Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Asterios Polyp: An experiment in blogging

For the next few weeks pravdakid and I are going to try something a little different, at least for this blog. We're both going to be blogging about the same thing, the new graphic novel Asterios Polyp. Tomorrow, I'll blog my first reactions, but today I want to introduce the novel and give a little background to it.

Asterios Polyp is written and drawn by David Mazzucchelli (I'll be misspelling that name frequently in the course of these comments, I'm sure). It has generated a fair amount of buzz both in the mainstream media (getting several different reviews in the New York Times), and in the world of comics criticism. Mazzucchelli was a name unknown to me, but apparently he's pretty famous in the comics world, since he worked with Frank Miller on some groundbreaking projects, including Daredevil and Batman: Year One. A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, his work is somewhat reminiscent of another design school grad, Chris Ware, in that he clearly loves to experiment visually with comics conventions. He's been working on this thing for about ten years or so.

Briefly, the book is about an East Coast architect and academic named Asterios Polyp, whose life, at the beginning of the narrative, has taken a woeful turn. This is due in no small degree, we quickly understand, to the fact that Polyp is an asshole. When we first see the main character, he has lost his job and his wife, his apartment is a mess, and he is watching old home-made porn tapes. Then his apartment building is struck by lightning and burns up: this is the event that gets him moving. He leaves New York and takes a bus upstate. That's as far as I've gotten. More tomorrow.

(Dave, feel free to correct any mistakes I've just made here.)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

An open letter to Andrew Sullivan, concerning the ongoing struggle to “see what is front of one’s face.”

Mr Sullivan:

In the fall of 2001, soon after the terrorists attacks of 9/11, you inaugurated the “Sontag Award” on your blog, The Daily Dish, as part of your journalistic battle against “decadent,” radical left-wing intellectuals, bent on destroying the United States through their ill-considered attacks on the Bush administration and their criticisms of the Iraq War. The award was named in honor of Susan Sontag, who had the temerity to suggest in the early days following the attacks that the United States was not, in fact, a blameless actor on the world stage, and that U.S. citizens needed to be more critical of the government’s response to the attacks. In the months and years that followed, you frequently dispensed the Sontag award upon those who, in your words, were guilty of “glib moral equivalence in the war on terror and visceral anti-Americanism.” (I note in passing that to argue for self-reflection and self-critique does not require that one engage in “glib moral equivalence” of any sort. A better example of the latter, I should think, would be to, say, create a label for one’s right-wing domestic opponents--something like, oh, I don’t know, like “Christianist,”--that is clearly meant to suggest a structural similarity between such people and the “Islamisists” who bombed the Trade Towers. But back to the matter at hand...)

You no longer mention the Sontag Award. Indeed, it is difficult to find any kind of evidence on your blog now there was ever any such thing. You list a “glossary” of snarky awards that you continue to promote, but they mostly refer to right-wing figures like Michelle Malkin and Hugh Hewitt. This change mirrors your own (obvious though unstated) political conversion. Now that you are a prominent supporter of a Democratic president and an opponent of the War on Terror, the danger from effete, latte-sipping, socialistic fifth-columnists is no longer quite so alarming, apparently. Instead, good Americans all need to fear knuckle-dragging, pickup driving, gun-toting Southern Baptists: moral monsters who believe neither in evolution nor gay marriage. Right-wing caricature, in short, replaces the previous left-wing caricature. Andrew Sullivan is not at war with the Susan Sontags of the world. Andrew Sullivan is at war with the Michelle Malkins of the world. Andrew Sullivan has always been at war with Michelle Malkin.

One piece of evidence remains from those early years, however. About the same time that you came up with the Sontag award, you also invented the Von Hoffmann award. This award is given out for “stunningly wrong political, social and cultural predictions.” The origin of this award is the warning by columnist Nicholas Von Hoffmann, in late fall of 2001, that the war in Afghanistan would turn into a quagmire, a claim that you found, given the early apparent success of Western troops in defeating the Taliban regime, to be self-evidently risible.

I’m sure you realize the problem. The war in Afghanistan is now almost eight years old, with no foreseeable end. Eight years is longer than the United States’ participation in both World Wars. Nicholas Von Hoffmann’s 2001 prediction was not “stunningly wrong;” it was pretty much spot-on.

Andrew, you need to get rid of the Von Hoffmann award. I suggest that you do so as soon as possible, in a similar manner to how you made the Sontag award disappear. Simply remove it from the website, and never mention it again. There is no need to apologize to Mr. Von Hoffmann, nor any admission of fault on your part. Repeat after me: the Von Hoffmann award does not exist. It has never existed.