Into Chelsea I hurl myself, oars into water I have long since decided to drown in.
As I make my way away from the West Village, remember a friend from Berlin telling me the customs of shamanic people who hold that each part of a goat’s head contains a magick power. The eyes: power of mercy. Tongue: gift of calm. Brain: renewal of beauty and everlasting enchantment.
Somewhere a long the way I must have swallowed the coronet of a hippocampus and the lungs of a camouflaged insect, for I seem always to have held a power to transform myself into other people.
For tonight I become an Iranian real estate broker educated in London and made wealthy in New York selling Soho properties during the 1970’s. With his flagrant tongue and belligerent parade, I gain entrance into the profane and sacred world of art and luxury.
Kate Bush wailing in my head, ponder the weird wisdom or total madness a friend gives about the language of attraction. Make my way to 22nd and 10th. Meet Fujito dressed, as promised, in nothing but a white diaper.
We make our way from Empire diner. A dumb gallerina refuses me a cigarette. I bitch about it for days after. We go to an Asian gallery where mythical animals hunted and bound for the most bizarre currency have been turned into tires. The gallery stinks of wet branches and cheap wine.
Into a two story prison of sketches and paintings of elephant men and the muppets of a harlequin’s nightmare; butchers and bakers drafted from a time of blue beards and courtesans. I run into French twins, while naked girls crawl under polar bears into colored sand sepulchers. Some of us are drunk, others manic. Bulgarians are smiling, artists from Nepal are acting sanctimonious, toasts are being held in honor of nothing and moment.
My Russian philosopher arrives in time for us but too late for art. Outside we smoke cloves or cigarettes strange sailors blow smoke from filthy pipes. We have met Giselle Luminare a splendid French women of rare inner beauty dressed in white veils.
We pose for pictures, give each other new names. We meet Optometrists who dance with us in smiling streets. My Russian philosopher drives us safely out of reach.
I turn around and watch Chelsea as she undresses and lies down on her diamond-studded bed. She falls asleep with a patronizing smile on her too closed eyes. Someday she’ll love you for a short time, for now it is spring and we are dumb darling majesties who decided long ago to refuse every deceit offered by human dignity.
Special thanks to Dave for supplying the following pages from Tales to Astonish #6 (1959), a Jack Kirby 4-page story entitled, “I Laughed at the Great God, Pan!”
I’m fascinated by early representations of mythology in American cartoons and comics– a reoccurring motif in the work of Kirby– but this story holds a special distinction, having served, apparently, as the partial inspiration for the lyrics of “Leave the Capitol,” a song by The Fall.
“Leave the Capitol” is on the Slates EP, released during the band’s early 78-83 period. This is when they were, indisputably!, the best band in the world. The lyrics in question come towards the end of a long historical ramble– who knows its meaning?– and are the proclamation of what sounds like a drunken Scotsman:
“I laughed at the great God Pan
I didnae! I didnae!
I laughed at the great god Pan
I didnae! I didnae! I didnae! I didnae! I didnae!”
This song follows on the lyrics of “2nd Dark Age,” a song found on Early Fall 77-79, the lyrics of which read, in part:
“I am Roman Totale XVII
the bastard offspring of
and The Great God Pan”
Truth in advertising. Two hours later and I remember nothing. Something about Hawaii and the Ukranian chick from That 70s Show. Veronica Mars? Fat guy from Superbad. That’s it. No material to work with, no half-cocked witticisms or sarcasm. Of course I’ve had a blend of coffee called High Octane, several mouthfuls of cough medicine and am suffering from massive head and lung congestion.
Oh right, Russell Brand.
Tomorrow, I’m feeling better.
At this very moment I am convinced– and am willing to throw down over my conviction– that 88 Minutes is the most heinous and shocking of mankind’s many, many crimes. A worse thing has not been known. An affront to human dignity. And I am fairly certain that the dextromethorphan in my cough medicine has nothing to do with my opinion.
