Monday, January 08, 2007

Dave Sim's blogandmail #119 (January 8th, 2007)

High Society (STAR00071)

Seriously. It'll just take you a minute to check and you're probably already making up your post-Christmas Star System order. Write out a post-it note paste it to one side of the computer screen, read all of the Ditko stuff, and then go and check.


In answer to the next part of Robin Snyder's letter: I doubt very much that I understand what Steve Ditko is about. I think everyone in the comic-book field (from Stan Lee on down?) sort of takes it as a given that we misunderstand Ditko and his work, otherwise (we suppose) he would still be in the thick of the mainstream comics action—and, further, I think we all (at least of my generation) believe at one level or another that we are lesser people for our misunderstanding. We all sense, I think, that if we understood Steve Ditko better we would be better people for that fact. If Stan Lee hasn't had any sleepless nights over what he might have done differently back in the mid-60s I would be surprised. He only co-produced (or assisted in the gestation of) (or something in between the two) one billion-dollar intellectual property franchise (so far, anyway) and that was Spider-man with Steve Ditko.

Devil's Advocate? Now, sir, I'm afraid you gravely misunderstand me. The last thing I want to do in any context is to advocate any devil or Devil. I would suspect that Mr. Ditko is the same way. There's no way to advocate the Devil's position—even for rhetorical effect—without taking the side of the Devil. That way can lead only to madness, in my view. No, if I misunderstand, it is an honest misunderstanding based on what I see as my best reading of "Ditko as subject".

Actually I'm more surprised that I was the first to draw the connection between Ditko and Kafka (and, to a lesser extent Orwell). There's a difference between reading critically in advance of writing a piece of journalism and reading for entertainment. As soon as I turned a critical eye to the Ditko Package—specifically "What does this remind me of? Where do I know this intonation and spectrum/variety of subjects from?"—Kafka was the instant response.

As regards Max Broad—Kafka's executor who chose not to burn Kafka's writings even though he was under strict instructions to do so. I think you're asking two different questions: What sort of a friend was he? A terrible one. An enemy, in fact and deed. What sort of an executor was he? A very good one from the standpoint of literary posterity and a bad one from the point of view that an executor is supposed to only serve the interests of the deceased to the exclusion of all else. There again, I would imagine that there were a number of sleepless nights involved since there was no definitive right course of action and no way to tell which was the hard or soft option. The soft option relative to Kafka was the hard option relative to the perceived debt to literature. The soft option relative to the perceived debt to literature was the hard option relative to Kafka.

Let's kick it up a notch. If you were to say to me, "I'm Steve Ditko's executor and he wants me to burn all his papers and artwork when he dies. Should I do it?" I would seriously have to ask on what level we were dealing with the question (because of what I would see as my own potential level of culpability) (or, rather, being a God-fearing individual: Culpability). How much will my answer weigh in the balance? Not at all? Or just as another opinion among many and you'll make up your own mind? Fine, my advice (as opposed to my answer) is: don't do it. I think Steve Ditko's papers and artwork are more important than what Steve Ditko thinks of them and what he thinks should be done with them. If, on the other hand, you're making it my decision—whatever I decide is what you'll do because you're so evenly balanced in your own view between the two options that you can't decide—then that's a different question. In that case, Steve Ditko decides. And since Steve Ditko has already decided, that means you have to burn the artwork and papers and that's my advice. If you tell me that you can't bring yourself to do it and you want me to do it: supervise the transportation to some disposal facility and give the go-ahead to burn it all, I'd have to say "I can't do it."

See that's the problem I have with Ayn Rand's Objectivism. I believe in objective reality, but I believe that it's known only to God which is why I suspect that Max Broad's spirit sleeps uneasily in the earth awaiting the verdict on Judgement Day for his choices. And why my advice in a similar situation differs from my answer depending on the role that you're casting me in (actually that I'm hypothetically casting myself in to make a point): as an Advisor contributing to your decision-making where my core interest is what I see as the most desirable outcome: the preservation of Ditko's papers and artwork for posterity. If you're casting me as Final Arbiter (assuming you're leaving God out of it: something I can't do and something I don't think can be done) my answer centers on Ditko's expressed wish. If you're casting me as Executioner—the person who actually burns Ditko's papers and artwork or who gives someone else the command to burn his papers and artwork—then I would say that my best guess is that I'm constitutionally incapable of doing it.

[My "best guess" because, arguably, the greater level of personal culpability as you move from Advisor to Final Arbiter to Executioner takes the decision further into more rarefied existential realms where there's no longer any point in discussing it hypothetically: the only way I would KNOW what I would do is if I was the one put in that particular nutcracker where Ditko had charged you with being the Executioner and for one reason or another you decided to pass that responsibility to me. Ditko died, you died, there's an apartment full of paper and artwork and all I have to do is call in the 1-800-GOTJUNK squad (or its American equivalent) and tell them to do a scorched earth on the premises. In the sense of objective reality other questions enter in: how about if I just pay the rent on the apartment for a couple of months while I mull it over? The Ditko voice in my head goes, "Justice delayed is justice denied". If I'm carrying out his instructions I would not only have to call in 1-800-GOTJUNK I would also have to supervise the operation, going wherever they go to burn the stuff to make sure that not only it got burned but that it ALL got burned. Too great a danger that there might be a comic fan in the Execution Chain who just goes, "Hell, they're just going to burn it anyway". There is, in my system of belief, an objective reality which applies to the situation—The Right Thing To Do—but, in my view, I would only find that out on Judgement Day. I would expect to lose a lot of sleep before, during and after whatever decision I made and whatever action I took. Not to mention taking a good pasting from The Comics Journal and on the message boards no matter which way I chose to go. I bet they'd even dust off my Nazi uniform for another editorial cartoon of Dave Sim, Book Burner. Oh, well, that's just what people like that are like.]

Tomorrow: Wrapping up my reply to Robin Snyder.





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