Category Archives: Thinkers

Mr. Fish: The cartoonist as King Lear’s Fool


As folks who come here with any frequency quickly learn, we think Mr. Fish [or Dwayne Booth, according to his driver’s license] is the best editorial cartoonist of the age — or at least that part of it crossing our gaze.

On the surface his images, are generally graphically simple — more like wall posters than the typical newspaper cartoon, the works of Mr. Fish sear themselves into the visual cortex and worm themselves deeper into the brain, koans of interlinked images and words. [For a comprehensive look at his works see his website, Clowncrack., where you can also buy his books and other icthyous paraphernalia]

When Chris Hedges sat down with Mr. Fish for an extended interview of Days of Revolt, we knew we were in for a treat, and we came away with an even deeper appreciation for the artistry and complexity that is Mr. Fish.

We were at first surprised to learn that before he took up the graphic arts, Dayne Booth saw himself as a provocative philosopher in the making, reading deeply in the field, a heritage that helps us understand the deeper complexity beneath the surface of his works.

So sit back, set the gear knob to a high definition resolution, click the image to full screen, and prepare for a provocative pleasure.

From teleSUR English via the Real News Network:

Days of Revolt: Mr. Fish

From the transcript:

HEDGES: Why do you, why do you run into such friction, do you think?

BOOTH: I think because it’s difficult to–when you have an image, right, when you have an image that is inflammatory in any way, it’s really difficult to, to recast that in such a way that it, to contain it. To contain it. Once an image is released, like I said, it resonates with people and it looks like reality. So it’s really difficult to verbally contain an image once it is, it is released. And so what images tend to do, since they are not verbal and they are not intellectualized, until after the fact, is they enter into a person’s, into a person’s mind. And it explodes your belief, and it turns your comprehension of what is being addressed in the drawing into shrapnel, and then you have to put it back together again.

And you have to put it back together in a way where you have to question your previous thoughts before you looked at the image. And that’s, people don’t want to do that. People like to base their political opinions on, on fashion, on allegiance to a, a, to your team.

HEDGES: Well, also, you’re imploding the very meticulously managed image that these figures in power have created for themselves at great cost, expense, and time.

BOOTH: Yeah. Yeah. And they’re also, it’s interesting, you just made me think. If you look at society, okay, where this is sort of a broad analogy. If you look at society as a chess match, right, we’ve got power represented by certain people, and we’ve got people who have less power. And they function in the rules of this game, right, that’s how society works. Art does not–it doesn’t have to rely on the rules of the game and all the expectations that people have, because it’s thinking outside, it’s questioning the folly of the game in a way that is unique, right.

So I try to do cartoons that look at that chess board, right, and make it a tragedy to understand that you cannot play chess with somebody where you’re not forced to sacrifice some of your own players, where you’re not going to–you have to, you have to attack the other opponent. Right, those are the rules of society, right.

So if you’re looking, and you’re living inside of a society that functions like that, it’s the job of the artist, or even just the radical thinker, to question the folly of this game. And with images when you show the brutality of how this game is played, that’s when people are going to see it as being much more believable than if you’re trying to convince them with an intellectual argument.

HEDGES: You’ve spent a lot of time illustrating the American military machine. That, you know, seeps into a lot of your work.

BOOTH: Yeah. Because it’s a difficult conversation for people to have. I did cartoons leading up to the invasion of Iraq that I never got any hate mail about. This is before the invasion. So I was questioning the obvious catastrophe that was about to happen. And I was also questioning the job of the, of the soldier. When the, when the invasion was, began, that’s when I started to get death threats, because I continued questioning what the, what, you know, how do we perceive the troops? You can’t just, okay, we have to support the troops.

And I did a cartoon that depicted individual troops. And I wrote, good guy, good guy, good guy, good guy, good guy, and I put a big bracket around it to group them all, and I said bad guys. Because the conversation is such that it’s not an easy conversation to have. And if you’re a responsible cartoonist and you know how to do that, you know not to, to–. As a cartoonist and a joke-teller, you have license to step outside of the box. It’s what humor does. And if you’re a good humorist, the stuff that you do is not funny. Because I think that great satire, and great art that is under the umbrella of satire, you have the responsibility to avoid making it just about finding the punchline. Because mirth cripples rage. And when you’re trying to inspire people to recognize what’s wrong with the government and do something about it, and get–put bodies in, to step out into the street and raise your first in the air, you can’t give people the phys–their physiological, the relief of the laugh.

HEDGES: That’s like the fool in King Lear.

BOOTH: Right.

HEDGES: Who speaks the most naked truth about Lear, throughout the play.

BOOTH: Yeah.

HEDGES: Which, you know, is coming from a point of satire, but also is, because it is a naked truth, twinned with a kind of painful recognition. Which I think is what your work does.