Truth be told, the only feasible way in which a person could sit through the entirety of this film is to: (a) have a half-insane freak cough all over you a week before the screening, (b) develop a cold that’s not serious enough to impair fully but serious enough to debilitate and (c) drink a lot of disgusting medicine to fight the illness, thus creating an unpleasant high that makes the world appear through an opaque haze, as if one was in a 1930s screwball comedy and a hapless DP had smeared vaseline across the camera lens for the big kissyface.
And even that will not be enough. Even that will not protect you.
Afterwards, I checked: 88 Minutes runs one hour and forty minutes, but in my present condition, I felt as though I had lived from the Dawn of Time until the End of Eternity– from Genesis to The Revelation of St. John the Divine, and not even Alicia Witt, Notable Ginger, could help.
Please let this sickness pass, O Lord.
I’m fairly certain that it’s because of the dextromethorphan in my cough medicine, but at this very moment I am convinced– and am willing to throw down over my conviction– that 21 is the single finest achievement in ten thousand years of recorded human civilization.
The Thoughtography of Ted Serios was a phenomena of the 1960s– as credulous a decade as this country has ever seen– and it produced an excellent work of Fortean literature, The World of Ted Serios: “Thoughtographic” Studies of an Extraordinary Mind by Jules Eisenbud, M.D. The good doctor tells the whole story– of witnessing Serios, in drunken rampages, projecting his thought-images onto Polaroid film.
And though Serios has been semi-convincingly debunked, I recommend the book– it’s reasonably well written, and it reeks of the subjectivity that paranormal investigation engenders, an in the moment loss of perspective which leads to dodgy but compelling narratives. It contains an enormous number of reproductions of Serios’s Thoughtographs. Whatever their value as psychic manifestations, they often are visually stunning. This is a Serios image of the Denver Hilton (he had been trying to produce the Chicago Hilton):
When I was traversing the archives, I discovered a letter that I had written to Serios in May of 2006. I had read this article by Calvin Campbell and thought, okay, sure, why not? In those days, of course, I still had a desire to Meet Interesting People– but that’s since been slaked in ways unimaginable. Serios never wrote me back– it turns out that he died about half a year later. Too bad.
Brooklyn, NY 11211
25 May 2006
Dear Mr. Serios,
Please forgive the intrusion of my letter—-I was hoping to inquire as to whether or not you are the same Ted Serios of Thoughtography? I saw some of your photographs on display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibit on occult photography and was fascinated by them—so I endeavoured to read Mr. Eisenbud’s wonderful book on the subject of your Thoughtography experiments. Upon finishing the last page, I felt that I must try and find the man capable of producing such phenomenal and radical images with only the powers of his mind.
I should like to ask you very many questions on the topic and hope that you should be inclined to answer them. Before I begin my course, however, I would like to receive confirmation that you are indeed the same Ted Serios! Otherwise I could be sending very strange letters to an unsuspecting individual!
Many, many thanks in advance. I am,
Most Truly Yours,
Okay, you want it? Lemme know. Hurry up. Let’s go.
The Book Gods have interrupted my jaunty 19th Century kick– forcing a repeat engagement with the Odyssey of Homer. This is the fourth or fifth reading and the only time that I’ve liked it. I suspect that this has something to do with translation. The last two go-rounds were with Fagles and Chapman. Both men did fabulous work on the Iliad (only about 400 years apart), but their Odysseys left me cold. This time I wanted Lattimore but ended up with Fitzgerald, who turns out to be up my alley, stuffy midcentury-isms and all.
I presumed that when the Book Gods demanded my return to the Odyssey, this was with a reason in mind. I have yet to find it, not even mustering an association of my own distance with the wanderings of the eponymous Hero. I will say, though, that it’s extremely interesting to read the poem after nearly seven years of contemporary continual military action– one notices how much of the poem is concerned with the cost of war. None of Iliam’s conquerors get away clean. They take the war home. Another random thought: if the Odyssey is about learning to deal with women, does the Iliad then tell us that men create war to avoid the fairer sex?
