Sunday, December 9, 2012

Links of interest

There are some things that I had meant to mention on Friday but, as is so often the case these days, I was a bit overwhelmed with everything I had to do and I forgot. Apologies, and please, point your browsers in these directions.

Extraordinarily talented artist and knitter Ann Weaver has released a second collection of Moby-Dick inspired knitted projects, patterns and clothing and again she has been kind enough to feature some of my illustrations alongside her brilliantly photographed work. The book is really quite gorgeous and I am in a bit of awe over how Ann is able to make functional knitted items which are also beautiful works of art.

You can buy both volumes of White Whale and see much more of Ann's work at her web site. It really makes me wish I could knit.

North Carolinian writer Sarah Larson has debuted a new play, titled Starbuck by Whalelight which opened on November 29 in Asheville, North Carolina. I was able to contribute some of my Moby-Dick illustrations to help promote the play, and Sarah was kind enough to invite me down for the debut. Alas, the day job and Heart of Darkness obligations prevented me from attending, but I badly wish I could have. It fascinates me how many artists continue to explore so many dimensions of Melville's great novel, and I am intrigued by how many of these artists are women since Moby-Dick has always seemed, to me at least, to be a somewhat relentlessly masculine text. Anyway, you can read more about Starbuck by Whalelight here and if you are in the Asheville, North Carolina area, check it out and let me know what you think.

Thanks to Daryl L.L. Houston for pointing this out to me (and for posting something on his own blog as well) but my recent Batman commission seems to have been one of the most popular things I've ever done and has traveled rather far on the internet. The Literary Man recently some kind words about it. I'm not sure what to make of it all, really, but I guess Batman, kind of like Moby-Dick, is just a really universal cultural touchstone for a huge number of people so it is easier for something like this to travel far than it might be for something more obscure like my Archons. Mostly, I'm just happy so many have seen it and said kind things about it.


  1. "It fascinates me how many artists continue to explore so many dimensions of Melville's great novel, and I am intrigued by how many of these artists are women since Moby-Dick has always seemed, to me at least, to be a somewhat relentlessly masculine text."

    Here's the thing, though: any woman who reads this kind of thing has become extremely adept at the mental code-switch required to enjoy a distinctly masculine text on its own terms (and it's not like Moby-Dick is all that steroidal). A text can indeed be sort of exhaustingly masculine, but that only happens when it's not good enough to be bigger than its tics, and in that case it's going to bother anybody.

    As a woman reader, I more often have gender-related problems with a text that includes women prominently and tries to portray the feminine as well as the masculine parts of the world. This isn't an obscure opinion or anything, but there certainly are a lot of good male writers (and, frankly, female writers) whose skills go down the shitter when female characters are involved. John le Carre, a great author, is my favorite example: he makes a serious attempt to give his female characters interior life, but generally he just ascribes them his own thoughts on women. Hence, his women think about their beauty, their bodies, what men see when they look at them -- their political and personal opinions all stem from this. (Connie is something of an exception, but Connie is...complicated, and not consistently written, and generally worth a post of her own.)

    And of course there are many more decent writers who really don't even try with their women, who just think of them as visually appealing objects that prove various points about the protagonist: his wit, his virility, his disgust with women, etc.

    When reading male canonical authors, it is wonderful to encounter someone who writes women with convincing or at least conceivable interior lives (Dostoyevsky, Nabokov, Conrad, Shakespeare). But it is also a relief to encounter someone whose books have no major female characters at all, which gives us a goddamn rest from the possibility of that nasty jolt when we, happily reading along as an invisible and disembodied presence within the text, suddenly learn what an author thinks of us as a group and find ourselves abruptly re-embodied, which is to say looked at.

    (And incidentally, writing about single-gender environments is often interesting from a gender perspective because you can show the characters with a certain set of guards down and a certain set of social patterns broken.)

    I'm not saying these artists had these ideas primarily in mind when they read and worked with Moby-Dick, any more than I did when I read it. But think it's relevant to the question of "why do I keep running across women who are passionately interested in this very masculine text?"

    Also, bottom line, our cultural default is that masculinity is inherently strong and interesting, and women are indoctrinated with this as much as men (if not more). Not to say that it's a bad/brainwash-y thing when women empathize easily with male characters in male worlds; I think it's good to be able to do that. I would've missed out on so much if I hadn't been! But it is one reason that it's a lot easier for many people of both genders to appreciate men's stories than it is for people of both genders to appreciate stories about women.

  2. This was an absolutely astonishing and brilliantly written comment. I am not being disingenuous at all here, those few paragraphs were so dense with ideas and meaning that the impact that they've had on my own perceptions will take some time for me to process and understand. I wish I could add something worthy to what you wrote, but I really think you succinctly summed it up more or less perfectly and about all I can come up with is a very sincere and genuine "I agree wholeheartedly." I had wondered, without putting too much thought into it, why "Moby-Dick" and some other works with almost entirely male characters appealed to women - readers, writers, artists and so on - and you've gone a long way to answering that for me.

    I like to think of myself as someone who is aware of the privileges that I enjoy as someone who was born into what is normative - a white man. But every day, due to lots of fascinating conversations with my feminist wife and comments like these, I am reminded of just how difficult it is to see beyond my own skin and gender and come even a bit closer to more fully understanding and empathizing with someone who is not me.

    If I can come up with something more coherent, I am going to try and reproduce this comment in a January post and add some of my own thoughts.

  3. I'm glad it was so useful! It's something that I wish I had to think about less, but reading makes it inevitable. I think we all face enormous handicaps to understanding people who aren't us; there are plenty of myths about men (albeit usually more flattering ones, at least by some standards) that have damaged my life and perceptions over the years.

  4. (Also, the really great thing about gender is that it can warp one's view of who is "us" to begin with, such that it took me a very long time to begin to identify with my own gender in a positive way.)

  5. I think it's fascinating that you wrote that this is something you wish you had to think about less. First, because of your feeling that you have to think about it, and second because you would like less of it. This statement of mine reveals so much, I know, and it's not entirely positive, but I think about gender so rarely it's almost amazing. Especially in literature. But again, I think that mostly shows how the idea of the normative is so powerful it just becomes invisible. I don't think about it because (and I trust you know the spirit in which I mean this) I don't have to. Only those who are not like me must, since I am the norm. In some ways it's like walking on a spider web over a bottomless pit. I know I need to look into this more deeply, but I am worried I will never find a way out of it. It is so complex.

    In spite of my race and gender though, I am not sure I have ever felt comfortable identifying along those lines. I look at a lot of white males and, well, they just don't seem a whole lot like me. Again, so complex.


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