The Correct Answers in the Heather Section of the SATs

Wigleaf publishes short-short stories and was one of the jumping off points for my paper.

The Lydia Davis stories were taken from here:

While I didn’t get to talk much about how short-short stories relate formally to poetry, the following poem by Chelsea Martin appears in her collection The Really Funny Thing About Apathy, which contains both short fiction and poetry and doesn’t much distinguish between the two.

Happy Finals.



An archive of distraction (hopefully)

I really liked Bea’s point today about (re)learning what objects get to be relevant to academic study — I was thinking about something like that when I was reading In the Shadow of No Towers in the Div School cafe last week. I felt a little self-conscious reading a giant and colorful comic book instead of a more “scholarly” text. One of the morning regulars — a staid-looking older guy — saw me and asked, “are you reading that for a class?” I was immediately defensive (This old guy is so narrow minded! He just doesn’t get it!). I tried to cast my explanation of the book in the most academic light possible, but I didn’t need to — it turned out that he had read Maus when it came out and just thought it was really cool that Spiegelman was assigned reading. We started talking about whether No Towers represents middle America in a way that is problematic or just accurately critical. It ended up being a really great conversation.

This is kind of what I was trying to get at on Tuesday, which I wanted to come back to here in case I was a little too opaque in my presentation. One of the things that I really love about I’m Trying to Reach You (the book I’m writing on) is how it shows the seemingly trivial zone of YouTube procrastination as a place that can be rich with meaning and value. This certainly isn’t to say that whatever you do on YouTube is Art, or that you should put off working on your finals to endlessly click through videos because “that’s what’s really real, bro.” But I think that that it’s important and difficult to remember that, as Patrick pointed out today, ‘ephemera’ can be meaningful, and even if it isn’t, it can still merit consideration and engagement.

Preparing my presentation made me realize just how many YouTube videos I have re-watched, learned from, and been moved by, often while thinking “I shouldn’t be doing this!” I would love to know the videos (or sites, or craigslist poems, or whatever) that you all find yourself returning to and sitting with, so please post them here! Since we’re going into finals week I figured you could all use some distractions that come highly recommended.

I’ll start with the Jeanann Verlee poem that I played during my presentation (I didn’t want to leave “soak up the semen” without context…):

The tradition of serialized comics

In Spiegelman’s discussion of old-timey comics, he doesn’t dwell much on the serialized nature of most comic strips, but I feel as though this is very important to the comparison he invites between these comics and his own art. He talks a bit about Krazy Kat and how its “daily variations” invited psychoanalytic readings but ultimately “presented an open-ended metaphor that could contain all stories simultaneously.”


No comic I know of is as deeply open-ended as Krazy Kat, but it seems to me that because they’re serialized, comics have the potential to tell all stories eventually, if not simultaneously. One of the charms of comic strips, and probably one of the reasons they’re associated with nostalgia, is that characters don’t age; the events of one day’s strip need not have anything to do with the next days. With a limited number of characters, most of which are clearly defined, strips end up exhausting their narratives, and presenting the same narratives again and again. For example, Dilbert has been making fun of bureaucratic absurdity for 24 years: it’s still funny because it’s still relevant.


In the Shadow of No Towers, of course, stops at ten strips. Spiegelman’s introduction calls his book “a slow-motion diary of what I experienced while seeking some provisional equanimity,” noting that the political atmosphere began changing after his strips. By foregrounding the political, Spiegelman intentionally limits the scope of his project compared to serial comics, which turn politics into topical humor and leave it at that. Even the largest shadows disappear with the sun (Spiegelman 10).

Obstruction & Affect in In the Shadow of No Towers #3

The use of obstructed objects in #3 of In The Shadow of No Towers has been discussed in terms of the smoke obstructing words in Taylor’s post, but I wanted to expand the discussion to the panels that are covered by the Mars Attacks card and the “Don’t Breathe!” poster (which I am guessing is the poster to which mouse-Spiegelman is referring at the bottom of the page). There are three panels that are significantly obstructed by these items. In the first, speech and thought bubbles are visible and complete, but the characters to whom those bubbles are attached are covered (though it is fairly easy to determine which bubble belongs to which character). In the second, only two words in a text block are decipherable: “It was”. In the third, a single corner of the panel just barely peeks out from behind the poster.

The obstruction of these panels–the second one in particular–frustrated me to a certain extent, because I kept feeling that I was being deprived of an important component of the narrative, but the more I think about that feeling, the more I realize that it is a productive kind of frustration, an intentional affect created by the careful placement of the items on the page. The page itself is about the panic and uncertainty experienced by Spiegelman and his wife while trying to find their daughter, and the frustration is an effective recreation of at least a small part of that sense of uncertainty.

