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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 12/30/2002
Volume 2, Number 60

This week, I had every intention of further clarifying my notions of transcendence by going beyond comics and literary references to something that I've referred to previously as "emergent properties."  So far, I've only indicated that the reason science or anyone at all, for that matter, simply cannot find out what an organism, or the universe, or matter is all about by examining any one of these items of curiosity by figuring out first what it's made of-that is, finding the simple forms or elements from which it grew or developed. This method, these days, is often disdainfully referred to as reductionism. If matter for example has certain properties, you'll never find out how they developed by breaking matter down to its simplest sub atomic components, first because those components aren't so simple anymore, and lead us into complexities perhaps greater than the original matter we started to examine. Also, we find that we don't get to matter in a straight line from its original components, because along the way, when certain components get together, altogether new properties, not present in the originals, emerge. Not as in chemistry when you mix things and suddenly they fiz and boil and react and expand and contract and dance their various jigs. These are fixed consequences of  mixing certain ingredients. They are not emergent properties. An emergent property is something you can't predict or resolve by analyzing the things from which they presumably emerged. So, even though they're called "emergent properties.", we can't quite say what they emerged from. We really haven't any idea how they got there except that they happened at a certain stage of complexity, of which the components that created the complexity don't provide a clue. That is, at a certain stage of complexity, they simply appear- ipsi-dipsi-presto-chango--!. Without forewarning. At the subatomic level, there's no heat. But at some point in the gathering complexity of matter, heat appears as an emergent property, Does that sound right?  It doesn't really, because heat is energy, and presumably without heat there's no life, no action, no change.

Actually, that would mean that nothing could ever happen.  How could anything happen out of a state of total entropy? But the way we get around that is by coming to the realization that there really is no such thing as a closed system that we know of. By that, I mean, no matter what the structure, once forms or things or disparate elements join together in some way, forming what we call a system, that system has to be open somewhere, so that energy can flow into it. We really do not know of any actual closed systems, and the whole law of entropy, the so-called heat death of the universe, would depend on a system in which no energy gets in or out. That's the theory. It never happened as far as we know. And as the Nobelist,  Ilya Prigogine demonstrated, all systems, because of the constant movement of energy through them, in and out, are never precisely in a state of equilibrium. A system struggles to attain equilibrium-that is to arrive at a balance, a kind of homeostasis, but it never really gets t ere because if it did, it would die. Paradoxical?

Yes, indeed. But there's more, according to Prigogine. A system sometimes reaches a state where it is so out of equilibrium that it can self-destruct---or-arrive at a new type of equilibrium, a kind of leap into something else. Maybe that's how death only leads to another type of life-a transfer of consciousness into a different level of being. Reincarnation, perhaps? Why not?. But for starters, let's just keep in mind that energy and consciousness are aspects of the same thing.......

All right-all right-enough. What am I getting into here? Where am I leading everybody?  Well-it's this. I've begun to notice that while everybody has been predicting the death of the comics, I've already begun to see a transformation of comics into new forms and new types of art. Not so you'd notice it as A, B, C--- because it's a process. The leaves slowly fall from the tree and renew themselves again but never in exactly the same way. The form or outline is the same, but the leaves themselves each take on new clusters and slowly the tree itself changes its shape.

I've talked a lot here lately about Charley Brown. But Schultz didn't discover all the ideas and characters-let alone transcendence-all at one shot. It's a gradual process. It slowly filters into the consciousness and finally into the hand and the mind of the artist. Schultz himself first experiences transcendence in his art. Then, the image becomes clear, until one day, a smart critic like Alvin Schwartz comes along and recognizes what has happened. Always keeping in mind that the word transcendence isn't the same as the event. Nor can we ever actually know whether Schultz himself experienced it. It emerged in his art, and possibly that was how it reached the man. But we can only know that about ourselves and not about anyone else.  The artist as seer, according to legend, is always blind.

Pick up a few comic books of the same characters over a period of five, ten or even twenty years. Have they changed?  If they've lasted, they've surely changed, not because of marketing ideas introduced by editors but because within their innate continuity, a process was at work. I always like to use Superman as an example, because I worked on that character for so long that he became part of my own focus of consciousness. Or a sort of mirror of my own development. I was fortunate because Supes was such a perfect symbol, or as they say in the jargon of chaos theory-such an ideal attractor.

But now, I suggest-look around. See how all your favorite strips have changed, morphed, reshaped themselves into something else.  What a wondrous kaleidoscope of experience and vision they reflect. But watch too for another interesting transformation on the way. The superhero is not gone. He/she is slowly transforming into another kind of image which, in a few short years, will be astonishingly removed from what we know today.  Transcendence-because no system is closed-and every form of consciousness and conscious expression tends therefore to explore itself through all of its possible variations.  Anyone ever listen to Glenn Gould's recordings of  Bach's Goldberg Variations? Well, then-you've got it. You've got it exactly.

As Gould explores every one of the vicissitudes of the Goldberg theme, he's showing us through music exactly what Plato meant by his Ideas. A Platonic Idea has no reality other than being Form itself. It acquires its reality in the endless variations of itself that Bach creates on Goldberg's theme. That's as close as I can come to explaining how reality effloresces from a single formal Platonic Idea. Now, getting back to comics, and using my most familiar example, Superman, there are still endless variations to be played on that theme. In a sense, the basic concept-the physically perfect human, unlimited by any factor in its environment, can still be played in a number of ways. If those interested in maintaining this psychologically and commercially successful figure really want to know how, my consultation services are available. Bizarro is only a solitary example of the possibilities.

Alvin

<< 12/23/2002 | 12/30/2002 | 01/06/2003 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Round Table.

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