Monday, June 6, 2011


While the world burns, a few of us remain distracted. Today, I'm closely following a pseudo-furore in The Guardian, where a journalist is cheerfully, if frantically, striking an academic flint against the stone of public outrage in the hopes that the inevitable sparks catch something on fire.

Apparently, an academic has written about The Smurfs, invoking Stalin, racism, colonialism, and anti-Semitism. There is little evidence that the journalist has read the book and less evidence that the outraged masses have read the book, but when has that ever stopped anybody? It certainly won't stop me either!

The author, Antoine Buéno, believes that some of the outrage is merely sentimental:
He believes the emotional nature of the responses stems from the Smurfs' place in fans' childhoods. "It's linked to childhood – it's 'don't touch my Smurfs! Don't touch my Proust's madeleine!'," he said.
"Don't touch my Proust's madeleine!" . . . "Don't touch my Proust's madeleine!"???

Not only does this French academic not trust his audience (which might think he was talking about Hugo's madeleine or perhaps Sartre's madeleine? Or about this Madeline?), but he has now created the world's best euphemism for the prostate gland. "Make sure you smurf my Proust's madeleine when you smurf me" now means something.

Anyway, then we're fumbling over The Serious.
But despite its serious purpose, the book "does not take itself seriously", he said.
Lightness of touch, forays into the comedic, the academic tone that is not always stentorian and authoritative . . . these are too confusing, and the cloth-eared howling of the outraged should be afforded the attention they demand. The whole message seems to be that you don't smurf with the smurfs. Sadly, though, there is little exploration of Antoine Buéno's own little shuffle away from responsibility when he, along with everybody else, argues that Peyo, the creator of the Smurfs (and who probably also played for the Brazilian football team), was not political. Buéno justifies his willingness to perform a political analysis of the smurfs despite Peyo's political innocence by calling upon the "unconscious": "Peyo was not at all politicised; this was all unconscious." But isn't that a definition of "politicised"? That it has been so ingrained and incorporated and embodied that it has submerged itself into the fabric of being and is no longer a conscious, cognitively-organised process? Or is this just another lazy use of "politicised" to imply that bothering to vote is the only political act most people engage in? Bloody smurfs, all of them.

But what I'm really interested in is this:

"When there were elections, he would ask my mother, 'what should I vote?'" said Culliford [Peyo's son], adding that he has not read Buéno's book. "He can interpret the stories how he likes – even if I do not endorse his interpretation, which is situated between the grotesque and the not very serious – as long as he does not attack my father."

His filial loyalty is admirable and as understandable as his reticence to read a book by an academic about his father. But did you notice how he has created a space, a conceptual terrain "between the grotesque and the not very serious". I have never thought about such a space before and yet I suddenly realised . . . it's the homeland I never knew I had. [Snip]

I just removed a line after "it's the homeland I never knew I had." The line drew upon all of the themes evoked by Buéno and yet was grounded in the "grotesque and the not very serious". Why should I censor myself? The answer is easy. You may not want to enter the land between the Gulf of Grotesque and the Peaks of Not Very Serious. I respect that decision. And how would I know if you did want to enter? Why, you'd give me the special handshake, usually known only to the inhabitants of this land: you clutch one another's right hand, and with the left, you palpate the other's Proust's Madeleine. Then you know you both belong.

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