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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Monday, January 30, 2012

BACK TO BATAILLE PT. 2

In Part 1 I extrapolated from George Bataille's formula, in which he described two types of economic consumption, a pair of opposed desires that appear with particular clarity in literary endeavor: "the desire to conserve and the desire to expend."  Bataille expressly considers that the reality-oriented aspect of consumption, "production and acquisition," to be of "secondary character" in relation to expenditure, the desire to pointlessly but satisfyingly expend one's energies. I agree with Bataille that what I call "the desire to expend" is at the heart of art, though I'll reserve my opinion regarding all the other "sumptuary" activities he describes in "The Notion of Expenditure." 

In contrast, many critics, and possibly most if not all teachers in the U.S. secondary education racket, often harp on art as being superior when it serves some utilititarian purpose.  Said purpose may be a very specific call-to-arms against social injustice, as with Upton Sinclair's THE JUNGLE.  In some cases the "purpose" can be extended into a looser program of socialization, as I noted in this essay on the work of Bruno Bettleheim vis-a-vis the alleged purposefulness of fairy tales.  Where secondary educators are concerned, the "usefulness" criterion is perhaps inevitable.  How else can teachers sell kids on the social datum that MACBETH will possess some long-term value for their lives that simply can't compare with TWILIGHT?

Another way of expressing the antinomy between the "desire to conserve and the desire to expend" might be seen in my opposition of two themes-- or more properly, supra-themes-- that govern art as a whole: "realism" and "escapism," which I introduced back in THEMATIC REALISM PART I

Of "thematic escapism" I wrote:

Coleridge's example of the Arabian Nights tale is, like the JUSTICE LEAGUE story I critiqued, not especially concerned with morals as such-- or at least, not to the extent that the ANCIENT MARINER is. Both tales are, in a formal sense, "escapist," though I note that I use the word non-pejoratively. Neither Gardner Fox nor the Arabian Nights scribe existed in a time before fiction had been used for didactic moral purposes, of course, but both stories can be fairly regarded as "vacations from morals." It is not that the protagonists of the tales do not perform actions that the reader considers "good" rather than "bad,"but that there is not a true moral dialectic as such.


Then of "thematic realism:"
By contrast, a tale like Coleridge's MARINER, or (to give a superheroic parallel to the JLA tale) WATCHMEN, are clearly tales that are much concerned with analyzing the ways mortal men deal with the moral elements in life, no matter how fantastic their situations... there is in comics-fandom a considerable prejudice toward a belief opposite to the one Coleridge expresses: that a narrative is *always* superior because it addresses specific dialectical moral issues


Morality, it should be obvious, serves as a conservative force.  Even if one lives in a community that encourages the young to steal from each other and eat their dead, that species of morality is promulgated with a perceived utilitarian end of promoting societal advantage in some way.  In contrast, a "vacation from morals" serves no purpose except that of pure recreation, of expending one's energies, no matter how actively or passively one may choose to do so.

The most prominent problem with emphasizing only the moral orientation of art is that it too usually winds up serving the ends of a particular group rather than of humanity as a whole.  In DEFININING PSEUDOFEMINISM PART 1 I demonstrates how two individuals, Dave Sim and Evie Nagy, evinced utterly polarized opinions on the value of a particular type of female-oriented fantasy, and yet backed up their respective opinions by caviling against images they found non-responsive to "reality" as each perceived it.

Any number of other examples are possible.  One might consider that William Faulkner, to the extent that he described the degradation of black people in the United States, attempted to show the reality behind racial myths.  Yet a racist writer like Thomas Dixon (author of the book adapted as BIRTH OF A NATION) surely thought that he too was representing reality in expressing his horror at mixed-race unisons.  Even many of the aforementioned Shakespeare's works-- MERCHANT OF VERNICE, MEASURE FOR MEASURE, and MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (just to stick with the "m's")-- are muddy in terms of their morality.

Perhaps the reason that even the Bard's morals can be suspect lies in the fact that art is never purely about moral compass; that it always incorporates aspects of escapism alongside the grimmest realism, a sense of play even in the dullest workaday art-worlds.  In THE BURNING FOUNTAIN Philip Wheelwright advances this fascinating analysis:

In expressive language... statements vary in respect to the manner and degree to which they are susceptible to affirmation and denial, ranging all the way from heavy assertorial tone, which characterizes the literal statement, the proposition, to light assertorial tone, which consists in an association or semi-affirmed tension between two or more images or other expressive units. 
I'm impressed enough by Wheelwright's discernment of these differing tones that I'm tempted to quasi-steal his insight: to say that my "works of thematic realism" are characterized by a greater degree of *assertorial gravity* than the opposing kind, while "works of thematic escapism" are characterized by a greater degree of *assertorial levity.*  Thus, one might say that while Shakespeare approached the sin of killing kings in MACBETH with a great deal of "assertorial gravity," he has less gravity (or knew that his customers would have less) regarding the right of Jews like Shylock to keep their religious persuasions.

But in standard moralistic criticism, there can be no separate principle of "assertorial levity," and so such a critic can only accuse Shakespeare, writer of the "Hath not a Jew" speech, of either being an anti-Semite or playing to anti-Semitism-- a dubious and over-ideological reading at best.

Returning to Bataille: if we start out from the presumption that Bataillean "expenditure"/recreation is the basis of the arts-- perhaps given some finessing via Cassirerean "expressivity" and Wheelwright's thoughts on different aspects of language-- then the tendency of human beings to desire "vacations from morals" can be better understood as the primary phenomenon that gives rise to art, with the use of art for rhetorical purposes coming in a close second, at least in a historical sense.



