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"Good art doesn’t and shouldn’t give me the answer. At its best it might bring you painfully into awareness of how unanswerable the question is."
— Jonathan Franzen, from his interview in today's Calgary Herald-Sun.

That is one of the most cynical goddamn things I’ve ever read. Thank you, Mr. Franzen, for perfectly encapsulating the mentality that makes it impossible for me to find any enjoyment in the art and literary world.

Do I think art should be a mirror for reality, even the ugliest and harshest bits? Fuck yes I do. But if your “at best” scenario is a crushing view of impotence and impossibility, then fuck you, give me superheroes and fairy tales and detective noir and anything else from the so-called “escapist” genres over your version of “art.”

Look, life is hard anyway, and I don’t need my art to just give me a clearer, more eloquent understanding of just HOW hard it is. Great art reminds me of why we keep going, even through the worst humanity and the universe have to offer. Dostoevsky and Shakespeare both understood these extremes, which is why they’re Fucking Dostoevsky and Motherfucking Shakespeare.

Art doesn’t and shouldn’t “give” you actual answers, he’s right about that. But great art can give you hope. And hope is the single greatest non-answer answer that we humans possess.



This is one of those times where I REALLY should just limit my response to a couple tight, punchy sentences, something that destroys Franzen's soundbite as effectively as the way he said it in the first place. But fuck that, I'm so fed up with that mentality that it just makes me want to spew Red Lantern rage, all the more so after I actually read that interview and discovered what his latest book was about:

In his latest novel Freedom, the cerulean warbler is a symbol of life's personal and political complexities, part of a sprawling plot about a liberal middle-class family imploding with the pressures of teenage rebellion, infidelity, regret and professional frustration.

... Fuck it, I'm macroing this shit. Mr. Cobblepot, your opinion?

Date: 2011-09-04 04:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I'd be annoyed seeing yet another person comment to one of my rare (and, between time and energy deficiencies, increasingly hard-to-make) posts with something off-topic or barely-related-to-the-topic if it weren't you, Box. Because I'm fairly certain you're with me on this already, unless I'm just so sleep-deprived and brain-dead that I'm blowing this out of proportion or missing some point. I actually had you a bit in mind as I was raging about this.

Date: 2011-09-04 04:34 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
It actually ties into your post, except that I myself am apparently a bit too sleep-deprived to articulate it accurately. I was about to follow it up with an explanatory post until I got caught finishing up the last of my required news stories for this week (who has two thumbs and just wrote 19 articles for the paper averaging about 500 words each within 18 hours? THIS GUY).

Date: 2011-09-04 04:39 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Let me get home from the office and I'll share my further thoughts on the pseudo-intellectual literary masturbation (see? I told you it was on-topic) that not only Franzen, but also those authors whom I suspect have most inspired him, are engaging in with such subjects and worldviews.

... Jesus Christ, it took me forever to type that. I'm fucking butterfingering all over the keyboard.

Date: 2011-09-04 06:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Dear god, man, you've earned a rest and/or a drink. I look forward to your full reply after you've taken as much time as you need!

Hey, Box!

Date: 2011-09-04 05:44 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
The OMD/BND scenario has become an epidemic.

What's your reaction to the fact that long standing couples are getting broken up so the cis-hetero-straight-white-male can 'play the field' again trope has only increased since the release of OMD/BND? Surely for a while it seemed as though other comic companies wouldn't thread on that particular path or was I being extremely naive in assuming the latter?

Re: Hey, Box!

Date: 2011-09-04 06:01 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
It's even worse than that. As I believe Box predicted, this entire thing pretty much started directly and solely out of a desire to shake up and/or destroy the Clark/Lois relationship. From the New York Times:

Its latest company-wide overhaul has been almost a year in the making, devised in October at an editorial retreat where staff members were trying to create a love triangle for Superman, who wed Lois Lane in 1996.

Once the team decided it did not have to be bound by this marital detail, “we started talking about a lot of crazy, what-if situations, and out of that openness came the idea of renumbering the entire line,” said Jim Lee, co-publisher of DC Comics and an illustrator of the new Justice League series.

Thanks, Quesada!

Re: Hey, Box!

Date: 2011-09-05 03:39 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
My current facial expression:

Whenever I keep thinking my opinion on DC (or Marvel for that matter) could't get any lower, they somehow find new depth to plunge towards.

...I think I've just felt one iota of a micron of anger of how a lot of fans felt during the Infinite and Identity Crisis's.

