Jim O’Rourke’s lovely loop-driven half-hour cover of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car”

(Thanks, Ben).

Pharmacist — Viktor Vasnetsov

RIP Greg Lake

Bathsheba in the Bath — Hans Memling

Wild Apples — Fairfield Porter

Roman Muradov’s graphic novella Jacob Bladders and the State of the Art reviewed

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Roman Muradov’s newest graphic novella, Jacob Bladders and the State of the Art (Uncivilized Books, 2016), is the brief, shadowy, surreal tale of an illustrator who’s robbed of his artwork by a rival.

There’s more of course.

In a sense though, the plot is best summarized in the first line of Jacob Bladders:

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Okay.

Maybe that’s too oblique for a summary (or not really a summary at all, if we’re being honest).

But it’s a fucking excellent opening line, right?

Like I said, “There’s more” and if the more—the plot—doesn’t necessarily cohere for you on a first or second reading, don’t worry. You do have worth, reader, and Muradov’s book believes that you’re equipped to tangle with some murky noir and smudgy edges. (It also trusts your sense of irony).

The opening line is part of a bold, newspaperish-looking introduction that pairs with a map. This map offers a concretish anchor to the seemingly-abstractish events of Jacob Bladders. 

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The map isn’t just a plot anchor though, but also a symbolic anchor, visually echoing William Blake’s Jacob’s Ladder (1805).  Blake’s illustration of the story from Genesis 28:10-19 is directly referenced in the “Notes” that append the text of Jacob Bladders. There’s also a (meta)fictional “About the Author” section after the end notes (“Muradov died in October of 1949”), as well as twin character webs printed on the endpapers.

Along with the intro and map, these sections offer a set of metatextual reading rules for Jacob Bladders. The map helps anchor the murky timeline; the character webs help anchor the relationships between Muradov’s figures (lots of doppelgänger here, folks); the end notes help anchor Muradov’s satire.

These framing anchors are ironic though—when Muradov tips his hand, we sense that the reveal is actually another distraction, another displacement, another metaphor. (Sample end note: “METAPHOR: A now defunct rhetorical device relying on substitution of a real-life entity with any animal”).

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It’s tempting to read perhaps too much into Jacob Bladder’s metatextual self-reflexivity. Here is writing about writing, art about art: an illustrated story about illustrating stories. And of course it’s impossible not to ferret out pseudoautobiographical morsels from the novella. Roman Muradov is, after all, a working illustrator, beholden to publishers, editors, art-directors, and deadlines. (Again from the end notes: “DEADLINE: A fictional date given to an illustrator to encourage timely delivery of the assignment. Usually set 1-2 days before the real (also known as ‘hard’) deadline”). If you’ve read The New Yorker or The New York Times lately, you’ve likely seen Muradov’s illustrations.

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So what to make of the section of Jacob Bladders above? Here, a nefarious publisher commands a hapless illustrator to illustrate a “career ladders” story without using an illustration of a career ladder (From the end notes: “CAREER LADDER: An illustration of a steep ladder, scaled by an accountant in pursuit of a promotion or a raise. The Society of Illustrators currently houses America’s largest collection of career ladders, including works by M.C. Escher, Balthus, and Marcel Duchamp”).

Draw a fucking metaphor indeed. (I love how the illustrator turns into a Cubist cricket here).

Again, it’s hard not to find semi-autobiographical elements in Jacob Bladders’s publishing satire. Muradov couches these elements in surreal transpositions. The first two panels of the story announce the setting: New York / 1947—but just a few panels later, the novella pulls this move:

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Here’s our illustrator-hero Jacob Bladders asking his secretary (secretary!) for “any tweets”; he seems disappointed to have gotten “just a retweet.” In Muradov’s transposition, Twitter becomes “Tweeter,” a “city-wide messaging system, established in 1867” and favored by writers like E.B. White and Dorothy Parker.

Do you follow Muradov on Twitter?

I do. Which makes it, again, kinda hard for me not to root out those autobiographical touches. (He sometimes tweets on the illustration biz, y’see).

But I’m dwelling too much on these biographical elements I fear, simply because, it’s much, much harder to write compellingly about the art of it all, of how Muradov communicates his metatextual pseudoautobiographical story. (Did I get enough postmoderny adjectives in there? Did I mention that I think this novella exemplary of post-postmodernism? No? These descriptions don’t matter. Look, the book is fucking good).

Muradov’s art is better appreciated by, like, looking at it instead of trying to describe it (this is an obvious thing to write). Look at this spread (click on it for biggeration):

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The contours, the edges, the borders. The blacks, the whites, the notes in between. This eight-panel sequence gives us insides and outsides, borders and content, expression and impression. Watching, paranoia, a framed consciousness. 

