The Owl’s Nest, c. 1505-16 by Hieronymus Bosch (c. 1450-1516)
The Owl’s Nest, c. 1505-16 by Hieronymus Bosch (c. 1450-1516)
This afternoon, I started putting together a review of Biblioklept fave Paul Kirchner’s latest, Hieronymus & Bosch, and I realized that although I’d written a bit about it recently, I hadn’t put together one of these book acquired posts for it. So this is that post.
I really dig the book. It’s goofy and funny and has a lot of soul to it. Kirchner’s hapless hero Hieronymus seems like an extension—with difference—of the commuter, the hero of Kirchner’s bus strips. I hope to have a review up at The Comics Journal soon (where I reviewed Kirchner’s last collection, Awaiting the Collapse), but for now, here’s publisher Tanibis’s blurb:
Meet the medieval miscreant Hieronymus and his wooden duck Bosch. When Hieronymus commits yet another petty crime, things go badly wrong and both are catapulted into a cartoonish version of Hell. There, lakes are made of lava (or, more often, poop) and an army of mischievous spiky-tailed devils bully the inmates and play impish pranks. Despite many gag-filled attempts at escaping this literal hell, Hieronymus and Bosch always end up being the butt of their trident-wielding guards’ most humiliating and painful jokes.
This book puts together about a hundred one-pagers filled with hilariously surrealistic and scatological gags by American comic book artist Paul Kirchner. Kirchner drew his inspiration from the medieval depictions of Hell by Dante and Hieronymus Bosch (duh!) as well as from the zany, almost sadistic humor of Warner Bros. cartoons like the Road Runner Show. Some of the stories published in this book originally appeared on the Adult Swim website.
Hieronymus & Bosch also evokes Kirchner’s famous comic strip series the bus. However, the bus‘ main character always got out from the practical jokes played on him unharmed, even if a bit confused. Hieronymus & Bosch‘s two heroes get burnt by lava, stabbed with tridents, used as a Q-tip by Satan himself, or just covered in a torrent of poop gushing down from above. Yet they carry on, finding fun where they can and refusing to abandon all hope.
I ended up reading the last two chapters of William Gaddis’s novel Carpenter’s Gothic a few times, trying to figure out exactly what happened. I then read Steven Moore’s excellent essay on the novel, “Carpenter’s Gothic or, The Ambiguities.” (If you have library access to the Infobase database Bloom’s Literature, you can find the essay there; if not, here’s a .pdf version). Moore offers a tidy summary of Carpenter’s Gothic—a summary which should be avoided by anyone who wants to read the novel. Because Carpenter’s Gothic isn’t so much about what happens but how it happens. Moore writes:
As is the case with any summary of a Gaddis novel, this one not only fails to do justice to the novel’s complex tapestry of events but also subverts the manner in which these events are conveyed. Opening Carpenter’s Gothic is like opening the lid of a jigsaw puzzle: all the pieces seem to be there, but it is up to the reader to fit those pieces together. …Even after multiple readings, several events remain ambiguous, sometimes because too little information is given, sometimes because there are two conflicting accounts and no way to confirm either.
Moore then lays out the novel’s theme in clear, precise language:
Such narrative strategies are designed not to baffle or frustrate the reader but to dramatize the novel’s central philosophic conflict, that between revealed truth versus acquired knowledge. Nothing is “revealed” by a godlike omniscient narrator in this novel; the reader learns “what really happens” only through study, attention, and the application of intelligence.
Quite frankly, Moore has written an essay that I wish I had written myself. I had been sketching parallels between Carpenter’s Gothic and Leslie Fiedler’s classic study Love and Death in the American Novel all throughout my reading; Moore ends up citing Fiedler a few times in his essay, in particularly working from Fiedler’s idea of how Gothicism manifests in American writing. (Moore does not bring up Fiedler’s critique of masculinity though, which opens up an occasion for me to write—once I’ve reread the puzzle though).
