I’ve purchased two comics in the last month. Both were written and drawn by Dave Sim– glamourpuss #1 and Judenhass. glamourpuss is a series of photorealist images– sourced from fashion magazines and early, classic comics– combined with a Parody of the Fashion Industry and a long essay in dialogue ballons and captions about the history of the book’s style. Judenhass (a German word meaning Jew Hatred) is a series of photorealist images sourced from historical photographs and presented in a style similar to Sequential Storytelling.
How much did I like glamourpuss #1? Enough that I wonder how there’s an audience for the book other than myself– if you cracked open my head and looked inside, there’s a very good chance you’d find a fashionable woman drawn in a retro-50s/early 60s art style talking about Process and Method.
But. Given Sim’s notorious Statements on Ladies and Their Brains, an unacknowledged tension runs throughout the book: does one accept Sim’s parody at face value because the Fashion Industry and its Publications are vile things, or does one go further and try to deduce if this satire runs darker than its surface? To wit: is the scorn directed at the Industry’s customers? One constantly wonders whether a pass needs to be issued– and to whom or what. The reader has two options: saying either, “Okay, supposed misogynist, your parody, with all its potentially unpleasant implications, is justified JUST THIS ONCE,” or, “Okay, Fashion Industry, you are the ten percent bloodsucker of the poor, but I’m siding with YOU!”
This tension makes the book. But I prefer my entertainments murky.
Murky is a pretty good word to describe Judenhass. There’s no question as to the nobility of the project– and I think that Sim has an excellent point when he observes that people working in comics, an industry built almost solely by Jews, do have a very real and substantial connection to the Holocaust and the plague of anti-Semitism, two of the biggest evils of the 20th Century.
But. Sim suggests, on a double-page spread depicting the road gates to Auschwitz (“Abreit Macht Frei”), that the Holocaust was an inevitable occurrence. This is followed by pages and pages of quotations from Famous Personages– Martin Luther, Mark Twain, Voltaire, Truman, Roosevelt’s lady cousin– about their discomfort or repulsion or disgust or dislike for the Jews. Judenhass. The inference of the book is that the levels of hatred for the Jews throughout Christian (and perhaps pre-Christian) civilization culminated in the Holocaust; that this hatred was fueled and encouraged by intellectuals and public figures, and that the opinions of these public figures bear a direct trace on the events that followed.
There are two major problems with this thesis: most obviously, the Holocaust was in no way inevitable. Without getting into the incredibly complex question of Who Could Have Done What, I think it’s safe to say that had the Allied powers not botched the Treaty of Versailles, it is highly unlikely that the Nazis would have come to power. Might there have been some kind of horrifically violent treatment of the Jews? Anything’s possible– but I think the final lesson of the rise of the Nazis is clear: fascism is less a political philosophy than a political fantasy in which one accepts a series of falsehoods out of resentment for one’s position in the world, or out of fear that one might lose one’s current position. Thus, it is best not to create an entire underclass of people through your global-political machinations. If anyone doubts the basic truth of this idea, I’ve got one word: al-Qaeda.
The second issue concerns the use of quotations. With at least one– that of Mark Twain– Sim is playing loose and fast. The article in question is linked from Sim’s site, and a reading of it shows that Sim has provided the reader (the ellipses should be the first hint) with a small part of a very long piece. In this essay, Twain explicitly does not condemn the Jews. If anything, he is attempting an even-handed defense. The quotation– to the effect that Christians hate Jews because Jews are better at making money than Christians– is, in its own benignly stereotyping context, more or less praising Jews at the expense of Christians.
Does Twain acknowledge the full humanity of the Jewish people rather than treat them as a monolithic people? Certainly not. Is the article a piece of rabid Jew Hatred along the lines of Himmler or Goebbels? Emphatically no! The article in question is a piece of late 19th Century journalism by one of then contemporary America’s foremost progressives on racial and ethnic issues– to judge it from the context of the 21st Century and find it, as I do, complicated is one matter. To classify it as Jew Hatred is ridiculous. [More on Twain and the Jews here.]
While this could be construed as nitpicking, it points to a bigger problem with Judenhass. (I’m ignoring Sim’s inclusion of H.L. Mencken.) I’m completely unable– with the exception of contemporary statements by the Nazi leadership and apathetic Allied politicans– to see what any of the quotations have to do with the Holocaust. Sim’s method is inference through juxtaposition; in the most shocking pages, we see passages from Martin Luther’s truly reprehensible On the Jews and Their Lies placed over a spread of a photorealistically depicted mound of bodies. But this placement does not mean, implicitly or inherently, that Luther himself, nor his writing, bear a responsibility for the Holocaust or the prevalence of Jew Hatred throughout the Christian World.