Friday, January 27, 2012

BACK TO BATAILLE PART 1


“Human activity is not entirely reducible to processes of production and conservation, and consumption must be divided into two distinct parts.  The first reducible part is represented by the use of the minimum necessary for the conservation of life and the continuation of the individuals’ productive activity in a given society; it is therefore a question simply of the fundamental condition of productive activity.  The second part is represented by so-called unproductive expenditures: luxury, mourning, war, cults, the construction of sumptuary monuments, games, spectacles, arts, perverse sexual activity (i.e. deflected from genital finality) - all these represent activities which, at least in primitive circumstances, have no end beyond themselves.  Now it is necessary to reserve the use of the word expenditure for the designation of these unproductive forms, and not for the designation of all the modes of consumption that serve as a means to the end of production.”—Bataille, “The Notion of Expenditure.”

I’ve recently finished a short biography of Georges Bataille by Stuart Kendall. Like most biographies, it’s most interesting in its first half, when it’s explicating how the subject of the bio came to articulate his particular set of beliefs, passions or skills, and then the second half falls off a little, descending into assorted details that pave the way to the grave, so to speak. Kendall’s most interesting observation is as follows:


Bataille’s sngle most significant essay, ‘The Notion of Expediture,’ inverts the classical—and hence, also the Marxist—economy model by insisting that consumption rather than production determines the nature and goals of culture.

I've recently completed a response for Sequart to the Bataillean concepts on a separate theme, so I'll quote myself from that forthcoming essay:


As seen in the opening quote, “expenditure” is Bataille’s term for one of two aspects of the cultural process of consuming things; elsewhere Bataille plainly distinguishes this aspect from anything related to “production and conservation.” Marx defined all aspects of culture through the consideration of who controlled the means of production, and proposed socialism as a solution to the problem of alienated labor. But if Bataille is right, then a more fundamental and inescapable alienation exists between the two aspects of consumption: the desire to conserve and the desire to expend.

And again:

Whether the creator is an archaic Icelandic skald or a modern purveyor of artcomics, he earns his daily bread by offering cultural experiences that “have no end beyond themselves.” A cash nexus supports the exchange between artist and audience, but as Bataille suggests, this “process of acquisition” has simply layered over a more fundamental form of exchange. No artist exists without influence from his real or potential audience, even as that audience changes in response to the more provocative attempts to find the audience’s favor. This egalitarian reading stands in stark contrast to the elitist vision of an avant-gardist like Clement Greenberg, propounding the romantic notion of unalloyed geniuses leading pliable audiences into the promised land of enlightenment.

In essays like this one I’ve made no bones about my antipathy for Marxist ideology, but I confess that I haven’t explored on this blog Bataille’s formulations as an alternative to Marx’s focus on the infamous “means of production.”

Elswhere in the biography Kendall applies the Bataillean ideal of consumption to the concept of identity as mediated through fictional constructs:

Consumption is, in short, a means by which individuals negotiate their identities through expenditure.


I don't recall that Bataille makes use of the contemporary-sounding term "negotiation," but I agree with Kendall's interpretation and extend it a little further into terrain that Bataille, given his anti-idealist influences (Freud, Marx, Sade), would never have contemplated.

Bataille would probably have deemed both Joseph Campbell and his chief influence Carl Jung as overly oriented upon idealism, which Bataille despised due to both his personal history and his reading of Marx. But Jung and Campbell were far from being the foursquare defenders of Platonic Idealism that detractors claim. Both were invested in dynamic psychological processes akin to what Kendall calls “negotiation.” The principal difference between Bataille and Campbell is that Bataille focuses on images of destruction for his concept of expenditure, emphasizing customs like animal/human sacrifice and the Amerindian potlatch.  In contrast Campbell focuses on images of construction: on negotiating the identity of the world through piecing together its separable aspects: the cosmological, the metaphysical, the sociological and the psychological.  Such images of construction are also a means by which both a storyteller seeks to negotiate identity for his audiences by situating them in a world governed not by reason and logic-- which I relate to the "desire to conserve," a.k.a. Freud's "reality principle" and Jung's "directed thinking."  Instead, the worlds where mythic law pertains-- where the world is made out of the blood and bones of Ymir, or a hero who returns to his native realm ends up marrying his mother (or a semi-reasonable facsimile)-- are worlds of "unproductive expenditures."

Bataille's division of consumption into its useful and useless forms also suggests some interesting parallels with the work of Susanne Langer, which I plan to explore in Part 2.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

JIM SHOOTER TAKES ON WONDER WOMAN

Jim Shooter recently made some lengthy comments on the "New 52" version of WONDER WOMAN here:

http://www.jimshooter.com/2012/01/wonder-woman-4-review.html

Here's a telling excerpt:


OPEN MESSAGE TO AZZARELLO AND DC COMICS:


EVERY ISSUE SHOULD BE AN ENTRY POINT!

This one isn’t.

Azzarello, don’t you understand that you’re excluding people? Lots of people?

I know that your editors and their bosses don’t understand that or give a damn. They’re lazy and/or stupid. But you seem like a clever fellow, bright enough. Don’t you want to reach more people? Don’t you want to entertain more people? Don’t you want more of an audience than however many read your previous issues (assuming that those issues explain what the Hell is going on) plus the few remaining steeped-in-comics-lore people who might be able to pick it up on the fly?


Or are you really screwing over the periodicals buyers and writing for the trade paperback buyers. Hey, it worked for Moore on Watchmen. He gave barely a nod to the initial, serialized presentation, and it didn’t sell all that well. But it has done wonderfully well as a collection in various trade formats. Is that what you’re going for?