I’ve developed a fascination with the incident in which Odysseus and his men land on the island with the cattle of Helios, the sun god; this comes after Odysseus and his men have traveled to the underworld and been warned by Teiresias to stay away from the cows, and after Circe has repeated the warning. The significance of this event in the narrative can not be underestimated: of all the adventures and wanderings of Odyssey, it is the only one to be mentioned specifically in the epic’s introductory lines:
The man, O Muse, inform, that many a way
Wound with his wisdom to his wished stay;
That wandered wondrous far, when he the town
Of sacred Troy had sack’d and shivered down;
The cities of a world of nations,
With all their manners, minds, and fashions,
He saw and knew; at sea felt many woes,
Much care sustained, to save from overthrows
Himself and friends in their retreat for home;
But so their fates he could not overcome,
Though much he thirsted it. O men unwise,
They perish’d by their own impieties,
That in their hunger’s rapine would not shun
The oxen of the lofty-going Sun,
Who therefore from their eyes the day bereft
Of safe return. These acts, in some part left,
Tell us, as others, deified Seed of Jove.
(taken from Chapman’s translation. Italics mine.)
When Odysseus and his men land on the isle of Helios’ cattle (or Chapman’s oxen), it’s Eurylochus, second in command, who takes advantage of Odysseus’ hideously inopportune slumber to convince the other men to slaughter the cattle, giving the following speech:
‘Hear what I shall say,
Though words will staunch no hunger, every death
To us poor wretches that draw temporal breath
You know is hateful; but, all know, to die
The death of Famine is a misery
Past all death loathsome. Let us, therefore, take
The chief of this fair herd, and offerings make
To all the Deathless that in broad heaven live,
And in particular vow, if we arrive
In natural Ithaca, to straight erect
A temple to the Haughty in aspect,
Rich and magnificent, and all within
Deck it with relics many and divine.
If yet he stands incens’d, since we have slain
His high-brow’d herd, and, therefore, will sustain
Desire to wrack our ship, he is but one,
And all the other Gods that we atone
With our divine rites will their suffrage give
To our design’d return, and let us live.
If not, and all take part, I rather crave
To serve with one sole death the yawning wave,
Than in a desert island lie and sterve,
And with one pin’d life many deaths observe.’
(again taken from Chapman)
The reader or listener knows that this is a funeral oration. All the men serving under Odysseus die; only Odysseus lives. But he doesn’t escape vengeance. Right after, he gets stuck for seven years– the vast majority of his voyage home– with the nymph Calypso.
If you’re willing to accept the idea that both the Iliad and the Odyssey are didactic works intended to instruct their contemporary audiences in ways and customs, then one can’t help but wondering about this episode’s underlying meaning. Its paramount placement in the poem’s opening lines, plus the fact that Odyssey has been explicitly warned twice (once by a dead man, once by a witch) against this action only deepens the mystery. As I see it, the most likely interpretation is thus: there are some things and some Gods with whom one does not fuck, and Helios, who lights the whole of the human world, tops the list. Homer specifically notes the joy that Helios takes, each day, in seeing his cattle. Eurylochus and the other men could, conceivably, be screwing with the natural order of things and, thus, the whole of civilization. And the Odyssey is, if nothing else, about one’s duty to civilization.
But here’s the rub: Eurylochus accompanied Odyssey to the underworld. There are a finite number of mortal men in the Odyssey who know the whole truth of death, and Eurylochus is one. Even without this knowledge, his reasoning would be sound enough: in theory, all the men are going to die. Better to be struck down instantly than wither away with starvation. It’s entirely reasonable. The knowledge of Eurylochus makes this even more potent; he’s arguing three possibilities. Death by starvation, death by the Gods or the remote possibility of survival. But he knows to whence he goes. He’s Napoleon in rags– he’s seen too much and ain’t got nothing to lose. I wonder if there isn’t a reading here of a very Platonic idea: having the hoi polloi know how things work creates individuals independent of their duty to the state.
