All posts tagged: earlier works

‘American Fiction’ and the ‘Just Literature’ Problem

‘American Fiction’ and the ‘Just Literature’ Problem

“Why are these books here?” asks Thelonious “Monk” Ellison, the writer protagonist of the film American Fiction, as he points to four novels stacked neatly on the shelf of a chain bookstore. The name Ellison sticks out from their spines. Monk wants to know why his Greek-tragedy-inspired novels are housed not in “Mythology” but in the “African American Studies” section. A bookstore employee offers the obvious explanation: “I would imagine that this author, Ellison, is … Black.” He has the decency to stammer the response, but this does little to alleviate Monk’s fury. “That’s me, Ellison. He is me, and he and I are Black,” the writer fumes. “These books have nothing to do with African American studies.” He taps one of his titles with an impatient finger. “They’re just literature.” “He is me, and he and I are Black” is something like a thesis statement for American Fiction. Like the 2001 novel on which it’s based—Erasure, by Percival Everett—the film trades on the gap between this he and I, between how Monk is seen …

The Adult Lessons of Daniel Clowes

The Adult Lessons of Daniel Clowes

Across five decades, the cartoonist Daniel Clowes has written about a wide array of outcasts: the high-school best friends wrestling with their transition into adulthood; the middle-aged grouch searching for the daughter he never knew; the sex-obsessed malcontent fixated on his ex-girlfriend; the many other dropouts, weirdos, and natural-born screwups who feel drawn from real life. Clowes, who began making comic books in the 1980s as part of an artistic underground fermented during the enforced patriotism of the Reagan era, swiftly became associated with the emergent citizens of Generation X—those authenticity-obsessed, society-rejecting cynics who seemingly wanted nothing more in life than to hang out while avoiding responsibility and other human beings. His characters couldn’t hold down jobs. They didn’t have healthy relationships with their parents. They were like every slacker from your high school whom you suspected had the ability to get it together—but, like, whatever, man. But what if those outcasts grew up, shedding their cynical armor and actually getting their life in order? The titular protagonist of Clowes’s new graphic novel, Monica, is …