I’ve been splitting my reading between Chris Ware’s new one, and the Novels and Other Writings of Nathaniel West, starting with the short novel Miss Lonelyhearts. The connection? In his “Some Notes on Miss L.,” West says Miss Lonelyhearts started as “A novel in the form of a comic strip.”
The chapters to be squares in which many things happen through one action. The speeches contained in the conventional balloons. I abandoned this idea, but retained some of the comic strip technique: Each chapter instead of going forward in time, also goes backward, forward, up and down in space like a picture. Violent images are used to illustrate commonplace events. Violent acts are left almost bald.
In “Some Notes on Violence,” West hints at the relationship between violence and comedy:
In America violence is idiomatic. Read our newspapers. To make the front page a murderer has to use his imagination, he also has to use a particularly hideous instrument. Take this morning’s paper: FATHER CUTS SON’S THROAT IN BASEBALL ARGUMENT. It appears on an inside page. To make the first page, he should have killed three sons with a baseball bat instead of a knife. Only liberality and symmetry could have made this daily occurence interesting.
Not to mention, the number of 3 is funny. The “liberality” and “symmetry” of violence reminds me of Henri Bergson’s essay, “On Laughter,” in which he analyzes two clowns on stage beating the hell out of each other with baseball bats. If one clown just comes out and clobbers the other, that’s not so funny, that’s cold and violent. We feel for the clobbered clown. However, if the two clowns chase each other around the stage, trading blow for blow without death, there is a symmetry and repetition to the routine, and the clowns become an item of comedy. As Bergson says, “we laugh every time a person gives us the impression of being a thing.”
All three books, at least, worth a read.