The Cerebus Re-Read Challenge
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Reads: Guess What I Heard?
Does the world really need any more words about Reads? Absolutely. In fact, that is what the book is all about. Gossip. Words leading to words leading to more words until eventually the words about words take on their own life. Once a rumor has a life of it's own? Well, it ain't gonna die easily.
"Guess what I heard? Dave Sim is a misogynist."
"Oh, yeah. Total nut-job, that one. A delusional schizophrenic or something."
It is a really odd thing to do, to start a rumor about yourself, but that is exactly what Dave Sim does in Reads. And boy does he do a good job of it.
Reads, starting in issue #175 looks pretty like this:
a text-heavy version of what we saw in Jaka's Story.
The prose tells the story of Victor Reid, a fictional semi-proxy for Sim, as he maneuvers his way through the Reads Industry, a fictional proxy for the Comics Industry. Along the way there are a multitude of thinly veiled stand-ins for real-life members of the Comic Industry and community.
It only takes an issue for Davis/Sim to let us know exactly what this is all about, writing this in issue #176.
Dave Sim relocates his tendency to try on different persona in the back-matter into the story itself. This new Sim, doing as he believes women do, engages in gossip. He gossips about the industry for the first half of the volume. In issue #181 he pulls this meta-narrative trick,
and begins to gossip about himself.
In doing so he subjects himself to the double-edged "Gossip cleaves." He creates the "...illusion of intimacy..." with his
The cover of issue #182 drives home the all-eyes-on-me theme.
But, we are also to understand that gossip cleaves two ways. Remember, immediately upon entering the narrative Sim, as Davis, "...regards his audience." He is both "...the watcher and the watched. So, all-eyes-on-me but my-eyes-on-all-of-you as well.
By this point Sim has spent years testing out many persona, explored a wide variety of viewpoints, and has come to a stable sense of who he is. The only way to further test himself, to further his quest for Truth, is to put his true-self to the grinder of public opinion. He needs us to judge his ideas because only through dissenting opinion will he ever again be able to question himself. Like the interwoven patterns on the above cover anyone who has read Reads is now inextricably cleaved, in the binding sense, to Sim. Any attempt to cleave from Sim, in the cutting sense, will reveal something to Sim about why the dislodged. I suspect he relishes those rare new "whys" as fresh opportunities to inch closer to the Truth.
High-level chess moves, Dave. High-level chess, indeed.
Is Sim, Davis?
I have read commentators who argue that Sim does not intend Viktor Davis to be a true autobiographical proxy of himself. I see no evidence to back that claim. Sim works too hard to tie (cleave) the two together for me to see it any other way. Of course some information about Sim, as presented through Davis, may be distorted or falsified, but that is that nature of gossip, it distorts. But the gossip is absolutely, one-hundred-percent, gossip about Dave Sim and largely representative of his beliefs.
The only validity I see in any argument otherwise is that the first half of Reads is about Victor Reid. After the meta-narrative reveal it is Viktor Davis. It does seem reasonable to assume that Victor Reid does not, or only loosely, represents Dave Sim, and id primarily a means by which to gossip about others. Anyone arguing that Viktor Davis is not Sim gossiping about himself is just being willful.
From issue # 183,
By jokingly writing as Viktor Davis in Note From The President Sim purposefully joins himself to the name.
Later in the issue he speaks of his diagnosis as a schizophrenic, a fact well known to his readers by this point
and then immediately states "This is my autobiography." This is undeniably Dave Sim writing about himself.
"Viktor Davis" also writes about Cerebus a number of times. The fictional Victor Reid was working on a book called Ascension, not Cerebus. Cerebus is Sim's book. This can only be Sim talking about himself through "Viktor."
A juicy bit of gossip that Sim dispels a few pages later.
Given the content leading up to issue #200, how it ends, and how issues #201 - 300 are filled, it is easy to believe that there was a period where the plan to end the book at issue #200 was factual. I will speak more about that when discussing volume 11, Minds.
Now that Sim is effectively in the story he no longer needs to act out various persona in the back matter. The collectivist momentum of the Guide to Self Publishing, and the touring carries over into the next volume, as I will discuss with Minds, but after that Sim's public persona remains largely the person he reveals in issue #181, an essayist who uses the public as his litmus test for his world view. With that in mind these portions of my commentaries will eventually be in response to Sim's ideas rather than his persona.
THE Idea: Yeah. Fuck Feminism.
What there does not need to me any more words spent on is issue # 186. But, avoiding talking about it makes one look like they are doing just that, avoiding talking about it. Checkmate, Dave, checkmate.