Really?



The only point that interests me here is his concept of "entry points..."

As a reader I'm turned off by tons of exposition, but I'm also turned off by lazy storytelling in which the writer is deliberately obscure and/or offers the excuse that it'll all make sense somewhere down the line.


For me Shooter's idea of "entry point" suggests not the attempt to explain everything so that any new reader can get it, but giving the reader some core appeal to the story, something that makes him want to know more as to what's gone before.

When I was about 12, I picked up FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL #5 off the stands. I barely knew who the main heroes were, having seen them in a few reprints, much less the complicated histories of the guest-stars Black Panther and Inhumans. But I loved getting into the story because it offered me a lot of "entry points," meaning things with which I could identify strongly (the villain's power to mess with heroes' minds, for example).


I didn't pick up the first issues of Priest's BLACK PANTHER, but I happened to be thumbing through an early issue-- seven or eight-- and read some of the dialogue he wrote for Queen Divine Justice. That dialogue was an "entry point" for me, pulling me into the story.

I saw absolutely nothing in the Azzarello WONDER WOMAN that worked on that level of appeal.

Friday, January 20, 2012

DEFINING PSUEDOFEMINISM PART II

"It really does take a hollowed-out ventriloquist puppet husband to keep a straight face while agreeing that Drew Barrymore, by purchasing through her production company the film rights to Charlie’s Angels and building a brainless, action film franchise out of that “property,” really, really has built upon the feminist foundations of…whom? Farrah Fawcett-Majors? If I remember correctly, Farrah Fawcett-Majors in her day was considered to be the problem by Marxist-feminists. Has the stone rejected by the feminist builders become the head of the corner?

"Huh? Oh. Whatever." -- Dave Sim, CEREBUS 293.


"Betcha can't eat just one."-- Lays Potato Chip slogan.


To someone who loves to argue as much as I do, nearly any Dave Sim essay is not unlike a bag of potato chips.  I quoted one example of Sim's anti-feminism philosophy in order to clarify the very different nature of my own quarrel with certain manifestations of feminism, regarded here as "pseudofeminism."  And yet, having given the entire essay a cursory read, I found that the above quotation touches on some other aspects of pseudofeminism, which I now consider covalent with the "Wapsterism" described in this essay-- that is, the philosophy of feminism inspired by/descended from the 1970s group Women Against Pornography.

Now, as wrong as I think Dave Sim is about many things, I believe that he's fundamentally correct that most feminists in the 1970s looked down their noses at the CHARLIE'S ANGELS teleseries.  This site alleges:


While viewers couldn't get enough of the three beautiful women, critics and feminists chewed it to pieces.  Goldberg's idea to "inject some really stunning beauty into the genre" of crime shows was not appreciated by raging feminists.  They accused CHARLIE'S ANGELS of setting women back one hundred years and were appalled by all the titillation and suggestiveness of Charlie's double entendres.  One angry feminist saw the show as "a version of the pimp and his girls.  Charlie dispatches his streetwise Angels to use their sexual wiles on the world while he reaps the profits!" 

Surprisingly, I've seen this sort of oppositional complaint-- often founded in Marxist precepts, though possibly not in the manner Sim perceives-- applied to the action-heroine genre overall.  I recall one academic essay-- its specifics lost in the mazes of my memory-- that went so far as to invert the meaning of action-heroines.  This deconstruction went something like, "Yes, the heroine-film shows butt-kicking heroines defending themselves against rape, but the *real meaning* is that if a woman DOESN'T possess super-martial skills, then she's fair game for rapists!"  If I can ever track down the comment I'd like to ask the writer if he or she had just come off a heavy reading of Roland Barthes prior to conceiving that masterpiece of dumbassed interpretation.

For sake of argument, I'll accept the assertion made by the Charlie's Angels site: that the main problem 1970s feminists had with the show was its depiction and alleged "fetishization" of female glamour, and not with the characters' propensity to unrealistically kick butt-- which I believe to be Dave Sim's main quarrel with all versions of the franchise.

What's interesting, though, is that though Sim and the 1970s feminists are philosophically opposed, they both scorn CHARLIE'S ANGELS because of its failure to conform to some aspect of reality: Sim because "real women" don't have the power or capacity to beat men, and the feminists because "real women" don't spend every hour of the day trying to fetishize themselves for the enjoyment of men.

Now, it should be obvious that Sim's biggest error in the quote above is to assume that feminism must be monolithic throughout the thirtysomething years that separate the ANGELS television show and the big-screen movie version thereof.  Even though he himself doesn't validate feminism's objections to sexual fetishization, he views it as a major contradiction that modern feminists should cheer what earlier feminists did not cheer.

Yet as I noted in WAPSTERS VS. FACTSTERS, feminism was not even monolithic in its earlier manifestations, since the repressive philosophy of the WAP group and its fellow travelers brought forth the rather more liberal FACT and its offspring.  I've not made a concerted study of the subject, but it seems to me that over the years a fair number of women-- whether hardline feminists or feminist-sympathizers-- have expressed an affection for the very thing Sim dislikes in the 1970s teleseries: a sense of female empowerment that to some extent trumps issues of sexual fetishization.

Admittedly, I'm not sure if the 2000s re-invention of the franchise at the hands of Barrymore and her crew struck quite as deep a chord.  But the first film was at least profitable, even though the sequel and a very recent new teleseries both flopped. I don't see any contradiction in some liberal feminists appreciating Barrymore getting the chance to make a profitable score in the male-dominated world of Hollywood.  Since it's a given that "brainless action films" are going to be made for an audience that wants them, why, they might think, shouldn't a female producer have the chance to attempt one, and to profit thereby if it does well?


