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After the Golden Age by Alvin Schwartz
Giving a glimpse into the formative years of comics and beyond.

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AFTER THE GOLDEN AGE for 07/17/2006
Vol. 2, #188

"About a decade ago, Alvin Schwartz, who wrote Superman comic strips in the 1940s and and 50s, published one of the great Odd Books of our time," according to Neil Gaiman, along with an editor in a recent issue of WIRED. Then in that same work, AN UNLIKELY PROPHET, reissued in paperback this spring, Schwartz writes that Superman is real.

Coming from Gaiman, the great Odd Books soubriquet is worth considering, since Gaiman himself was responsible for that outstanding comics achievement, The Sandman, and certainly knows oddness when he sees it. But oddness is not reality and Gaiman can't be tied to more than what he said. A great odd book! Good enough. And acceptable, especially from Gaiman. But it was Schwartz who took on Superman on a number of other levels in a series of columns on this website, After The Golden Age. Among them were:

Superman as an archetype.

Then, there was Superman as representing the currently forgotten but culturally significant function of the uniform as a true symbol of transcendence, in which the private individual, the monad of the enclosed and indefinable self becomes, in fact, socially and historically meaningful, falling by its means into a category of value that the private self can never really attain for the very reason that it is, in fact, private.

Or perhaps as the Buddhists would have it, non-existent. The idea, for anyone examining the two distinctions closely, is pretty much the same in either case. The un-uniformed self is really a kind of non-self. A fake, like Clark Kent.

But more significant and more to the point is Schwartz's insistence that Superman is real. All this, because of a recent request from his publisher which provoked Schwartz into elaborating with some clarity on the subject which, with the publisher's permission is presented here in full, exactly as laid out for the press kit for which it had been requested, and which will be going out to selected reviewers and critics at the same time you will be reading it here.

Here's the full marrow of it, ready to provoke your own comments on this much argued but never fully resolved question. Well, not till now, at any rate.

Mr Schwartz -- do you think Superman is real?

Reality doesn't come in simple packages marked this is real and this is unreal.

Our notions of reality derive from our culture -- the way we see the universe and the world around us. That's very variable. Ask an atheist if he thinks Jesus was real -- and you'll see that reality isn't an easy thing to determine.

Superman is no less real than our vision of other life forms -- even our most intimate friends of whom we can have only a partial and subjective view, depending on our own beliefs and experience. Superman is at least as real as my brother or my wife whom I only know through my own ways of seeing and believing -- but the person in itself -- we know as little or as much about as we do of Superman or any superhero. In fact, superheroes represent changing modes of consciousness, consciousness growth -- just as Odysseus of Homer is basically a story of the growth of consciousness -- moving from sheer force and strength to cleverness, insight, and complex self-awareness -- the story of all superheroes.

Mr Schwartz -- how is it possible for thought to create a living, thinking being like a tulpa?

I could answer that if I could also tell you how it's possible for any living thinking being to appear under any circumstances. A product of God's thought, perhaps?

Science for example can give you the mechanics of the process -- but where does the actual living come from?

Do you really think Superman is a living, thinking being?

I lectured on that very question once at the U of Connecticut, and wrote an article for their learned journal which I quote early in AN UNLIKELY PROPHET to explain my conviction that Superman was as real as a single-minded mob -- that life can create forms that are differently embodied according to the goals and requirements of that body. I learned all these things because I discovered that the ordinary world I thought I lived in was only ordinary if I confined myself to it instead of taking a more objective view. As when in the most bizarre of dreams, everything seems very real and natural -- until I step out of the box by awakening and can see all the absurdities and impossibilities. Similarly, when I taught myself to step out of the box of my waking expectations, I began to discover all sorts of strange events. Using a different kind of logic, I even began to experience events that I once would have regarded as at the least, unlikely and in many cases, impossible.

The logic of so-called reality is only the box we build around our lives. From outside the box, the logic changes....

In fact, the life forms created by thought and concentration -- even those temporary ones created by hypnotism -- make it possible for ordinary people to do things not explainable in terms of their biological reality. Consider then that thought has the power to over-reach itself -- to become something living by different means and in broader dimensions.

Do you perhaps overrate the values of pop culture?

Science has in fact broadened our vision and at the same time diminished its certitudes. Pop culture is an all embracing set of beliefs -- less aristocratic, less narrow, less rigid -- more magical -- the unboxed energy of an entire civilization before it breaks down into its various specialties. Superman is a real force, a pop culture icon -- with all the power joined together from multiple minor specialties like art, science, war, pure force, self-creating, because, and consider this carefully -- what we call reality is self creating. It is boundless -- it is an expression of the multi universe interpretation held by many top scientists. So superheroes in general can be regarded as being the branching out of consciousness, or at least, an awareness of it -- that is, mass awareness, self cultivated -- like going for a swim in a big neighborhood pool.

-- Alvin

<< 07/05/2006 | 07/17/2006 | 08/14/2006 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Round Table.

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