So here is what I have to say about Dave Sim and his opinions about women.
A) I could care less what the dude thinks one way or the other, but have always enjoyed the thorough and singular nature of Sim's opinions. They often make me consider things that I have overlooked in my own quest for Truth, or put to words things I wish I could express so eloquently. When I disagree it forces me to make my arguments stronger.
B) My personal experiences bear out most of his claims most of the time. Sim readily admits that there will be many exceptions to his generalizations. I don't see the big deal. But, hey, I am a privileged white guy, so what can I possibly know?
C) Sim is gifted with language and knows how to get properly caustic when he wants to get a reaction. I suspect that any overtly divisive wording is intentional. It is part of his litmus test. How many people in my audience agree with me? How many disagree but are capable of hearing dissenting beliefs? How many of those are willing to try to understand said dissenting beliefs? How many will be mildly offended but able to live with said beliefs? How many will lose their shit? Sim obviously has a hypothesis about what the ratio will be and it seems like the experiment confirmed his hypothesis.
The only problem I see with this strategy is that if you are trying to foster a world that trends away from emotional over-reaction it is not the best tactic to incite emotional over-reaction, even if you are trying to confirm that your hypothesis about emotional over-reaction is correct.
That said, I don't see any evidence in any of the writing I have ever read from Sim that indicates he is trying to, or believes he could, do anything to foster a world with less emotional over-reaction. He seems pretty content to focus on his own quest for truth at a far remove from the rest of the world. If this is the case then there is no tactical error.
The criticism of Sim would then be that his personal quest for truth is a selfish endeavor, one that is content to point out problems but avoid taking steps to institute solutions. It is a defeatist approach, but one I don't mind. Any given vision for how the world can be made better is someone-else's nightmare, a theme we see in the latter half of Cerebus, actually.
D) I am 100% on board with Sim's criticism of Feminism and Identity-Politics as represented in this bit of writing from issue # 176
I call this fundamental flaw in progressive agenda and rhetoric "homogenization through bifurcation," as oxymoronic a term as it is moronic a philosophy. You cannot demand totalizing equality while yelling for acknowledgment of diversity, equal and diverse being mutually exclusive concepts. Equal social rights is one thing. 100 % equal consideration is different. As soon as you ask me to consider you through the lens of whatever pronoun you identify by you are asking me to consider you as different than, x,y,.....n, that is as not equivalent to x,y,....n. Until this bit of nuance is sorted out by the progressive agenda count me out.
I have written about this philosophical dilemma here, tackling the problem from the apolitical perspective of ethics filtered through a lens of an information-theoretical approach to aesthetics. What a god-awful pretentious mouthful that is. Sorry.
Anyway, the central question is, how do we cope with the essential human condition of being self-aware selves, knowing that this leaves us inherently divided, selfish, and prone to conflict? In political terms, the progressive answer errors on the side of selfishly demanding the homogenization/merging/destruction of selves by making self-hood so complex that identity eventually dissolves. The conservative error is to gleefully accept selfishness as a God-given right, with all of the conflict that brings with it.
The biggest flaw in Sim's logic, as I see it, is that if anyone has lived a life of "My Choice Above All" it has been Dave Sim.
This does not apply to just the book. Sim has managed to carve out a life where this is true of everything he does. His life has always been Dave Sim's, all Dave Sim's.
In what I know of the man from spending so much time reading about him, and in my few dealings with him so far, I find that he uses this freedom to try to be the best person he can be, so the criticism is not that Dave Sim is a bad, selfish person. In my experience, quite the opposite. I am merely pointing out an apparent inconsistency between his criticism of "Choice above all" and his own lived example of the Best-Life. Also, Sim has expressed many times in his political writings that he highly values freedom of choice.
An interesting conundrum.
As far as I know, during the run of Reads Sim had not yet started researching Christianity and was still a staunch atheist. So, it is chilling to find this joke/prophecy in issue #175, at the outset of the very volume in which Sim places his world-view at the mercy of the momentum of the story.
Wait? There Is Some Art To Look At?
While the artwork in Reads is truly something to behold there is not much to remark on, as so much of the book is just text and what comic art there is consistent in approach.
There is too much going on in the text pieces regarding the larger Cerebus story for me to comment on but this one bit is relevant to my ongoing discussions. It is the key to understanding what the glowing orb I keep pointing out really is and gives context to the idea of the white of the page as symbolically tied to the orb. The text pieces also explicitly link this orb to The Female Void, which later instantiates as YoooWhoo, the ultimate antagonist of Cerebus, and as Dave Sim sees it, actual reality.