Strange Ending

Perhaps it’s from growing up as a biblical literalist, but I’ll probably always have problems with post-modernism.  You see, when you’re taught as a kid that there is one absolute right and you already know it (it’s Genesis to Revelation, no Apocrypha, please), you kind of get the idea that things are just what they seem.  Po-mo teaches, among other things, that there’s no true objectivity—reality is subjective and there is no neutral ground upon which to stand.  I’m down with that, but the old ways of looking at things remain.  This is a long-winded way of saying I finished Kohta Hirano’s ten-volume manga, Hellsing.  Over the past year I’ve been reading for a friend of mine, but manga has never really been my thing.  I read The Watchmen as a graphic novel, but looking at pictures somehow feels like cheating.  It’s that literalist thing again.

I might be dropping some spoilers here, so if you’re even slower than me be warned.  There’s quite a bit of shape-shifting here and it’s not always easy to tell who’s who.  In a kind of homage to my childhood monsters there’s vampires, werewolves, and even a Frankenstein’s monster in the series.  All of them are engaged in a constant state of combat against which the Protestant Hellsing organization stands for a stable civilization.  The Catholics are associated with Nazis along the way.  It’s a fascinating look at how an eastern culture might view the religious wars of those in the west who all go by the name “Christian.”  I think this is the genius of the series.  The friend who lent me the volumes has no declared faith, but he finds the dynamic fascinating.  Real religious fighting has made it easy for him.

The story, however, falls clearly into the generation of those without absolutes.  For someone my age a plot clearly laid out is a thing of beauty.  In college we used to argue about how absolutes might exist.  Where did they come from, and which is the strongest?  Did God make them or does God have to conform to them?  Even without the answers, the fact that absolutes existed was assumed.  Argument-driven science tells us that a theory is never proven.  Science is the best explanation we have at the moment, based on the evidence amassed.  In its own way, it has become post-modern.  Hellsing is a kind of mind-blowing work.  It will likely be a long time before I attempt another manga series.  Although I accept the po-mo premise, I still find old-fashioned fiction my favorite.

Read Ban

Someone in the Greenville County Library doesn’t get out much. The LA Times reported this week that a surprised parent got a look at Alan Moore’s Neonomicon, a graphic novel that her child was reading, and went to the library to get it banned. There is a perverse kind of logic to this. The 14-year-old minor checked the book out from the adult section. The story doesn’t say why, but anyone familiar with H. P. Lovecraft would immediately see the familiarity of the title to his fictional Necronomicon. And anyone wanting to read that is surely above the age of innocence. As a result of this imbroglio another book has been banned. As the parent of a teenager I understand concerns about reading material, but then I know that graphic novels can be, well, quite graphic. I know because I read.

I’m currently reading a fascinating book about religious aspects of comic books. Many of us grew up with comics, and anyone who’s read some psychology knows that people are very much image-oriented. Even our Bibles for children are heavily illustrated—often with drawings nearly as far from reality as those of an Alan Moore story. Adults raised on comic books have been enticed back with such novels as The Watchmen— something that looks like maybe kids are the intended readership, but they’re not. The only way for adults to know is to read. (That, and to consider that the movie version of The Watchmen scored a solid R rating. That little itch should be telling you something.) But reading literature has fallen out of fashion.

While waiting for my bus home one day I decided to take the more local route because the bus was still at the gate when I arrived at the Port Authority. This is a longer ride, but with any luck it might get me home ten minutes earlier. When I asked a woman if I might sit next to her, and I began pulling out my book, she said, “you’re that guy that reads.” Guilty as charged. As I wait for the express bus, I spend the time with a book. Until she said that I never considered that almost nobody else does. Forget the days of earnest looking men, faces hidden behind newspapers, passing the commute by reading. Now it’s all ages and genders, holding electronic devices. Not that I’m surprised. People are visually oriented, after all. But I immediately recognized Moore’s nod to H. P. Lovecraft in naming his novel Neonomicon. I think I might have an idea of what to expect if I were ever to read it. It is, however, far easier to ban books than to take the time to read.

Watchmen