Monday, November 14, 2011

That intelligence leads to alienation is a tale often told in our culture, in no small part by people congratulating themselves for their lack of interpersonal skills. Certainly, trying to communicate ideas that have been thought through to a greater degree than is expected in a world of memes and accepted narratives is not going to be rewarding the speaker with increased social capital. And to let such thoughts go unshared can lead to increased solipsism as, without communication's linearity, thoughts are allowed to move in circular patterns. The mind can be a pretty lonely place to travel through for any of us.

The thing is, consciousness, and its kin, the self and self-consciousness, are pretty common experiences to anyone with a brain, no matter how much mental firepower one has. Issue 4 of Kevin Huizenga's Ganges breaks through all sorts of accepted narratives, by being a guide through these most lonesome of territories, one's own mind, and it is capable of being a guide for all of us because of just how fucking smart it is, how next-level breakthrough the storytelling is. It's a comic book about not being able to sleep, its protagonist is a bookish everyman, and its cartoons and diagrams move through in a way that feels funny, true, and helpful. It helps in the way any fiction helps, by being human and communicating a shared experience.

The possible high point of the issue might be a sequence about trying to read a boring book to fall asleep. Excerpts of the text appear in captions as Glenn Ganges is shown wrestling with its syntax, attempting to sort it into something sensible. It ends in the spiral of failure, the shape unnavigable thought ends up in, but the sequence reads as a pastiche as effectively as the bit explaining video game plot mechanics found in 2008's Ganges 2, which is a weird bit of equivalency: That something about confronting logic and the brain and heavy thought-exercise reads like the same person describing effortless fun. The joy comes, essentially, from the communication not of an experience, but of the spirit of the creator, the spirit of the seeker's search: The same way that a vigorous conversation can be recalled as an enjoyable bit of camaraderie even as the specifics of what was being discussed fade in memory. Both the restless motion of video games and the sludge of reading philosophy go through the same Kevin Huizenga filter, and in the end it is Huizenga- probably one of the best cartoonists working today- the reader is enjoying the company of.

Of course, the other thing that unites the two sequences is that it's one of the few times where the eight-panel grid is deployed, a bit of rigid pacing that makes things more straightforward, a bit of 4/4 drumbeat in a comic of jazz phrasing capturing the modulations of thought.

Maybe it sounds like I am discussing David Foster Wallace or something, certain intentions of explaining the joy of transcendent boredom in The Pale King, or his continual insistence on attempting to capture a brain's recursive thought processes. Nicholson Baker's The Mezzanine is probably a better comparison point in the world of literature, if for no other reason than how easy to read it is. It's sense of humor, actually, is like certain tracks on the last record by The Books, The Way Out, which in their collage cut-ups of new-age self-meditation records played out like a version of the same that was more aligned with psychedelia, and as such was more helpful as a guide to the mind than its humorless source material would be.

My citation of all these reference points, I think, points to my failure, or maybe it's just the failure of criticism in general, to not create a work that stands on its own. So all I can do is point to the thing itself, Ganges 4, as a great self-contained object. This sort of high-minded, formally playful thing is probably not for everyone, but it works well enough that it seems like it would be for anyone interested in the idea of it; anyone who can relate to the idea of being kept up at night by a restless brain, which I would assume to be pretty much anyone I would ever attempt to communicate with.