BP/ACRA: Bob and Charlie #2

Tom Russell milos_parker at yahoo.com
Wed May 30 22:24:36 PDT 2007

I'm not particularly fond of Nietzsche, and even less fond of quoting
him, but there's something he said that I feel might be appropriate in
a discussion, however brief, of the second BOB AND CHARLIE-- and,
perhaps (though it is too soon to tell) the series as a whole-- and
that's this:

"That for which we find words is something already dead in our
hearts.  There is always a kind of contempt in the act of speaking."

I think this quotation has less to do with the act of speaking or even
writing than it does with an act of criticism: once you've dissected a
work of art, once you've figured it out and named it-- once you've
found the words-- there's no life left in it.  I'm not saying that an
act of criticism is inherently articidal, or that it should be
avoided.  Truly great works support multivariate interpetations.  They
can serve as an impetus for hours of discussions and reams of doctoral
disserations without exhausting the work itself.  Because they are
such wellsprings for critical thought, The Greats are strangely
rendered immune to evisceration; the _experience_ remains unmolested.
You'll never talk Proust or Shakespeare to death.  Ditto for Lee &
Ditko, Lee & Kirby, and Kirby's Fourth World, for that matter.

But there's another kind of work-- another standard, if you will--
that does not so much support multivariate interpetations as it
rejects all interpetations and, in fact, even the idea of
interpetation.  I'm talking about Zippy the Pinhead, or the Angriest
Dog In the World; I'm talking about Girls on Beach Blankets and Tales
from the Gutterground, about a Journey Through the Mind of the
Seemingly Unstable, and about Bob and Charlie.

Or rather, I'm not talking about them, because they exist to defy such
paltry things as essays and explorations of theme and style.  No
matter how much one hems and haws and guffaws, one really can't say
anything meaningful about the ineffable.  Any words I have are dead
already, while these stories-- existing not so much as plot or
characters or even sentences but rather experiences, as forces of
nature with their teeth bared-- are still very much alive.

And that's what makes them remarkable: they get under our skin and
nestle in our hearts like insidious little worms and they stay there,
they stay there and they twist inside us like the most loving knives
possible, and no matter how much we try to explain them away, they
remain, haunting and pure and primordial.

I'm not saying that this makes the work "good" or "bad" and, in truth,
those labels don't really matter.  Value judgements imply a set of
values, and they really don't apply in this surreal type of fiction.
If you were to judge a film like A Hard Day's Night by the standards
of conventional filmmaking-- by the "values" of quality cinema-- it
would be found lacking.  That's not because the film is anything less
than remarkable; it's because it's a whole 'nother kind of film.

Reviewing a story like this is kind of like being an orange expert
being called in to evaluate a polar bear.  Comparing it to one's area
of expertise-- oranges-- would be silly and futile.  At best, our
orange expert can be succint-- "That is a polar bear".  Or one could
talk around it, never actually addressing the polar bear but rather
discussing the difficulty an orange expert faces in polar bear

That being said, this orange expert is glad that polar bears exist,
and encourages those authors specializing in polar bears to keep
making them.  The fact that I have nothing to say means that I've yet
to find a flaw in the work.  That could be because the work is
flawless, or it could be because I'm still trying to squeeze the polar
bear to check for ripeness.


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