On Swamp Thing

Culture is a series of wheels upon which to be broken.

Some of the wheels (like school and the workplace) are explicit in both their acts of domination and the quid pro quo that invites supplication in the first place: Accept these alterations, receive these benefits. Other wheels are more subtle and implicit in their demands… they do not so much request submission as present you with a set of potential pleasures and leave you to do the breaking in your own time. Most cultural product exists within this latter category: Nobody’s forcing you to sit through the plays of Samuel Beckett or the films of Tarkovsky but loads of people have done so and they seemed to get something out of it sooooooo…. maybe you might want to take another run at them?

Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, like most canonical works, is initially quite inaccessible. Moore doesn’t really do the traditional hero thing and quite a few issues are thin on conventional narrative structure and so nothing you will have read or experienced is likely to have helped you acquire the skills required to parse the ideas that Moore is trying to communicate. Like abstract art, contemporary music, and the dank memes of Zoomer culture, you’re going to have to break yourself on this wheel before you gain access to the benefits that come from fitting it to your cart.

The story says that Moore was given Swamp Thing when he first started writing for American comics. Inspired by matinee pulps and born of an age before comic book codes, nobody expected very much of Swamp Thing until Moore took over the writing, blew up the plot, and turned it into a stone cold classic. Without Swamp Thing there would have been no Hellblazer, no Lucifer, and no Sandman. Without Swamp Thing, American comics and literary fantasy would most likely have passed as ships in the night and mainstream comics would probably have remained the kind of bleak cultural wasteland that Marvel and Disney are currently forcing down the throats of the cinema-going public.

Swamp Thing is a work of literary fantasy in that it is fuelled by the recognition that our world is made from stories and that exerting control over these stories is an act of ontological sabbotage so profound that it borders on the downright magical.

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On Gaspar Noe’s Love

Gaspar Noé first rose to prominence in the early 2000s as European art house cinema’s equivalent of an online edge lord.  Noé’s first film (Seul Contre Tous) follows the descent of an unemployed horse butcher from resentful small town failure to violently-abusive sexual predator. At the time, the film’s myriad transgressions were electrifying but in hindsight they feel almost like an act of poisonous introspective mockery: A ‘fuck you’ to the fact that all you have to say is “fuck you”.

Noé’s second film (Irreversible), though no less drenched in the petty bigotries of the privilege, felt a good deal more sophisticated simply by virtue of having its transgressive imagery sit in some kind of relationship with imagery that was both significantly lighter and more pleasant to look at. Add to this some effective cinematography, an inverted narrative structure, a talented cast playing simple but well-drawn characters, and it is clear why the film did well and remains somewhat memorable.

Despite arriving seven years later, Noé’s third film (Enter the Void) felt very much like more of the same. The lurching camera movements and troglodytic lighting of Irreversible had returned, as had the squalid settings and disjointed temporality, but the humanity and psychological clarity of Irreversible were conspicuously absent resulting in a film dominated by familiar visuals and grand but poorly-integrated thematic gestures that really amounted to little more than having Noé repeatedly point at the Tibetan Book of the Dead and winking.

Critically savaged upon release and swiftly forgotten, Noé’s fourth film Love is to Enter the Void what Irreversible was to Seul Contre Tous: A human story successfully wedded to a decidedly inhuman aesthetic.

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On Lockwood & Co

Starting this blog with a piece about Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood & Co series seems appropriate given that it was these books that rekindled my long-dormant interest in the concept of paranormal investigation and ghosts in general. Aside from being well-written and accessible ghost-stories aimed at a younger audience, the books’ somewhat unconventional setting means that we are presented with both literal and thematic hauntings.

First published in 2013, The Screaming Staircase opens on a pair of teenaged ghost-hunters investigating a haunted house. Equipped with swords and a degree of psychic sensitivity, the books’ protagonists creep around the empty house until a ghost reveals itself and proceeds to attack them. Using their swords to keep the ghost at bay, the teens frantically search the house for a physical object that might serve as the ghost’s connection to the world of the living. Destroy the object or sever its connection to the world of the dead and the haunting is resolved.

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