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Monday, August 31, 2015

Kurt Vonnegut: Mother Night

Mother NightMother Night by Kurt Vonnegut
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an altogether different beast than most other works in the Vonnegut cannon. That is not to say that it does not possess that same black humor, the same zany morals, and the same humanist views. That being said, it is distinctly lacking in some of the surreal, post-modern, narrative breakdowns that can be found in Breakfast of Champions or Slaughterhouse-Five. Nor does it possess any uniquely science fiction elements as are seen in The Sirens of Titan.

This novel, despite its minimalism, is altogether literary.

This is interesting because it shows something about both Vonnegut and genre writing as a whole. Yes, there are pieces as written by the likes of Arthur C. Clarke, those of the "hard sci-fi" standard. Technical novels that, though good, lack a distinct philosophy. Yet, we also have the likes of Vonnegut and Philip K. Dick and, to a lesser extent, Asimov. Writers who fused the pulp with the literary.

This novel proves that Vonnegut is a force in the same way that Nirvana's Unplugged performance solidified Cobain as a songwriter.

Now, onto the book itself, yes?

This book is the story of World War Two and the horrible atrocities that were wrought in the name of hate in conformity. In his seminal work, Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut already told us there is no intelligent thing that can be said of war. Therefore, we must assume that the same can be said of hate.

This leaves us with the latter. Conformity is a big role in this novel. All the while the character of Howard Campbell is conforming to the roles that are placed on him. First is his an artist and a lover. He conforms to these roles with joy and with passion. However, due to the outbreak of World War Two, he finds himself conforming to the role of Nazi, propaganda agent.

This is done in direct response to another role he conforms to as American Spy. Secret one at that.

What does this all mean then, this conformity and exploration thereof?

Well, Vonnegut nails his own moral on the head. We are what we pretend to be. Howard Campbell pretends to be all these things, conforming to the roles with which he is given, and so he becomes this character. When at first he was a writer and a lover he was that fully and truly. However, when he spends his time writing slander against the Jews and working for the Nazi's. This is, ultimately, what he is remembered for.

This brings us to another point Vonnegut makes. We are remembered only for what art we produce. Indeed, this does seem true. Those that are most easily remembered are often the artists of generations past.

So then, when we are given these two points, what must we take away?

Perhaps we must take away that we should not pretend to be what we are not? Or, more cynically, if we must pretend to be anything, we must be sure that it is something history will look favorably on? That is, perhaps, the harder question.

Buy the Book Here: Mother Night: A Novel
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Thursday, August 27, 2015

V for Vendetta

V for VendettaV for Vendetta by Alan Moore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wish I'd not seen the movie first. That isn't to say the movie isn't good, but it is so stripped and watered down.

Here, in this comic we have a complexity. We have the chance to see someone breed and abuse another human and use pretty words.

We ask ourselves, is this the price of revolution? This violent and ugly thing? And of course it is. Revolution is inherently ugly and violent.

However, whereas the movie shows us that V is a hero of culture, the comic shows us that, despite a visionary and revolutionary, he is scarred. His mind is broken and because of that we must ask if he is truly the great man he claims to be or if the idea he represents is a good, wholesome idea or just another form of fascism, only this time one that hides behind a mask.

The psychology of this character is more akin to an anti-hero than that movie representation. Here we have a man that faced horrors and yet did not come out the other side, reborn as a phoenix, but rather he slithers free like a basilisk.

The truth of it is, what Moore explores here is not simply the danger of conservatism, but also the ugly face the revolution can have. He hides V behind a mask for this very reason, for if we were to see his true face we would see that he, like his goals, are frightening. They are as a mirror to the world we live in and the steps we must take to claim the one we desire.

We see a man who, much akin to Lenin during the Russian Communist revolution, fights with his goal in mind. He does not concern himself with the short game, but rather the outcome of the war he secretly wages. In this sense he is a true revolutionary and here Moore forces us to see the steps we must take, forcing us to choice between the comfort of fascism and the dark waters of revolution.

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or buy the book here:  V for Vendetta

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns

Batman: The Dark Knight ReturnsBatman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oh, Mr. Miller, what happened to you? Seriously man. This, your Ronin series, and Sin City are so fucking good. Maybe a little too big on the concept of manliness, but whatever, you blend noir in with finesse that I can't imagine.

Oh well, when we think too long on what could have been we get ourselves a bit angry.

So, here's the deal with The Dark Knight Returns, with this singular comic we have the modern Batman. Of course there are some issues with that. Chris Nolan's iteration has its flaws, yet it is clearly the best Batman we've had since the Tim Burton films.

Here, Miller plays with the idea of a world that is dark and angry. One of filth and grime. And one in which Batman has called it quits. The problem is, of course, that the system has already been completely fucked.

Remember when Heath Ledger's Joker went on and on about how Batman created him? Well, he did. Because criminals are a direct evolution of our compensatory system, when you introduce some crazy, fuck-up thing then you get criminals who operate as a foil. To put it another way, back before the Harrison Act, people could easily go and by stuff like Heroin in a drug store. This may sound crazy and backwards as hell but, the thing is, those people that could go buy regulated Heroin for low cost held jobs, supported their family, and were over-all productive members of society.

It wasn't until it became illegal for people to just buy Heroin in a store that we got addicts running into the streets to buy cheaply made, yet expensive drugs from gangs. This is where we get the modern portrait of the drug addict.

Anyway, the thing is, when Batman called it a night, the criminals didn't. So, therefore, we have this dark, fucked-up city and no Batman.

It is through this back drop that Miller examines the obsession with Batman and something Freud called the Death Wish. This concept of seeking death through crazy actions and the like is something we see the elder Batman embody by repeatedly speaking of ways in which he could die as well as how he feels younger.

This ties into another idea that Miller looks to explore, the idea of the obsession of Batman, his battle with his demons, and the reflection that a character like Two-Face manages to show us.

Miller plays with the psychology of Batman in a way similar to Alan Moore. He shows us that Batman is a character who finds himself obsessed by the dark creatures that sneak through his mind. Just as Two-Face can never turn away from his own personal darkness, neither can Batman help by snake through the darkness looking for an escape or else someone to beat to a damn pulp.

In this comic Batman really is the hero the city needs, not the one it deserves.

Really, the only downfall in this story is the Superman. The concept of Superman being a sellout to the government is interesting and, honestly, would have worked if it was given some more room to grown.

Oh well, you know what they say about could have been's.

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Buy the Book here:  Batman: The Dark Knight Returns

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