Reflections on philosophy and culture

Saturday, September 24, 2011


I've been making my way slowly through Adorno's Minima Moralia - reading the short, aphoristic sections one at a time and savoring them.  For a long time, I'd heard references to his 'dialectical style,' never understanding quite what people meant by that until I started in on the text for myself.

I would compare Adorno to Oscar Wilde - surely his wit and sense of irony is equally as impressive.  But the comparison would be misleading.  Adorno is like the straight man to Wilde's funny man.  This is not to say that Wilde's humor isn't frequently the vehicle for expressing the most consequential ideas: they certainly are.  But it's hard to imagine Wilde speaking any of his words without the hint of a wry smile at the corner of his mouth - the certainty shining forth from behind his eyes that he can outmaneuver anyone foolish enough to meet his levity with fury, hostility, or even deadly seriousness.

But when I imagine Adorno speaking the words of Minima Moralia out loud, I imagine him stern, monotone, with no suggestion in his manner of speech that he is aware of the pervasive schizophrenia of his prose - its ability to oscillate between different subject positions, to contain many voices in a single stream of thought.  Like Buster Keaton's unflappably calm, bored face amidst the chaos he creates around him, it would be an uncanny island of seriousness in a sea of absurdity - the strange absurdity of Adorno's words.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Yet another rant about comics...

Lately, I've been forsaking traditional fiction more and more in favor of...graphic novels? sequential art? narrative art?

These are labels that have popped up in the last thirty years or so to express the fact that comics have become a mature art form in their own right. To my knowledge, the first such label was "graphic novel," a term purportedly coined by Will Eisner when he was pitching A Contract with God on the phone with a publisher. This book has the reputation of having been the first book-length comics narrative (putting aside collections of previous short-form comics). Eisner has said that he knew it was something new. This was not just because it was a book-length comic, but also because it dealt with subject matters - urban decay, child molestation, the Great Depression, Jewish culture in America - usually left to more 'serious' art forms.

Since Eisner's groundbreaking work, a lot has changed for comics, and a lot hasn't. Many, many brilliant works have been produced in the medium, and many of them have garnered attention from a wider audience. Yet, although it's been twenty years since Art Spiegelman won the Pultizer for Maus, and although the work of luminaries like Chris Ware and Daniel Clowes graces the pages of The New Yorker and the New York Times, most people who read literature simply don't read comics.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

New Resources for Long Essays

Scott Esposito at Conversation Reading has posted links to two new resources for long essays, Byliner and Atavist. Byliner is a site which both publishes new essays and provides a platform for users to share their favorite essays and discover new ones. Atavist is a boutique publisher devoted to long-form essays, and uses a software called Periodic to make their essays available in various eReader formats. Periodic allows writers to include interactive video, audio and images in their essays.

I sincerely hope these sites survive. As Esposito points out, long-form essays are increasingly being neglected by magazines, and much online publishing is devoted to very short units of text (from news articles all the way to infinitesimal tweets). Just browsing these sites for an hour or so this morning, I've already found an interesting recent essay by J.M. Coetzee and a twelve-year-old NYT profile of Martha Nussbaum.