I re-read some of my journal entries from the spring of 1995 this week and was amused. In the mid-nineties I produced a small run of a series of Xeroxed mini-comics called Out There. I was especially happy with the second issue, and had high expectations about the response that it might receive after putting it in local stores and sending it around to different small press publications, other cartoonists, etc... Hereís what I had to say about it on Sunday May 7th 1995:
Iíve received my fist letter about the second issue of Out There. It has no return address and is rather cryptic:
All I know is that the letter originated in Toronto. I donít know whether itís meant to be stuff that I should read to improve my work or just writers he just happens to like. The ëloveí makes me think that itís not entirely critical.
I always meant to investigate the names on the list, but you have to remember that this was ten years ago- back before I even had a computer, let alone knew the meaning of the verb ëgoogleí. So join me as I attempt to unlock the hidden meaning in the letter, and attempt to undo my ignorance of modernist intellectuals:
First, Kathy Acker; I remember that that the name was vaguely familiar to me, but itís possible that was due to the fact that it was the first name on the list and the only one I actually ever got around to investigating. Iím pretty sure that she collaborated with Burroughs and The Mekons. I skimmed through one of her books of poetry in Pages once, and I have to admit that I didn't get it. What does Google have to say about her?
Acker names as influences many of the same people on Stephanís list, as well as Pasolini, whose Decameron is a film that I really enjoy. In this interview she had some interesting things to say that are relevant to a recent epiphany I had:
Öyou can't isolate yourself from the world. Two examples: Say, the hippie movement in which the goal was that you make things better by isolating yourself from society and going your own way. The same sort of thing with the separatist feminists. You form your own group. In the end you pull things that way a little, but it can't work successfully. Neither one is in any way a viable model of true separation. It's impossible.
Acker doesnít sound bad at all really. Goes to show I shouldnít avoid something for ten years because of ignorant preconceived notions. Who'd a thunk it?
Next up, Giles Deleuze, a French philosopher who wrote books about Capitalism and Psychoanalysis. In November of 1995, six months after I received Stephanís letter, the seventy-year-old had committed suicide by throwing himself from his apartment window. I have to admit I found it very difficult to understand the few pieces of his writing that I came across online.
Thatís where Brian Massumi comes in (he doesnít really look quite as devilish as this drawing), another leftist ëradicalí philosopher and an Associate Professor of Communications at the University of MontrÈal.who is attempting to make Deleuzeís theories more accessible. In his book User's Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia, thereís a section that weirdly (Öor not so weirdly) relates to Ackerís comments:
The clinical schizophrenicís debilitating detachment from the world is a quelled attempt to engage it in unimagined ways. Schizophrenia is a positive process is inventive connection, expansion rather than withdrawal. Its twoness is a relay to multiplicity. From on to another (and anotherÖ)From one noun or book to another (,,,and another). Not aimlessly. Experimental. The relay in ideas is only effectively expansive if at every step it is also a relay away from ideas into action. Schizophrenia is the enlargement of lifeís limits through the pragmatic proliferation of concepts.
I suppose that both characters in Thirty-Three have splits in their personality; Elsa adamantly states that people shouldnít regret their decisions but also seems realize that this is only a ëtheoryí, that she doesn't seem fully convinced of herself. As the resolution of the story makes clear, her theory it doesnít really encompass situations where no choice has been made, or when the choice has been made subconsciously. Is a subconscious choice still a choice? The story is also set up as a bunch of synchronous events centring around the number thirty-three, so I guess this is a continuation of the Deleuze idea of a multiplicity of ideas versus the ëcapilitist phallo-centricí approach where there can only be one correct solution for a given problem. Thereís also a warning in Massumiís writing: "The relay in ideas is only effectively expansive if at every step there is also a relay away from ideas into action." If there is no action, youíre stuck in your head, which is sort of how I interpret Laingís version of Schizophrenia
Foreman and Manes are both environmental activists. David Forman was one of the radical group who founded Earth First! in the seventies, a group which Christopher Manes was a member of before fracturing away from the group in the early nineties. There is some serendipity here because Iíve been doing some initiatory reading about the sustainable design practiced by John Todd and The New Alchemists recently. I think that Toddís approach to environmentalism might have been on the less militant end of the spectrum, although it seems like both these guys may have mellowed, or maybe the just changed strategies, for the same reasons that Acker suggested in her quote. Iím not sure what environmental connection the author of the letter might have been suggesting- possibly an association with Elsa, the main character?She was trying to make her dorm room as much like a South American rain forest as possible. Although, I donít think her lack of regard for energy conservation is particularly environment-friendly.
Last up is Nietzsche, another philosopher I have avoided due to preconceived notions and the fact that his name always seems to brought up in conjunction with either Hitler or Frank Miller. According to the comments on Amazon about Thus Spake Zarathrusa Hitler perverted Nietzcheís ideas of a ë Supermaní to his own ends. They donít mention anything about Miller.
What Iím thinking is that the connection here is probably with the character of Philip; Elsa refers to him as an intellectual and heís in a depressed, claiming that he doesnít have what it takes to survive in the world, and that his inability to hide his weakness is his downfall.
Funny that I resisted these writers works for so long, when so much of what theyíre saying appears to be right up my alley. I think that I may have harboured the suspicion that Stefan was trying to push me in a certain direction, and I toyed with the idea of sending him my own list in response, but he didnít include a return address. I did wonder about the letter; Sometimes I thought it was annoyingly coy, at other times sweet, but either way, I didnít feel that it was necessary to take his advice, if thatís what it was. I just didnít want to be told what to do, I guess. Out of Pride? Arrogance?
Hereís the next entry, itís from Friday May 12th 1995
Checked out The Beguiling today and came to the shocking realization that the second issue of Out There hadnít actually sold out in two weeks flat as I had imagined, but were just hidden behind a some other shit-zines. This sent me into a free-fall of ëWhat is the pointism?í because Iíd started feeling so cocky: "The word must be out!" Iíd thought, "Itís going to weird to have people actually waiting for my comic to come out!" As I walked along Bloor I imagined an earthquake cracking open a crevice in the street to swallow me up.
Well, itís not so bad, because five issues did sell, which is okay I guess.
I considered editing out ëshit-zinesí comment when posting this, in order to make it less obvious just how big of an asshole I can be at times. I decided against it; what I found entertaining were the extremes- I move from ridiculous arrogance to ridiculous insecurity; more of the twoness that Massumi and Acker were talking about perhaps? Also entertaining was the relativity of my feelings; if Iíd only ever thought that I had sold five issues wouldíve felt fine, but believing that all fifteen issues had sold out in a week made me full of myself. Realizing that Iíd misjudged the popularity of the comic burst my self-congratulatory bubble. Also hidden in there was some anxiety about actually having an audience; once I had one I felt like I'd also need to be sure I had something worth saying, which I wasn't. So getting brought back down to earth mightíve made me feel a relieved too. In a way I guess the cliche "Coming back to Earth" kind of sums it all up, doesn't it?