Loads of Learned Lumber

Thursday, December 24, 2015

R. Crumb, illus., _The Book of Genesis_

WHICH IS MORE surprising, that the NYRB reviewed this or that they gave it to Harold Bloom?

Crumb does have some high cultural clout these days, subject of a well-reviewed documentary, frequent contributor to the New Yorker, and Bloom did give us The Book of J. But I remember seeing the review and thinking we had crossed into some whole new terrain.

Not that Bloom figured out what to say about this. As I recall, he noted that Crumb's admission of inability to draw beautiful women was all too true, then spent most of the review talking about Mann's Joseph and His Brothers. Given how seldom any occasion to talk about Joseph and His Brothers occurs, we can hardly blame Bloom for taking even this remote one, I suppose.

Still, I wish they had given it to...I don't know, Jonathan Lethem? Luc Sante? Anyone who had once held a Zap comic before dilated pupils?

The crucial point for this reader arises from the acknowledgement Crumb gives to Pete Popalski for "hundreds of photos from Hollywood Biblical epics."  Crumb hasn't bothered to get archaeological on us, thank heavens, but instead gives us a Biblical world that looks like that of The Ten Commandments or The Robe or the comics versions of Bible stories one sometimes got in Sunday School in the 1950s and 1960s (not that any comics artist of that era would go in for the insanely detailed texture effects Crumb loves so much, not if he wanted to meet a deadline).

The superficial resemblance of Crumb's Book of Genesis to such workmanlike, anodyne, sanitized versions brings out the full subversive power of his decision to cover all of Genesis in all its grotesque ancient glory--Lot and his daughters, Onan spilling his seed,  the massacre at Shechem, Abraham pretending Sarah is his sister, the whole bizarre Bronze Age gallery. Genesis needs an illustrator capable of looking unblinkingly and without embarrassment at human kind in all its grossness, and in Crumb it has found one.

No comments: