Saturday, 18 January 2014

Dave Sim's Letters: China, Scripture & Chester Brown

Yummy Fur #21 (Vortex Comics Inc, 1990)
by Chester Brown
28 January 06

Billy Beach
Porterccannti MC

Dear Billy,

Thanks for your letter of 04/01/06. I appreciate it especially with your present schedule. China seems to be cropping up everywhere in microcosm and macrocosm these days and it makes sense that as an English speaker you would find a spot as intermediary. Sandeep Atwal recently got a job writing speeches for the president of the University of Waterloo and I asked him if there were any areas where he was uncomfortable -- writing words that he didn't agree with. "China" was his answer. The university is developing more links all the time with China at various levels and Sandeep counts himself in the "deeply ambivalent" camp given what China self-evidently is. Any thoughts on this score on your part?

Thank you very, very much for the Loreto material which I speed-read the day they came in (Election Day here, as a matter of fact -- yes, another one) and will be going back to read more thoroughly as soon as I finish the copy of the oral biography of Harry Truman, Plain Speaking, that D.B. Little sent me (among other books). On this first go-through what jumped out at me was the fact that there is no tradition in Nazareth of there having been a holy house but that rather the "mother of God" lived in a cave. I defy anyone to speed-read past on observation like that. Say WHAT?! Seems to conform to my YHWHist theories. Where else would the "mother of God" live but inside the earth? I figured that the most interesting part of the story would be buried somewhere in all of the literature and that seems to be the case so, again I can't thank you enough for shipping all this ore over here so I could find my nugget. More as I read the material more thoroughly.

My belief that the Jews hold The Writings as unscriptural and not just lesser Scripture enters in because of the demarcation. The fact that there's the Law and the Prophets and then there's The Writings means that they are different things, ergo one is superior to the other and when you weigh Genesis and Isaiah against Ruth and Esther it seems obvious to me which is which. In my own view there is no such thing as Scripture and Lesser Scripture. There is only Scripture and Non-Scripture. This is our same disagreement shaded slightly differently on the distinction between the Gospels and the Christian commentaries of Paul, both of which you consider Scriptural and only one of which I consider Scriptural. Likewise in Islam. There is the Koran which is Scriptural and the Hadith -- the sayings of the Prophet -- which are non-Scriptural. Most of the Islamic fundamentalists who call for the eradication of Israel are those who include the Hadith with the Koran as Scripture (Muhammad was a virulent Jew hater which I assume he got from those parts of the Koran which were dictated to him by YHWH who seems never to have gotten over the fact that the Chosen People chose to disobey him/her/it so relentlessly: "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned"). The Jews, I think, would be very wary of calling The Writings scriptural since the Book of Esther has been pretty definitively proven to be a Babylonian myth adapted during the Diaspora with the names changed from pagan names to Jewish names. Not quite as "over the top" as say the Apocryphal Book of Judith (which reads like Red Sonja) -- and edifying in its own archetypal way -- but quite a ways off the beaten track from what I think any sensible student of the Jewish scriptures would consider to be sound observance. My own suspicion is that the success of Christianity with the purity of the four Gospels compelled the Jews to amputate the chronology somewhere less self-evidently diluted (and deluded) than II Maccabees and Malachi was elected. I might take issue with their pick, but not the self-evident need to make a clear cut.

On the subject of "It was then that men began to call on the name of the YHWH" I enclose the relevant footnoted passage from Westerman's Genesis 1-11 26a, b and c -- which I think make the case pretty irrefutably given the perfect tense means that the action has already taken place. I also enclose Westerman's own dissembling and twisting and back-flips and contentions to try to make the passage mean something else which is, evidently a popular pastime. Obviously I would maintain that my own views -- which developed from what the text says rather than what I wanted the text to say (something of a universal theological vice from what I can see) -- are the more accurate. Time will tell.