Date: 2011-09-04 05:37 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
To be fair, unanswerable questions are not always a bad thing (which seems to be what you were driving at with that 'hope' bit), and despite the 'painfully aware' phrasing it doesn't seem overly cynical to me. Accepting a non-answer can sometimes mean the difference between soul searching and navel gazing. I don't think he necessarily means art should inspire existential dread (There are no answers, it's meaningless to try to answer the great questions. Everything is dark. Isn't the void of space terrifying?), perhaps he only means that there is as much to examine and take from the question itself as its 'answer', and that generally leads to more questions and eventually you realize you're less sure than when you started.

Actually, I'm not entirely sure what I'm getting at here, I'm pretty sleepy.

That said, I do like the occasional affirmation of ideals I believe to be important in the things I choose to watch/read, which is where the 'lighter' (in terms of spirit, not content) novels and comics come in.

Date: 2011-09-04 06:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I agree that it's not always a bad thing, and wasn't trying to say that it should NEVER be that way. But he seems to be putting it out there as THE blanket law of "Good Art," and even if he isn't, it's one that's followed by far too many out there. THAT is cynical to me.

, ... perhaps he only means that there is as much to examine and take from the question itself as its 'answer', and that generally leads to more questions and eventually you realize you're less sure than when you started.

It's a great thing to see art that challenges and provokes thought and introspection, but Jesus, I think that naval-gazing wankery is every bit as bad as the other end, where idiots watch movies for empty enjoyment and look down upon others for daring to think at all.

The point of my macro (and I did have one) ...

Date: 2011-09-04 06:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
If I am reading you correctly, then you have accurately and appropriately rebuked the Todd Solondz-esque streak of self-congratulatory nihilism in Jonathan Franzen's stated views of art, but your condemnation of Franzen's pseudo-intellectual masturbation is incomplete, and I would suggest that this is because your references to various "classic" authors omit some of the leading lights of the 20th century, whose pretensions at defying previously established conventions became a no-less-stifling set of conventions in and of itself.

During the 20th century, I would argue that we saw the rise of the ANTI-epic as a novel, as more and more authors strove to capture "realism" in their works and came to the conclusion that, the more limited in scope and consequence their events were, and the more ineffectual and unexceptional their characters were, the more meaningful their stories would become.

My mom was an English teacher, so there was no way I was going to escape Sinclair Lewis' Arrowsmith and Dodsworth, much less John Updike's Rabbit Angstrom, but for all the critical acclaim those novels had received, I found myself thinking that they didn't deserve to have been written, because the more I looked at the modern "classics" of literature, the more I saw nothing more than a bunch of middle-aged, middle-class, middle-American straight white men bemoaning their midlife crises and male menopause as if those forms of mild and entitled malaise were the worst things in the world.

And while Lewis and Updike at least seemed to be trying to condemn the myopia of such characters, the fact that they returned to that well again and again and again makes me think they developed a tunnel-vision of their own for such worlds, by treating them as though they were the only worlds (and characters) worth writing about.

All that being said, none of it has sweetened me on stories in which young men are always being set up to not appreciate their youth until it's gone, old men are all either stewing with resentments or leading lives of quiet desperation as a result of missing their youth, and any women who appear are either silly, flighty little things who will lead men astray, or castrating cock-trappers who will condemn them to loveless marriages.

Not only does Franzen lack the self-awareness that makes Lewis and Updike mildly tolerable, but like Solondz, Daniel Clowes and Chris Ware, Franzen has apparently arrived at the conclusion that "quirky" characterization can substitute for ACTUAL characterization, like if Diablo Cody decided that she wanted to script a remake of Agnes of God, except in her version, Sister Agnes would have a huge PEZ dispenser collection and her shrink would be an obsessive Sigur Rós fan.

It's the worst of all possible worlds, because it still places the plight of middle-aged, middle-class, middle-American, myopic and merit-free straight white men at the center of the author's chosen world, while at the same time subjecting us to completely random "revelations" about the rest of the cast that ultimately don't amount to anything relevant, because a) you could mix and match each family member's flaws and/or secrets and still come up with largely the same results because b) everyone is doomed anyway.

As Paul O'Brien put it, in his succinct analysis of Solondz's Welcome to the Dollhouse, "It's storytelling that dares to ask the dumb and uninteresting question, 'Wouldn't it be shit if everything was shit?'"

And with that in mind, it's no wonder that Franzen argues so strenuously against meaning in art, because if his nihilistic view was incorrect and it actually was possible for an artist to creatively and compellingly evoke such meaning without condescending to the audience by spelling it all out for them, then that would make Franzen himself a talentless hack who trades in cliches and caricatures in place of actual characters.

... Goddammit, I don't even know if this was the point that I originally wanted to make anyway, I'm so fucking tired.

Date: 2011-09-05 12:27 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I'm struggling to follow it myself.

Date: 2011-09-05 03:32 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
He's right, you did.

Date: 2011-09-05 04:40 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
How I nearly became what I hated.

Although, I've come to realize that it's not just middle aged white men with lots of issues that do these kind of myopic things.

