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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 09/12/2005
Vol. 2, #176

From time to time, I have been called "creative." So also have a lot of artists and writers. But none of us are, in fact, creative. Think for a moment about what "creative" really means. It's the shaping of something out of nothing. And the arts, as well as science, are in fact, methods of transformation, that is, the reshaping of something into something else.

Creation, on the other hand, is making something out of nothing. This is possible only to the gods and comprehensible only to the mystics. And while to a certain extent, I see myself as a mystic, I'm not at all sure what nothing is. If I were sure, it wouldn't be nothing, you see. So I'm a mystic only in the sense that I do not think "things" can ever be immutable. I see the universe (and all possible universes) as simply "being", that is, using the mystic's special German word "ungrund", or "the ground of being". That's because when we start to look below the ground, below the foundation, we have to stop or we'll be involved in a meaningless infinite regress.

So, starting from the foundation of the foundation, which is as far as we can get, everything that follows, the whole of creation, is where artists and writers operate, reshaping things into new and myriad forms and processes. We don't mess around with "creation." But we transform creation as we receive it, producing worlds, ideas, universes, thoughts, and yes, even science. Science is, in fact, the art par excellence. It sets up what you might call the laws of transformation, explaining how, for example, water turns into ice, or DNA provides the code that transforms matter into living beings. So science, above all else is anti-creative. It takes the already created and explains its various transformations and possibilities of transformation.

As the physicist, Fred Alan Wolfe describes it: "Scientists attempt to eliminate the idea of creation and understand everything in terms of transformation. They want to know how one thing changes into something else. They are not concerned with how one thing gets created from nothing, because there is no scientific way to grasp this. So we might say that the reason there is a problem between science and mysticism is that the mystics are looking at creation from the viewpoint of awe and wonder..." (Mind Into Matter, Moment Point Press, 2000)

Wolfe goes on to explain that anything created could get uncreated and that men need more solid ground to stand on, some resistance to being undone, as it were. Hence science. But art too needs some solid reliable ground. It isn't concerned with the laws of transformation of one thing into another as much as it is itself a mode of transformation within creation.

Now, out of all this, I was suddenly struck by the world in which I spent so many of my early years, the Golden Age of comics, perhaps because it brought the superheroes who were in the fullest sense, masters of transformation. That is, they were self-transforming! And, in fact, that's their whole secret, the magic of their fascination, and why they continue to fascinate. Because they hold the keys, not to creation, indeed, no, but to self-transformation. From the particular and ordinary among men to the super luminaries that they can become by a mere word or gesture.

In our celebrity crazed modern world, they stand out as the most celebrated of all, touching each successive generation, in a slightly different way, with the inspiration of their transformative power. As I have said elsewhere about Superman, "he is us, at our best and highest point." (An Unlikely Prophet, Divina, 1997) ---Alvin

* An Unlikely Prophet is to be republished in the spring of next year, along with its sequel, A Gathering of Selves.

<< 09/05/2005 | 09/12/2005 | 09/19/2005 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Round Table.

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