While, for this particular work, I do think that the comix format was particularly useful to communicate the narrative, especially given the motif of smoke that accompanies the story on #3, but I have encountered other media that create a similar affect by withholding or obstructing information. One example that comes to mind is the novel House of Leaves. The novel takes the form of a lengthy film critique of a nonexistent (even in the world of the novel) documentary about a family that discovers that their house is infinitely large on the inside. This film critique is discovered by the character Johnny Truant, who adds his own footnotes and commentary. In one section of the novel, the author of the film critique is about to reveal a particularly revelatory piece of analysis about the film–only to have Johnny admit that the pages in which the author discusses that particular piece of analysis are missing. While the motives for the novel’s author withholding that information may be different and have different thematic implications, the general affect is similar: it produces a feeling of frustration and a sense of incompleteness in the reader.

Spiegelman & History

Though it isn’t technically a part of the “content” of the comics in Shadow of No Towers, I found myself very interested in the front cover page of the book. It depicts the front page of The World Newspaper on September 11th, 1901, exactly 100 years prior to the events of 9/11. It’s not quite the nostalgic slice-of-life we’d expect, either—“Anarchist Queen” Emma Goldman has been arrested, President McKinley has been shot, and the world seems at least as amiss as it has been in contemporary history. The back cover page uses the same image, this time superimposed with headlines responding to 9/11 and the subsequent “War on Terror,” ending with the tell-tale, “Britney Video Shocker—Pop-Tart Shelves Plan to Act Out Suicide.” What exactly is Spiegelman doing with these pages, thematically? My initial reaction was to view them as a “before” and “after,” with the fall of the twin towers acting as a turning point for the rest of American history. The layout of the book would support this, since the newspapers act as endcaps for the book’s content.

However I think Spiegelman’s work in general is more nuanced than that interpretation would imply. Instead, I would argue that he is attempting to frame the events of 9/11 as one historical moment among many, a momentous occasion that is unique among a line-up of other unique, momentous occasions. His use of news media in particular illustrates Spiegelman’s awareness of how the event might be remembered by audiences in the future. The contemporary headlines superimposed over the page from 1901 doesn’t necessarily represent one event eclipsing the other—you can still read the content of the original underneath—but a comparison of historiography. Can we ever understand the past, unhampered by our contemporary perceptions? How do we document the past? Traditional news media, Spiegelman argues, is an incomplete answer.

Comics, we see in Shadow, have the potential to capture history in a way that no other medium can, and to draw visual comparisons and juxtapositions between periods. Spiegelman’s use of his caricatures from Maus, for instance, inevitably draw to mind WWII and its impact, placing it in the same category of trauma as his 9/11 experience. Similarly, Spiegelman’s inclusion of the old comic supplements left me with a sense of a denial of the US progress narrative. He presents old comics that include a number of racist and ethnocentric stereotypes, which on first viewing offer up a sort of progressive-moral-porn-lite but which also draws parallels to the US’ racist responses to 9/11. 

In what other ways does the form of the book play with the idea of historical awareness and progress (or lack thereof)? 

Upside Down Reading

The strip I wondered about most from the supplement to “In The Shadow of No Towers” was the one entitled “The Upside Downs of Lady Lovekins and Old Man Muffaroo”. In order to read the whole story, the reader must turn the book upside down, considering what had been ground sky and what had been sky ground. The main characters are already pretty silly-looking, and in this fairy-tale story, the reader accepts that this strip uses a fun trick to tell a magical story which functions as a mirror. Each panel depicts two things which happen in the same location at times equidistant from the middle turn-around point where the book is flipped. It’s mostly remarkable because it is both impressive and comical that the story should make sense in both directions.

It’s interesting to compare this strip, which uses the upside-down technique to depict a fictional universe with internal consistency, with “An Upside Down World”, a strip on page 7. When I first read it, I didn’t even bother to flip the book around — I could tell from the little red man’s pointy nose that this demon-filled sky was meant to evoke Spiegelman’s feelings about the unreasonably powerful Republicans. But the strip conveys more than just his anger- the Spiegelman character connects the politics to questions he has about reading: who will read his strip? Will any soldiers even get to read it?



Those in power are reading “the book of revelations”, and he’s “reading the paranoid science fiction of Philip K. Dick” — everyone’s reading about the end of this world, but no one is reading the same stories. In the first and last panels, Spiegelman seems to be walking on the ground near a building, but in all of the others he seems to be up in the clouds too – props appear and disappear out of nowhere – his book, cigarette, peace sign. When the page is flipped, a mouse has a nightmare, and then we see red Bush leading his animals back through the strip. This world doesn’t make sense, either from above or below, and the Spiegelman character worries about his page’s being “well-printed”. If it can be said that the old timey comic uses the upside-down technique to create a coherent, but unreal space, this strip depicts some other (maybe inner) world, where all these elements coexist but the meaning doesn’t come from some internal logic. On the purely physical level, these strips invite the same type of “reader participation”, but they depict very different spaces within which the technique’s meaning is drastically altered.

I think that this can also be connected to the book’s title — what is the sense of his (or our) being “in” the shadow of things that no longer exist in reality? Is the shadow the effect of the event — the feeling of a lack, or of a lingering sadness? Or is it something more like the absence of the light of knowledge, logic, coherence? We might be engaging in the same activity with both strips, but the activity no longer has the same meaning it had in the context of the old-timey comics. What does it mean that the way we’re used to reading can no longer serve as a guide?