Zadie Smith – The Autograph Man
For someone with my particular literary damage, reading this novel for the first time in 2014 was a lot like having the arguments of 2001 all over again. If literary critic James Wood’s attack on what he deemed “hysterical realism” has a fitting target it is this over-eager, initially likeable but ultimately tiresome second novel from Smith.
The story of “twenty-something Chinese-Jewish autograph dealer” Alex-Li Tandem’s frantic, free-wheeling attempts to lose himself in the search for his pop culture obsession, The Autograph Man spends its four hundred plus pages tilting after a curiously overdetermined sort of oblivion. To mangle a Samuel Johnston quote most boys of my age know by way of popular wise guy Hunter S. Thompson, Tandem acts in the belief that he who becomes his hobbies spares himself the pain of being a man. The novel follows suit, hence the ever-egressing framework of Kabbalistic associations, Zen progressions, verbal tics (“the popular” and ”wise guy” chief among them), Rabbinical comedy routines and generally excessive detail. All of this by way of keeping Tandem from dealing with the world’s tendency towards impermanence and disorder: these events take place in the build-up to the tenth anniversary of his fathers’ death, and in the aftermath of a destructive trip that seems like it might cost Tandem most of his established relationships, and also his car.
The overlapping structures of this novel are all fine and sturdy, and have elsewhere proven themselves more than capable of supporting, variously: an Oscar Wilde aphorism, an essay by Walter Benjamin (“wise guy” and recipient of the novel’s worst punchline), the occult adventure comic Promethea, and an excellent graphic novel by Eddie Campbell. There’s nothing to say that they couldn’t provide the framework for an excellent Zadie Smith novel too, but the difference between The Autograph Man and all of the aforementioned works is that Smith’s imaginative scaffolding seems to exist around very little that was worth supporting in the first place.
‘Grant Morrison: Combining the Worlds of Contemporary Comics’ – an interview with author Marc Singer on his new book
November 28th, 2011
If you don’t know who Marc Singer is then you’ve been doing something wrong. An academic by trade and one of the most rigorous and interesting critical voices to come out of the comics blogosphere, Marc’s writing is often mentioned in the same breath as Joe McCulloch’s (Jog) and Douglas Wolk’s, and has long been a Mindless touchstone.
To the dismay of many Marc took a step back from his blog, I Am NOT the Beast Master, a couple of years ago, but during that time re-focussed his energies into a book length critical overview of Grant Morrison’s work. We’re happy to say that we got an early look at the finished product, Grant Morrison: Combining the Worlds of Contemporary Comics, and that it’s honestly the best sustained piece of writing on Morrison’s work that you’re likely to find anywhere for some time to come. It’ll be published by University Press of Mississippi in paper back and hardback on the 6th of December just in time for your Christmas stocking.
In the meantime, as a little teaser, here’s Marc being interrogated on the subject of his book by the Faceless Mindless Collective. Don’t pity him too much: He can control animals ‘n’ shit.