Sunday, 13 October 2013

Reads: "This Book Is Not Misogynistic"

Cerebus Vol 9: Reads (1995)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
STEVEN M. BARI:
(from a review at Steven M. Bari's Blog, 10 September 2008)
"I'm not here to make you feel good. I am here to make you think. And to make you think, I have to make you see." ~ Dave Sim
Reads is at the same time a spectacle of literary genius and a philosophical minefield for the politically correct. Sim entangles the reader in a series of different narratives that direct themselves toward one goal: Truth. Or truth. Or even "truth." You may certainly not agree with Sim's views on creative/intellect vs. destructive/emotion -- and especially the allocation of gender to either -- but the phenomenon he discusses is worth thinking about...

Davis/Sim provides many examples of how feeling is vile -- the best of which will ring true to anyone who has ever been in a relationship:
Reason, as any husband can tell you, doesn’t stand a chance in an argument with Emotion. There are no rules to Emotional Argument. You simply wander around in rhetorical circles until you feel Happy again. And then the argument is over.
He then applies this same argument to culture and how emotion destabilizes the rational examination of societal problems, providing a hasty and insubstantial "feeling" as the solution:
Political positions are judged on the Emotional Basis of whether they are Popular or Unpopular. Popular is good. Unpopular is bad. Most political positions based on Reason are Unpopular. Most political positions based on Emotion are Popular--provided that Emotion provoked is happiness; if the Emotion provoked is unhappiness or anxiety or uneasiness, then that political position is Unpopular and therefore bad.
I agree with this assertion. So much of American politics, and media coverage of it, is belabored in what one "feels." How do you feel about overturning Roe V. Wade? How do you feel about having a black man as candidate for president? How do you feel about a women serving as vice president? Replace the word think in any of those questions and see how your answers differ. I found myself examining the very vapidity of the questions in the first place. What does it matter how I feel about a given politician? Doesn’t it matter more what this person will do in office? Yet, the political scene is waist deep in this baseless analysis of how society "feels" at the cost of relevant thoughtful examination. The build up to the Iraq War is a current example of emotion destabilizing intellect. The majority of Americans, including the ones whose jobs it is to examine political phenomena, were swept up in the positive feeling of unleashing their anger over events of 9/11 in support of a unilateral invasion of a supposed enemy.

Yet, to place the blame solely on women and feminism, as Davis/Sim does, is a little harsh. If you ever heard of Dave Sim, you probably heard the word “misogynist” connected to him. This is the volume of Cerebus (and the specific section of the book) that many refer to as inexcusably offensive to women. Case in point:
Behind this Lesser Void of White Collar Male-Work Programs, the stultifying sameness of ass-covering and ass-kissing, the endless postponement of decision-making in favor of 'further study', 'further discussion', lies the Greater Void, the Omnivorous Engine which drives every committee, every study group, every institutionalized waste of human time and energy, in point of fact, our entire degraded society. The Wife and Kids.
The void that Sim refers to is emotion, which is feminine. He goes on to describe women's emotional control over men graphically: the man smiles submissively as the woman laps up blood and brain tissue from a gash in his head.

It's difficult to take any of these particular assertions seriously as they seem to come from a place of personal anguish. I surmise that his relationships with women have jaded Dave Sim. I have no proof of this save the text itself and what little I know of his personal life. However, we can ascertain that there is as much emotion in these passages as there is in what he is analyzing. Nevertheless, he does acknowledge that some women can and do have the Male Light of creativity and intellect -- such as Coco Chanel, Colleen Doran, and others.

Sim could have easily skipped over this section in the narrative in favor of some appealing continuation of the actual story of Cerebus. He could have simply disregarded his views on how the hegemony of suppliant emotion has deteriorated the bastion of reason and thought--and he didn’t have to label either side the "Female Void" or the "Male Light." However, where would Dave Sim be after 300 issues if he had NOT written any of these ideas down? Would he be as empty and unfulfilled as his character Victor Reid? Say what you will about this section of the book, but be sure to read it. Don't have someone summarize its aims or characterize it as baseless venom. Read it for yourself!

...The book is not misogynistic. It's the most challenging graphic novel I've ever read, and it certainly caused me to think more than any other work I've read in the comic book medium. Literarily, Dave Sim is somewhere between Oscar Wilde and Sam Kinison. He is bright and entertaining, but he's not going to please for the sake of making you "feel" good. He's writing what he knows to be true, as in "all stories are true." He may or may not have found happiness in writing Reads, but at least he has intellectual integrity.

If you agree that Cerebus Vol 9: Reads is not misogynistic, please consider signing Dave Sim's iPetition.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Far from being totally crazy - which is not the same as saying it is remotely sensical - Dave's treatment of the Masculine and Feminine seems to me of a piece with the very old Yin-Yang view of the world.

Dave Kopperman said...

This post was interesting enough for me to follow back to Bari's blog, where I found that he actually reconsidered his opinion on the matter a few months later. The takeaway for me is how layered the work is, and how much those of us that are feminists (and in my case, agnostic) have to wrestle with some of the themes that inform the latter half of the book.