Saturday, January 31, 2015

Bumf vol 1

It's not often that I'm confronted with a comic that is simply too difficult to me. Homestuck is the only other case I can think of, and it doesn't start out too difficult, but achieves this over thousands and thousands of pages. Bumf is a graphic novel only 120 pages long, by acclaimed cartoonist Joe Sacco, who I really like in other places, (especially his commentary on satire here) but here … The opening image is a man in a suit and hood bringing the 10 commandments on the classic 2 tablets, like Charleston Heston, only each of them only reads “classified.” In a corner Richard Nixon says “My name is Barack Obama” “and I approve this message.”

As the … er … I hesitate to say story, perhaps sequence of events, unfolds, it appears that Nixon is somehow possessing Barack Obama, is confused to be waking up in bed with a beautiful black woman, and asking one of his Absurdist advisors “Hold on, aren't I dead?' Is told “That's need to know sir.” The garden of Eden, street prostitutes, WWII bombing runs, buggery in the British army, lots of naked people, piles or corpses, tons of bible quotes, dead cats, grandmothers, long quotes by Thomas Aquinas, … It's all very political, or perhaps even theological, but also Absurdist. But what is the political commentary supposed to be? I confess I can't follow it. Surveillance taken to extremes, rendition so extraordinary only comics can contain it, President Nixon/Obama being taught drone strike piloting, and interrogation, and scene-staging by earnest, horrible underlings. The legal department wearing voodoo masks ever since they merged with the theatre department, that at least seems like a straightforward joke/gag/commentary that I can make sense of.
wall painting of Giogrio Agamben in France
 Naked, hooded people flirting.  “I know you're more than a bundle of insecurities. But I'm that too, she laughed” “Yes, he said, but you fall within normal parameters.” The vast technocratic state, blurring into obscenity, interfering unconsciously with even the language it's functionaries use to flirt.  The web lists the book as "Bumf vol. 1: I Buggered the Kaiser", but that "subtitle" doesn't show up until 9 pages in, and is one of many such subtitles throughout the book "Sacco of the 617th Squadron" "Young Gifted, and Nixon" or "God is Dead" for example.  The title page has in small print after Fantagraphic Books thanks dozens of people "Joe Sacco would like to thank Cesare Beccaria and Giorgio Agamben."  Cartoonists thanking Agamben!  My copy of Agamben's "State of Exception" is actually out because I wanted to quote it yesterday, but being some familiar with Agamben wasn't enough.  Maybe I need to read Beccaria, or finally read Carl Schmitt's Politische  Theologie.  Or maybe that's too much high-end political theory for a graphic  ...  novel?  Well it says "graphic novel" on the spine in my library's little red sorting sticker, it seems ungrateful to quibble on the definition of a novel ...

A pile of corpses lacks impact these days, so instead we route around defenses by flirting with the borders of incomprehensibility. I've been tempted many times myself, in my poetry, it's so hard to find a discourse that hasn't already been used up and rendered impotent. My best guess, is that this is what Joe Sacco is struggling with too, but … I can't be sure. The post-modern Dadaism is clear, but the long running and heavy played parallels between politics and the theology of the Messiah, is so pre-modern. I can't parse all the layers of irony and earnestness, of parody and straigh-truth, of commentary and reference and theme and satire. I don't know. Like I say, it's just too difficult for me...
Joe Sacco, I feel compelled to make a Vanzetti joke, but he must get that all the time ...

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