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In essays on the subject of centricity, I've most often used the image of a geometrical circle, which, as I explained here,  owes someth...

Monday, July 20, 2020


I’m about a hundred pages into PROCESS AND REALITY now, and I surmise that Whitehead’s project isn’t all that relevant to mine. From what I can tell, his philosophy of “organism” is primarily a response to all the ontology arguments that have been propounded over the centuries, from Plato to Kant to Heidegger. For instance, on page 88 Whitehead says:

The philosophy of organism is the inversion of Kant’s philosophy. The Critique of Pure Reason describes the process by which subjective data pass into the appearance of an objective world. The philosophy of organism seeks to describe how objective data pass into subjective satisfaction, and how order in the objective data provides intensity in the subjective satisfaction.

Even if one may not be entirely sure as to the meaning of some of Whitehead’s jargonistic uses of words like “intensity” and “satisfaction,” the basic opposition is clear enough. I’m not really into ontology. To rephrase a G.K. Chesterson quote, “epistemology is my –ology.” It could be interesting to see what criteria Whitehead uses to measure his “objective data,” and what if any impact that would have on, say, Kant’s theory of the sublime—this being the Kantian concept that has most affected my own theory. I will say that within my epistemological schema, I rely on a sort of “objective data” that feeds into narrative constructs, and my own “satisfaction” with an author’s use of such patterns is more “intense” when I am convinced that the patterns used reinforce one another, creating my version of “concrescence.” However, within the sphere of literary narrative, “objective data” can be either things that the audience believes to be objectively unquestionable—say, the fact that the sun always rises in the east—or what I’ve called “relative meta-beliefs,” such as the Annunciation, the Oedipus complex, and the Rise of the Proletariat.

Still, even if I never end up using Whitehead as anything but a source of terms to redefine, I can see much more value in his project than in most comparable philosophical projects of the twentieth century.


The KILLJOY series, consisting of exactly two stories appearing respectively in issues #2 and #4 of Charlton’s E-MAN, was a rarity for author Steve Ditko: a comedic superhero. Ditko often used elements of comedy in his “straight” superheroes, most notably the original Spider-Man feature, and he sometimes included little japeries in his self-published comics. But KILLJOY was a lighter look at the artist’s professed Objectivism, though it was no less scornful than his serious works of societal irrationality.

The main joke in the first KILLJOY is that the red-clad avenger lives in a world constantly menaced by super-villains, all of whom firmly believe that they’re fully entitled to steal from hard-working citizens. When the hero—who never speaks while in costume, and whose face-mask features a frozen smile—jumps in and defeats such evildoers as Robber Hood and General Disaster, the defeated fiends whine and cry like little babies. Ditko gives the hero no defined alter ego, though he does present three possible candidates for Killjoy’s secret ID, in such a way that the hero might be all of them, or none of them.

KILLJOY 2 works in a few more variations. The story opens with a maddened criminal holed ip in his hideout as he exchanges gunfire with cops. He boasts, “I swear no one is taking me, Killer Ded, alive!” Killjoy steals in the hideout, disarms the crook, and sends him down to the cops with a little parachute attached to his belt. Ditko uses this running joke three more times, each time ending with the desperate criminal thoroughly humiliated by being taken alive.

Page two is devoted to the entitlement of the disenfranchised, as Killjoy rescues a solid citizen from a horde of thieves who all spout things like, “Your selfishly earned money rightfully belong to the unselfish, we who have not earned it.” The hero has a tougher time, though, with an elastic-bodied robber, S.S.S.Snake, who defeats Killjoy twice. These defeats occasion celebration from a protesting malcontent, Mister Hart, who rejoices, “The guilty have a right to succeed as well as anyone else! Why should the true always be right?” This bleeding-heart then meets his perfect complement in another rabble-rouser, Mister Sole, who has the same arguments: ”Nobody has a right to own property—anything! Everything belongs to everybody!”

