Monday, July 28, 2008

Can't Write

You: Where you been man?
Me: Eh, Around. My coffee press broke. I took pictures. Bought a new one almost immediately. I make decent coffee with just a sauce pan and a strainer, but it's messy.
Y:That's so sad. I know you got through alot of coffee presses.
M: Yeah, this is like, my fourth one. You'd think they'd make them better, faster, stronger than they were before.
Y: They do, they're called automatic drip. Also, that's the lamest lament to a late inanimate object ever.
M: Whatever. Any Expensive, Cybernetic Adult nod is only temporarily played out due to franchise revitalization attempts. You wait. My referencing schemes will acquire coolness like banknotes acquire practical value. Furthermore, automatic drip coffee pots are neither stronger nor faster. And eff your value judgments.
Y: Would you like to buy some incense?
M: This is an interesting sidebar. Uhm. Sure, but I don't have any money...
Y: Hah, money is for losers. I will trade you incense for a roll of film.
M: Fair enough.
Y: (quickly snatching the roll of film from my gullible outstretched hand, you immediately replace the roll with a bundle of one hundred incense sticks) Victory is mine! Your referencing scheme is doomed to be uncool forever.
M: Nooo!
(I howl, falling to my knees. Beat to the ground by your cackling Laughter of Win. )*

I cannot write. I have started five blogs entries, not counting this one which i will finish goddamnit, and I have been trying to move along "Ideas and Diner Cars" into novella territory. I have made no progress. This is the type of "can't write" I mean. It is experiential.
(Edit: On the subject of not being able to write, my Anthro teacher has approved my "unorthodox" research format of back-dated blog entries. Faking Are-some!)
So here's something I wrote almost a year ago, in Chris Moreno English 201.

Elliot Beter
English 201
Oct. 15, 2007

There’s a great deal of skepticism when today’s readers are given an account such as Beowulf or Marie de France’s Lanval and asked to accept these stories as anything outside of mythical. Content such as faerie queens and a man holding his breath long enough to battle a sea creature while underwater are seen as exaggerated at best and otherwise simply the providence of the author’s imagination. Black Sabbath’s “Jack the Stripper/ Faeries wear Boots” is similarly understood to be the product of the band members’ wild imaginations. The burden of proof is placed on the respective authors’ and writers’ account to turn these seemingly unbelievable experiences into something that’s mundane. Beowulf uses the literary device of “we have heard…” to make the ridiculous commonplace. Lanval is rooted firmly into its role of a folktale, including an introduction where Marie de France explains that the story is simply a metaphor for proper courtly behavior. “Jack the Stripper/ Faeries wear Boots” put the credibility of the account solely to Ozzy Osbourne and allows listeners to criticize the account as true or false based entirely on their opinion of the speaker.

Beowulf is England’s foremost woodsman and a self-reliant hero who performs feats that tax the reader’s ability to accept the story. The tale elevates Beowulf into a hero of mythic proportion and makes him into a brave Christian warrior who is beyond fear. The speaker tells his listeners that “we have heard” tell of such a man and leaves it up to the skeptical listener to refute his claim against the rest of the crowd in attendance. Other devices throughout the story, such as when Beowulf loses a swimming match to Breca the Bronding, allow the speaker to undermine listeners who are reluctant to accept his story.

As a point of contrast, Lanval is presented as a fable told to Henry II and promising a moral concerning freedom from sin. Once again, the unbelievable is presented to the listener. Within the scope of a fable, however, the unbelievable is mundane and readily accepted by any who hear the story. Marie de France tells a story of a displaced knight having a chance encounter with a faerie queen while deep in the woods. He quickly finds himself in a contract with the faerie queen and at odds with Queen Guinevere. The knight is suddenly obliged to present a woman who is fairer than Queen Guinevere while at the same time holding to his contract of not revealing the existence of the faerie queen to others. With his two obligations in opposition to each other, the knight decides to violate his arrangement with the faerie queen and present her to the court. Marie de France shows several examples of the knight behaving poorly and, considering the content of the prologue, doing things which will surely lead him into a life of vice. Since Lanval is presented as a fable, the listener is encouraged to identify and examine the moral presented, accepting the characters and their actions as necessary to the outcome of the tale.

