Is Scott Eric Kaufman* always this insufferable? Are all lit-bloggers?

I do not, ordinarily, read lit blogs. I only read Edge of the American West for Dana McCourt’s posts, which are invariably smart. And thank god I do not read lit blogs, if SEK’s posts about Watchmen are any indication of their usual level of pretentiousness, which would, on that line, be utterly mindbreaking.

The second post in SEK’s Watchmen series starts with one of the most ludicrous tape measure remarks** I’ve ever seen. I’ll reproduce it in its entirety, so those of you with delicate sensibilities might want to click away here:

Some books teach you how to read them: Ulysses, Gravity’s Rainbow, JR, and Infinite Jest spring first to mind. From a purely formal perspective Watchmen belongs in their company. It does to the conventions of comic narrative what Joyce did to realism, Pynchon did to pulp, Gaddis did to dialogue and Foster Wallace did to sentiment. All the techniques discussed in the following had been used in comics before—there is nothing new under the oxen of the sun—but never in the service of creating a new breed of reader.

What the fucking fuck? Let’s count the worst crimes against taste, intelligence, and general decency in just those three medium-size sentences:

1. Gratuitously name-dropping the top three unbearably hip and unreadable lit scene novels (if we count everything by Gaddis as one) in recent history.

2. Putting those novels, none of which is more than mediocre and at least one of which is actively terrible (Infinite Jest), in the same category as one genuinely great literary work (it horrifies me that I actually have to specify which work I’m talking about here. Ulysses, ok? Ulysses.), and one that achieves actual beauty in places — you know, genuine aesthetic virtue? Remember that? Something that can be achieved when writers realize that the goal is not simply to fuck with the reader and ascend from the self-abuse-to-self-amuse kind of extreme wankery that is the stock in trade of people like David Foster Wallace?***

3. This totally opaque notion of books teaching you how to read them, a notion that is not in any way clarified in the rest of the post.

In fact, the post immediately refutes that initial claim with respect to Watchmen. Like where SEK draws all kinds of conclusions from an almost completely imperceptible-to-the-naked-eye change in the expression of one character’s face between two panels. If Watchmen were serving some kind of instructional role there, presumably it would make it possible for readers unfamiliar with the narrative (?) techniques in use to spot things like that. Instead, the use of that sort of hyper-subtle (if not totally imaginary) device can only be meant to communicate with readers who already know how to read the work in question.

4. “Creating a new breed of reader.” Seri-o-fucking-sly? Will this new breed of reader be able to manipulate higgs bosons and see the future? Because otherwise, not interested.

5. “There is nothing new under the oxen of the sun.” The oxen of the sun? What, scarab beetles aren’t good enough for you? Was this supposed to be witty, or just a shameless attempt to display minor erudition?

Also, the erudition is fake. It actually displays the blogger’s ignorance. The oxen of the sun were pastured on the island of Thrinacia, which was an actual island on the sea, and one to which Odysseus could sail in the Odyssey. Odysseus did not have wings. The oxen were not in the sky. Therefore, nothing could be under them. If SEK had said “nothing new under the chariot of the sun,” that at least would have been an accurate reference to Greek mythology.

This is totally unbearable. Please, please, someone find a way for me to read Edge of the American West without this guy’s posts.


* Strike one: the middle name. Only super-pretentious lawyers and people who have the same first and last name as someone famous use their middle name in correspondence/generally.

** Tape measure remark, n., remark evidently made solely in order to display the length of the remarker’s penis. As previously noted, this is not SEK’s first watchmen-related tape measure remark.

*** Another unnecessary use of the middle name. What a surprise.

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23 Responses to “Is Scott Eric Kaufman* always this insufferable? Are all lit-bloggers?”

  1. Sifu Tweety Says:

    Tee hee!

    You’re also pretty pretentious, but I totally think you guys should fight more, because it’s pretty fun.

    I definitely know what he means about Gravity’s Rainbow.

    How to put this? It’s almost like it teaches you to read it, as you go.

    Does that make sense?

  2. Paul Gowder Says:

    Dude, if I ever get that pretentious, I will buy you the fucking gun with which you may shoot me.

  3. Sifu Tweety Says:

    I love guns!

