Out and about (May 2007)

My brother graduated from Hendrix College last weekend. I’m very proud of him, and blog concerns seemed small in comparison, hence the radio silence here at Quiet Bubble. Nevertheless, before I set off for the subtly ascendant hills and trees of Conway, Arkansas, I read some things online. They interested me; I hope they interest you, too. Here we go.

3 Quarks Daily defends Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, a movie I admired more than liked, and compares Coppola’s work favorably with that of Wes Anderson. In particular, the blog argues that critics dismissed Marie because Coppola operates in a style—mannerism—that they don’t quite understand.

Two of my favorite cartoonists, leftist Peter Kuper and minicomics guru John Porcellino, are interviewed at length. The Kuper conversation is here; the Porcellino talk is here. Porcellino’s a man after my own heart:

Punk rock was the first thing I found in my life that made me feel acceptable. The thing that got me into punk rock was the idea, “You’re fine just the way you are.” It sounds kind of dorky, and the bands wouldn’t have put it like that, but you don’t have to make excuses for who you are or what you do. I was probably kind of a weirdo. I felt isolated, like, “Wow, there must be something terribly wrong with me.” When you find something like punk rock, not only is it okay to feel that way—you should embrace that. Embrace your weirdness. The world is totally messed up, and punk rock was a way to see that and work with it without candy-coating it or sweeping it under the rug. It was saying, “Yeah, the world is this way, but you can still do something about it. Take energy from that.”

Speaking of men after my own heart, the Millions discusses the merits of reading a book series rapidly, instead of reading each book in the series in a trickle, as new books appear… slowly. I’m rampaging through the Harry Potter books now (I’ve read 2000 pages of J.K. Rowling in a month), and know precisely what he’s getting at.

This one’s made the rounds, but Stephen Elliott decided to go offline for a month, and lives to tell the tale.

L’affaire Imus is, I hope, past us now. Alas, I read three takes—from the right, left, and center—that were worth my time.

And, finally, Scott McLemee offers the best appreciation of Kurt Vonnegut’s oeuvre, as opposed to his public persona, that I’ve read:

“I deal with sophomoric questions that full adults regard as settled,” he told an interviewer once.

He had, for example, a large capacity for facing brute contingency as part of human existence. A great deal of life is chance. (The fact that you were born, for example. Think how arbitrary that is.) And much of the rest of life consists of learning to evade that truth—walling it off, away from consciousness, because otherwise the reality of it would be too hard to fathom. Instead, we throw ourselves into fictions of power and belonging: nationalism, militarism, religion, the acquisition of cool stuff. These are ways to contain both the vulnerability before chance and the terrors of loneliness. In Vonnegut’s understanding of the world, loneliness is a fundamental part of human experience that became much, much worse in the United States, somehow, during the second half of the twentieth century—with no particular reason to think it will get better anytime soon.

As contributions to the cultural history of mankind, such thoughts are pretty small beer. On the other hand, just try to escape their implications. To call a point simple is the cheapest and least effective means of gainsaying it.


Vonnegut (who once called himself “a Christ-worshiping agnostic”) drew from the ground truth of existential terror a moral conclusion that it made sense to try to love your neighbor as yourself—or at least to treat other people with radical decency. This sounds simplistic until you actually try doing it.

That is all.

About Walter Biggins

Walter Biggins is a writer based in Atlanta, GA. He is the co-author (with Daniel Couch) of Bob Mould's Workbook (Bloomsbury, 2017). His work has been published in The Quarterly Conversation, RogerEbert.com, Bookslut (RIP), The Comics Journal, The Baseball Chronicle, and other periodicals. Twitter: @walter_biggins.
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