And with that, I will try to go back to ignoring that tempting potato-chip bag, and concentrate on something new.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

DEFINING "PSEUDOFEMINISM"

For a man to win an LPGA tournament would be humiliating for the man. It would be like entering a children’s T-ball tournament and really tearing up the base-paths and smacking some major home runs. There isn’t enough money in the world to overcome the resulting humiliation of knowingly competing against…(pay attention, “ladies”)…

…inherently, self-evidently, inferior beings. -- Dave Sim, CEREBUS 293.

(Full essay here at CerebusFanGirl Site.)
 
 I'm not the first to toss out the term "psuedofeminism," but I do have a specific meaning for it which requires elaboration.
 
In my last essay I assailed a review by Evie Nagy, a writer for the Los Angeles Review of Books with said term.  What did Nagy say to invite this description?  It doesn't necessarily apply to everything she said, right or wrong.  The essence of my complaint with Nagy boils down to this paragraph:
The strongest superheroes, male or female, are those whose confidence, abilities, and sex appeal reveal themselves not through artificial projections of fantasy but through ideals that inspire creators, and therefore readers, to be better people.


A short review of a book-- in this case, a collection of Tarpe Mills' MISS FURY comic strip-- is not the best stage on which to discuss the issues Nagy raises, and she was IMO unwise to advance said issues just to flog a recommended book.  Certainly her assumption that quasi-realistic heroes, "male or female," are better vehicles for inspiring ideals does not stand up to close scrutiny.  In my youth as a male I can testify to having been inspired by ideals promulgated by any heroes I liked, regardless of whether they did or did not have super-powers.  I'm not able to testify personally as to whether female fans think essentially the same way, but when I read a female-authored fan-resource like Trina Robbins' GREAT WOMEN SUPERHEROES, I don't get any sense that Robbins is less inspired by Wonder Woman than by Sheena.  Clearly Nagy should have qualified her statement as her own personal taste, and nothing more.
 
Far more serious than her characterization of the process of inspiration, however, is her dismissal of "artificial projections of fantasy."  Nagy gives no reason for her dismissal, but I find it amusing that anyone professing feminism would argue that unadorned reality is the superior to the "projections of fantasy." 
 
Just ask Dave Sim.  As seen in the quote above, and elsewhere in the essay, he rails against the delusions of female athletes attempting to claim parity with male ones, as happened in 2003 when female golder Annika Sorenstam was invited to play in a Men's Open event.  In Sim's view, the idea of women successfully competing with men is no more than a fantasy: he calls this fantasy "the Charlie's Angels Syndrome" and explicitly compares it to the "implausibility of fairy tales."
 
Now, Sim's notion of "reality" means no more to me than Nagy's.  But Sim is basing his screed of female inferiority largely on one aspect of empirical reality-- that women are less strong than men-- just as did the very different philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, discussed here.  Schopenhauer sounds much like Sim when he says of women:
They are dependent, not upon strength, but upon craft; and hence their instinctive capacity for cunning, and their ineradicable tendency to say what is not true.
  
Given that so many anti-feminists have argued against female parity by extrapolating their arguments from empirical reality, it stuns me that any feminist would try the same gambit, or speak as if attentiveness to the ways of "the real world" were the essence of heroic nature, as Evie Nagy does here:

Even Marla’s physical victories are almost always made possible by a keen attention to detail that gives her the edge — she notices a fire hose that allows her to catch her fiancé’s assailants off guard; she fends off the evil scientist Diman Saraf with a hurled metal basin, but only after explicitly calculating and anticipating his movements in her mind; she thwarts a group of smugglers when the police are at a loss because she deduces key features of a building that clue her in to their escape plans.
 A common theme for those attempting to hype their philosophical positions as true representations of "reality" is to claim that reality itself reflects the truth of their arguments.  Sim "proves" that women are "inherently, self-evidently, inferior beings" by asserting that women cannot beat men on an equal footing.  Hence fantasies of women kicking butt, in sports or in other forms of entertainment, are related to "the Charlie's Angels Syndrome," and further proof of women's inferiority.

Nagy's argument is less strident but she, too, is validating her concept of superiority as one rooted in the real world, and so she devalues fantasy as a mere "projection."

The amusing thing about both positions is that despite their attempt to align themselves with empirical and/or observable "reality," both Sim's antifeminism and Nagy's version of feminism are philosophical projections.  By empiricism's judgment both are unreal, in that neither can be proven empirically.

I believe that a feminism that cannot value fantasy is a psuedofeminism.  Such a philosophical position fails to realize how ideals work: that while ideals must be applied in "the real world," they too are fundamentally "unreal," in that they are "projections" through which human beings attempt to alter their circumstances.

Ideals, no matter whether they are of Nagy's or Sim's persuasion, are never demonstrable through "reality."  Reality is, rather, the opponent with whom ideals must eternally struggle-- though which one is Jacob, and which is the angel, is a matter I leave to the reader's interpretation.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

QUICK ANTI-PSUEDOFEMINISM POST

For the Los Angeles Review of Books, one Evie Nagy wrote:

...contrary to common belief, Wonder Woman was not the first female superhero. She was preceded by more than half a year by Miss Fury, who starred in her own Sunday comic strip for 10 years beginning in April 1941. Miss Fury was created, written, and drawn by a woman, June Tarpé Mills, who published under the more sexually ambiguous Tarpé Mills. Had Miss Fury entered an enduring canon like DC’s, it’s possible that the template for female superheroes, as well as for superhero comic readership, would have depended more on the influence and perspective of actual women.





