Saturday, July 24, 2010

Crumb's Genesis, The Pastoral, and Presence

In a reply to Ng Suat Tong in an ongoing discussion of Crumb’s Genesis, I commented on a panel that I think is particularly successful in ways that get at why Crumb’s adaptation as a whole is compelling -- the pastoral tableaux that opens chapter 2:

I wrote: "Alongside of Adam, Eve, and a few birds and rabbits, God rests against a tree after creation, hands on his knees, eyes closed. I can’t quite explain why, but the decision to show God resting this way is a moving and unexpected choice; God seems strangely human and naturalized, just after his world-creating supernatural powers have been demonstrated. There is a little idealizing at work in this pastoralism of this panel, but it is of a very earth-bound, domestic kind."

Many paintings of Eden in the tradition that Suat refers to focus on Adam and Eve, and those that include God never show him (as far as a I know--which isn’t that far) resting as human characters often do in religious and secular pastoral images.

[Shepherd and Shepherdess: Abraham Bloemaert, 1627]

In the Edenic scene, God is usually positioned above the earth-bound Adam and Eve, floating on a cloud (a cliché Crumb avoids) as he condemns his creations:

[The Expulsion from Paradise: Charles Joseph Natoire, 1740]

In Crumb's very different imagining of the exile, God, feet firmly planted on the ground, stands behind Adam and Eve, without any regal or magical apparatus (clouds, crowns, angels, heavenly effects) to separate him from them:

I like the fact that this resembles a father kicking his misbehaving kids out of the yard.

Even when a heavenly figure is depicted standing (as in Aureliano Milani’s Expulsion of Adam and Eve below), obvious visual cues (halo and color choice) signal that it is outside of the physical reality Adam and Eve inhabit:

As seen above, many representations show Adam and Eve with the fig leaf or positioned to hide their genitals, which Crumb repeatedly exposes, as part of his “literalism” and commitment to the physicality and “presence,” both of God and humans.


Noah Berlatsky said...

I really don't like that panel of Crumb's with him kicking them out of Genesis. It's interesting to try to figure out why though. I think in part it's because it doesn't seem realistic to me; it seems cartoony. The other artists here are trying to capture the emotion of the moment. Crumb's figures don't look anguished; they look vaguely dyspeptic. Their discomfort is mainly shown through little sweat drops; a cartoon trope that seems inadequate for the occasion (especially when placed next to these other artists.)

I could see a full bore cartoony Genesis as possibly being entertaining or satiricial or even in its way sublime. But this just seems like a painful halfway point; not reaching to actually represent the full gravity of the moment, but not willing to explore the nuttier more kinetic resources of cartooning either.

And the image of God at rest with the animals just seems kitschy to me, alas.

Yeah, the more I think about it...Crumb's Genesis in these panels doesn't look like reality; it looks like the Sunday funnies. There's a mundanity there, but it's the mundanity of mediocre commercial art, not of reality.

Noah Berlatsky said...

The "him" kicking them out of Genesis is God, of course, not Crumb! (Diagetically, at least.)

Ken Parille said...

It helps to read all of these things in context -- Crumb operates in a lot of visual and emotional registers in the book. Though I selected one panel to use as part of a specific argument, I am making a claim that I think is true about much of the book. Noah, if you read the book, some of the things that don't work for you when isolated, may work in context.

Noah Berlatsky said...

All right, fine. I just ordered it. I hope you're happy!