“Jack the Stripper/ Faeries wear Boots” plays with the conventions utilized by the Beowulf orator. Instead of appealing to group consensus, Black Sabbath makes the speaker the sole authority when he claims he saw a faerie dancing with a dwarf. Ozzy Osbourne sings “faeries wear boots and you gotta believe me/ I saw it, I saw it with my own two eyes” and invites the listener to doubt his account. Instead of immediately undermining their skepticism, he entertains it. The last stanza has the speaker visiting the doctor and receiving a diagnosis of “son, you’ve gone too far/ because smokin’ and trippin’ is all that you do.” The speaker’s account is created around his being an untrustworthy narrator.

Why would these three accounts take such different tracks in relating similar material? While the material is similair, their objectives are very different. Beowulf aspires to create a national epic around its eponymous hero. The story is written for Christian listeners in a Christianized England and, despite the fact that it describes Scandinavian heroes fighting in Denmark, serves to unite listeners around a shared legacy. Lanval serves as a moralistic tale communicating a standard of conduct in one country to another. Lanval and other Arthurian fables are French stories that have been fostered by English storytellers. Many of them are moralistically loaded and the unbelievable becomes a device for conveying the crux of these tales. “Jack the Stripper/ Faeries wear Boots” is absorbed in separating the world of the listener from the world of the speaker. Instead of being invested in similarity, like Beowulf and Lanval, it focuses on labeling itself as part of the outside. One thousand years after Beowulf, English literature isn’t focused on bringing its population together. Instead it focuses on creating a niche for everyone.

This essay, along with an essay about the comic book maxiseries Preacher, is fairly unique in my artist's portfolio. While I still keep the Preacher essay** on my desk, the Beowulf/Sabbath essay is pretty close to perfect for me and I keep it in my truck*** which has a bumper sticker that says, "Broprints: You don't have to like Black Sabbath to get your stuff printed here, but it doesn't change the fact that they're a kick-ass rockin' band."

Even so, I don't know what the title of this essay is. I've saved it under "Son, you've gone too far." Not just because that's a lyric Ozzy screams in "Faeries wear Boots," mind you. This is the point writing became fun for me. It is the point I discovered I could write more or less whatever I wanted to as long as there was a quietly cooling logic train behind it. So how had I "gone too far" as the "son you've gone too far.doc" would suggest? I wrote a story connecting Beowulf to Black Sabbath using a tenuous link of faeries and Lanval. On top of that, I'd been watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer all summer, and the discovery of it's cavalcade of theses proposals on "the science of vampires" or "Darla's Transformation between 'Buffy' and 'Angel" or "Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Mythology." So yeah: Woo Woo!

*The fact that I'm inventing conversations is better/worse than talking to myself?
**Titled "Finally the Vicar was in the Pulpit," the essay compared the journey Jesse Custer takes to a Jeremiad. I labored for a long time to get comic books examined as literary cannon with "some unique conventions." Comicdom's reader-critics seem determined to continue the tradition of relentless self-reference. (i.e. It is like this comic or that artist's style. There will never be anything new in comics. There will only be imitation. Someday, perhaps, "modified Kirby energy" will become cumbersome and innovation will occur. Those tired of describing something and the backstory of it's creation will describe the art itself. Or maybe the art-as-it-relates-to-the-narrative. None of us will see this happen though. The people who invent this argot will create an interbrain singularity and disappear into it. Perhaps it will spit them out into some progressive-comic-books-utopia. I don't know. (Everything else is Fact.))It turns out that there's no point in consuming something if you don't have an opinion. "It's super" doesn't seem do be a valued opinion for some reason. It seems pointless. Conversely, the real triumph of this essay and the Sabbath essay is, in short, it was the first time I discovered that geometry does not apply to spheres.
I got the essay back with a new office address and a note suggesting I ask for a LoR should I apply for graduate school.
***Yeah, I drive a truck. And whenever we've cruised into the post-peak-oil-paradise of flying cars and an economy that doesn't fluctuate around the availability of a single resource I'll be able to say I had a hand in that and you'll just be able to say, "uh, I saved some cash..." Jerks.

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