Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
And well yeah – so: maybe this all goes some way to starting to explain why I didn’t really get on with Nameless: namely – the story (or lack thereof – or whatever).
Just before I start I will say that in it’s difference: the Chris Burnham art is pretty cool and on point for the whole book – Nice one Chris! – altho erm: his slightly Disney-style women is kinda weird (is it a deliberate choice or what?): especially when things get really nasty (oops – brace yourself NSFW and all that):
To which my first response was:
(But hey: maybe that’s just me?)
So yeah: like the thing with Nameless is that it’s all about this dude (who erm doesn’t really have a name: because obvs) going mental and having a succession of nervous break downs and kinda smashing through from one reality to the next. Kinda like with the different computer game levels of Inception: only while those levels of reality where kinda stuck on top of each other – with the “top” level being real reality (OR WAS IT?!?): Nameless goes for a much more blurred kinda thing where it’s the opposite of clear as to what the relations between the things are. E.g. maybe it’s all in his mind? Or maybe it’s all in his mind that it’s all in his mind? Or maybe he’s in God’s mind? Or maybe he’s just mental? But maybe that’s all in his mind? etc
And well yeah: I mean glancing around the internet and having email chat with other comic heads: it seems like lots of people are into it and think it’s Grant Morrison return to form or whatever (I would link to stuff at this point – only I started writing this waaaay before I read the other stuff that people wrote: and yeah basically I don’t wanna look like I’m pointing a finger at people and going: “EVERYTHING THEY THINK IS WRONG” because one: that’s not very stylish is it? and two: even tho I’m making this big general statements and I think that I’m right and that everyone should agree with me: it’s also true that really I’m just describing the state of my own mind and doing my best to explain why Nameless and High-Rise and all the rest of this stuff didn’t really agree with me: and that effect starts to dissipate if I kinda attach to something that other people wrote: it’s becomes me versus someone else rather than just me versus myself: if you dig?).
But yeah: Nameless (and I think that this is a quality that a lot of Grant Morrison comics kinda share) is all pitch and not so much story. All marco and no micro. Like: the best way to maybe capture this is that – I reckon if you did a Nameless remix and swapped the pages and panels around like: you wouldn’t really lose all that much. Which yeah – isn’t the best sign: because well erm stories and stuff? You know: a story should work in a certain way, produce certain effects and etc etc etc
But then – what was that stuff I was saying earlier: there’s more than one way to tell a story right? Right?
And ooooh: check it out – if you get a copy of the Nameless collected edition at the end there’s this thing called “Night Works: Some Keys to the Abyss in Nameless” written by Grant Morrison which yeah: makes me want to stand on something tall and shout out “BULLSHIT” as loud as I can. But that can wait a second. Because firstly there’s this thing: “We also wanted to do something that worked more like a poem or a piece of music than a movie or TV show, bypassing the rational mind to aim directly at the subconscious.”
I mean: my first response to that: is oh my god – that actually sounds really really cool. You know: breaking down preconceptions and trying something radical and new and properly experimenting with the effects that a comic can create in the mind of a reader. Sign me up yeah?
But – no. Because Nameless is not that. Or (more charitably maybe): at the very least – it’s difficult to tell the difference between a comic that works like a song and a comic that feels like it’s been haphazardly thrown together with a “will this do?” vibe hanging over proceedings like someone farted. Because yeah as far as I can it seems like the only real difference between a comic that ‘s like a movie or TV show and a comic like a poem or piece of music is that some of the panel borders are round instead of square and the characters are so vague that I can barely think of any defining / interesting / whatever characteristics they might have. I mean: the Nameless guy is called Nameless and erm – he’s a bit cocky? And that’s about it. I mean: yeah – he gets thorns and sharp bits put through his private parts and eyes but erm – for me anyway it just felt a bit devoid of anything. I mean: I kinda need to care a little about character and know what makes them tick before you start making bad things happen to them you know? Otherwise the experience of it is more like flipping through a sketchbook or something: “Ouch. That looks nasty.” but it’s not connected to anything. I mean that’s why stories work. And Nameless is more: it’s like a pitch. I mean: I can see how maybe it would work if you spent some more time on it you know? Like: Namelss horror is barely skin-deep. The horror only really starts to come when you know who it’s happening to.
But yeah – that’s not the thing that makes me want to shout out “BULLSHIT!” – no I mean: that comes down to the whole rest of the “Night Works: Some Keys to the Abyss in Nameless” thing which is – I kid you not – Grant Morrison showing off how all clever he is by listing all of his little references quote: “To this end Nameless was inspired by Mayan and Polynesian mythology, 21st century and pessimist philosophy, and by the post-Crowley “Typhonian” schools of magic as exemplified by the work of the Linda Falorio and the late Kenneth Grant, in particular their investigations into the Dark Side of the Tree of Life, and the “Tunnels of Set.”
I mean yeah ok: talk about your influences and throw in some references and stuff – I mean that’s ok if you feel like you really have to I guess. But it doesn’t feel like that’s what happening here. I mean: this isn’t some suggested background further reading this is – like it says in the title: some of the keys to abyss. This is the stuff that will unlock the book and let all of the goodness come spilling out. This is the angle that you can view the magic eye picture so that you can finally see the picture of the dolphin (or whatever). The Dream Key I’ve been searching for.
Well – no.