I deem this pie-in-the-sky reasoning. I see no way in which "actual women" would ever have influenced the development of superheroes, because the gender differences-- whether originating in biological forces, social conditioning, or a combination thereof-- preclude a lot of women being particularly interested in the action-oriented scenarios that are emblematic of the genre.

If you venture that it's possible that by some hard-to-imagine set of circumstances someone would have come up with a "kinder, gentler" genre of superheroes than the male-oriented breed we know-- sure, it's POSSIBLE. But the set of circumstances would have to be much more involved than Nagy's scenario of seeing female superheroes influenced by Miss Fury rather than Wonder Woman.

I also disagree with these statements:

...in Miss Fury, Marla’s primary “superpower” is human resourcefulness, aligning her less with Wonder Woman than with the nonpowered but formidable heroes of DC’s Bat-family and Marvel heroes such as Hawkeye, Nick Fury (no relation), and Misty Knight. It’s an approach that, even in often totally unrealistic comic book scenarios, tends to produce role models rather than marvels.


The strongest superheroes, male or female, are those whose confidence, abilities, and sex appeal reveal themselves not through artificial projections of fantasy but through ideals that inspire creators, and therefore readers, to be better people.
It's certainly Ms. Nagy's prerogative to LIKE less fantastic types of heroes.  Nothing wrong with stating one's particular tastes.  But the idea that the more "marvelous" heroes are somehow "artificial," rather than being natural conceptions of the human ability to fantasize, is nonsense.  Both the "marvelous" and "uncanny" types of heroes are primarily oriented toward thematic escapism. Both do project some moral values, values that are vital to their narratives, but those values can only be understood within a framework that emphasizes their joint escapist nature.  Having read quite a few Golden Age Superman stories, I'd say that the marvelous powers does not in any way preclude "ideals" that may inspire both creators and readers.
 
In conclusion, the only thing I like about Ms. Nagy's argument is that she appreciates the work of Tarpe Mills.  
 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

SIMCHRONICITY

I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some


competitive theater going on there; it makes a lot of psychological sense.

You also have this theme of betrayal, a fairy tale heroine, Snow White, who

became a victim of conspiracy by the evil queen. Or you’ve got the

“Portrait of a Lady” story — innocent young girl as victim of a shadowy

older woman in league with a male and so on. So our hearts went out to her

because we felt she was utterly out of her depth in trying to maneuver

against these two old-guard constellation of enemies — the House of

Windsor and this malign woman from Charles’ past.-- Camille Paglia, Salon.com




A few weeks ago I picked up a comic-shop copy of Dave Sim's GLAMOURPUSS #22.  I hadn't looked at the title for some time, though I had probably sampled six or seven before I decided that Sim's main subjects therein didn't move me that much.  I had some interest in his interpretation of the photorealist tradition in comic strips and books, but the purchase-killer was the book's parodies of fashion (or "glamour") magazines and the models that sell them.  If there is such a thing as "bad good girl art," Sim's parodies were "bad dumb girl art."  (To be sure, the art-part was fine; the writing sucked.)

There is, to be sure, nothing wrong (save to the politically correct) about humor built around the central concept of dumb-- and usually pretty-- girls.  I've liked a lot of it, ranging from Bill Ward's seminal TORCHY to the Bridwell/Oksner ANGEL AND THE APE.  (And fie, triple fie, upon Phil Foglio for the miniseries in which he "smartened up" Angel O'Day!)  But I didn't think much of Sim's "DGA" was funny, so I let my attention to GLAMOUPUSS lapse.

The lead feature of GLAMOURPUSS #22-- "Secret Origin of Zootanapuss"-- did nothing to dispel my negative feelings toward Sim and DGA.  However, I found that the photo-realistic section of the book had swerved from straightforward history into something Sim himself, in an intro, labels as "Based on a True Story."  Much of what Sim relates and theorizes upon does, as I mentioned in A SYNCHRONICITY SAMPLING, strongly resemble the Jungian concept of synchronicity.

I hasten to state that Dave Sim doesn't endorse Jungian concepts anywhere in GP #22, and that for all I know, he may never have done so.  To my recollection the only direct allusion to Jung in the late issues of CEREBUS was a negative one, so I don't have any reason to believe that Sim would be receptive to Jung's concept of a "psychoid archetype."

During the section seen in GP #22, Sim ruminates on certain obscure aspects in the life of artist Stan (HEART OF JULIET JONES) Drake-- what caused Drake and his family to relocate from New York to Connecticut, Drake's earlier nervous breakdown, and the fateful 1956 car-crash that injured Drake and killed his passenger, Alex (FLASH GORDON, RIP KIRBY) Raymond.  Sim has evidently been writing on these matters since issue #14, so I'm coming late to the party.

But what a synchronicitous party it is!  Sim correctly presents his speculations as essentially fictional in nature, yet he manages to weave together a tapestry of corresponding incidents and resonances between not only the worlds of Drake and Raymond but also those of Al Capp (whose brother wrote JULIET JONES), and Margaret Mitchell (whose name was used to launch the strip).  Others, more distantly removed in time and space though not in theme, include Princess Diana and Dodi Feyed, Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier, and (making a "crossover" appearance from their CEREBUS incarnations) F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.

