I arrogantly recommend… by Tom Bowden

Love Man
By Ben Marcus and David Krueger
Perfectly Acceptable

An alien from another galaxy, Love Man travels to Earth to experience love and—eventually—heartache. Combine suave and debonaire with a drive for women and Slurpees, and roll in naïve, childlike notions of romance, and you end up with dialogue like this:
She: I want to be a good human like you.

Love Man: I don’t mean to scare you, but where I come from is like outer space, almost the next galaxy.

She: What are you trying to say. . . Are you married?

And like this:
Love Man: There is something you should know about me. . .

She: OK like what?

Love Man: Number one. I’m magnificent. Number two I got good taste in food. I look great. I’m from outer space. I always talk about my family. And I love the circus.

And:

Love Man: I want to take you to 7-11 and get a Slurpee.

She: Oh Love Man. . . You read my mind.

As the authors confirm in an interview, Love Man is indeed David Krueger’s alter ego. Krueger is an artist who works out of The Arts of Life [https://artsoflife.org/artists/david-krueger/], a center in Chicago devoted to cultivating the artistic talents of those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Krueger met Marcus when they were teamed together in an outreach program that paired professional artists with those at The Arts of Life developing theirs. The pairing is an obvious success, and I hope it continues to flourish.

With the holiday season upon us, here’s one final quote, this time from Santa:

Christmas time is today. I’m jumping for joy! I’m deaf in one ear. DING DONG! I’ve been drinking Tom Collins all day and I have 295 presents to deliver. I guess I don’t know what I’m doing.

Interview with Ben Marcus and David Kreuger:


Notes on Suicide
By Simon Critchley
Fitzcarraldo

In many ways, the problem with suicide is that we stretch just one concept to fit across such a wide range of behaviors. The decision to end one’s life in old age as a consequence of a terminal diagnosis and intolerable physical suffering is a very different matter from a sudden violent act in a moment of manic exuberance. The self-slaughter of a betrayed lover is very different from the carefully planned insanity of a suicide bomber.–Simon Critchley

Critchley’s essay argues that we lack a conceptual framework that can adequately encompass the broad range of motivations that give rise to suicide or suicidal thoughts. This lack partly owes, Critchley demonstrates, to inconsistencies within moral and rational arguments against suicide. Because of these inconsistencies, “I am deeply opposed to any argument that the sovereignty of God, monarch, country or community should be the basis for a prohibition of suicide. I am also suspicious of claims to self-sovereignty that supports any right to suicide as a simple rational choice or self-evident civic liberty.”

To be clear, Notes on Suicide is not a pro-suicide tract but instead an examination of the arguments for and against suicide, including the reasons found in suicide notes (which themselves are artifacts of Victorian-era enactments of suicide). Language, tool-use, and cooperation have been shown to be attributes humans share with other creatures, including non-mammals. However, “Homo sapiens is distinguished by the capacity for self-slaughter, which is perhaps the price that we pay for self-consciousness.” (Does this imply that one test for self-consciousness in other life forms is their tendency to suicide—such as, perhaps, whales beaching themselves?)

This edition of the book includes a Preface that considers the deleterious effects of the internet on not just all of us but on young women in particular, especially those born between 1995-2005 who thus entered puberty as smartphones were becoming pandemic. The constant churning of unhappy emotions does no one any good, and the suicide rate among girls has doubled in the past ten years.

This and other sobering facts aside, Critchley comes down in favor of existence, while understanding some forms of motivation that others find compelling (such as intolerable pain): “What is important is the ability to get life to stand still in order to look at it tenderly and with care, to cultivate slower forms of attention without renouncing life in some sovereign violent act. One should go on.”

Notes on Suicide is also a good companion to Critchley’s Memory Theatre, a work on the role of memory in creativity, told (reconstructed) as an extended (and unwelcome) voyage through Critchley’s own psychosis. (Not quite clear how much is autobiographical and how much is fiction: If true, Critchley was seriously fucked up for a couple of years.)

Critchley reading from Notes on Suicide and interviewed.


My Gaza: A City in Photographs
Jehad al-Saftawi
McSweeney’s

Daily life in Gaza by a young photographer raised there. The son of a jihadist, Saftawi condemns acts of terrorism while depicting the fatal consequences of militarism as inflicted by the Israel government and as provoked by Islamist extremist. Beauty and joy exist here, only because the humanity hasn’t been expunged. But at least half the book documents the physical and emotional destruction Gazans live with daily, their homes destroyed and lives scarred, the constant, hovering fear.


Galactic Halo
Esther Pearl Watson
Funchicken

Artist, cartoonist, and author of the cringe-inducing graphic novels Unlovable, Esther Pearl Watson was raised in Texas by a father designed and built flying saucers in the home yard. Over the years, a mild eccentricity turned obsessive, as Watson’s father spent entire paychecks on his saucers, leaving utility bills and rent unpaid, quitting his job, etc. Galactic Halo acts as a reworked diary for Watson: the titles double as diary entries (which she explores to great effect in Unlovable), and whatever the topic suggested by the title, the actors are small, and the over-size (emotional) presence of saucer-obsession looms above all. She works in a raw, faux-naïve style that meshes well with the material to create a feeling of sincerity and lived reality. Watson has tamed obsession and turned it from her father’s inward-directed exclusion of others to her own outwardness in sharing of creation that life ultimately demands.


