Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Tower of Babel

Dennis Madden
The Tower of Babel

Jimmy Corrigan nears existential immersion. The narrative represents a satire of crude humor, but the truth between the lines is the real needle in the haystack. However convoluted the story appears to be, one thing is for certain: Jimmy Corrigan wants you to work until exhaustion. For those who have the motive, Ware’s novel is a gadget with whirring cogs that seem to turn the opposite direction every spin. The paper craft carousel stands as a piece of literature in its own right; take heed however, to “Memorialize all instructions before waking up the other side” (Ware 24). Entering into the narrative as a creator, I became a master of fate myself. In a way uncharacteristic of conventional literature, the carousel becomes the work of a prideful artisan rather than a piece of entertainment. Faith is built and broken, with Ware’s agenda ever-pulsing in the background. The multifaceted human cognition learns not only by reading and writing, but by creating, and in this way Jimmy Corrigan is literally a three dimensional experience. ‘Building’ a memory has never seemed so palpable.

I solemnly do believe that it was Ware’s intention that every reader consider completing the carousel. While this is not explicitly stated, I found that the implementation early on in the narrative expanded my perspective in tiers. Initially, one might observe the witty instructions and complex miniature paper craft and dismiss it as ludicrous, but at second look, a re-reading promises “It begs only a small amount of effort to construct, and the attentive student will be rewarded with a convincing model of life in which he or she may find some poetic sympathy” (Ware 24). At that, the type A’s among us are off at the races. It is rather clear that Ware has composed Jimmy Corrigan for the devoted experientialist, but it is not until this point that our mettle is so overtly and explicitly challenged.

Often literature rouses the mind, but very seldom does it task the craft of your hands. The complex and perfectly executed blueprints are cut, one by one, with the meticulous titanium bonded steel of a #11 scalpel… slicing into Jimmy Corrigan’s viscera. While rending and reaping by the word of sacred blue text and trusting that each step will tell you the way to go, the distal cortical circuits in your fingers optimize their precision as the construct grows ever more impressive. Suspense builds as each piece of the ornate omicron fits together perfectly, and you are astonished that it was possible for the millimeter small triangles to align to their bases without error. Just when you are about to crown your achievement with the ‘four sided support rod’, the ‘sacred blue’ raises the following to your interest: “About 1/8” [of the solid support rod] should protrude from the top [of the cone]. If not, remove, make an appropriately sized replacement out of scrap paper, and write an angry letter to the father” (Ware 24). Aside from all characteristic precision thus far, the inevitable occurs: the 4 sided support rod is quite blatantly too short. After approximately 2 hours of construction and analysis, the fruits of labor ready to be picked, your father lets you down. It was his fault. HE made the support rod too short… All our work shot to the floor at the hand of a centimeter section of paper...

Why dad? “I don’t even know dad, don’t know, don’t know, don’t know, don’t know if he hates me—don’t want me? Am I done now? Don’t know!”(Ware 24). Why would such a crucial oversight be obviously attributed to the father? In the doldrums of confusion, I came to find out why. I realized that the whole purpose of this construction was not for me to laud some grand achievement to present to my professor… No, this construction was placed here, baiting the brave and ambitious, for me to FIND OUT what it feels like to fail, despair, and fall from grace. To lose my achievement at the hand of my dad who was never even there in the first place… Even though I’ve been blessed with a loving father, Chris Ware showed me today what it feels like to be Jimmy Corrigan.

ps: never give up hope


Ware, C. (2000). Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth. Pantheon Books.


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Adam said...

The introduction is clever but wordy. What does the Carousel mean, incidentally? I take it as a figure for repetition (how Corrigan men live out the same life, more or less, each one a little worse than the one before), but maybe I'm missing something.

So does the model work because Ware is such a type A freak himself, or because it's necessary for it to be *credible*, or something else?

This is an interesting and distinctive piece - using somewhat convoluted language (in honor of Ware himself?) and giving a good analysis of a profoundly weird section of the text. What I don't admire as much as I could is the combination of the wordiness and the rather abrupt ending. In an ideal world - certainly in a revision - I'd like to not stop at the *fact* (and I do see it as a fact) that Ware is giving you a visceral experience of failure, but to do more to explain how that helps us to read the book as a whole.

Let me add one thing. *Because* you were hardworking, enthusiastic and proactive you ended up being more frustrated - and more betrayed by your "father" - than the rest of us. I bet you could push that farther than you did.