It's probably better that you don't celebrate Christmas given the content of Chester [Brown]'s Christmas card this year. A statue of Seth sitting on the commode is along ways from "O Holy Night" for those of us who lean more in the direction of "O Holy Night" as I'm sure you'll agree. As to picking up more of his work, well, it's all good. He's presently working on a new printing of The Little Man which you should be able to find in late spring, early summer (his deadline is the end of January) in the better stores in the UK on your next visit. Of particular interest is the individual issues of Yummy Fur and Underwater (which you'll have to go schlepping for in the back issue bins) long out of print that contain his adaptations of the Gospels of Mark (completed) and Matthew (still to be completed). His angry Jesus of his Matthew adaptations is the one that I picture in my head now. A lot of his work has scatological and unattractive elements so you might want to read I Never Liked You before The Playboy and The Playboy before The Little Man and The Little Man before Ed the Happy Clown in descending order of -- in my view -- potential offensiveness to a Jehoah's Witness. The new book he's starting on is about his sex life which is exclusively with prostitutes which he sincerely doesn't think of as a bad idea or anything that is jeopardizing his soul. We've had many interesting discussions on the subject and neither of us has budged an inch in all the time I've known him. The Liberals have been floating trial balloons in this country about legalising prostitution for a few years. I hope we turn back from the brink and Chet would like to see its plunge over that particular falls. Stay tuned.

Thanks again for the Loreto material. Hope this letter finds you and Francesca and Kevin and Emily well.


David Birdsong said...

I just got a funny visual of Chester Brown in the after life meeting Jesus. At first it seems to be going well until Chester realizes Jesus has a copy of Yummy Fur in His hand. Awkward.

Anonymous said...

I've gotta say, I kinda get a kick out of this stuff.

Whenever Dave uses the phrase "self-evidently" (here he uses it twice, and also "pretty irrefutably"), you know that the next claim is going to be stunningly stupid or laughably ludicrous, but always anything but self-evident.

I find Dave's cobbled-together gnosticism, merged with his misogyny and social conservatism, to be some of the funniest writing he's done. I'd suspect a con of Andy-Kaufman-esque proportion, but his dedication seems sincere. His cherry-picking from various scriptures (or "scriptures") reminds me of that scene in Futurama: "You filled your ark with same-sex animals." "Hey, there are parts of the Bible I like, and parts I don't like."

Probably not the reaction he's hoping for -- and, I'm sure, one he dismisses. I'm sure neither he nor I will lose any sleep over the other's reaction to our words.

One last point, which has been made before: Dave's thinking (or "thinking") doesn't add much to the world, but his cartooning does. As such, I'm pleased to see from the previous blog-post that "Alex Raymond" progresses futher -- especially as it seems Cerebus will remain out of print for the foreseeable future.

-- Damian T. Lloyd, bvd

Anonymous said...

I haven't read Brown's Matthew Gospel, but I think this sample is impressive and thoughtful.

The extract here is from Matt 7:15-23. It's basically a paraphrase of that passage, but Chester's interpretation really brings it to life. He adds drama and passion to the scene that is not necessarily apparent from the written Gospel itself, but seems true to it. The more modern language ("scum") I think conveys the sentiment of condemnation better than dated language like "ye that work iniquity". Brown has basically added the sort of exposition to Matthew that a preacher might provide in a Sunday sermon.

An angry Jesus is hardly far-fetched. Modern scholarship portrays Jesus as a radical, charismatic, and revolutionary preacher who was threatening to the authorities and fought money exchangers at the Temple.

It's too bad Brown didn't finish his Matthew. I'd buy the Graphic Novel based on this sample. It might also be a big seller as Jesus biographies are popular.

-Reginald P.

Anonymous said...

I always enjoy reading Dave's letters and find his thoughts on just about anything to be intellectually stimulating. I hope there are more posts like these in the future.

-Ryan Royce Williams

Tony Dunlop said...

My reaction to Dave Sim the Exegete is always the same:


Damian had a conjecture:
"I'd suspect a con of Andy-Kaufman-esque proportion, but his dedication seems sincere."
As a huge Andy Kaufmann fan, I have to point out that Andy always seemed sincere, too - of course that's what made it all work.

MaB said...

Wow! That is one of the dumbest mis-readings of Jesus I have ever seen! And really, no, "workers of iniquity" is not the equivalent of "Scum!"
This just seems to be following the usual, very fashionable 'Trash the Good & exalt the dark & Nasty' route. No doubt the less people really know of the real thing the more they will applaud it. We can do SO much better then this.....