BOOTH: Yeah, and I think that people want to see that, because it does feel more honest. You know, I think people in their private moments, when they’re deliberating on these notions and on the reality of history and what’s happening in the world right now, they know that it’s screwed up. They know that there’s a problem and they know that there’s a lot of pain, right. Once you move into a public space where it’s impolite to complain as loudly as you want to complain, and when you want to speak truth to power, which is considered impolite, there’s a time and a place, you become much more conservative than you really are at heart.

So showing people art and getting them to look at an image, it happens internally. When you look at an image, your reaction to it is inside yourself.

The brink of crisis: Globalization reaches a peak


The world may be on the brink of another financial collapse, this time with the Chinese economy as the likely catalyst, and with Britain holding $500 million in Chinese debt, the “sceptered isle” may bear a major portion of the impact.

One thing is certain: The world’s economy can’t continue with an agenda of unlimited development and endless consumption of throwaway goods, given that limits to extractive resources may have already peaked.

British radical economist James Meadway has been tracking the state of the globalized economy, and he sees major shifts already underway as China shifts from its economic roles.

Meadway, formerly an economist with the New Economics Foundation, described his concerns in a September essay for the Guardian:

Has globalisation peaked? Two fundamental factors suggest it may have. First, the financial crisis itself revealed the systemic weaknesses inherent in an over-extended financial system. Major financial institutions, banks chief among them, are now significantly more wary about reaching beyond their home bases. In the event of a future crisis, they will require strong, supportive states ready to back them up. This has drawn banks and states closer together, with weak states and weak banks propping each other up, as in the eurozone’s “sovereign-bank nexus” (the strong links between government debt and banks).

Second, states themselves are acting strategically. Globalisation was associated with a belief in the supreme merits of government inaction on the economy, but governments are increasingly strategic economic actors.

China is attempting an immense shift away from its decades-old role as low-cost exporter to the world, expanding both its domestic market, and seeking to create a new, regional trading block around the new Silk Road. The collapse of its stock market, naturally, necessitated a huge (if deeply flawed) government intervention. Protectionism is on the rise, whilst yuan devaluation has raised the spectre of “currency wars”. The German state, meanwhile, is an assiduous defender of its own interests as a manufacturing exporter.

Failure to address the looming crisis will only make the crisis worse, he explains.

In this, the latest edition of Taiq Ali’s Telesur English series, The World Today, Meadway explains his concerns as well as possible reforms to adjust the world’s economy to the new realities of the 21st Century:

The World Today: The State of the Economy

Program notes:

Tariq Ali talks to James Meadway, radical economist, about the global economy, the failure of world leaders to effectively resolve the financial crisis in 2008, and the probability of another crisis occurring in the future.

Quote of the Day: Edgar Allan Poe, cosmologist


Just how unique was the mind of the poet who created the modern detective story and wrote poems that speak to the hearts of every teenage Goth? Consider this from American novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson, writing in the New York Review of Books:

Poe’s mind was by no means commonplace. In the last year of his life he wrote a prose poem, Eureka, which would have established this fact beyond doubt—if it had not been so full of intuitive insight that neither his contemporaries nor subsequent generations, at least until the late twentieth century, could make any sense of it. Its very brilliance made it an object of ridicule, an instance of affectation and delusion, and so it is regarded to this day among readers and critics who are not at all abreast of contemporary physics. Eureka describes the origins of the universe in a single particle, from which “radiated” the atoms of which all matter is made. Minute dissimilarities of size and distribution among these atoms meant that the effects of gravity caused them to accumulate as matter, forming the physical universe.

This by itself would be a startling anticipation of modern cosmology, if Poe had not also drawn striking conclusions from it, for example that space and “duration” are one thing, that there might be stars that emit no light, that there is a repulsive force that in some degree counteracts the force of gravity, that there could be any number of universes with different laws simultaneous with ours, that our universe might collapse to its original state and another universe erupt from the particle it would have become, that our present universe may be one in a series.

All this is perfectly sound as observation, hypothesis, or speculation by the lights of science in the twenty-first century. And of course Poe had neither evidence nor authority for any of it. It was the product, he said, of a kind of aesthetic reasoning—therefore, he insisted, a poem. He was absolutely sincere about the truth of the account he had made of cosmic origins, and he was ridiculed for his sincerity. Eureka is important because it indicates the scale and the seriousness of Poe’s thinking, and its remarkable integrity. It demonstrates his use of his aesthetic sense as a particularly rigorous method of inquiry.

Eureka is posted online in full here.

