Unreal Nature

October 19, 2015

Noises From the Other Side

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… The usual slow-footed mechanisms of children’s fantasy — the justifications and rationales — are eliminated …

Continuing through High & Low: Modern Art and Popular Culture by Kirk Varnedoe and Adam Gopnik (1990):

… The story of the comic strip and modern painting … is a story of convergent development rooted in a common ambition: to make art a serious game. If you stood back far enough from the history of modern visual expression, it might almost seem as if, sometime in the Romantic era, two similar dreams of a new, universal language for art came into existence, and each began to work out its own possibilities.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] The low, popular form of the comics tried to arrive at a unifying common language by telling stories; the high form of what would become modern art tried to get there by completely eliminating storytelling. These two tracks, however — narrative and antinarrative — turned out to be less like two streets that lead off from a fork in the road, in opposed directions, than like two paths that lead into a maze from opposite sides.

[another line break added … ] For long periods, the two parties of wayfarers on the paths are completely unaware of each other; then at times they become obsessed with the noises they can just make out coming from the other side of a hedge; and at times they stumble right over each other. When we look back at the history of these two journeys now, it may even seem that they have finally ended up, if not together at last in the center, then at least wandering around in more or less the same corner of the labyrinth.

[ … ]

… Almost from its birth the comic strip started sending up its own conventions even as they were being set down.

Instead of the slapstick movement and slang energy most often associated with the early comic strip, McCay’s spectacular style barely concealed an atmosphere of sexual disturbance. McCay’s first, and in some ways best, strip was the Dream of the Rarebit Fiend, which ran in the Herald from 1904 5o 1911. The Dream was a Bintel Brief of twentieth-century hysteria — an almanac of dreams sent in by McCay’s readers.


[line break added] It is almost always structured by a tension between intricate patterning and incipient violence: ink blots that eat the world, or men who burst into art-nouveau flames. Many of them are also explicitly and almost frighteningly erotic, for instance the Dream in which a man fantasizes that small animals stuff themselves into his mouth as he sleeps.


In 1905 McCay began what is still one of the most completely successful works of pure fantasy in twentieth-century art — the comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland.


… The usual slow-footed mechanisms of children’s fantasy — the justifications and rationales — are eliminated; we are in the middle of the dream before we know we are dreaming.

… Comparing McCay to his immediate successors, the animator Chuck Jones once said that it was “as though the first creature to emerge from the primeval slime was Albert Einstein; and the second was an amoeba.”

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




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