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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 06/28/2004
Volume 2, #129

There's a Door in Your House You Ought to Use More Often

Most of us think of "magic" as something off the track, at the least, unscientific and at worst, primitive, or maybe even crazy. The problem is that with magic all around us, the word has become tainted. We hesitate to use it. But here I am from the perspective of the Golden Age, looking back on the appearance of Superman, which gave us a whole new literature (the comic book and the superhero), and in which I was fortunate enough to participate, and partly because of which I know that magic played a major role.

From those very early years which continued for almost two more decades, before I left comics with enough magic in my fingertips to make my way quite, yes, magically, through the rest of my career (which isn't nearly over yet).I have somehow arrived at my late eighties. These years offer quite a lofty perspective. So I think I can explain the whole phenomenon a lot more clearly.

The Blowtop Did you follow that sentence? Actually, my life has been like a space voyage through multiple worlds. In other words, I've moved magically from one career to another, finance, politics, seer, poet, author, musician, economist, explorer, you name it and I've probably done it. Magic? Was that it? It's just getting around that I started the "beat" movement, beginning back in 1948 when my first novel was a cult book at Columbia University's English department when Kerouac and Ginsberg first began to talk "beat" language, notably about the Village, the abstract expressionist art movement, and French existentialism. Exactly what THE BLOWTOP was all about, just those three subjects.

Because Mort Weisinger made life in comics ugly, undignified and unrewarding, I did my last stint creating Bizarro, then left for good. A lot of the other writers went out on strike. I would have liked to have remained just to support them, but I was suddenly running a segment of a think tank that provided ideas and solved problems for major segments of American industry, a magical leap from comics that was to continue through two other think tanks, a multitude of interesting occupations and writing assignments. Magical indeed.

Oops, that word again.

Let me restart by dropping the word "magic" which has become tainted. Let's explain it this way. Most of us live in places that have both a front door and a back door. In the majority of instances, the back door is rarely used. Often it's totally unused. Just a kind of fire escape. Everything that's important to us tends to come in through the front door. It's through the front door that we step out to meet the world.

In fact, whatever comes through the back door is suspect. Often enough we keep garbage cans at the back door. A bum may knock at the back door. And maybe we let the dog in and out through it. But our house of awareness, as the philosopher Norman Friedman calls it, "also has a backdoor, an entrance to other worlds. All of us, Friedman tells us. Having sensed at one time or another, messages or intuitions left at the backdoor of the mind, but largely we are taught to disregard this door...* In fact, some of the more important discoveries by important scientists, came through that backdoor, so, in that sense, I'm not talking unscientific nonsense.

According to Richard Feynman, "If we want to solve a problem that we have never solved before, we must leave the door of the unknown ajar."

Roger Penrose gives an elegant description of that backdoor when he relates how Henri Poincaré solved a difficult problem in Fuchsian functions. Says Penrose:
"What is striking...is that this complicated and profound idea apparently came to Poincaré in a flash, while his conscious thoughts seemed to be quite elsewhere and that they were accompanied by this feeling of certainty, as indeed later calculation proved them to be."
Quantum physics, did you know it too came through the backdoor? It all began with Planck's constant which Planck shamefacedly admitted to the scientific body of his day, he dreamed it up!

In fact, while the commerce of the everyday world seems to take place through the front door, which we usually work hard to keep clear and presentable, the best stuff comes from that backdoor, as all our greatest artists, scientists and thinkers have long ago discovered. The trouble is, most people avoid it. They think it's crazy stuff. They dub it "new age" or unenlightened or even spooky.

But these columns that I've now been writing for several years now have mostly come through my back door. So has everything else I've done. Almost.

As for Superman, think about it. Suddenly, out of nowhere, out of the minds of a couple of little guys from Cleveland, maybe standing too close to the backdoor when the wind blew it open and dropped Superman into their laps. Because Jerry and Joe weren't really backdoor types. No, they were writing ordinary stuff like Slam Bradley before Superman dropped in on them. Think of how much better it might have gone for them if they were knowledgable backdoor users.

It doesn't take much. Just remember that there are those two doors. And make use of the back one more often than you do. In fact, I'm sure every one of my readers has had a backdoor experience they'd like to talk about. Why not tell us about it on the Round Table.

--Alvin

<< 06/21/2004 | 06/28/2004 | 07/05/2004 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Round Table.

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