Friday, July 20, 2007

"Meteoric Burlesk Melodrama," (OR "there'd still be the brick")

In my post on Sandburg I made an aside to suggest that Sandburg's urban sketches owe something to contemporary cartooning. The slapstick broadstrokes of certain of his verses, no less than his imagistic "handfulls," are pure ash-can; and it is this sketchiness and emphasis on the "daily" (a chronologically generative constraint, then, as much as a populist quotidian perspective) that seems to be a sticking point for S's detractors. His haphazard pile of images bother especially those who find him a sentimental "mystical mobocrat" (William Aspenwell Bradley's phrase, reviewing Chicago Poems in the Dial). I think that a proper discussion of the gestural, democratic expansion of the comix medium in this period could redeem some of those very gestures, which I would not deny are present and, insofar as Sandburg never really bothers to work up much formal prosodic fuss, are indeed sometimes frustrating. (Perhaps an especially valuable redemption, for their proximity to yellow journalism?)

Well, here's an pretty unnecessary follow up: e.e. cummings, among illustrious others (Eliot, Pound, Hemingway, Stein, later Umberto Eco, etc.) read George Herriman's Sunday Krazy Kat strips regularly. For those unfamiliar, Herriman's genius was in his ability to endlessly riff on a roughly identical plot in most every strip: Krazy Kat loves Ignatz Mouse, and never so much as when the latter hurls a brick at him, which he takes to be a sign of Ignatz's affection. Offissa Pupp, who loves Krazy Kat, attempts to arrest Ignatz, who repeatedly escapes to pitch bricks once more. (They all speak in this bee-yoo-tee-full sorta Joyce-via-Vaudeville mishmash).

In 1946 the poet wrote an introduction to a collection of Krazy Kat, in which this whole cycle becomes a reflection on the anarchic play that Cummings places at the heart of democracy:

"Even if Offissa Pupp should go crazy and start chasing Krazy, and even if Krazy should go crazy and start chasing Ignatz, and even if crazy Krazy should swallow crazy Ignatz and crazy Offissa Pupp should swallow crazy Krazy and it was the millennium - there'd still be the brick. And (having nothing else to swallow) Offissa Pupp would then swallow the brick. Whereupon, as the brick hit Krazy, Krazy would be happy." (Cummings: A Miscellany, p. 105)

And because I can't help myself, also this (remember: 1946):

"Right! The game they're playing, willy nilly, is the exciting democratic game of cat loves mouse; the game which a lot of highly moral people all over the socalled world consider uncivilized. I refer (of course) to those red-brown-and-blackshirted Puritans who want us all to scrap democracy and adopt their modernized version of follow the leader - a strictly ultraprogressive and super-benevolent affair which begins with the liquidation of Ignatz Mouse by Offissa Pupp. But (objects Krazy, in her innocent democratic way) Ignatz Mouse and Offissa Pupp are having fun. Right again!" (104)

So here's Spiegelman's Maus in utero (a lineage which has been explored, not least of which by Spiegelman, though the debt is more clunkily overt in In the Shadow of No Towers).

Eros - the Conqueror! And so on and so on. Cf. Nathaniel West's description of The Day of the Locust as "a novel in the form of a comic strip", the chapters being "squares in which many things happen through one action." Apparently Faulkner was a good comic artist as well -- anyone seen these cartoons? I'm tempted to keep on by comparing how the quatrains of Pound's "Hugh Selwyn Mauberly" might be homologous to comic strip panels, or to compare that formal analogue to Cummings's typographical spillage as a satirical model. But i'd better not. [Hi Emily]

Oh, and P.S. as I'm reading back over this, is "there'd still be the brick" potentially a summation of Imagist poetics as it shades into Objectivism?