For his next crime, Snake attempts to steal a valuable diamond, but about ten other crooks show up, all of whom are diamond-themed villains: “Diamond Eyes! Captain Diamond! Blue Diamond,” etc. However, Killjoy is on the scene, disguised as a diamond merchant (in which guise he utters the only words that are unquestionably from his own mouth), and the hero unleashes a trap that confuses all the diamond-hunters and neutralizes Snake’s elasticity.

In terms of delineating Ditko’s Objectivist philosophy, there’s nothing in either KILLJOY tale that didn’t appear in superior works like THE DESTROYER OF HEROES. Crime is irrational untruth and crimebusting is the reassertion of objective truth, as is shown by the final panels, where Killer Ded finally can’t take the constant humiliations any more and resigns himself to serving out his jail sentence—after which the last panel shows the silhouette of Killjoy’s smiling visage. It’s interesting that a face with but one expression connotes for Ditko the same rational imperturbability as faces with no expression, as seen in The Question and Mister A. But even if one doesn’t agree with Ditko’s fetishization of law and order, the recent George Floyd protests have shown the artist to be a prophet with regard to the pernicious entitlement of citizens who have no ability to discern any kind of truth from any kind of experience.

Sunday, July 12, 2020


In an earlier essay, I mentioned the sheer length of the manga-series THE WORLD GOD ONLY KNOWS, and the mythopoeic potential of its basic concept, even though I didn’t find any examples of hyperconcrescence in the twenty-odd stories I’d read. Now I’ve discovered one arc that qualifies as a mythcomic, situated a few episodes beyond the hundred-mark. I’ve chosen to entitle the arc PERFECT HUMAN BEING after one of the episode-titles.

A quick recap: high school student Keima Katsuragi and his magical-girl sidekick Elsee have had a great deal success in their common mission, to identify female mortals who have been possessed by fugitive spirits from the domain of hell, and then to exorcise the spirits and return them to their proper place. The hell-spirits are less important to the narrative than the means by which Keima has to exorcise them. For reasons that are still unclear, the youth has exclusively devoted himself to the practice of sim-dating. His current mission forces him to interact with real girls in some way—befriending them, romancing them, or studying under them—in order to heal some broken part of the women’s spirits, thus causing the possessing spirits to flee and be captured. The interactions are always G-rated, and the former victims of possession largely forget the experience, thus clearing Keima’s path for further exorcisms.

Keima’s newest challenge is another high-school student, Akari Kurakawa. Whereas Keima turns his back on real experience in favor of the idealized scenarios of sims, Akari is similarly disenchanted with the imperfect nature of the experiential world. Instead of depending on pre-fabricated games as Keima does, Akari hopes to build an artificial human being who can incarnate her ideal of perfection. However, she’s not really scientifically gifted, and can only create very primitive robotic constructs, no better than one would expect of a high-school student.

Keima, having received indications that Akari may harbor a spirit, attempts to get close to her by professing interest in her project, and even tries to help her by devising a human head for the primitive robot. Having decided that the wound to her spirit is romantic in nature, given that Akari is an outsider, Keima approaches her romantically, and kisses her in the hope of quickly exorcising the spirit.

Akari’s problem, however, is not one of thwarted romance, and to prove it, she kisses him back a few times. This not only throws Keima off his game, it proves her point about the imperfection of experiential life, showing how easy it is for him to become flustered about such a minor gesture. Keima resents having been manipulated, complaining to Elsee, “I am not affected by the real!” Nevertheless, his only avenue to complete his task turns out to be intellectual, to find some way to undermine Akari’s concept of “perfection.”

I should parenthetically note that the original Japanese script may contain subtleties regarding whatever terms are used for the English words “ideal” and “perfect.” But going by the English translation, the author’s intent is to describe a discontinuity between the two conceptual terms, whatever their cultural influences. For Westerners since the days of Plato and Parmenides, the ideal is not infrequently synonymous with the perfect.