  4. Sifu Tweety Says:

    Holy calamity:

    Other-than-intellectually, he has been known to be involved with things like… the English Romantic period (hence the “Byronic,” although that’s mostly a joking reference)

    Praise jeez, if I am ever so pretentious as to drop a sentence like that “Byronic, dear boy, if you know what I mean bwar-har-har” business without heroin coursing through my veins you will be a dear and run me through with a chainsaw, won’t you?

  5. ari Says:

    I love chainsaws!

  6. SEK Says:

    (Christ almighty, did I not just write a world-humilitating post about the world-historical necessity for charitable readings? But whatever. Onto my insufferableness!)

    First, of course I’m a pretentious fuck who uses all three names for extremely pretentious and impractical reasons. Please ignore the fact that I wrote that in 2005 and continue to believe your insult was either timely or insightful.

    What the fucking fuck?

    Fuckity fuck fuck. Fuck fuck fuckity fuck. Q.F.E.F.D. (F.F.)

    Gratuitously name-dropping the top three unbearably hip and unreadable lit scene novels (if we count everything by Gaddis as one) in recent history.

    I missed your earlier slagging of my sensibilities, so I wasn’t privy to what I needed to know not to offend them. (But that’s neither here nor there.) Your designation of novels published in the ’20s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s as “unbearably hip” points to exactly what’s wrong with people who like novels from the ’20s, ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s: namely, that they weren’t written in the bearably hip ’00s, ’10s, and ’30s through ’60s. From the faint words I hear from high aloft in my ivory bower, those are the most bearably hip novels ever written, and everyone who loves them has been scientifically proven to be better than everyone who loves books from the ’20s, ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. I apologize for assuming otherwise . . . or for naming the four novels that anyone who’s studied 20th Century literature (a.k.a. my field) would know intimately. I know I’m lording it over the peasants with my appeal to the lowest common professional deminator in my field, but what can I do? I should’ve referenced four authors no one’s ever heard of if I wanted to make a basic fucking point to an intelligent audience. Why speak in the lingua franca when I could’ve impressed everyone by referencing an obscure imagist whose works have been out of print since 1931 or, better yet, a personal translation of a manuscript by a heretofore unknown literary genius! Why why why did I reference something I could reasonably expect my audience to be familiar with when I could’ve slapped them with my impressively sized dick!

    Like where SEK draws all kinds of conclusions from an almost completely imperceptible-to-the-naked-eye change in the expression of one character’s face between two panels.

    By which you mean the ones I specify, and which are based clearly on the panels I describe? You’re championing the lazy reader here: “Hey, I didn’t see it the first time my eyes half-looked at the page. Damn it, you fucking egghead, this is almost-completely-imperceptible.” Of course, the fact that you admit they are perceptible—that once I forced you to linger over the panel instead of skimming over it like so many unbolded words in a textbook you actually perceived them—that totally invalidates their existence. Look, if you’d rather not have the obvious pointed out to you, the solution isn’t to write willfully ignorant screeds about people on the internet who point obvious things out to you; the solution is to pay some fucking attention to what you’re reading so you don’t get angry when people on the internet point out all the obvious shit you missed.

    Honestly, it amuses me that you’re upset because I paid attention to the images in a comic book. It’s not like I’m performing alchemy here. I’m simply paying attention.

    “There is nothing new under the oxen of the sun.” The oxen of the sun? What, scarab beetles aren’t good enough for you? Was this supposed to be witty, or just a shameless attempt to display minor erudition? Also, the erudition is fake.

    God, you caught me here. I referenced one of the most famous chapters of a book you haven’t read and I just mentioned and linked to. You caught me there. I was so trying to be impressive with mighty erudition. Just for you—you and repetence, that is—I’ll link that link again, just so every can see how uppity my erudite ass is. Can you believe I had the nerve to make a pun about a chapter in a book I just mentioned? For shame, self, for shame.

  7. SEK Says:

    Here’s a link to an actual, you know, HTML version of my comment:

    http://edgeofthewest.wordpress.com/2009/03/10/watching-watchmen-how-unfilmable-novels-become-unwatchable-films/#comment-35743

    It’s ugly, but what can you do?

  8. jazzbumpa Says:

    “Please, please, someone find a way for me to read Edge of the American West without this guy’s posts.”

    I’ve noticed something remarkable about the posts at EOTAW. But, mind you, I’m a close reader, and this might not be obvious to everyone . . .

    The posts have a line in small print under the title that gives you the date, some topic tags, and — are you paying attention — THE NAME OF THE AUTHOR OF THE POST.

