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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 01/10/2000
Column 35

Didn't anyone notice the blooper in my column last week? When I was talking about the biologist who was doing such important work on morphogenetic fields, I called him Rupert Murdoch. Wow! That's the newspaper tycoon engaged in a tug-of-war with that other media tycoon, Ted Turner, to grab up all the instruments of popular information around the world. The guy I meant is Rupert Sheldrake. A very different and fascinating sort of Rupert. Go read his remarkable book, The Presence of the Past which probably best puts forward his analysis of those fields of influence and memory that really explain in a much clearer way what a patched- together theory like evolution is trying to tell us about where we came from and why we are the way we are. Then come back and tell me what you think. The book (he's written many) is available at any major book outlet such as Amazon or Barnes & Noble or your good independent bookstore.

In the meantime, I had promised to discuss some more of those strange things that happen to me because, as I put it last week, I leave my doors open. And as those of you who've read my memoir, An Unlikely Prophet now know, that's how a tulpa, a human being created by thought alone, walked into my life. Now we're aware of tulpas mostly because of western contacts with Tibet and Tibetan culture dating back before the Chinese invasion. They seem therefore to be an exclusively Tibetan phenomenon, although as the tulpa, Mr. Thongden, in Unlikely Prophet, insists, they're all over the place and even Alexander Hamilton was a tulpa.

Of course I really don't know about that. But consider other kinds of sightings involving something we call ghosts-- aren't they possibly partially formed tulpas? Even if some skeptics disdainfully call them figments of the imagination, in my sense, apart from the disdain, that's absolutely correct. The imagination is creative on many levels with varying degrees of success. It has peopled our universe with all sorts of strange beings not born of any womb, such as space aliens, visitations of the Virgin Mary, and even some of the great comic book heroes with their tremendous hold on the popular imagination. Note that things that seize the imagination, as for example the marvelous characters created by Charles Schultz, have, in actuality a certain real force, a magnetic power that is truly alive. All good fiction does that, and certainly movies. Real forces-- real things that we see, feel, think about, dream about and discuss constantly. And try to absorb into ourselves to fill certain feelinga of incompleteness. We're always trying to recreate ourselves fully by identifying with other people, ideas and things. As a child, I would go to a movie about The Three Musketeers (a silent movie to start with) and come out feeling heroic like d'Artagnan, walking like him, and, picking up a long stick, wielding a sword like him. We are indeed always making ourselves up as we go along, while conscious too of some indefinable core of selfhood. We are fixed points of imagination always flowing and changing around ourselves. We are our own self-created tulpas. We are imagination seeking other parts of itself in other imaginative manifestations.

Now most of you have been to comics conventions. There's a lot of excitement, a lot of trying to get connected in some way with the creators, of trying to possess an element of that substance out of which they operate, by collecting signatures, samples of art work. Or think of the general addiction to celebrities. This is not just a big feature of our own culture. There was never a time when it wasn't happening. And in every instance the celebrity recognized by fans has nothing to do with the ordinary human being on whom celebrity has been bestowed. In fact, there's a danger for celebrities of being taken over by their own popular image, so that they begin to think of themselves as a mass-mind created reality. They lose touch with themselves too much. It's the too-much that's important. Imagination always has to seek out other imaginative experiences. It feeds on itself, but overfeeding, as with many celebrities, can disrupt the core.

Having said all this, I invite you now to step back a bit and take a look at your own personal self. How real is it, actually? I mean when you start to think about yourself, there's a certain feel, a set of accepted images that makes you familiar to yourself, a kind of web of otherness to which we're connected, like friends, family, work, body awareness. Being alone is a devastating condition for some personalities. Children who feel alone will sometimes become deeply involved with a hobby, with reading, with the practice of an art. Many great scientists developed in this way. Even the hermit who seeks solitude in the wilderness fills that wilderness with visions of the divine. So, in a sense, we are all imagination. We are particles and waves at the same time. Separate identities that are also part of a vast continuum of the imagination.

Once you become aware of this, you begin to live with the doors of your imagination open. And then you begin to experience strange events. So where does reality begin and end?

You really don't have to worry about it. You don't have to lock all your doors in order to maintain one accepted version of reality. In fact, you lose everything when you do, because you're not seeing the world as it really is. When Franz Kafka was writing about Robinson Crusoe, he explained: "He tries not to limit himself to the limit of his neighbor's eyesight." Kafka went on to point out that if Crusoe had stood on the shores of his island and lit fires, hoping to be seen by a passing ship, he probably would not have survived. Instead, he went about his life, built himself a world with what was available, managed to eat and develop and survive until, in due course, he was found. He did not, by setting up a light on the shore, limit himself to the limit of his neighbor's eyesight.

So if what you see seems different from what everyone else claims to see, remember that almost everyone else's claims are not true. Not because nothing strange ever happens to them,but because most people see things that don't conform to what they've been taught is acceptable. So to avoid being considered crazy, they try to reduce the differences in what they see to some form already familiar and reported, under similar conditions, by others. So the truth never really gets told. What happens to you will really be unlike anything that happens to anyone else. The imagination is not a copycat. Don't try to explain strange events by earlier and conventionalized explanations. Tell it like it is. You may never run into a tulpa. But who knows what you'll find?

This kind of view, I think, was innate in most of us who drew or wrote comics (and certain other kinds of fiction) in the past. I don't think the kind of comics that began in the late thirties and seized the imagination of so many, and have even vastly influenced and changed the movies, could have happened without their creators being daring enough to leave the door open. But we must be watchful now, because we're beginning to get too many copies of copies. Let's make sure the door stays wide open as it once was.

Alvin Schwartz

<< 01/03/2000 | 01/10/2000 | 01/17/2000 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Round Table.

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