In a concluding dialogue, Keima tries to provide reasons as to why perfection might not be an admirable state of affairs. It’s not a dialogue such as Plato might provide, devoted to discursive discussions of ideal concepts. Rather, Keima evokes the symbolic conflicts between the imagined state of perfection and the ideal of love, not surprisingly since the latter is his ideal, even though expressed through artificial surrogates. He attests, “I think the ideal world… lies somewhere… but that world might not necessarily be a perfect world.” Imperfection, both in real life and in the worlds of fantasy, is necessary to motivate people/ characters to do things: “they don’t stand still and instead move forward.” In contrast, he elicits a vision of a world where everyone is perfect and identical, and thus no one needs anyone else. Akari comes to the realization that “the reason I chase after perfection is because I am incomplete myself.”

Yet, though Akari gives up her robot-project for the time being, she also frustrates Keima’s paradigm, for she disappears before Keima’s eyes without unleashing any spirit-fugitives. The arc’s denouement shows Akari conferring with another character, making clear that both of them are part of some more involved scheme that will in future involve both Keima and Elsee. But whatever the author chose to do with Akari in further episodes, PERFECT HUMAN BEING by itself provides a piquant inquiry into the nature of human abstractions, and the ways they do or do not apply to the human condition.


Over the years, as I’ve researched the evolution of fantasy-concepts in prose fiction—with special attention to their significance for either the superhero idiom or the combative mode—I’ve meant to force myself to re-read the 20,000 word monster known as William Hope Hodgson’s THE NIGHT LAND. It’s probably been thirty years since I first read it, and even then, such critics as C.S. Lewis and H.P. Lovecraft warned me in advance that many of the novel’s virtues were impaired by assorted vices. I remember agreeing with those critics in large part. On my second (and probably last) reading, I’m less impressed with the specific virtues of NIGHT LAND than with its place in fantasy-lit history.

The year of the book’s publication, 1912, boasts at least four major conceptual achievements. In America Edgar Rice Burroughs authored two of the four, debuting both Tarzan and John Carter of Mars. In the same year two English authors, Sax Rohmer and Arthur Conan Doyle, conceived respectively the first great Asian supervillain, Fu Manchu, and the first perfectly preserved prehistoric domain, the Lost World. Four years previous, William Hope Hodgson had published his best-conceived novel, THE HOUSE ON THE BORDERLAND, and in 1912 he sought to up the ante with an even more ambitious fantasy-scape, THE NIGHT LAND.

Though there had various “fantastic voyage” tales before THE NIGHT LAND, I don’t know how many succeeded in picturing a futuristic version of Earth in apocalyptic terms. Readers of the late 20th century grew up on numerous post-apocalyptic tales where Earth was ravaged by disaster, often nuclear holocaust, and reshaped into a bizarre new environment, but such stories were relatively rare in the early 2oth. NIGHT LAND doesn’t even sport a disaster as such. Following a lame framing-device, in which a man of relatively modern times suffers bereavement, he imagines a far-future world dominated by darkness and strange lurking monsters. Most of humankind has been eradicated, and the survivors endure in a few super-scientific cities known as “Redoubts.” In contrast to later post-apocalyptic worlds, the nameless hero’s purpose is not to redeem the fallen world, but to rescue a single woman, implicitly the reincarnation of the woman who dies during the framing-device. The modern man and the future-man are inexplicably the same person, and both of them talk in a fustian manner that reminds me of the labored language of medieval epics. It’s this literary style—coupled with a first-person narration that eschews any dialogue—that makes the monstrous NIGHT LAND so hard to enjoy.

I’ll call the unnamed narrator “X,” since Hodgson once published a cut-down version of the novel entitled THE DREAM OF X. X lives in the largest of the human enclaves, a vast pyramid known as the Last Redoubt. Implicitly futuristic technology keeps these scions of humanity alive against the external threats, though for Hodgson future-science is just a source of visual wonders and nothing more. In the course of the novel X sometimes makes veiled references to evolution, though not using that specific name, but similarly, his creator has no interest in showing how the Night Land evolved from the old world. This provides yet more common ground with the world of the medieval romance, wherein noble knights forged through assorted strange domains like nothing on Earth, scaring up witches and dragons and knights of evil intent.

