A cry from hell.

Somewhere between life and academia lies a sinkhole comparable to what is, in Internet parlance, produced when you divide by zero. That is where I have been. Qualifying exams are looming; conferences are impending; creative pieces are demanding to be sent out; and I am simultaneously on the hunt for a teaching position to get me through my dissertation year. Despite the chaos, there have been some bright spots. My paper analyzing the logic underpinning misogynistic practices on 4chan’s Random – /b/ board was recently published in Fibreculture. That Joker chapter is going to press. And I have creative work forthcoming this spring in Consequence literary journal, and, with a slightly longer wait, in DIAGRAM. I’ll be teaching two classes this summer and am thrilled at the prospect of being back in the classroom. It’s been three long years and I miss FYW more than I can say. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a Composition & Rhetoric position for at least 2014-15 AY.

Speaking of writing, reading for quals has made me aware of my own reading and writing practices: namely, that I consume less frequently in order to produce more frequently and prolifically, internalize more, and better integrate it into the cognitive networks that preexisted it (creative first; academic second). Doctoral coursework has forced me to abandon that model, for better or for worse, which means I’ve gotten better at consuming more, producing less, and anticipating a prodigious writing spell down the road. I’ve never been too patient when it comes to wanting to write, so I really can’t wait for the exam to be over and done with. Here’s hoping that May brings Ph.D. candidacy at last.

And because the graphic novel Crossed is all I’ve kept up with, I’ll briefly end with that. The only material I’ve been consistently consuming, apart from scholarship, is Si Spurrier’s Crossed webcomic, Wish You Were Here (very, very much NSWF). As my research interests intersect with visual depictions of war and other traumatic experiences, Crossed–a graphic novel series in which a highly communicable disease erases inhibitions and releases the darker desires we pretend to have civilized away–has been piquing my curiosity. It helps that most of the installments are excellently written and depicted (in my opinion, Garth Ennis’ original run; one or two issues in Crossed: Badlands; and Wish You Were Here).

While the basic plot itself has been done to death in other media, what seems to consistently come to the fore in these stories is not heroism or survival, but cowardice, not only in the process of attempting to survive but also in the very act of classifying the disease. As readers, we are informed that the infected, the titular Crossed, lose all self-control and civilized identity, uniformly taking pleasure in gruesome killing and being killed, rape and being raped, cannibalism and autophagy, and, time permitting, the infliction of psychological terror. The list of depraved acts continues. Knowing this, we are to varying degrees invited to dismiss these characters the moment they are infected, ostensibly as though we are surviving the situation alongside the uninfected but perhaps more importantly because it is a relief to perpetuate the binary: they aren’t us. Even in the Badlands issues that attempt to complicate this dichotomy (good/evil, civilized/sociopath) by giving us protagonists who are already psychotic across the board, few if any of these characters invite lasting sympathy. It’s easy to write them off from the beginning. Thus, our mindset does not have to change. The binary remains.

What Spurrier does is give us an ensemble cast of highly sympathetic and deeply flawed characters, primary protagonist Shaky not least among them. I could do a whole analysis based on his nickname (from “Shakespeare”) alone, but I’ll leave that for now. What I want to note is that Shaky is a coward who is constantly analyzing and critiquing his cowardice, and his awareness of it seems triggered by a Crossed who, like a civilized human, is able to exercise self-restraint to the point of inducing it in those who follow her. She succumbs when she wants to. She remembers. She learns. She isn’t a dehumanized “plussie.” She still bears the imprint of being human. The binary is at least being questioned.

Obviously I’m not siding with the cannibals, rapists, torturers. But it’s a tonal change I find extremely interesting, especially in a story that is narrated by a diarist and can’t help but double as a reflection on the mediation of trauma itself. More when the webcomic concludes. Here’s hoping that there’s a paper in all this somewhere, well after quals has come and gone.

Wish me good luck and godspeed, and see you on the other side of May.

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