Monday, January 4, 2016

Book Review, An Outsider's Perspective: Angelarium

I am not the best person to review this piece of art because I’m not on ‘the inside’ of this book’s philosophy/spiritual beliefs. So I write this review to other ‘outsiders,’ and hope that you insiders will forgive my unattuned senses…

I don’t know that I’ve ever read a piece of literature that required so much additional study in order to be able to begin comprehending it or to feel even remotely adequate to evaluate it in an online review… let alone a Graphic Novel which is stereotypically focused on sensory pleasure and easy cultural receptivity. Sure, I could have forgone all the extra reading and study through the “Book of Enoch” and introductory Kabbalah literature and Rabbinic exegesis, but had I done so my review would have ultimately consisted of a big “I don’t get it.” And now, having done all the extra study, I can finally say, “Interesting.” Now, of course, every piece of art: poetry, painting, drawing, meditative prose, etc. deserves a certain extent of calm reflection, but I simply could not make the leap from page to sense or influence very easily. I found myself reading paragraphs over and over again, and looking at the art only to utter an exasperated, “What?!” Eventually, over halfway through the book, I started to get a sense of things that were happening and influences the pieces were making—not to say that the piece “made sense” and indeed!: I think the artists would say “You don’t understand “ to anyone who actually said, “I get it.” This purpose of ‘mystery’ and existentialism and insurmountability of the whole piece is at once relieving and frustrating. You aren’t supposed to “get it.” You aren’t supposed to be able to plumb the depths of its meaning and come up with the sunken ship; you’re supposed to be able to dive deep and return with buried treasure over and over again—and all the better if its treasure you throw into the sea as well! But here’s where my outsider perspective finds flaw. My philosophy doesn’t allow me to keep adding meaning where it isn’t there, or removing a piece from its intended purpose and wield it as a beautiful truth. My philosophy cries “illegitimate!” and won’t let me hold onto it because I’m deceiving myself into believing something I know isn’t compatible with my epistemology.

However… what my epistemology does allow for is a subjective thought weaving, so to speak. I can fully accept that seeing things and reading things easily and constantly pushes to my mind other experiences, ideas, and beliefs. And I can reevaluate those experiences, ideas, and beliefs based on the current context whether the one afforded by the art itself or by the art as a means only. In other words, Angelarium offers me the canvas with which to place down my own thoughts regarding love, kingdom, justice, mercy, etc. and to reposition and refine them; to burn away chaff, add dimensions, or even change. And yet… I’m not sure I would purchase this book. Perhaps I would—I’m sure it would offer interesting conversations for friends; and the art is certainly enticing, but as an outsider looking in I think: “well that was interesting, and I’m glad to have exposed myself to something so different” and now I move on to something else. Maybe I’ll return to it down the road, maybe I won’t. And I can’t tell you whether or not you should purchase it either; I suppose it just depends on what you’re looking for.

*An editorial note: there are several instances throughout with repeated words or tense disagreement in additional to a few lesser grammatical errors. I searched for an intended purpose based on the emanation in discussion, etc. but could find no justifiable literary reason for including the errors. I’m willing to chalk this up to my ‘outsideness,’ but I think it deserves investigation.

Thanks to NetGalley for a e-copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
This review is crosslisted on Goodreads, Amazon, and NetGalley.