I Get the Picture: Rachel Cooke is Living Under a Rock

I used to think that Rachel Cooke’s columns were authored by some sheltered journalist who never left her house and who simply wasn’t paying much attention to rudimentary trends developing in the publishing industry. Here, after all, was an idiot, who was actually collecting a regular paycheck for her foolish generalizations, castigating the litblogosphere based on one day of indolent Web surfing. Maybe she simply didn’t have the smarts to engage with the world around her. Maybe she preferred to furtively pick her nose and watch bad movies instead of doing a bit of thinking or even hard investigation of a genre.

But now, Ms. Cooke declares she’s seen the light! She’s one of us now! These things called graphic novels actually have literary merit! Never mind that Art Spiegelman won a Pulitzer in 1992 — a good fifteen years ago — and Maus‘s two volumes were nominated for the National Book Critics Circle. Ms. Cooke dutifully read Art Spiegelman and she could clearly see “how brilliant it was, of course.” But being cast of an utterly lazy and incurious mental disposition, Ms. Cooke, perhaps incapable of tracking down Will Eisner or Alan Moore or any of the countless graphic novelists working around the time, privately declared in 1986 that the landscape to be devoid of any additional talent. The “strips” that Ms. Cooke identified — as opposed to comic books or graphic novels, which every other neophyte was jumping up and down over; presumably, Ms. Cooke was confused and didn’t have a clue as to where to look — were giving her a headache.

But now no more! For comics are now mainstream! And this means that Ms. Cooke can rethink her prejudices against this retrograde medium because, well, these books are now too omnipresent to discount.

I’m very glad that Ms. Cooke has written this column. It is now entirely clear that she lives underneath a rock.

(Thanks to Andrew for the link.)


  1. And it is entirely clear that you have a current of rage and envy inside you that is damn freaky Ed. It’s really hard to read all these self-pitying posts about how you were tested as a genius but neglected and then to read stuff like this and not see something along the lines of revenge of the shunned. Last time I check this site.

  2. Hey, I’m a fan!

    I think Ed is smart enough to know that one’s writings, particularly by someone who is so willing to write as freely as Ed, are more than enough to develop an understanding of their psychology. In fact, with many personalities, writing reveals a far more accurate psychological profile than an in-person interview or even real-life observation, since people are much less able or likely to mask in their writing. (Some personalities find it impossible to mask even in face-to-face contact, but 95% of people are very well conditioned in doing so, so that communication is not quite as “honest” in the emotionally or psychologically revealing sense.)

    I’ll admit that my thoughts on Ed are theories, but there’s some pretty solid evidence. I don’t think Ed has a significant genuine rage because there’s a performance aspect to when he does this. He tends to reach for similar verbal and rhetorical clubs when he’s trying to take someone down, but that tends to indicate a level of control as opposed to rage, which is usually uncontrolled.

    Envy, sure, we all have that,and I’d be curious to see the gender breakdown of who Ed finds wanting but my gut impression from being a pretty regular reader is that it’s pretty even. Ed works far more from a stance of there being a group of the enlightened vs. those who are unenlightened. He sets himself as sort of the arbiter of the enlightened and takes what I believe to be genuine offense when he encounters something that betrays a lack of enlightenment.

    There is a fundamental lack of empathy in how he responds to these things when they come out of the mouths (or pens) of the unenlightened. A different reaction to Ms. Cooke’s column would be a cheering that attitudes are changing and shifting, that a larger percentage of people are now seeing the light. However, rather than, “welcome,” Ed’s reaction is reflexively, in just about every case, “what took you so long?” This is because, (as Ed has made clear) he takes these things personally, so the unenlightened has engaged in a personal f-you, which deserves a strong response.

    This is not to say that Ed is a bad person. The flipside of the same attitude is that he’s likely deeply caring and loyal to those he holds close, the kind of person who is willing to sacrifice himself for a friend. Unlike most of us, he also probably doesn’t feel envy when a friend has success, even the kind of success he wishes for, because he views their success as a positive indicator of his own good sense. It is a form of narcissism, but a good form. (Narcissism isn’t a de facto bad thing, but simply a personality descriptor in the same way, “shy” would be. In fact narcissism to some degree is almost a pre-requisite for personal success and emotional well-being.)

    This also is likely why he’s able to maintain an admirable and unshakable sense of ethics when it comes to his own writing mission. Those things really really matter to Ed. They aren’t abstractions, but instead at the very core of how he governs his responses. It’s why he’s able to muster such righteous (in his view) anger at thse seemingly small things. Ed is willing to sacrifice the chance at material advance or comfort for his ideals, which is no small thing. He’s the Ron Paul of book commentators and reviewers, someone who is actually willing to live according to his primciples.

    It would literally be impossible for Ed to knuckle under to a Sam Tannenhous, and for those of us who like to read books and about books, we’re better for it.

    I think I’ve read you correctly, Ed. I don’t “know” your psychology, but it’s not a bad guess.

  3. Graphic novels are so 2000. Maybe they get there’s some sort of media delay in England. It is all the way across the Atlantic after all.

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