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Date: December 5, 2008

reading the adventures of jimmy corrigan by chris ware

In thinking about my books for next semester (for my Composition II course), I wanted to use something a little different–a challenging text but one that might appeal to students and one that might feel a little more contemporary. My colleague, Sheryl, suggested Jimmy Corrigan: the smartest kid on earth by Chris Ware. I’ve dipped into graphic literature a little in the past, but when I read that the book was a more “difficult” text dealing with issues of abandonment, social isolation and despair, and set in Chicago, I was sold. I’ll be working through this text (and I do expect it to be some work) and writing more here as I do so.

Update 2/16/09
I finished reading this book months ago–back in December–, but haven’t seemed to find the time or energy to update my post here. I’ll give it a go now. While the text is definitely more difficult than the typical graphic novel (in my experience), in the end I didn’t find it nearly as inaccessible as some critics have suggested. In fact, quite the contrary, it drew me in. While I may have paused to ponder a page, or even a frame, for a good ten or fifteen minutes, I worked through the overall book rather quickly. It came quickly, but it has yet to leave me nearly two months later, which is perhaps why I’ve avoided writing about it.

The book tells the story of four generations of fathers and sons through a non-linear, sometimes overlapping, narrative. We learn about the present day protagonist Jimmy Corrigan through his his action (or inaction) as he meets his father for the first time and then through subsequent glimpses of both his grandfather’s and great grandfather’s life. A clear lineage of emotional distance and indifference of father toward son emerge from the tale amidst the backdrop of mid-western winters from current times to the late 19th century.

It is a haunting story. Having my own share of daddy issues, it leaves me still thinking about the entirety of what I will pass to my own son–and my future grandchildren. I will return to this post…

Update 2/22/09

I’ve decided to use The Adventures of Jimmy Corrigan in Composition II course this semester. We will be engaging in an alternative research project called Mystoriography. (This is a pedagogical method first conceived by Gregory Ulmer of the University of Florida.) I’ve had my composition students play with this method in the past, but I’m hoping to take the process deeper this time around. In fact, I am hoping to engage in the creation of such a project myself–or at least the start of one. I will be using Ware’s graphic novel as a kind of “tutor text” to anchor us in our projects. This approach will most certainly have Ware’s book working through us as much as we will be working through it. Look for more on this coming soon… (likely in another thread of posts).

brothers karamazov, let us never forget each other…

Parricide, greed, lecherous desire, the existence of God, the existence of oneself, the interconnectedness of all humanity, the very meaning of life–thinking on such topics is bound to leave a mark. It has on me. Over this past Thanksgiving weekend, I had the real pleasure of taking in a production of The Brothers Karamazov at the Looking Glass Theater. It is an adaptation of the Dostoevsky novel by the same name. I had never read the the novel, nor had I visited the Lookingglass before this evening. I dare say I left an affected man.

I can go on about the surface pleasures of this theatergoing experience–the affordable $10 parking (once validated), the $1 bottomless cup of Starbucks coffee to be enjoyed during the show, the [singlepic=241,300,300]pleasant and friendly staff of the Lookinglass itself, the intimacy of the black-box theater setting nestled within the historic grandeur of Chicago’s Water Tower. These things alone made for a nice night out for me, but, indeed, it was the combined power of Dostoevsky’s timeless tale and the sheer might of the ensemble performance that left its mark indelibly upon my soul. (Err, that is to say, I really really liked this play.)

Heidi Stillman, ensemble member and Lookingglass Artistic Director, describes the play as “… a murder mystery but the ideas swirling around and within the plot have to do with the existence of God, the [singlepic=242,300,300]meaning of life, the broadness and contradictions in human nature, and the interconnectedness of humanity – that we are ‘all responsible for all’ – in other words, kind of all the biggest, deepest life questions.” Wow, you really couldn’t ask for more. It is a gripping and epic tale of three brothers reunited in a turmoil of murder and deceit centered around their father and set into motion over greed and lecherous desire. The story has all the makings of good old-fashioned family tale–perfect for the Thanksgiving weekend and the holiday season overall, wouldn’t you say?

The neat thing about this play is that despite all of its sinister darkness, it manages to end on a hopeful note. There is a real message in this story about how we, that is to day all humanity, are connected in some important ways–that we need each other and that we need to be kind to each other. The final scene of the play, known from Dostoevsky’s novel as the “The Speech at the Stone,” was most moving to me.[singlepic=243,300,300] “There’s no reason,” proclaims Alyosha Karamozov at the graveside of the young Ilusha, “why we should become bad, is there, boys? Let us be, first and above all, kind, then honest and then let us never forget each other!” All of our lives touch each others and are interconnected in ways that we too often forget Alyosha reminds us. The price paid by the characters in Dostoevsky’s tale for this painful reminder was an enormous one.

Apart from a storyline and theme that left me contemplating the bigger questions of life, my time at the Lookingglass reignited in me an appreciation for the magic of theater. Within the black box of the Lookingglass there were little more than a table, a chair, and an L-shaped wall partition on wheels. The stage was sparse (and not even a stage in the traditional sense). The illusion created, however, was breathtaking; movement on stage was executed with absolute precision; scene transitions were seamless; control of temporal duration was masterful; simple shifts in lighting and an amazing original score composed by Rick Sims completed the experience. Here’s a sample of the music:

original score by Rick Sims

The Lookingglass Theater’s production of The Brothers Karamozov will stick with me for some time. I look forward to visiting them again soon to be affected by another theatrical experience, to pause for a moment, to lose myself in the rapture of an illusion, to contemplate the bigger questions.

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