for 6 October 2000. Updated every WEEKDAY.
The Suck School of Comic Art: Graduate Course
For sloth illustration:
Dog might as well be licking butthole, or, in PG rated drawing, posed about to lick butthole, George Price-style. Thus dog signifies filth its master lives in. Television might have jagged balloon coming out of it saying "Come on down!," "I'd like a vowel!," "Duck, Magnum, duck!" or "Wilburrrrrrrr." Mrs. Lockhorn, hair in curlers, could be standing behind chair saying "Is this your idea of a romantic weekend?"
Nazi might be wearing jackboots. Jackboots are always worn by someone trampling human rights (Republican politicians, ATF agents.) Pinko's reading material might be labeled clearly "Freud," "Marx," "Anti-Family Propaganda," "Journal of Atheist Studies."
Italians usually signified by waxed mustache and organ grinder monkey; French with french poodle on leash extra laughs if the poodle is wearing a beret and smoking a Gauloise; extra extra laughs if the poodle is saying "Weauf" or "arf" (the latter with circumflex over the a)(Poodle language stolen from a "Deadman" comic book done in the National Lampoon c. 1978, but who will remember this? Sometimes, plagiarism is the perfect crime, just as in the above, where I stole a famous Orwell quote about jackboots.) All English people wear monocles, even cockneys. In cases of diminished drawing capacity (obviously not T. Colon's problem) Irish people can be given shamrock embroidered vests (as in crudely made prison tattoos of Notre Dame leprechaun, House of Pain logos/Mickey's Malt Liquor hobgoblin, or "Irish Pried" [sic]). If one really wants to fish for hate mail, bubbles can be added to circumference of head to indicate drunkenness. In the UK, where vicious anti-Irish humor is as much a way of life as sousing perfectly good french fries with vinegar, the Irish caricature can be given a pregnant wife, and a pet pig. Caution: Ireland is heavily wired for the Internet, and anti-Irish slurs will be seen by a large vociferous audience.
Thanks for the course--I learned a lot! Sincerely, Richard von Busack, vice-president of the El Cerrito chapter of the Flann O'Brien fan club, whose great-grandma O'Fallon came from County Cork, and her likes will never be seen again..
Richard Von Busack
All very good ideas, you deserve a masters of funny art. The only exception is the jackboots. A big nasty Fascist wearing shorts with his knobby knees showing is funnier. And don't French dogs go "pan, pan"? I think this is how the French say it.
Dogs licking themselves are funny but I don't do that sort of thing, maybe scratching behind its ear with that silly look would be good, like George Booth does it.
After going through the Grad Course of Comic Art, I have just realized that I never got a diploma from the first course. Please rectify this situation for me and the other past graduates of the Suck School of Comic Art.
Also, what exactly is my degree title for resumes? Master of B.S.? B.O.? Suck Master?
Isaac S. Chappell II
Since you are an art grad surely you can make up your own diploma. If not you flunked.
I just wanted to point out that this information is a bit outdated: "ANARCHISTS/REVOLUTIONARIES Wild, swirly eyes; a beard; and a beret are musts."
Nowadays, anarchists/revolutionaries generally wear mostly black and filthy olive drab- say, fatigues and hooded sweatshirts with lots of patches and bits of metal from lighters. They usually have dreadlocks, also with bits of metal in them. Piercings and tattoos are mandatory, and bathing is rare.
But I'm dealing with cliches and old cliches are funnier than new realities. Besides, I am outdated.
Losing wars ain't funny but making fun of losers is.
The 4th Reich, the motorcycle club? The Hell's Angels will kick their butts.
All About the Benjamins
What a fine, kind, tribute. Thank you.
All sorts of images spin off from your article. Dear Professor Kant and lives as ends versus lives as means. Lots of poetry think late Yeats and Crazy Jane. Early Dutch still-life paintings, with their incredible sense of things caught in transition. Flying over the center of the country and that flash of satori...realizing that in every one of those tiny tickytacky houses below live people who KNOW that when they die, the world ends.
Again, thanks. Fine writing.
Alan S Kornheiser
I have often mused on the idea that when I die, the world ends. When in fact, when I die, the world endures. This fundamentally galling fact is responsible for its revenge-fantasy inversion, also known as the Apocalypse, as well as the story of Noah and his Ark: when the world dies, I endure. But socially, when we die, something does endure.
I really enjoyed reading your article this morning. I haven't read such well thought-out prose in a long time. It's really a refreshing change from the usual drivel that mainstream journalists churn out. The journalism schools (here in Canada at least) beat down those creative and critical sparks that breathe life into a story like yours. The focus is Who, What, Where, When and Why but they've lost sight of Why Is This Significant or Who Cares?
Thank you for an enjoyable read. I hope to see more of your work in the future.
Thanks for the kind words, Aaron--along with his history writing, Benjamin had high hopes for journalism too, as well as children's literature and radio. There's a reason that the Cult-Studs want to adopt him as one of their own. Sadly, Benjamin never lived to see Canada.