    Just trying to help.

  9. Paul Gowder Says:

    Noting only for sake of completeness that a) the complaint wasn’t about the interpretation of the almost-imperceptible expression change, it was about the extravagant claim that the almost-imperceptible expression change was in service of some kind of instructional purpose, an instructional purpose that is totally defeated by the almost-imperceptible quality of the expression change; but b) the “almost” was an act of charity, based in the recognition that I’m very bad with deciphering both drawings and facial expressions: I couldn’t see the expression change at all, it looked like the guy had dark circles under his eyes in all the panels, or perhaps just dark slashes of ink that only became circles in the last because, you know, it happened to be convenient for your interpretive purpose; c) missing the reference to a chapter. title. of X does not entail not having read X (though it does, sometimes, entail not having read X recently); but d) but it’s irrelevant anyway because those oxen don’t fly neither; and e) I do hope that even an English degree with a specialization in “20th century literature” (mostly an oxmoron, certainly an oxymoron in the U.S. after 1950 or so, unless you count Hunter S. Thompson as “literature”) requires or presupposes at least a passing familiarity with the Odyssey.

    (And, gawd, do people really study Infinite Jest? What a terrible thought.)

  10. eric Says:

    “… mostly an oxmoron…”

    Is an “oxmoron” someone who believes oxen can fly?

  11. SEK Says:

    Your response puzzles me, as it doesn’t actually respond to what I wrote. I mean, you’re on this riff about oxen that don’t fly. It’s like you’ve never read Ecclesiastes 1:9 and don’t know what a pun is. Or are so arrogant as to assume that I think oxen fly. (Likely as a result of my having read books written in the latter half of the 20th Century.)

  12. ben wolfson Says:

    SEK is pretty insufferable (hi Scott!), but, let’s be honest, so are you, and, let’s also be honest, you’re dead wrong about Gaddis, as you’d know if you ever read The Recognitions.

  13. ben wolfson Says:

    Also, I put it to you that “David Foster Wallace” is more euphonious than is “David Wallace”, and that someone 90% of whose judgments appear to be motivated by aesthetic concerns or reactions, such as you are, ought to appreciate that. Likewise “Scott Eric Kaufman” and “Scott Kaufman”, for that matter.

  14. Paul Gowder Says:

    Ben, O’ third insufferable person in this conversation (well, ok, more like Nth), after having utterly failed to get through the first 20 pages of either JR or A Frolic of his Own, do you really think I’m going to make it through The Recognitions?

  15. ben wolfson Says:

    The Recognitions isn’t composed solely of dialogue. There’s actual narration. The party scenes are mostly dialogue, but they’re really masterfully done.

  16. Jason W. Says:

    I’ll admit that this made me laugh: “Why why why did I reference something I could reasonably expect my audience to be familiar with when I could’ve slapped them with my impressively sized dick!”

    Also, in fairness to DFW, let’s note that Foster is apparently his mom’s maiden name. (Her name is Sally Foster Wallace — I suppose it’s possible that Foster was her given middle name, but that seems unlikely.) So euponiousness aside, maybe it’s as simple as a recognition of his mom?

  17. ari Says:

    Still no chainsaws? Pity, that.

  18. nnip Says:

    “I do hope that even an English degree with a specialization in “20th century literature” (mostly an oxmoron, certainly an oxymoron in the U.S. after 1950 or so, unless you count Hunter S. Thompson as “literature”) requires or presupposes at least a passing familiarity with the Odyssey.”

    You are a third year Ph.D student? I find this hard to believe now.

  19. nobody special Says:

    “You are a third year Ph.D student? I find this hard to believe now.”

    Well, it is a political science Ph.D., so maybe we shouldn’t expect too much.

  20. Paul Gowder Says:

    Not enough post-structuralism for you? (Literature departments: where bad theory goes to die.)

  21. eric Says:

    To be fair, Law Schools are where bad theory really goes to die. Literature Departments are more like the assisted living facilities.

  22. Jeff Says:

    Reading this thread, I don’t know whether to be a) happy that people are passionately arguing about culture or b) sad that the internet seems to make everyone a vicious hatchet man.

  23. Busted! : Lawyers, Guns & Money Says:

    [...] which as we all know they never do either.  Then he proved I’ve cursed before by linking to an unformatted comment in a post that deemed me “insufferable” for writing those visual rhetoric posts you [...]

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