Hello, Failure

Of all the enemies of literature, success is the most insidious

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Failure of the Day: Words

Yeah, so it turns out it’s hard to find time to write with the whole commute to work in another town thing. Time management lessons in progress; bear with me.

As I’ve said before, I like talking about comic books, but I don’t much like reading them. I find it irritating to have to stop looking at those endlessly fascinating and beloved things, words, to look at a drawing of something.

I am nevertheless thoroughly enjoying Black Hole. It would be hard to imagine a story more suited to my particular perversions. Still though, the drawings…I find myself longing for the novel version of the story, something in which the guy didn’t rely on a drawing of a character’s reaction and had to actually describe it. And let’s face it OK? I am almost certainly going to find myself divorced and friendless for this, but it’s not like they’re even very good drawings. I mean, the drawings are interesting and fine for what they are, but c’mon. A drawing in a comic of a face showing an emotion just doesn’t compare to the paragraph that, say, Sherman Alexie could write about that emotion. Or am I just completely lost to verbal chauvinism?

During my train rides though, because I don’t feel like toting around a thick hardback, I’m reading The Elementary Particles by Michel Houellebecq. I’ve been interested in him for a while; he comes up often enough on ALDaily—he really gets those humanities profs in a tizzy. I was a little intimidated at first; I expected it to be tougher going than it is. But the translation is surprisingly readable, and when all is said in done, it’s just garden variety misanthropy and nihilism. It's pretty easy to make the profs all frothy, it turns out.

Lord knows, I love me some misanthropy and nihilism, but this isn’t the fun Martin Amis kind, with show-offy linguistic pyrotechnics and some genuine if fleeting sweetness. It’s the grueling, relentless, depressing kind in which a small burst of contempt serves as a page’s only bright spot.

You'd think after finishing the graphic novel about teenagers becoming disfigured from a hideous plague and the literary novel about how life is an endless succession of humiliation and disappointment, I'd want to read something cheerful. Last time I tried that though, it didn’t work out so well…I read the title story in Me Talk Pretty One Day on a bus coming home from work in Seattle, got into a laughing fit, and made a complete spectacle of myself. So I’m sticking with the depressing books—at least they don’t make me look like a lunatic in public.


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