A melodious voice, provocative insights


John Henry Faulk was a remarkable character, an academic fokloristic who became a humorist, and who waged and won a seminal battle against the Hollywood blacklist, a secret database used by the entertainment and electronic media industries to bar people whose beliefs were deemed threats to national security to be barred from public screens and airwaves.

He’d have turned 100 last August if cancer had finally stilled his rich, melodious voice, conveying sophisticated thoughts cloaked in idiom and Texas dialect.

Here’s Faulk in a wonderful 1985 conversation with Frank Morrow for the legendary public access series Alternative Views:

FAULK AT HIS FINEST: Meet Uncensored Humorist John Henry Faulk

Proogram notes from AlternativeViewTV:

Austin’s beloved folk humorist tells tales from his new book The Uncensored John Henry Faulk. The stories, which range from childhood recollections of life on a South Austin farm to commentary on political figures, embody a populist, egalitarian spirit. Some of these stories are from Faulk’s well-known one-man show Pear Orchard USA. Through the use of these folk characters, Faulk is able to make political commentary which is palatable even to people who might disagree with the message, such as the anti-Nixon stories which he has used before audiences of businessmen. The last section of the program is a Faulk mini-retrospective, featuring clips of the humorist’s past appearances on Alternative Views.

One of esnl’s favorite folksingers, Phil Ochs, paid him tribute in this 1962 song:

Phil Ochs: The Ballad of John Henry Faulk [1962]

From the lyrics:

And you men who point your fingers and spread your lies around,
You men who left your souls behind and drag us to the ground,
You can put my name right down there, I will not try to hide —
For if there’s one man on the blacklist, I’ll be right there by his side.

For I’d rather go hungry to beg upon the streets
Than earn my bread on dead men’s souls and crawl beneath your feet.
And I will not play your hater’s game and hate you in return,
For it’s only through the love of man the blacklist can be burned.

Quote of the day: Amazon and the Panopti-con


From a Jonathan Franzen essay for The Guardian, “What’s wrong with the modern world”:

In my own little corner of the world, which is to say American fiction, Jeff Bezos of Amazon may not be the antichrist, but he surely looks like one of the four horsemen. Amazon wants a world in which books are either self-published or published by Amazon itself, with readers dependent on Amazon reviews in choosing books, and with authors responsible for their own promotion. The work of yakkers and tweeters and braggers, and of people with the money to pay somebody to churn out hundreds of five-star reviews for them, will flourish in that world. But what happens to the people who became writers because yakking and tweeting and bragging felt to them like intolerably shallow forms of social engagement? What happens to the people who want to communicate in depth, individual to individual, in the quiet and permanence of the printed word, and who were shaped by their love of writers who wrote when publication still assured some kind of quality control and literary reputations were more than a matter of self-promotional decibel levels? As fewer and fewer readers are able to find their way, amid all the noise and disappointing books and phony reviews, to the work produced by the new generation of this kind of writer, Amazon is well on its way to making writers into the kind of prospectless workers whom its contractors employ in its warehouses, labouring harder for less and less, with no job security, because the warehouses are situated in places where they’re the only business hiring. And the more of the population that lives like those workers, the greater the downward pressure on book prices and the greater the squeeze on conventional booksellers, because when you’re not making much money you want your entertainment for free, and when your life is hard you want instant gratification (“Overnight free shipping!”).

But so the physical book goes on the endangered-species list, so responsible book reviewers go extinct, so independent bookstores disappear, so literary novelists are conscripted into Jennifer-Weinerish self-promotion, so the Big Six publishers get killed and devoured by Amazon: this looks like an apocalypse only if most of your friends are writers, editors or booksellers. Plus it’s possible that the story isn’t over. Maybe the internet experiment in consumer reviewing will result in such flagrant corruption (already one-third of all online product reviews are said to be bogus) that people will clamour for the return of professional reviewers. Maybe an economically significant number of readers will come to recognise the human and cultural costs of Amazonian hegemony and go back to local bookstores or at least to barnesandnoble.com, which offers the same books and a superior e-reader, and whose owners have progressive politics. Maybe people will get as sick of Twitter as they once got sick of cigarettes. Twitter’s and Facebook’s latest models for making money still seem to me like one part pyramid scheme, one part wishful thinking, and one part repugnant panoptical surveillance.

Quote of the day: Bucky Fuller on earning a living


From our old friend R. Buckminster Fuller [previously], quoted in New York Magazine, 30 March 1970:

We must do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian-Darwinian theory, he must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors. The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.

 

Our moment of Zen: Alan Watts in conversation


The late British-American Zen philosopher and Sausalito houseboat owner Alan Watts in a 1971 telecast “A conversation with myself, discusses the addiction to technological solutions and the fundamental flaw in our understanding of ourselves and the world.

A fascinating monologue, worthy of our time.