And yet our reading rules—again, from the end notes: “SPOTILLO: Spot illustration. Most commonly a borderless ink drawing set against white background”; followed by “CONSTRAINT: An arbitrary restriction imposed on a work of art in order to give it an illusion of depth”.

Arbitrary? Maybe. No. Who cares? Look at the command of form and content here, the mix and contrast and contradistinctions of styles: Cubism, expressionism, impressionism, abstraction: Klee, Miro, Balthus, Schjerfbeck: Robert Wiene and Fritz Lang. Etc. (Chiaroscuro is a word I should use somewhere in this review).

But also cartooning, also comix here—Muradov’s jutting anarchic tangles, often recoiling from the panel proper, recall George Herriman’s seminal anarcho-strip Krazy Kat. (Whether or not Muradov intends such allusions is not the point at all. Rather, what we see here is a continuity of the form’s best energies). Like Herriman’s strip, Muradov’s tale moves under the power of its own dream logic (more of a glide here than Herriman’s manic skipping).

That dream logic follows the lead (lede?!) of that famous Romantic printmaker and illustrator William Blake, whose name is the last “spoken” word of the narrative (although not the last line in this illustrated text). Blake is the illustrator of visions and dreams—visions of Jacob’s Ladder, Jacob Bladders. Jacob Bladders and the State of the Art culminates in the Romantic/ironic apotheosis of its hero. The final panels are simultaneously bleak and rich, sad and funny, expressive and impressive. Muradov ironizes the creative process, but he also points to it as an imaginative renewal. “Imagination is the real,” William Blake advised us, and Muradov, whether he’d admit it or not, makes imagination real here. Highly recommended.

 

Nineteen ideas and images from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for December 6th, 1837

December 6th.–A fairy tale about chasing Echo to her hiding-place. Echo is the voice of a reflection in a mirror,

A house to be built over a natural spring of inflammable gas, and to be constantly illuminated therewith. What moral could be drawn from this? It is carburetted hydrogen gas, and is cooled from a soft shale or slate, which is sometimes bituminous, and contains more or less carbonate of lime. It appears in the vicinity of Lockport and Niagara Falls, and elsewhere in New York. I believe it indicates coal. At Fredonia, the whole village is lighted by it. Elsewhere, a farm-house was lighted by it, and no other fuel used in the coldest weather.

Gnomes, or other mischievous little fiends, to be represented as burrowing in the hollow teeth of some person who has subjected himself to their power. It should be a child’s story. This should be one of many modes of petty torment. They should be contrastedwith beneficent fairies, who minister to the pleasures of the good.

Some very famous jewel or other thing, much talked of all over the world. Some person to meet with it, and get possession of it in some unexpected manner, amid homely circumstances.

To poison a person or a party of persons with the sacramental wine.

A cloud in the shape of an old woman kneeling, with arms extended towards the moon.

On being transported to strange scenes, we feel as if all were unreal. This is but the perception of the true unreality of earthly things, made evident by the want of congruity between ourselves and them. By and by we become mutually adapted, and the perception is lost.

An old looking-glass. Somebody finds out the secret of making all the images that have been reflected in it pass back again across its surface.

Our Indian races having reared no monuments, like the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians, when they have disappeared from the earth their history will appear a fable, and they misty phantoms.

A woman to sympathize with all emotions, but to have none of her own.

A portrait of a person in New England to be recognized as of the same person represented by a portrait in Old England. Having distinguished himself there, he had suddenly vanished, and had never been heardof till he was thus discovered to be identical with a distinguished man in New England.

Men of cold passions have quick eyes.

A virtuous but giddy girl to attempt to play a trick on a man. He sees what she is about, and contrives matters so that she throws herself completely into his power, and is ruined,–all in jest.

A letter, written a century or more ago, but which has never yet been unsealed.

A partially insane man to believe himself the Provincial Governor or other great official of Massachusetts. The scene might be the Province House.

A dreadful secret to be communicated to several people of various characters,–grave or gay, and they all to become insane, according to their characters, by the influence of the secret.

Stories to be told of a certain person’s appearance in public, of his having been seen in various situations, and of his making visits in private circles; but finally, on looking for this person, to come upon his old grave and mossy tombstone.

The influence of a peculiar mind, in close communion with another, to drive the latter to insanity.

To look at a beautiful girl, and picture all the lovers, in different situations, whose hearts are centred upon her.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s journal entry for December 6th, 1837. From Passages from the American Note-Books.

They’ve Already Got a Seat — Goya

Jon Frankel’s The Man Who Can’t Die (Book acquired sometime in October of 2016, or maybe some other time, not sure, early November was rough)

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Jon Frankel’s The Man Who Can’t Die is new from Whisk(e)y Tit. Their blurb:

New York, 2180. Manhattan is cut with sewage-filled canals and walled in by levees. The world has been suffering from epidemic despair and apathy, when Dr. Ruth Bryson invents Paragane, a Euphoric drug that cures ennui and depression. Monozone Inc, the monopolistic pharmaceutical who employs her, is thrilled.