"There's a strange quality," asserts Sim on page 14, "to Stan Drake's life that seems to ... interweave... itself with reality and various forms of fiction."  I relate this to the Paglia quote above, where the author sees the death of Diana as something more than straightforward reality, finding that the real event shares themes with two fictional creations, one folkloric and one high-literary.  In contrast to Paglia, though, Sim focuses on a wealth of intriguing little details.  It's like reading Samuel Rosenberg's NAKED IS THE BEST DISGUISE, where the intensive investigation is applied to real people.

Of course, in the empiricist worldview shared by most comics-critics-- whether as passionate conviction or default-- there can be no "interweaving" between fact and fiction.  The knee-jerk reaction of many critics would be to assert that Sim was simply projecting on reality images that he personally wished to behold in them.  This charge of "projection" comes even easier when a given writer endorses unpopular opinions, as Sim has been known to with regard to feminism.

I used to argue somewhat against Sim's anti-feminist positions in the lettercols of CEREBUS, but though I found him a stubborn and sometimes intransigent opponent, I would never do what many critics and forum-posters have done: to consider him "crazy" because his view verges far from my own.  It's true that there are "crazy people" who look too hard through a particular emotionally-tinted lens and lose the ability to see anything else, but that's clearly not the case with Dave Sim.

However, in one sense Dave Sim and his critics are on the same page, insofar as they subscribe to the Platonic notion that emotion is epiphenomenal while reason, essentially its opposite in common parlance, is one's sole source of insight into the workings of the universe.

On page 23, in conversation with a supporter named Eddie Khanna, Sim says:

"'The Wedding of the Century' billing always seems to incite emotion-based psychosis in our society about what almost invarably prove to be ill-starred and short-lived unions... [list of four such marriages, including Diana and Charles]...And it seems obvious that you have to put the female names first in these 'marriages.'"
Sim's distate for mere emotion was made explicit long before this, as in this provocative quotation: 

"Emotion, whatever the Female Void would have you believe, is not a more Exalted State than is Thought. In point of fact, I think Emotion is animalistic, serpent-brain stuff. Animals do not Think, but I am reasonably certain that they have Emotions. 'Eating this makes me Happy.' 'When my fur is all wet and I am cold, it makes me Sad." "Ooo! Puppies!'   'It makes me Excited to Chase the Ball!' Reason, as any husband can tell you, doesn't stand a chance in an argument with Emotion... this was the fundamental reason, I believe, that women were denied the vote for so long."


Of course Sim's critics would simply turn the reason/emotion argument against him in response, seeking to prove that his judgments were flawed by his emotional responses and that they were using a truer species of reason than he.

Where the matter of synchronicity/interweaving is concerned, however, there can be no final appeal to a hypothetical reason.  Just as individuals think that a supposed "psychic experience" is valid or invalid on the basis of personal experience, one's view of synchronicity is no less personally determined.

In agreement with Jung, I don't think that emotion is epiphenomenal.  I don't know if psychic energy is a quantifiable influence upon real events, but such influence might be a reason-- if not the only reason--why discrete events in history seem to form parallels to one another.  The lazy empiricist merely asserts that there can be no such influence or resonances, based on the materialist proposition that mind cannot affect matter.  Said empiricist might rebut Sim's "interweavings" by asserting that Sim is seeing what he wants to see: ill-starred unions, in which women are more prominent than they should be, coming to bad endings.

Contrary to both Sim and the materialists, I believe that emotion, at the very least, provides a lens through which everything, including rational cogitation, is colored.

Sim looks at four disastrous marriages, one being that of Princess Diana, and sees a meaningful theme of "the haughty woman brought low," if I am not interpreting him too freely.

Paglia looks at the death of Diana and sees another meaningful theme, that of the maiden persecuted by society and the influence of an older and hostile female relative.

As I stated at the end of THE INTERSUBJECTIVITY SOLUTION, neither interpretation is wrong.  Both are "true" in the sense that these are valid resonances that the historical events evoke, even though the respective themes are tangentially opposed.

In my view this is the crucial nature of Jung's archetype theory.  It can't be channeled to reflect only ideas that a certain societal stratum considers good or proper or rational.  It reflects everything, warts and all.  Men trying to pretend that all women are dumb; women trying to pretend that all men are stupid.  The collective unconscious preserves it all-- and if Jung's theory of psychic energy holds water, then it could be a reason why so many persons repeatedly attempt to follow the pattern of myths, even against their own rational best interest.

In conclusion, I can only say that I'll be checking out back issues of GLAMOURPUSS, intensely interested in the Stan Drake Universe, but maybe passing over the Dave Sim version of the "DGA" archetype.



Saturday, January 7, 2012

SYNCHRONICITY SIDEBAR

Before moving on to more theoretical matters re: synchronicity, I thought it might be appropriate to relate a couple of instances of my own quizzicial encounters with same.

One of them I mentioned on a 6-2-2003 post on the Forum that Deserves Not Mention:

...there aren't any appreciators of Jungian synchronicity here to my knowledge, but the way I found the above link is synchronicitous. Looking for a definition of "New Age," I typed in "definition of New Age," and the above link was about the second or third one I explored. As it happened, it's by Massimo Introvigne, whom I didn't know from Adam-12 before last week or so, when I read his article at the online SLAYAGE site. Since said article had a comics-connection, I posted a link to it here under "Vampires, superheroes and the Frankfurt School." And now a week later, I'm linking to something else Introvigne wrote on a wholly-different subject.

I just hope the Synchronicity Switchboard is just throwing this development my way to help convince you poor rationalist doubters, and not trying to tell me to quit my job and become a publicist for Massimo Introvigne. I have enough trouble trying to hype my own stuff.

