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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...

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.


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