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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 08/23/1999
Column 15

By now, almost everyone seems to have some idea of what a tulpa is. Tulpas have been popping up in comic books, on the X-files and a variety of other places. In my own current book, An Unlikely Prophet, there is a detailed description of how a tulpa, a living human whose name and origin, as everyone knows, is Tibetan, gets created. It's not a simple matter. It took a rich, centuries-old tradition and a methodology based on ritual and meditation evolved out of Tibetan religious practices, a combination of Buddhism with the earlier local Bon system of belief. As I state in my book, the explanation of the making of a tulpa was given to me directly by the tulpa, Thongden, who is the main character in the book.

That still leaves the question-are tulpas real? At this stage, rather than get into still another discussion of reality, I suggest curious readers might turn to my web page, then scroll down until you find a link that says An Unlikely Forum and you'll find yourself on a page that treats the whole question of reality in some detail.

For now, however, I want to approach my experience with the tulpa from a different angle. I had originally hoped to avoid a lot of the questions about my tulpa by offering the work to my publisher as fiction. But my publishers saw the tulpa, in their own way, as a marvelous symbol for the imagination. They went beyond how real the tulpa was in order to make a statement about imagination itself. They even started a new imprint based on it, of which An Unlikely Prophet was the leadoff book. And they were making a very important point.

At the heart of western philosophy, back in the days of Emmanuel Kant who is generally considered the father of modern philosophy, is the question he raises in the Critique of Pure Reason. Kant asks: How is it possible to have synthetic propositions a priori? To free this question from the brambles of philosophic terminology, Kant was simply asking: How is it possible to make a statement in which, without any experience, one can arrive at a fact or idea that was not already present in the definition of the subject.

Hold on. Let me clarify that a little further. What Kant is really asking is: How, without experience, is new knowledge possible. How can we know something we didn't know when we started out without having had any experience to reveal it to us? Where does new knowledge come from? And his answer is anschauung-which, in this context, means, imagination. And that's the nub of it. In that quotation from the poet, Blake, used in An Unlikely Prophet, "Nothing ever existed that was not first imagined," I restate the very same thing. The imagination, these important thinkers are saying, is not mere woolgathering. It's the creative force behind what we call reality.

Consider this. You look out at a room. What do our unaided senses bring us? Slashes of color, meaningless twists of shape, various light permutations, but nothing that we can recognize as having any meaning. The philosopher Berkeley called this "Presentational immediacy. " How do we shape these various neutral sense impressions into things we know and recognize?

We put it all together in our heads. Some of it we remember. Some of it we join together in a way that finally makes sense, and we do that by imagination. In other words, we create what we see. The fact is that what we see is never quite the same for different individuals. Oh, we can agree on certain common words so that we can be said to share the same *general* experience. But never exactly. Hey, guys-how many times have you looked at a girl and thought she was pretty, but someone you were with thought you were out of your mind. And vice versa for girls looking at guys. We're not looking at the same thing because it's our imagination that creates our reality.

How does it do that? Well, quantum physics has an answer to that, and again, I refer you to An Unlikely Forum on my web page. So there are indeed answers and they are usually a challenge to common sense, as Einstein himself claimed when he was first confronted with quantum physics. Anyway, what I'm trying to suggest is that a tulpa is no more unreal than I am. Everyone who "knows" me has a somewhat different idea of me. As an objective reality, I exist in a thousand probable forms depending on the imagination of those who encounter me, as well as my recollected states during various states of waking and dreaming. So tulpas are no more or less real than we are.

I want people to read and understand my book. That's why I'm presenting all this here. But I also want to apply these same findings to comics which more than any other medium today opens doors to the imagination, provides a testing ground for other visual entertainment media such as film and TV, is, in fact, the *imaginative* testing ground for these more expensive media. Comics, you might say, provides the blueprint for them and is therefore essential to them. So why, as Tony mentioned in some recent columns of his, is comics still considered the low man on the totem pole. Why is it looked down on? Why, as I mentioned in a previous column, did the Golden Age writers I knew all set their sights on getting out of comics?

The answer is, we're the victims of an historical accident. The very word comics does NOT describe what the medium is. Indeed, it suggests that it's something that it's not. And there's something we can do about it. And the sooner the better.

In my next column, I'll be dealing with the ways we can rescue comics from its own history and help it acquire the prestige it truly deserves.

Alvin Schwartz

<< 08/16/1999 | 08/23/1999 | 08/30/1999 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Round Table.

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