Like most of my synchronous experiences, this was something less than a vision on the Road to Damascus (i.e., I probably never read anything else by Introvigne).  But I thought then, and still think, that it's a little odd to stumble across two disparate works by the same (not especially famous) author within the course of a week or so.  Others' mileage will vary on whether this example deserves to be filed under "more than coincidence."

Incidentally, eight years later the link to Introvigne's short historical writeup on the early hisory of the Frankfurt School is still good, and the essay's still recommended:

http://slayageonline.com/essays/slayage7/Introvigne.htm

An even less vision-worthy incident occured over the Xmas holidays.  My 13-year-old nephew has become a fan of certain kinds of "so bad it's good" cinema, as well as being a big STAR WARS fan.  Thus I took it upon myself to introduce him to the questionable joys of the 1980 FLASH GORDON, which I'd planned to watch anyway in order to review it here

The movie was a big success with my nephew, though others in the household weren't nearly as enthusiastic.  However, later that day my brother chose to bring up a favorite episode of SEINFELD on Netflix Streaming: "The Bubble Boy," which first aired on 10-7-92.  The plot revolves around Jerry and his posse getting roped into visiting a "bubble boy," with the black-comic outcome that George gets into an argument with the kid and nearly causes his death.  In a B-story, Jerry and Elaine get lost on the way and end up in a diner, where a waitress importunes Jerry to put his celebrity photo on the wall.  And there on the diner-wall with various other celebrities (whom I did not note down) is none other than...

...Sam J. Jones, sporting his classically-bad FLASH GORDON haircut.

"What is Sam Jones to me, or me to Sam Jones?"  Probably the real question should be who in the SEINFELD crew thought of sticking a photo of the not-terribly-successful actor on the diner-wall.  Could it have been Seinfeld himself, known for peppering the show's sets with Superman trinkets?  Or maybe it was just the luck of the draw; someone selecting stock photos at random, but only of actors who had no great reputation, to show that Jerry wasn't going to be joining any immortals on the wall.

I'm not sure if two Sam Joneses in one day trumps two Massimo Introvignes in the space of seven days.  I wouldn't say that I was "guided" to those particular experiences in the rather egotistical "the universe revolves around me" manner of certain types of Christians.  But I do think that whenever you encounter some particularly improbable set of apparent coincidences, it's worthwhile to do a little thinking about the nature of what we label "coincidence."

Thursday, January 5, 2012

A SYNCHRONICITY SAMPLING

"Natura non facit saltum" (nature does not make jumps) -- Latin proverb

As it happens, not long before I came across Denny O'Neil's reference to the "Net of Indra" metaphor, which stresses the connectedness of all things, I found a similar reference in an issue of Dave Sim's GLAMOURPUSS.  I'll examine that reference in greater detail in another essay, but in essence, it started me thinking more about the concept of synchronicity.

Synchronicity is usually tagged with the definition "meaningful coincidence," as opposed to the many coincidences one encounters around which no discernible meaning accrues.  In addition, Jung stresses in some writings that synchronicities take place due to an "acausal connecting principle."

Now, no matter how one tries to imagine such a principle, one can't help but do so with a mind conditioned by the actions and reactions of a cause-and-effect world.  With that in mind, though, can one deduce by what properties such a connecting principle might operate?

The usual empiricist position toward such theorizing essentially takes the same attitude as the Latin proverb above: nature allows no jumps, no sidesteps, no free rides.  But in a universe now informed by theories of quantum mechanics, does this position of naive realism hold water?

In "Synchronicity: an Acausal Connecting Principle," Jung wrote:

...since experience [i.e., Rhine's experimental work] has shown that under certain conditions space and time can be reduced almost to zero, causality disappears along with them, because causality is bound up with the existence of space and time and physical changes, and consists essentially in the succession of cause and effect. For this reason synchronistic phenomena cannot in principle be associated with any conceptions of causality. Hence the interconnection of meaningfully coincident factors must necessarily be thought of as acausal.

Joseph Cambray in his SYNCHRONICITY: NATURE AND PSYCHE IN AN INTERCONNECTED UNIVERSE, responds thusly:

...the collapse of space and time together with the disappearance of the principle of causality is remarkably congruent with the best theories in physics for the origins of the universe... It is as if at the deepest level [Jung] is finding a place for the psyche at the origins of the universe through the psychoid archetype."
Cambray is careful to emphasize that this does not connote the embrace of theism:

This is not an intelligent design argument but an indication that the universe is as permeated with psyche as it is with space, time, and matter; that synchronicities provide traces of an original undifferentiated state. 
Now, in past essays I've always insisted that human culture does not obey the same logic that nature does: that it is more than a little possible for culture to "make jumps."  It would be interesting, though, if the same principles that would seem to show a given culture working its way toward a given cultural archetype-- be it a positive or negative one-- were reflected in the world of physics.

After all, if as Stephen Hawking has argued, time did not exist within the universe's singularity-state, then it may not be correct to assume that time operates at all times on the physical principles valorized by empiricist thought.

Thus, if Dave Sim sees one set of meaningful coincidences in a given scenario, while Denny O'Neil sees another set elsewhere, one need not assume that either are connected through any linkage characteristic of time or space, but that they are rather connected through a medium of psychic intensity.

This in turn would have interesting ramifications for my notions of pluralism as expressed here.  It would mean not just that a pluralistic credo of intersubjectivity was moral, but also natural.