Recently a friend of mine, who's usually very nice and a normally bright guy with hardly any issues, proposed that in his latest fan fic series he's going to make the 'Bleach' manga better by making it all dark n' edgy and killing off the characters family and shit.

Basically, he's going to kill off these two to make 'Bleach' better:

I nearly fell backwards and thought for a minute that I was talking to Dan Didio this whole time.

I realized then and there that part of the reason why this school of thought is still prevalent is because people don't learn from history and other writing trends, even if it's about history and trends of fiction, plus the fact that I just witnessed first hand how this Didio-school of thought gets passed down to a younger generation.

Date: 2011-09-06 05:10 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
There's not a lot anyone could to make Bleach worse but somehow your friend found a way. He must be the goddamn Mozart of shitty ideas.

Like if you said to me "Come up with the stupidest thing you could possibly do to Bleach that you'd never think of in a million years because of how fucking stupid it is," I still would never come up with this, because goddamn.

Date: 2011-09-06 05:46 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yeah, he's normally a nice guy to hang out with but you know I'm taking my sweeeeeeeet time before I read any of his fanfics.

Well, part of me wants to say that Bleach hasn't reached quite Naruto-the-5-Kages-level bad yet or even some of Deathnote's fail but then again, I wasn't in the fandom when FKT and the Decide arcs took place. Personally, aside from a few I find many of Bleach's fail to be hilariously entertaining especially in hindsight and Aizen's near omnipotent ability to be a Meme Fountain is his most redeeming feature.

Date: 2011-09-06 07:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
The thing with Bleach is it can't fail the way Deathnote fails because that would require expectations to which it doesn't live up.

Like a huge pit filled with raw sewage doesn't fail, it's just a big hole of shit, you know?

But that said, as incredibly, Michael Bay for Japanese comics bad as Tite Kubo is at, like, everything, one of the few things I'll credit him with is... actually come to think of it one of Michael Bay's few graces as well, which is that Tite Kubo is not going to gratuitously murder the inconsequential, passably likeable child characters for a cheap shock, because who the fuck anywhere wants to read that shit.

Date: 2011-09-06 07:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I mean he might have them brutally decapitated in a graphic on-panel depiction, with multiple characters in which he's invested substantial authority in the world of his story stating unequivocally that those characters are indeed dead beyond all possibility of return by any means known or unknown. And then have the characters turn up at the end of the arc and be like, GOT BETTER.

But he would not actually kill them! And so he retains a tiny yet significant amount of decency compared with the Dan Didios and the WhoeverthefuckthatwastheypaidtoputhisnameonCryforJustices of the world.

Date: 2011-09-07 04:53 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
'lol, did you reeeeally think that the numbers go from 1,2,3 and 4.'

So if Kubo is the Micheal Bay of manga (an oddly apt description I might add) where does that put Oda, Kishimoto and Hiromu Arakawa?

Plus, while he has put Yuzu and Karin in life threatening situations they usually get treated with some amount of dignity and restraint plus I can't recall them ever having gotten brutally cut up like how Hiyori, Toshiro and Momo were (whom you can sort of argue were trained fighters who knew what they were getting into despite looking like they were teenagers). In general Bleach's human characters tend to be genuinely likable ones (I've found lots of squeeing over characters like Tatsuki, Keigo and Mizuiro) even if they have yet to level towns in a single hit, whereas Kishimoto, Oda and the creators of Deathnote, all on some level struggles with their own down-to-earth non-uber badass characters.
From: [identity profile]
if nothing else, you just summed up completely why i despised little miss sunshine.

Date: 2011-09-04 11:08 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Things like this are why I can't bring myself to want to ever read Franzen.

It's not an either or thing. You really can have both, but it's not in the best interest of those who profit from wankery to admit this. I'm really sorry that douchebaggery such as this has put you off the art and literary world because there are really a lot of wonderful things there to find. Somehow, even after all I've suffered at their hands, it hasn't really put me off it all yet. You just have to get good at avoiding people like this (which can be nigh impossible). :)

Date: 2011-09-05 12:01 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
...It is people like Franzen that made me decide that I was never ever going to go to school for art of any kind. I'm a storyteller. I aspire to be the kind of person that can make real magic, that can weave glorious tapestries of words and bring joy and the feeling only a really good story can give you. That is what I think being a writer should be. You're an artist. An artist leaves the world a little more beautiful than when ey found it. Artists create, they do not destroy.

Date: 2011-09-05 03:42 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
As someone who went to art school and really likes the sort of wanky modern art that makes a lot of people go 'huh?' or 'meh' or 'this is bullshit', I'd just like to point out that this guy is a fucking wank-job lunatic moron dumbass.

