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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 10/09/2006
Vol. 2, #192

Superman didn't become the rescuer, the savior and upholder of the law because he was made that way on some other planet. It was here that he became what he was, and that simply because he grew up here and was shaped by the tribal, national, racial group characteristics that shape us all. He had, it's true, a different set of means to respond to that environment, but the superstrength and supercapacities had no meaning in themselves, no direction, no purpose except to the extent that the use of those superqualities were shaped by his surroundings.

I'm getting at something very special here. Something over which I've pondered for a long time, and about which I've finally come to some meaningful conclusions. There is no "self" that starts out and imposes itself on a community, a tribe, a family, or a race. Even the fact that there are divisions, so-called evolutionary differences, ranging all the way from micro-organism to human, whom I should remind you, all have different ways of responding to their surroundings, but are able to do so only as products of those surroundings. That is, the surroundings make them. They reflect what I can only call the "all" What I'm saying here, in other words, is that there is, in the Buddhist sense, no self. There is, in more precise terms, no originating point from which any entity acts upon its so-called "outside" world.

All right, this calls for some explaining. I arrived, first of all, at the realization that there is no outside upon which we act, but rather there is only that complex admixture of events called living forms that shape themselves into something called narrative. And that the narrative is us, and that includes Superman, or any superhero or villain, or evil force, or sheer contingency of being. Things get started then from a kind of allness of which each unit, each creature, each personality assumes a role and shapes itself into the total story. And once this kind of individuation takes place, the particularized product becomes a story that draws itself from the totality and not the other way round.

The whole makes the parts. The whole is, however, not divisible into its parts. Because it moves in a way that the parts cannot foresee or shape. They can only expect, hope, anticipate, discover a story of themselves dependent on the unanticipatable vagaries of the whole. Now, when I present matters in this way, I'm offering to those of you who grasp the essence of what I'm saying, an absolute freedom to be themselves. That's because they are not responsible for their successes and failures, their agonies, mistakes and triumphs. They are, in the fullest sense, an element of the narrative which may go in ways beyond anticipation. Think of it all as a great read. A pageturner that offers surprises from paragraph to paragraph. The very thing we're always looking for in life -- not success, not fame, not achievement -- but the sheer joyful cliffhanger of being. And that goes as much for Superman as for the humblest nobody whose suffering may be more manifest from a narrow point of view than the suffering (along with the joys and the surprises) of just being part of the story. A story in which each of us can mirror characteristics that we share both with Superman and the humblest and weakest of creatures, the possibility at any moment, at any turn in the path, of stepping into the other's shoes. Because the narrative always changes and you are the narrative. It is this realization that provides the state known as enlightenment.

You don't think so? Have you ever stopped, spread your legs and bent over to peer backwards between those limbs of yours. The perspective is completely convoluted, turned inside out. But you don't even have to do that. Remember those drawings that occasionally appear in magazines and newspapers, and you look at them and see a couple of children playing, and then, suddenly, without any reason at all, not even the flick of an eyelid, the image changes into the face of an old woman with long white hair. It happens like that. And it's like that all the time. Every day of your life. Any time. Suddenly, it's all gone and its now something or somebody else. Because you're part of it. And being able to fly is the very least that you should allow yourself to expect.

Please note that I've just embarked on the beginning of a long story. I expect to hear from you about this. I expect impressions and sudden Eureka moments, and perhaps from some, total disbelief.

-- Alvin

<< 09/18/2006 | 10/09/2006 | 10/23/2006 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Round Table.


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