Martin Luther was a disgusting, superstitious little man with bad table habits and a belief in gnomes. The people of 20th Century Berlin used forks and knives and didn’t think that the forest was rank with pixies and sprites, so either Luther’s continuing influence on the ideas and practices of Germany society is significantly overrated or there is a choice inherent in people’s horrible, hateful beliefs.
A voice missing in Judenhass is one that, upon reflection, could undermine the text-image-juxtaposition-inference structure. Not one quotation, not one jot or tittle of the writings of Frederich Nietzsche? The Philosopher-King of the Nazi Party? Wasn’t it Thus Spoke Zarathustra that was distributed throughout the military? But here’s the rub: Nietzsche hated Nationalism and wasn’t an anti-Semite. His legacy was sold out by a jealous sister, and Hitler saw what he wanted.
If one takes Sim’s almost-argument to its most logical extreme, there’s a way to read Judenhass in which the responsibility of the average German citizen– the people who, after all, voted the Nazis into power and who put the raw material of their bodies behind the Nazi agenda and war effort– is abnegated. The “inevitability” which Sim sees emanating from a culture of Jew Hatred strikes me as almost ignorant of the true horror: the complicity and willingness of vast swaths of German (and Austrian and French and Polish and etc.) society to believe lies willingly and to support, and often participate in, the abuse, murder and exploitation of their fellow citizens. A full manifestation of Sim’s argument removes any individual choice in the matter, and if there is no choice, then there is no responsibility.
Update: This review by Bob Mitchell is about the only other writing that questions Sim’s methods in Judenhass. It’s a fascinating, and justifiable, indicator of the lingering sensitivity of the subject that Sim– a creator whose every jotting and utterance is generally subject to profound scrunity– has had Judenhass largely taken at face value.
The first and foremost of my sub rosa publishing efforts, a reissue of the 1926 Freak Masterpiece, The Oldest History of the World Discovered by Occult Science in Detroit Michigan by Benny Evangelist, is now available in handy PDF format. This is an update and total resetting of the 2001 print edition.
Evangelist, a Neapolitan immigrant born Benjamino Evangelista, came up hard knuckle days in the Hex County of York, PA. He moved to Detroit and became an Occult Scientist, a divine prophet and a faith healer. The Oldest History was produced in nightly trances over a period of some years and was intended as the first of several volumes. The other three were never published. Fate intervened.
On July 4, 1929, Evangelist was found in his St. Aubin Avenue home-office with his head hacked off; upstairs the bodies of his wife and four young children lay mutilated in their own coagulate gore. The crimes went unsolved.
The 2001 edition was one of those projects that a person undertakes for good reasons, and then, years later, the effort turns out to have changed them entirely. My typesetting and design on the book were revolting, and the great shame that I came to feel over the layout sparked a total and on-going obsession with Getting Things Right. Another unintended consequence was the slow descent into Archival Madness– which lead, amongst other crimes of love, to the haunting of countless libraries, turning kobek.com into a dumping ground for sub-sub-sub-sub-subcultures, putting up PDFs of incredibly obscure work, publishing old crime novels and the collected works of Theauraujohn Thomas Tany and, perhaps strangest of all, a co-grant from the American Academy of Religion for a project that never materialized.
The present PDF has been retypeset & includes contemporary news reporting on the murders along with photographs I took of Evangelist’s unmarked grave in December of 2001. There’s a few things that I might add later, but nothing of particular consequence.
This is, I suspect, the definitive edition.
This flier came last December. Earlier today, it fell out of my rarely used backpack on to the floor of one elly. I was happy to see it and thus she scanned it. Marz Bar is an important place in the personal cosmology.
“it’s a to zed and back again, like this river on which we waddle,”
said Pooh to Piglet, his dangling paw stroking against the lapping water.
(Normal people should ignore this post.)
FBI Freedom of Information Act Files on Jack Parsons.
The Fontenoy Apartments. 1811 N. Whitley Ave, Hollywood, California, 90028.
One of the old & long standing residences. Unremarkable except for the mid-to-late 1990s occupant of room #901. Our Patron Saint, Matt Drudge. From this structure, looming down on pre-”Renaissance Hollywood,” the man began his newsletter, which became his website. His rent was $600.
If you read period profiles of Drudge, reporters always play up the crapitude of his neighborhood. In 1998, I spent two weeks in the building that’s kitty-corner to the Fontenoy on Yucca. I confirm: the stories are roughly true.
How deeply appealing to consider Drudge’s presence therein amongst the drug dealers and hookers.
Drudge in Hollywood
On Steve Ditko
From Sunset Blvd
Welcome to Kurdistan