Dear Hypatia Sanders, I really enjoyed your piece on Walter Benjamin in today's Suck, and I think you're right on target about the "reception" of Benjamin's writings by assorted book reviewers, literati, and academics in this country. As an American conversant with Benjamin's writings in German who spent several years teaching American studies at the J.W. Goethe University in Frankfurt--my office was right across from the apartment of Adorno's widow and many of my closest friends there had been students of Adorno--I wanted to pass along the following observations. First, I think the image of Benjamin as a schlemiel of genius, the schlemiel as genius--you use the more charitable term bohemian--owes a great deal to the essay by Hannah Arendt which first appeared in the New Yorker, later serving as the introduction to Illuminations, and which for all purposes introduced him to an English-speaking audience for the first time. But the essay furnished Arendt with an occasion for settling scores with Adorno, whom she loathed as she did all members of the Frankfurt School, by tacitly comparing the luckless Benjamin who dedicated himself to the Pursuit of Truth and for whom nothing ever turned out right with the comfortable university professor. At one point she refers--I am relying on memory--to the letters Adorno wrote to Benjamin while he was living in poverty in Paris as arcane discussions of Marxist theory--as if Adorno had his head in the clouds while Benjamin was starving to death. But not only do the letters provide a brilliant commentary on what Benjamin was attempting at the time he was working on the Passagenarbeit and Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit, he himself would have wanted nothing less than that kind of response--and Adorno was the only person capable or interested in supplying it.
Similarly, it is easy to present Benjamin's death as nearly a martyrdom--which in a certain sense it was, but no more so than the death of the lowliest shop assistant from Krakow who ended up being gassed at Auschwitz. Benjamin certainly had some need to flee France--although he was not Gerhart Eisler or Wilhelm Pieck, he was nevertheless an associate and admirer of Bertolt Brecht, and he would have had no doubts about what fate awaited any "Jewish Communist" who fell into the hands of the Nazis, as he certainly would have had he chanced remaining in France. Also, unlike many refugees, Benjamin had a visa to enter this country which Horkheimer and Adorno had been able to obtain for him. However, Benjamin was in very bad shape at the moment he tried to escape into Spain. He apparently suffered from a heart problem and couldn't walk around the block without getting out of breath--Susan Sontag, discussing the photos of Benjamin, has rightly pointed how he seems to have prematurely aged after his immigration to France. But the trip across the Pyrenees was a physically exhausting one, requiring the participants to crawl through vineyards and over rocky passes, often on hands and knees, to avoid attracting the attention of the French border patrols. The edition of the Passagenarbeit in the complete German edition of Benjamin's works includes an account of the trip by a woman who eventually settled in this country, describing the rigors of the journey and relating how Benjamin insisted on lugging along a suitcase filled with manuscripts. Realistically, I think anyone in that position--no longer young, suffering from ill-health, having just gone through such a draining experience, and facing certain death from Nazi butchers if forced to turn back--would have made the same decision and taken his or her own life. Secondly, I think the American interpretation of Benjamin has been strongly influenced by the fact that Das Kunstwerk was one of the first of his writings to become well-known here, and his earlier work has often been read as if it were a prologue to his later, highly politicized essays from the 1930's. However, his works from the 1920's--particularly his dissertation on Romantic art criticism, the long essay on Goethe's Elective Affinities, and the treatise on the German Trauerspiel--are arguably the most important things he ever wrote, and none of those can be characterized as Marxist, even if the sense of outrage at injustice is ever present in Benjamin's writing from early on. Following what Adorno aptly termed Benjamin's "assumption [as a world view] of dialectical materialism with closed eyes," the latter tried to force his highly idiosyncratic, profoundly theologically colored body of ideas into the straightjacket of orthodox Marxist doctrine--such as he had apparently picked it up from Brecht and the ideological gurus of the KPD. This could only result in a double act of violence, both to Benjamin's own ideas and Marxist doctrine. It is also true that this act of violence led Benjamin to apply Marxist concepts to the study of history and art in a way no one has done before or after, but it remains an act of violence nonetheless, a point that did not escape the ever vigilant Brecht, who blew a fuse when he read Das Kunstwerk--and contemptuously rejected it as a perversion of Marxism. I am in no way arguing for elevating the earlier over the later writings--as some of Benjamin's conservative interpreters would like to do--but to slight the earlier ones in favor of the later, or to separate them at all, amounts to liquidating the whole problematic dimension of the last phase of Benjamin's writing.
Arendt's New Yorker piece, which ended up introducing Benjamin to an American audience, really does seem to have stuck. For one thing, the Adorno-as-Grinch narrative you detail has become e a convenient way of sidestepping his ideas. From reading the full correspondence, which Harvard has just put out in translation, it's clear that under the Bourgeois circumlocution and ponderous deferentiality there was a great mutual sensitivity. On the subject of Benjamin as martyr, you're right that elevating without considering the ordinary people who died without the benefit of narcotics is simply an insult to their memory. Finally, I strongly feel that both theology and Marxism could do with a lot more of exactly this sort of violence.