X, though for the most part an ordinary man, possesses a form of telepathy, and this allows him to apprehend that another human enclave, the Lesser Redoubt, has been attacked by the Night Land’s monsters. However, at least one woman has survived: Naani, who is the reincarnation of the woman lost by the original narrator. “Five hundred youths” of the Last Redoubt storm forth to fight the monsters, and they’re all killed. So X decides to mount a lone rescue-mission, moving on foot and armed only with a weapon called a “Discos,” which can cut through monster-flesh like a buzzsaw.

Lewis and Lovecraft opined that the first half of the novel, with the warrior making his way through the Night Land, was better than the second half, in which X locates Naani and starts the arduous process of taking her back to the Last Redoubt. Granting that in both sections Hodgson’s style is archaic, prolix, and monotonous, I became a little more interested once X reached the halfway mark, and was forced thereafter to guard over a mostly helpless maiden during his exploits. (Naani does stab one of the various monsters that attack the couple on their way back, but a valkyrie she ain’t.) One point of interest is that though X does get Naani back to their refuge, the occasion is almost marked by tragedy, but Hodgson allows for a happy ending after all.

In addition to castigating the horribly affected style Hodgson attempts in the novel, Lovecraft and Lewis blast the romantic arc, with the former attacking the “sticky romantic sensibility” and the latter assailing the “irrelevant erotic interest.” Indeed, in editor Lin Carter’s introduction to Ballantine’s 1972 paperback edition of NIGHT LAND, he remarks that Ballantine’s editors cut down a lot of the billing and cooing. Even what remains in the Ballantine edition is horrendously repetitive, and Naani is no more interesting as a character than is X: both are just stereotypes of heroine and hero. The romantic arc is never compelling, but at times there’s a mild perverse interest in seeing how Hodgson depicts feminine impracticality during the long pilgrimage. The two protagonists naturally never have sex, since they’re not married, but Hodgson devotes so much space to telling us how often they kiss that a modern reader has to wonder.

Editor Lin Carter compares the Night Land to the paintings of Hieronymous Bosch, but that’s an overly ambitious claim. Hodgson conjures up a lot of weird horrors, including gigantic slugs and monstrous hounds, but the ones the reader sees clearly are fairly dull, and the creatures that are not seen clearly are a little too hazy and ill-defined. Hodgson isn’t interested in carefully building a picture of his apocalyptic world, he wants to evoke “the horrors of the half-seen.” But I think he was less interested in building his world than his hero: all the monsters exist only for X to slay them with his mighty Discos. In fact, the fight-scenes are the novel’s strength, particularly one in which X contends with a four-armed humanoid and literally “disarms” the monster by cutting off its upper set of arms with his weapon.

Thus THE NIGHT LAND qualifies as a combative work. However, the world itself is too vague to deserve the status of a literary myth. It strikes me as an uneasy blend of two such myths promulgated during the late 19th century: the bizarre future-scape that appears in H.G. Wells’ THE TIME MACHINE, and the endless geographical vistas found in the faux-medieval fantasies of William Morris. I cannot say with any certainty if Hodgson had read either author; it’s possible the Night Land was inspired by other, comparable sources. But the combination of concepts seems fortuitous. Wells supplied the eerie image of a world mutated by the ravages of time, but the main action of the story was confined to a limited “stage,” a small part of England, in order to illustrate the cultural downfall of the Eloi and the Morlocks. Morris’s fantasies were the first purely literary works to take an Earth-like landscape and populate it with magical locales and inhabitants thereof. Hodgson, by cross-breeding the ideas of the apocalyptic world and the endless fantasy-landscape, didn’t so much create a new lit-myth as to pave the way for greater works to follow.