For now, I'll wrap up by repeating the summary from the aforesaid essay:

Both interpretations would fit what I would call "the rule of intersubjective significance," which phrase I derive almost completely from Jonathan Culler in his 1975 STRUCTURALIST POETICS, except for my interpolation of "intersubjective." Both positions could be enjoyably argued although to little effect, for the comparison of the two stories, despite some similar features, would still hinge on each critic finding an intersubjective meaning that the other did not have-- which returns to the well-seasoned argument about "apples and oranges."
Nevertheless, the exercise remains worth the candle within a pluralist conception of literary hermeneutics. Each story resonates with some though not all readers precisely because each evokes a "significance" in those readers; a significance founded in the conventions of storytelling and in the expectations of readers looking to have those conventions both confirmed and denied.  







Tuesday, January 3, 2012

COMPLEXITY AND CONNECTEDNESS

"The harsh truth is, nothing in popular culture, and probably nothing in any other kind of culture, is ever wholly original.  I don't like this any more than you do, maybe less.  Everything is interconnected, sometimes in unlikely ways:-- Denny O'Neil, "Introduction," THE BATCAVE COMPANION.

O'Neil's short introduction to this book of essays on "both the Batman who lives in a fictional world as a hero and the Batman who lives in our world as a media phenomenon," which stories, O'Neil asserts, are "inseparable." 

Interestingly, O'Neil eschews any reference to Jung, whom many pop-culture explicators (including me) regard as the "go-to" guy for the interconnectedness of personal lives and transpersonal culture.  Instead, O'Neil references a much older metaphor for interconnectedness than Jung's collective unconscious:

"We're looking at a net.  It has to be a largish one, though exactly how big is up to you... Now, imagine that at each juncture of your net there is a jewel, cunningly hung so it reflects all the other jewels... It's called the Net of Indra and scholars say it was conceived of by a Buddhist monk named Tu Shun about  2640 years ago. It was originally meant as a metaphor for the interconnectedness of everything that exists..."

O'Neil then goes on to "suggest that Batman is one of the gems in what we'll call, morphing the metaphor and cringing only a little, 'the net of popular culture.'"  O'Neil doesn't pursue the metaphor any further, though, as he's concerned with laying out the origins of the character-- perhaps the one with whom his own comics-career is dominantly associated-- in terms of its prosaic origins.

Though I'd argue that the "Net of Indra" doesn't assert cultural interconnectedness any *better* than Jung's collective unconscious, I would imagine that the former metaphor has the advantage of simplicity.  With a modern writer like Jung, one cannot quote him without feeling some need to establish all sorts of issues on which one may or may not agree with the Swiss psychologist.  By contrast, Tu Shun's precise beliefs about the phenomenology of the "Net of Indra" are probably lost to mundane investigations, though they might be retrievable through some fantasy-version of the collective unconscious, such as Alan Moore's "Immateria."




Now, phenomenologically speaking, what does it mean to say that everything is connected?

In terms of everyday experience, human beings would be unable to function if they were aware, every waking minute of every day, that, say, the day's weather was being influenced by the flutter of a butterfly's wings in China.  So our belief of separateness, even if it is a falsehood, would seem to be a falsehood necessary for sheer survival.
Literary experience is a different kettle of fish.  I argued in JOCKEYING FOR JUXTAPOSITION that the essence of the literary crossover is that normatively it stresses the author's (and reader's) conscious comparison of the different mythologies of characters:

This opposition, in addition to providing the anticipated conflict of the two characters in this crossover, makes clear what resonance each character should possess in order to remain relatively consistent for the sake of the story. But clearly there are no "subconscious" themes that require amplification here. The juxaposition by the authors has been conscious all the way, and by and large the readers' appreciation of the authors' skill in making a meaningful juxtaposition is conscious as well.


In Jungian terms, this would be considered "directed thinking," while in Langerian terms it would be "discursive symbolism."  But other, perhaps subtler forms of "meaningful juxtaposition" arise as the result of what Jung calls "fantasy thinking," which parallels roughly to Langer's concept of "presentational symbolism."

I introduce this notion in order to distinguish the different ways in which Batman is "connected" to other entities in the pop-culture universe, whether they antedate or postdate his presence.  Fan research has established that elements of a pulp SHADOW prose-tale were used for Batman's first adventure, "The Case of the Chemical Syndicate," so this bit of artistic swipery would be a "connectedness" born of conscious, directed thought.

On the other hand, the association of Batman with Gothic weirdness and uncanny menaces contravenes the influence of the Shadow, which was often if not always a fairly mundane pulp-adventure tale in the years preceding Batman's advent.  So one might see Batman as "connecting," via the fantasy-thinking of his creators, with archetypal patterns that would produce more, shall we say, eclectic symbolism, as in this story from DETECTIVE COMICS #34:




To be sure, the idea of Batman as a investigator of Gothic mysteries did not last long, though it surfaced again in deference to both creators and fans who wanted a more mysterioso hero.





 
In contrast to the example of "directed thinking," in which one author simply cadges his "connections" from another (today Kane's swipe would probably be called an "homage"), this tendency would be an example of "fantasy thinking," which is one with the Jungian concept of *amplification,* of expanding on all possible connotations of a given literary figure or phenomenon.

So we have here two different species of connectedness: one produced through conscious thought-- whether it's imitating a forbear or comparing two distinct character-mythologies-- and one produced through dream-thinking and freeflowing associations.

Both are capable of generating the literary quality of *mythicity,* but the former may be closer in nature to what Kant calls the "reproductive imagination" while the latter compare better with the "productive imagination," in that they evince more of a sheer *leap* from one concept to another.

And in the final analysis, the beauty of the "Net of Indra" metaphor is that one cannot only see in one of its gems only the gems closest to it, but every gleam of every gem within the vastness of the net.