Date: 2011-09-05 04:14 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I have to admit, I loved reading yours and box's take on this. I would love to call bullshit on this guy were if not for the fact that I would feel like a hypocrite if I do so. I hate to admit it but during my recent foray into the word of art and writing, I have found myself falling into the very traps that the so-called 'angsty' writers like Franzen and others keep falling into, especially since I have always been disapproving of angst over-load in fiction.

I suppose the main problem is that I keep wanting my characters to be some sort of focal-point for my own problems and issues thus I end up straying from the idea I originally set out to do.

That urge to make things 'a little more darker' and a 'little more edgier' is a pretty powerful one.

('Hewho criticizes bad comic writers should see to it that he himself does not become a bad comic writer.')

Especially when you start feeling like you have this huge open canvas where you can dump all that gooey gray stuff strewing inside you. (even though a therapist might be a better option).

By no means am I trying to excuse Franzen and his ilk, I suppose I'm just randomly thinking out loud here now that I feel like I nearly ended up falling into their shoes.

Date: 2011-09-05 04:43 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Everyone goes through a grim phase in their younger years, and everyone's entitled, especially if they're weathering real-world shit-storms. It's when you make a career out of it that it becomes a problem.

Date: 2011-09-07 05:11 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thanks for the distinction, man. :) I really appreciate it.

Date: 2011-09-05 04:23 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] brent keane (from
Point of order: I gleaned that Franzen quote from Melbourne's Herald-Sun, as he's out here for the Melbourne Writer's Festival.

But I agree, there seems to be a lot of navel-gazing on Franzen's part, and his quote desperately needed a codicil - which you handily supplied. As I said on my blog, I don't wholly approve of Franzen's rationalisation, but finding & posting things like that do indicate where my head's at of late. (When I'm not posting silly image macros, that is.)

For my part, I'm tired of artistes who feed the need to stripmine their own lives in the name of Captial-A Art - perpetually finishing the hat, to borrow from Sondheim. Life experience should inform and influence one's art, but making art into's one life is a slippery slope. (Ergo: wank wank wank.)

I do appreciate that your response to Franzen sounding off kicked my brain into gear, though, so thanks for that.

(PS: I'm using my Twitter ID to leave this comment, as I deleted my LJ a few weeks ago.)

Date: 2011-09-05 05:26 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Fuck this guy in the mouth with a donkey cock.

assholes like this are KILLING ART.

Date: 2011-09-05 05:27 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
he said with his usual style and panache.

seriously though. when it's something this out and out stupid, that's all i can say. I am that tired or trying to have reasonable conversations with that kind of asshole.

Date: 2011-09-06 07:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
he said with his usual style and panache.

Hey man don't backpedal.

OWN that donkey cock.

Date: 2011-09-06 07:27 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
that wasn't backpedaling, that was stroking my own ego.

Date: 2011-09-06 07:34 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Well in that case, stroke away!

Date: 2011-09-07 05:14 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Is it wrong that this talk of donkey cocks made me ship fifthie and surrealname? Cause I totally am right now. :D

Over Here Via Box

Date: 2011-09-05 04:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
[gives standing ovation]

Date: 2011-09-06 06:51 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
It isn't so much people like this that bug me. I'm of the mindset that art is whatever the hell the hell the artist wants it to be, even if I privately think that some of them are deluded, narcissistic wankers. In those cases I'll roll my eyes at them.

Now what *does* bug me is when they go actively point out other people's work (including other wankers) and say "That isn't art" without their opinions being asked in the first place. Even worse is when the more idiotic fans of artist (even the ones I respect) see themselves as their idol's emissaries and do the same.

Date: 2011-09-06 06:52 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Oh, by the way. I pretty much agree with you.

Date: 2011-09-07 10:30 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] daniel basch-tetreault (from
Here's a counterpoint for Art! by another comic writer who's generally known for his portrayal of a dark uncaring world. The relevant portion is at the 1/3rd point where the author avatar for the cartoonist himself is getting some help move his stuff out of the garage.

Oh, and the helper guy calls himself "Superman" for some reason.

Date: 2011-09-07 10:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
In marginally related news...

Detective Comics #1 is out, John (I can call you John, right?). From what I've gathered from internet discussions, it's every bit as bad as we thought it would be.

Date: 2011-09-08 02:27 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
John is fine. :)

Yeah, I saw a couple pages, including the ending. I can't even bring myself to care, because it's Tony Daniel, and nothing he does ever feels worth the effort of caring! Christ, there's a reason why I haven't reviewed the recent Gilda story.

Date: 2011-09-08 03:11 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
But it features


Gilda shooting Dick! :(

Date: 2011-09-08 03:18 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
And therefore reinforces Daniel's use of Gilda as the same Gilda from The Long Halloween. Ugh.

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