Anyway—I loved loved loved Carpenter’s Gothic, and I read it at just about the right time: It’s a Halloween novel. Great stuff.
In line with the Halloween theme: I had been working on a post about horror, about how I love scary films, grotesque literature, and weird art, because fantasy evocations of terror offer a reprieve from anxiety, from true dread, etc. Like, you know, a climate change report—I mean, that’s genuinely horrifying. But scary films and scary stories almost never really scare me. So I was thinking about literature that does produce dread in me, anxiety in me, and listing out examples in my draft, and so well anyway I reread Roberto Bolaño’s short story “Last Evenings on Earth.” I wrote about the collection named for the story almost a decade ago on this blog, focusing on the “ebb and flow between dread and release, fear and humor, ironic detachment and romantic idealism” in the tales:
In “Last Evenings on Earth,” B takes a vacation to Acapulco with his father. Bolaño’s rhetoric in this tale is masterful: he draws each scene with a reportorial, even terse distance, noting the smallest of actions, but leaving the analytical connections up to his reader. Even though B sees his holiday with his dad heading toward “disaster,” toward “the price they must pay for existing,” he cannot process what this disaster is, or what paying this price means. The story builds to a thick, nervous dread, made all the more anxious by the strange suspicion that no, things are actually fine, we’re all just being paranoid here. (Not true!)
I’m not sure if I’ll get the essay I was planning together any time soon, but I’m glad I reread “Last Evenings.”
There’s a strange background plot in “Last Evenings” in which Bolaño’s stand-in “B” dwells over a book of French surrealist poets, one of whom disappears mysteriously. Jindřich Štyrský isn’t French—he’s Czech—but he was a surrealist poet (and artist and essayist and etc.), so I couldn’t help inserting him into Bolaño’s story. I’ve been reading Dreamverse, which ripples with sensual horror. I wrote about it here. Here’s one of Štyrský’s poems (in English translation by Jed Slast); I think you can get the flavor from this one:
And here’s a detail from his 1937 painting Transformation:
I’ve finished the first section of David Bunch’s Moderan, which is a kind of post-nuke dystopia satire on toxic masculinity. While many of the tropes for these stories (most of which were written in the 1960s and ’70s) might seem familiar—cyborgs and dome homes, caste systems and ultraviolence, a world of made and not born ruled by manunkind (to steal from E.E. Cummings)—it’s the way that Bunch conveys this world that is so astounding. Moderan is told in its own idiom; the voice of our narrator Stronghold-10 booms with a bravado that’s ultimately undercut by the authorial irony that lurks under its surface. I will eventually write a proper review of Moderan, but the book seems equal to the task of satirizing the trajectory of our zeitgeist.
I started Angela Carter’s novel The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman last night and the first chapter is amazing.
Finally, I got a hard copy of Paul Kirchner’s new collection, Hieronymus & Bosch which finds humor in the horror of hell. The collection is lovely—I should have a post about it here later this week and hopefully a review at The Comics Journal later this month. For now though, a sample strip:
April (The Green Gown), 1919 by Childe Hassam (1859–1935)
Ship of Fools, c. 1490–1500 by Hieronymus Bosch (c. 1450-1516)
According to Hyperallergic,
Researchers at the Bosch Research and Conservation Project (BRCP) have attributed another painting to the hands of Bosch that was previously classified as a work by a student or a follower. The newly authenticated Bosch has turned up in Kansas City, owned by the esteemed Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, which is renowned in particular for its extensive collection of Asian art. Acquired by the museum in the early 1930s, “The Temptation of St. Anthony” (c. 1500–10) depicts the saint, marked by the Tau cross on his cloak, filling a jug with water and surrounded by Bosch’s classic, bizarre beasts. The small panel, which remained in storage for years, will make its public debut at the Noordbrabants Museum in Hieronymus Bosch — Visions of Genius, an exhibition nine years in the making that brings together around 40 works from collections around the world.