Tone and feel– for lack of better words– are key distinguishers between the Iliad and the Odyssey. The Odyssey feels as though it could’ve been written yesterday– meanwhile the Iliad is like a thing stolen from the dawn of time, a wild poem where the baneful wrath of Achilleos (Chapman) transforms a mortal to a beast and then a god. Both epics reflect customs and belief of their time. This is, I suspect, the final meaning of the herd of Helios. It’s not just that Odysseus’ men offended the gods or that Odysseus himself did not– it’s the Ancient sense of the total irrational unfairness of things, of a natural order over which man has no grasp and of which the gods themselves are barely in control. And some people have the right friends and listen. Others eat the oxen.
Here’s an hilarious youtube reenactment of the above mentioned incident:
With zero understanding of the Armenian language, and knowing very little about the current state of Armenia, I won’t hazard a guess. This is one of three fliers that started appearing about two weeks ago– the first is nearly identical, with the head at the top of the chain being hornless. The other was a Satanic collage of two heads eating each other. Recent rain destroyed all copies. I should’ve snagged it when I had the chance.
These images come from a pre-residency trip to Los Angeles– May and June 2005. Considering the amount of chaos & personal change that’s occurred since, I am unable, literally unable, to comprehend that it’s only been 2 Years and 10 Months. That trip proved to have huge consequences– determining my fate for several years and, very possibly, into the foreseeable future.
On May 31st, 2005, I was on Hollywood Boulevard and espied black smoke coming over the tops of buildings– the fire was on the roof of the Sunset & Vine Tower, which had stood vacant since 2001. I snapped a few images. Until yesterday, I had forgotten that they existed.
Anyway, here’s the thing burning:
One will note that the last image is of the photographer’s descent into the Hollywood & Vine Red Line Metro station. This picture is a relic of by-gone days; there’s currently a huge Hotel/Apartment/Retail complex being built around the station. This, then, is a lost view. C’est la guerre.
Huzzah to Craig Fischer & Charles Hatfield for inaugurating a series of monthly articles on the work of Eddie Campbell. Readers of the blog and friends of the blogger know too well my abiding interest in Campbell’s output– Alec: How to Be An Artist remains my favorite work of comic art– and it’s nice to see his efforts receive what promises to be a thorough examination. The first article in the series contains an extended discussion of the visual style in From Hell, with some contention as to the rough, “caligraphic” linework that Campbell employs.
From Hell was where I first encountered Campbell– I had gone in with an earlier fascination with the Ripper crimes (and Alan Moore) and came away with a profound appreciation of the artist. I presume that it’s my familiarity with the Ripper crimes that gives me a sense of what’s missing in the discussion of Fischer & Hatfield: the historical influence.
The Ripper is often called the first serial killer. This supposed emergence of the New Breed has been employed as a dubious metaphor for the Grim & Dark nature of late 19th and 20th Century modernism (including in From Hell itself.) This is, of course, nonsense. There’s been serial killers for as long as there’s been people. What distinguishes the Ripper crimes are their unique positioning: by the 1880s, London had become the epicenter of a globally connected economy with a rapidly developing newsmedia. Unlike, say, the Ratcliffe Highway Murders of 1811, the Ripper was killing in a city with numerous daily and weekly papers geared towards a population with a historically high literacy rate, and at a time when the telegraph network had advanced enough to send reports to the entire world. The crimes received an enormous amount of attention, locally, nationally and globally.
The best way to conceive of the Ripper is not as the first serial killer, but as the first serial killer to be covered. The villain became a global celebrity based on the infamy of his misdeeds. (Comparisons to Paris Hilton are dutifully withheld.) Incidentally, there was a second serial killer active in London at the same time as the Ripper– the Thames Torso Murderer, who, as the moniker implies, dumped headless and limbless corpses around the Thames. Sometimes the legs and arms turned up. The heads never did. I mention this only to make the point that even in them olden dayes, certain stories had more traction than others.