There is only one problem: the drug kills 10% of everyone who takes it. Monozone decides to market it anyway, despite Bryson’s objections, and puts her former lover Owen Bradlee in charge. Bryson knows she must either fix Paregane or stop it, but if she is caught she will certainly be killed.

Meanwhile, Felix and Veronica Clay are typical pod-dwelling office workers, whose lives seem like an endless extenuation of meaningless circumstance. When Veronica plunges into psychosis and tries to kill herself, her doctor prescribes the new drug Paragane, and everything changes. Soon Felix is also taking the drug, and they spend their nights under its influence, roaming Paradise and conversing with Angels. One day Felix returns from work to discover her dead, of no apparent cause. In short order, he loses his job and apartment and soon finds himself living in the wilds of upper Manhattan, addicted to Paregane, unable to find Veronica in Paradise, unable to die. Meanwhile, Dr. Bryson searches for a test subject. When she discovers Felix they are set on a course that will lead them deep into the Iroquois territories of upstate New York and a bloody struggle for survival.

 

The Scenic Painters — Adrian Cox

Giant — Lynd Ward

Read Robert Coover’s satirical short story “Invasion of the Martians”

Robert Coover’s “Invasion of the Martians” is a wonderful little satire of contemporary American politics. Read the full thing at The New Yorker (or listen to Coover read it there).

First two paragraphs:

The handsome Senator from Texas, the Capitol’s leading heartthrob, a former astronaut, and a likely future President, was in bed with two ladies, a young intern and the more mature Secretary of the Interior (the Senator called her the Secretary of the Posterior and had just made several charming off-color but complimentary remarks about hers, bringing an embarrassed flush to all four of her cheeks, and giggles from the intern, who was playing with two of them), when his private security phone chimed with the news: “The Martians have landed! In Texas!” He kissed the ladies, donned his spacesuit and helmet, and sprang into action.

The Senator flew his private jet directly from his ranch to the Martians’ landing site, not at all surprised that they had chosen the great state of Texas for this historic occasion. There, in an internationally televised address, he welcomed them to the once sovereign Republic of Texas, the last best place on earth and the heartland of the American nation, to which it also presently owed allegiance. The Martians poured out of their pear-shaped spaceship like spilled soup. They were pea-green, as anticipated, but with fluid bodies and multiple limbs that appeared and disappeared in the sticky flow. A random scattering of startled eyes blinked like tree lights. It wasn’t easy to see what separated one Martian from another.

Courtesan Reading a Letter — Ishikawa Toyonobu

Selections from One-Star Amazon Reviews of Don DeLillo’s White Noise

[Editorial note: The following citations come from one-star Amazon reviews of Don DeLillo’s novel White NoiseI’ve preserved the reviewers’ original punctuation and spelling. More one-star Amazon reviews].


quips

UGH

rubbish

chubby wife

Verble sparing

Love the cover

nothing happens

frequently witless

watching paint dry

orgasmic experiences

Barak Hussein Obama

supremely unamusing

my daughter hated this

rampant commercialism

trying to be ironic but failing

it’s not clear what the point is

hated this book with a violent passion

he goes to the grocery store about 4 times

slobbering self appointed literary pillocks

Fred Flintstonesque postmodern hectoring

some generic non-descript mid-western city

ultra trite unimaginative obsession about death

Theme is supposed to emerge from a work of fiction

desperately avoids any of the conventional trappings of fiction

a silly trick by a critic’s darling to help us feel more self-rightous

A left wing hipster might relate to the message the book is trying to communicate

It has good ideas and themes for a literature class if you look at it from that perspective

Feels false, like the author was trying to make sublime points about human nature and the direction of society

The cartoonish characters are about as credible as the windbag Biden is on foreign policy

felt like the author was just using the characters and the plot as puppets

I invested almost six minutes reading this book before I threw it out

I read this book so I’m smarter than the rest of you

Even allowing for the mid 1980’s publication date

entire pages go by and nothing really happens

moaning middle class left wing academics

they go through an airborne toxic event

the Sopranos and Anne of Green Gables

dated technology/consumer references

Droned on and on and on about death

wasn’t a single character I cared about

a Hannah Montana puke fest

tossed it into the trash

watching grass grow

I prefer life to death

local supermarket

A Seinfield book

literary (as if?)

he goes crazy

anal vacuity

it bore me

dullardish

it just ends

Hands of an Apostle — Albrecht Durer

Study of a Standing Man with Headcloth and Two Studies of His Hands — Wilhelm Schadow

Hands (Study) — Thomas Hart Benton