robert Warshow essay, which just goes to show - as I have hinted before - how awesome is Warshow:

On the underside of our society, there are those who have no real stake at all in respectable culture. These are the open enemies of culture.... these are the readers of pulp magazines and comic books, potential book-burners, unhappy patrons of astrologers and communicants of lunatic sects, the hopelessly alienated and outclassed.... But their distance from the center gives them in the mass a degree of independence that the rest of us can achieve only individually and by discipline… when this lumpen culture displays itself in mass art forms, it can occasionally take on a purity and freshness that would almost surely be smothered higher up on the cultural scale.

The great thing about Warshow is that his echter-than-thou anti-comicbook screeds, so often conjoined with admissions that comics can be pretty good, are so far out of the mainstream, so alienated from the rise of pop culture, that their distance from the center gives them a kind of authentic independence that can hardly be matched by any of these feeble ‘comics are awesome’ posts the rest of us offer up. A book of his essays, The Immediate Experience [amazon], recently came back in print, with an introduction by Lionel Trilling, an epilogue by Stanley Cavell. The Amazon page contains excerpts from various favorable reviews - including one from Midge Decter (!). It’s very interesting, peculiar stuff.

Joel, by the by, usually blogs at Hotel Zero. Just a couple weeks ago he was peddling some mighty peculiar cultural criticism, courtesy of Karl Kraus:

That Krausian cultural criticism is indeed mighty peculiar.  I was wondering what your take on it is.

By Dave Maier on 11/03/07 at 08:11 PM | Permanent link to this comment

John,

Thanks for noting the Wolk interview. I agree that Reading Comics is fantastic--and also that Warshow is something to behold (what was it Cavell said in the afterward? “a paradoxical expression of the feelings (of gratitude one finds on discovering him) is that one wishes at once to make a present of the book to friends and to strangers, and at the same time to keep it private, as if playing for time to work out one’s own relation to it").

I loved Douglas’s response to Warshow, especially in the context of this summer’s “bloggers v. critics” wars (shame on me, too, since I’m an NBCC member).

W/r/t Kraus… was I peddling Kraus? Or just pointing out that his was my favorite--and possibly the most insane--"literary equation” of all time? For what it’s worth (and I should post this as an update), the joke is apparently that the whole equation works out to -1, when the value of x=1 and y=1. Ha ha… but you know, those Austrian geniuses had some pretty weird ideas about women, all-around.

By Joel Turnipseed on 11/04/07 at 02:02 AM | Permanent link to this comment

What weirds me out most is that he didn’t bother reducing anything (4x2 rather than 8, for instance).

I suspect it’s just supposed to be read “Female soul = [random WTFery]” though. Which is straightforward enough.

By Daniel on 11/04/07 at 02:05 AM | Permanent link to this comment

That Warshow quote is fantastic, John. Explains why I find graff so compelling. The people who started it didn’t know anything about museum & gallery art and so weren’t playing to that audience. & while graff has now made it into the museums and galleries, it’s not yet been co-opted.

By Bill Benzon on 11/04/07 at 03:18 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I stand corrected, btw: I finally looked at that equation carefully (prompted by a remark at my site), and of course: it always works out to zero (the algebra above is just an expansion of algebra below & the arithmetic works itself out).

As my mathematically-inclined commenter pointed out, “Further comment seems superfluous.”

By Joel Turnipseed on 11/04/07 at 11:20 AM | Permanent link to this comment

the joke is apparently that the whole equation works out to -1, when the value of x=1 and y=1

Except it doesn’t.  Assuming that that radical sign represents a square root, you’ve got 8*sqrt(2) sitting there, and the whole thing works out to ...

$-1+\frac{8\sqrt{2}-4}{-26}$

Which may also be funny, but the humor doesn’t jump out at one.  (You can get an integer—2—if the radical represents a seventh root, but you still don’t end up with -1, and there doesn’t seem to be much reason for interpreting the radical that way.)

By ben wolfson on 11/04/07 at 02:18 PM | Permanent link to this comment

No, it reduces to zero.  The fraction reduces to (x + y) squared minus 4 over (x + y) squared minus 4; that equals 1; the whole thing is 1 – 1 = 0.  (Under the sqrt sign we have 31.4 – 20 + 4.6 = 16, sqrt 16 = 4; 4 – 8 = -4.)

So instead of Female Soul = WTF, we have FS = something that looks like WTF but is actually zero.  In particular, maybe we have FS = something that some people (guys?) will recognize as zero (the first thing I did upon seeing that beast was to reduce it as much as possible), but others (women themselves?) will not.  Hmmmm – sounds misogynistic however you slice it.

By Dave Maier on 11/04/07 at 05:35 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Hey Joel, sorry about ‘peddling’. The equation was obviously so nutty and unserious that it didn’t cross my mind that anyone would think you actually promoted it/approved it. But maybe, conjoined with the news that you opened an interview with Warshovian grumbling, folks might have inferred you were some unfrozen cave-Austrian from the turn of the century or something. No, you are nothing of the sort.

By John Holbo on 11/04/07 at 08:54 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Under the sqrt sign we have 31.4 – 20 + 4.6 = 16, sqrt 16 = 4; 4 – 8 = -4.

Ohhhh.. I took those for multiplication signs, not decimal signs.

By ben wolfson on 11/04/07 at 09:35 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Now I feel silly. I should’ve noticed he seemed to be using both ‘x’ and ‘dot’ for multiplication. Oops. No wonder I wasn’t making any sense of the thing.

I somehow find “female soul=0” more puzzling than “female soul = [I don’t know what this says]”.

By Daniel on 11/05/07 at 04:25 AM | Permanent link to this comment