Crap Hound: 2020 Black Cat Mini-Issue / Additions 2020 / Books & Bees
By Sean Tejaratchi
Buyolympia

The Crap is back with three glorious additions in 2020 thanks to the oodles of spare time ushered in by the COVID pandemic, leaving Tejaratchi’s schedule open to collaging, by theme, decades’ worth of clip art—a three-ringed visual circus for lovers of the absurd.

2020 Black Cat Mini-Issue and Additions 2020 are addenda to earlier themed issues, which themselves Tejaratchi updates and expands. The page designs are always fun to follow, feel balanced and zany, and achieve a type of “sense,” even though the theme might be, as here, death, phones, and scissors. Or sex and kitchen gadgets; clowns, devils, and bait; hands, hearts, and eyes; church and state; and superstition.

In addition to producing three books this year, Tejaratchi’s Books & Bees, at 112 pages, is also his largest zine to date. As it turns out, the theme of books was a technical challenge, since the art for books and their promotion lends itself better to enlargement than reduction, increasing the difficulty of fitting every nook on the page with images, as is Tejaratchi’s practice. In exchange for fewer images, Tejaratchi states in the introduction, he’s given us more pages.

Given that the pandemic may be with us for another year, we may benefit from his boredom next year, as well.
Also Available: Crap Hound’s Book of Unhappiness


Michael Kohlhaas
By Heinrich von Kleist (Michael Hofmann, trans.)
New Directions

A concise blast of righteous rage against personal injustice, Michael Kohlhass is a brief novel published over 200 years ago in Germany in a vigorous translation by Michael Hofmann that makes this novel feel contemporary in action and mood, without anachronistic expressions, even though the action takes place in the 16th century.

Beginning when a minor nobleman unjustly confiscates Kohlhass’s horses while Kohlhass is transporting to market to sell, the offenses committed by the nobleman’s family quickly multiply: his horses and overworked and underfed; his servant, who tended the horses, was severely beaten by the noblemen, taking months to recuperate; and finally his wife, who is killed for daring to complain to the noblemen. Seeing that the justice system is corrupt and compliant with the nobleman and his family, Kohlhass sets himself upon revenge.

Kohlhass becomes the Charles Bronson of the feudal set—and Martin Luther is not amused. To avenge the harms against his estate, Kohlass engages in deeds more harmful than those he originally suffered. But by that time, he has much of the peasantry on his side, who have similar grievances and are willing to join him. Together they form a threat to established power—the State and Martin Luther.

Kohlhass is granted by a disgruntled Luther a note of safe passage for Kohlhass to plea his original case before the government, in exchange for disbanding his group of aggrieved peasants 400. As the case wends its way through the court system, it is buffeted by changes in political appointees set to oversee his case, by stalling, and eventually, by openly violating the terms of the agreement set by Luther.

And then things get weird.


South Beloit Journal
By John Porcellino
Uncivilized Books

The context for this short book is this: “Over the winter of 2010-2011 I found myself at the lowest point of my life: Twice divorced, heartbroken, mentally insane, and living in poverty and isolation in a cold, grey cinderblock apartment in a small, gritty town in Northern Illinois.” Each diary entry is a raw, simple three-panel strip describing Porcellino’s day.

But for a guy who is depressed, almost nothing here reveals an inner life about a mind in turmoil. Instead, each strip is a list of what was done each day—sleeping, not sleeping, going to the library, mailing packages at the post office, etc. The thoughts weighing him down are taken as given and go unexplored. I’m stereotyping here but I think if this were a diary by a woman in similar emotional and physical constraints, the focus would be flipped—less on actions taken than an examination of the feelings those actions arouse.

The polished work that makes it to Porcellino’s King-Cat series, however, is more exploratory and wide ranging. For fans of King-Cat and other of Porcellino’s books, South Beloit Journal will be a welcome addition to Porcellino’s body of autobiographical work. For anybody new to his work, Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man or his interpretation of Thoreau at Walden are brief but excellent introductions.


Salmon: A Red Herring
By Cooking Sections [Daniel Fernandéz Pascual Alon Schwobe]
Isolarii

A short but wide-ranging and deep account of (primarily) the colors of the animals and fish we eat, with a focus on salmon, illustrating the extent to which color and coloring has affected trade, industrialization, animal and human rights, and now a dy(e)ing planet. Readers of Cabinet may be reminded of two of the magazine’s ongoing features—“Color” and “Gestation,” columns on the cultural significance and uses of colors and foods—which in Salmon are mashed together and made even more complex by the interconnectedness of cultural and industrial practices as they impinge on both the nature world and our understanding of what “natural” things “should” look like.

A dizzying set of associations and their moral implications for humanity and its relationship to itself and the natural world make for a profound meditation on the planetary consequences of cultural practices. Highly recommended.

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