I mean: again – this is just me. Just my subjective state. But I am suspicious as a motherfucker when it comes to the idea of someone feeling the need to prescribe the meaning of the thing they’ve written. Like yeah – these are just my assumptions and whatever: but when you go and see Star Wars or whatever: you don’t need someone to explain to you afterwards that the Death Star was really George Lucas’ mother and that the whole thing with the thermal exhaust port was really graphic (or whatever). I mean: yeah – that’s a nice fun little interpretation that you can lay over things (and god knows I do love stuff like that): but it’s nowhere near necessary. You can just watch the thing and enjoy it you know?
But shit man: when an author feels the need or whatever to be like: oh yeah – this means this thing and this means that thing (actual quote from Night Works: Some Keys to the Abyss in Nameless: “Sofia’s “Shhh” at the end suggests the closing of the Wordless or Silent Aeon of Horus”- to which I can only reply: really?) – that’s kinda the point when I tend to opt out. Because isn’t it a total diminishing of what a comic (or whatever else) can do? As if a story is nothing more than a code to be translated. I mean: that kinda boring and superficial approach is what leads us to things like The Martian: with no room for the unknown subjective effects that a book can have on a human brain.
MAZIN: Is there a possibility that Morrison is taking the piss?… I only say because of that story of James Joyce joking about Ulysses ‘that’ll keep the academics busy for a few decades’. And from that “it works, it really works” there is something of the, how shall I say, phony about him.
I mean: I realise that may seem a little strange to take: but Joel! Nameless is a crazy crazy book that refuses to play by the rules: I thought that’s why you didn’t like it so much? Well yeah: I guess that’s what makes it interesting and why I feel like I had write all these words about it. But basically yeah: the crazy avant garde comic with the cheat codes at the back isn’t really worth the time it takes it read. Especially because (and one day I’d love to prove this in a court of law or something): but I have strong reason to suspect that the real reason Grant included the cheat code keys is to make everyone think he’s like really smart and stuff. Oooh – look at all the long words he knows. Oooh – ancient cultures and stuff. Isn’t he learned?
For my friends / people who know me / people who listen to Kraken: it’s become part of the cliché of who I am that I’m constantly going on about how the world is complex and how the simple models we use to understand the world are not enough. We all talk like we know what’s going on: but if you start to scratch at your assumptions and are willing to follow your thoughts as far as they will go then you can end up in some pretty strange places. And yeah to be fair to Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham I didn’t totally hate Nameless: I just hated it mostly.
But the one thing I did like was the Marathon Man style repetition of “What is Human?” because hey: you know what? Good question. And the “Beethoven’s symphonies and love” is a good answer for just how flat and unrepresentative it is. Because really I secretly suspect that what makes us human is our persistent and never-ending ability to put meaning in things.
MAZIN: Some films are about man’s search for meaning (I was quoting not being gender blind): Close Encounters say. Even more initially obscure films like 2001. But some films are demonstrations of the quixotic nature of that search.
Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain was about modernism, the coming break down of values in the First World War, a story about the time everything got fucked up. But it’s written in the style of a 19th C novel. The Trial exemplifies modernism, the coming breakdown… Sometimes you can stand in front of a film as if before a monolith or a mash potato saying ‘Mean something!’. Is the film about the monolith always better than the monolith? What if the monolith-film could work like the monolith (say to give him massive generous credit, Jodorosky’s Dune [cue accent] ‘To me this film would like a coming of a god!’. And it wouldn’t mean anything except at one level of reality above, if you told a story about it in a level above, you’d have your micro and macro meanings: but at ground-level, in a place beyond meaning, you have the art-monolith. Can it exist? Is the monolith always built of bullshit? Susan Sontag (relevant name-dropping!) specifically wrote *against interpretation”. She predicted / called for an ‘erotics of art’. ADJ will be on firmer ground here: but what I always took it to mean is a new art form based on the primacy of sensation and feeling, and yet at the same time constructed with intelligence and consideration for affect. Whether or not it pulls it off the original High Rise novel is a (perverted for sure) ‘erotic’ art. Nice verbiage, but what does that mean (ha)? Like you said earlier, (or GM did) art that bypasses the rational: two of the best experiences in art I’ve um experienced are a bit in ‘Island’ and two bits in ‘The Drowned World’ – trance like states that I’d argue go way way back to a time in art before meaning: the cavemen weren’t trying to tell stories with cave paintings (though these came later (arguably with a much more functional purpose (i.e. a memory aid to encode important information: stay away from the river, don’t eat that mushroom): the cavemen saw god animals and like with a dream diary, had to get it down.
Ahahahahaha I just read that back. But dreams are an interesting analogue. They don’t actually mean anything. Is art the dreams of a culture? This leads to the symptomatic reading of art (I think it’s called) – art as the unconscious expression of ideology, hence why High Rise now is about austerity and so on, neither despite nor really because of the professed intentions of the filmmakers. Not that this school of interpretation is without problems (it basically leads to nothing but Zizek). And sure the difference is that art has been intentionally constructed. (But then – so my own pet dream theory goes – are a lot of dreams – maybe that that’s what art should aspire to: dreams, and maybe to tie it all together we’re talking about the same thing but with different means, the halfway point between signal and noise, the sensuous, affecting, inexplicably moving ‘but what does it mean?’ dream.
The best example of which is how we can take the ever-messy, complicated and random condition of life and constantly ask: what is the meaning of it? When yeah – obviously the answer is: there is no meaning but the meaning that we choose to put there. Even in shitty books and films.
Thing is: the experience is greater and more rewarding when the art (or whatever) is constructed in a better way. When the meaning is at a halfway point between random noise and “Sofia’s “Shhh” at the end suggests the closing of the Wordless or Silent Aeon of Horus” signal.
There are better films and better comics and better stuff out there.
The trick is to see it clearly.