2016-03-21 10:00 dark-curricula

Dark Curricula: March 2016

This month's theme is quite naturally, social breakdown. People in social media broadcast "America has gone crazy", that political discourse and angry mobs "aren't our way", but, as a habitual misanthrope I'd argue this has always been the norm, that there have only been short anomalies of civility and rationality. The rest, like some horrific Hunter S Thompson ether induced hallucination, is a crazed ugly lizard pit where the roots of slavery, genocide and obsessive religiosity, our national heritages, are in plain sight.

Several Trump fans vowed that the next time, they would come armed. Some warned that if Trump was not chosen by Republicans, a militia would rise up to take him to power. When an evicted protester appeared at the doors of the Peabody, it was like a scene out of Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery: gazing down at a sea of rage, the demonstrator descended the stairs and the crowd tensed to pounce. American history is filled with ordinary people doing unspeakable things: a country where wholesome families treated lynchings as social occasions and witch trials as spectacles. As the voice of a demagogue blared from a theater, protesters were beaten and his supporters laughed, cheered and cheered. Trump proclaimed it good. Trump supporters in St Louis: how 'midwestern nice' became a sea of rage

The Word for World is Forest

Ursula K. Le Guin

Hainish Cycle

I'm reading these in internal chronological order rather than the order they were written. They stand alone however, so that's merely curiosity on my part. This is a shorter book, without as much nuance as The Dispossessed. An innocent green world is brutally invaded by human colonists, who turn the indigenous population into slaves. The didacticism is less artful, more frustrated, more blunt. This was written right after the Vietnam War had ended, and the depiction of militaristic, brutal colonization seems like a reflection of US culture at the time, less hopeful than The Dispossessed, written two years earlier. The conclusion of the story, the best that could be imagined, was that the invaders just go away after defeat, leaving the indigenous society irrevocably familiar with the moral choice of having to violently resist. They now understand "murder". It feels darker in retrospect. It's not a bad book by any means, quick, very readable, but The Dispossessed stands above it.

The Eternaut

Francisco Solano Lopez, Hector German Oesterheld

A strange deadly snow blankets Buenos Aires, it kills anything it touches. A few survivors deal with the mass scale death, then realize this is a precursor to an alien invasion. They band together to fight the invaders. Bad things happen. The amazing thing about Eternaut, is that, written in the late 50s, this was a deeply well thought, well executed story -- it was not a superhero comic for kids. It's of course got a 50s atomic thread, there's no avoiding that. The "good guys" don't really "win". It had complex characters, and adult aspects that I don't think anybody doing comics at least in the US would touch for years (or decades) to come. This thing feels remarkably akin to modern graphic novels in many ways, from the pacing to the characterization. Also, the edition by Fantagraphics, like all things Fantagraphics, is great. You'll need an extra table to read it on, cuz it's a big ol book, but it's worth it.

As for the writer Oesterheld's fate, similarly grim. He and his children were killed ("disappeared") for opposing the Argentine military junta. So it goes.

Of Walking in Ice: Munich-Paris, 23 November-14 December 1974

Werner Herzog

Mythical. Magical thinking. The banality of walking. Epoch examples of poor judgement, like trying to drag a boat up over a hill in the Amazon. Why walk from Munich to Paris in the winter? Because it will save Lotte Eisner, who lay dying. The story strikes me as some cousin of Cees Nooteboom and Yerofeyev, and Kharms, especially towards the end. He's a torrent of description, like walking, it's one thing after another.

The land here is being carelessly killed. Children are playing around the church. During the night I was very cold. An old man crosses the bridge.

Barely narrative. The overall purpose is saga-like, a literary sweat lodge. Descriptions of the environment and weather are conditions that force readers into a fugue state, to walk as he walks, a daze of images, hypnagogic.

There's some chatter that maybe Herzog made this all up, maybe he really didn't walk from Munich to Paris in 1974. I strongly believe that he did walk it. Like all things Herzog, what might seem ridiculous and forced or pretentious from him is completely authentic. I love this short book, at some point I will read it again.

BPRD: The Devil's Wings & Flesh And Stone

Mike Mignola & co

The war against the Black Flame, and the miscellaneous ancient horrors roaming the world, continue throughout the countryside. Scattering characters is something they've done before in this series, and it's a calculation that's paid off before, narratively. Zinco corporation is fun. Howard, the prehistoric warrior is fun. I wonder if this series goes on forever, and they'll be fighting the Unnamable Horror somewhere in space, in transit to another star since the Earth will have long since become a wasteland. I'd be OK with that, still buy it.