Of the tabloids covering the Ripper, most iconic was the weekly Illustrated Police News. This publication’s covers were illustrated with fine line engravings. The socioeconomic status of the Ripper’s victims– doss house unfortunates– did not lend itself to a lifestyle that accrued many visual mementos. (It was not until 2001 that Ripper researcher Neil Shelden miraculously uncovered a photograph of the third victim, Annie Chapman, in life.)
Thus, the paucity of visual materials (other than mortuary and deathbed photographs) created a vacuum that was filled by period illustrations. In particular, those of the Illustrated Police News, which were especially salacious, became the most frequently circulated images. These engravings are the dominant narrative determinants of how the affair was, and continues to be, visualized. I’ve gacked a few images of the Illustrated Police News covers off the indispensable Casebook.org and, oddly, Allposters.com:
Compare these images with the page of From Hell supplied by Fischer:
Ignoring the superiority of Campbell’s compositions and figure work, it’s clear to me that the style of From Hell was intentionally rendered as an echo of the period illustrations. I’ve always assumed that Moore chose Campbell for the reason that much of his work exists in a space that is close to the tradition of British engraving. (This invites an argument not worth having– you’ll note that the Illustrated Police News employs almost every device associated with comics.)
Fischer complains, specifically, that:
And while it goes against prevailing critical opinion–and makes me feel like a persnickety jerk to boot–I think that Watchmen, superheroes, BEMs and all, is a better book than From Hell, because Dave Gibbons’ art perfectly complements Alan Moore’s words. In multiple sequences in Watchmen (remember Tales of the Black Freighter?), Moore’s writing drifts away from the denotative meaning of the visuals, but Gibbons’ pictures are so clear and easily legible that they nail down what’s happening in the sequence without any verbal assist.
This presumes that there is an inherent defect in From Hell– that its apparent lack of visual clarity is an impediment from a final meaning. As much as Hatfield ably counters, I think both sides miss a greater point: From Hell is best understood as a work of comic art that aims at a construction that, theoretically, would have been possible in 1888. This kind of speculation gets very thin, very fast, but there’s an argument to be made that an intentionally messy, contrived formalism permeates the book’s script from beginning to finish– the full title, the seriality, the varying size of individual chapters, the apparent meandering and the length of the work all lend themselves to the idea that we are not reading a Graphic Novel so much as a desultory Victorian Novel done Graphically. (Hair splitting.)
Campbell’s visual approach in From Hell is different than that in his other works– the photorealist architecture, the extremely and unusually fine lines and the enforced awkwardness of panel-to-panel narrative have been called “distancing,” but I’m not sure that’s the right word. Distance from what to what? Considering that From Hell’s basic narrative principle relies on an essential unclarity– after all, Moore started in the muck of Lud Heat and White Chapel, Scarlet Tracings and made it murkier– it’s more than suggestible that the approach of Campbell’s art is another formalist effort at rendering the story within a historically appropriate set of techniques. If the engravers of the Illustrated Police News were putting together a pseudomystical graphic narrative on the history of London and the interconnectedness of magic and death, one suspects it would look very, very similar to From Hell.
Two final semi-unrelated notes: from the first, the Ripper murders have been about class. There’s a very radical idea in the visual presentation of From Hell– the style remains the same regardless of the personages being depicted; which means the toffs are treated same as the scum. There’s a lesson for you, me lads.
Secondly, if anyone wants more writing by me on the Ripper crimes, I suggest that they check out “May My End a Warning Be: Catherine Eddowes and Gallows Literature in the Black Country,” on the aforementioned casebook.org.
Drudge in Hollywood
On Steve Ditko
From Sunset Blvd
Welcome to Kurdistan