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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 06/19/2006
Vol. 2, #186

Most of us think of "reality" as the world made accessible by the five senses. But not always. Because, following the imaginative explorations of youth and, more especially childhood, the cold hard immitigable facts through which we live our daily lives, at work and at play are so tempered by desire that we sometimes break through to a greater acceptance of our wishes and the tug of our imaginations. Or as the poet, William Blake, described it: "Nothing has ever existed without first being imagined."

In time, some of us discover the best world is the "imagined" world. Although, because of the materialist pressures of our culture, we disguise that imagined world in a variety of forms. Within that variety lie the possibilities of bodilessness, the unweighted self participating in the gifts of flight, of unimpeded vision, of remote sensing, of a capacity to transcend the merely local and to care for all of life with joyous abandon.

I sometimes had intimations of all this when I was younger, and somewhat later, when I was involved with Superman. But I didn't feel that way when I first encountered the Man of Steel. I had been arrested and held on a minor traffic charge until I could get lawyers to come to my rescue and raise bail. But during the few days of incarceration in this small-town sheriff's jail, I was not allowed any reading matter fit for an adult. Mostly, there were only comic books, among them, early Superman stories. As it turned out, the only one I couldn't read with some pleasure was Superman. As I've explained elsewhere in these columns, I found the strip boring, too addicted to physical prowess such as quick biff, bam BANG victories and a jailhouse cell waiting for the villains. All clear, definite, repetitive. It was as though an imaginative work like Tarzan had been stripped of its uniquely human inwardness, the young Tarzan learning to read, beconing acquainted with tribal and animal folkways, the mixed imprint of civilization, in short, all of Burroughs beautifully imaginative handling of the mix of civilized and primitive values. Here was a true superman coming to grips with his potential and learning to fulfill them in so many specifically individual and human ways.

I've already explained how, years later, when I was offered the opportunity to write the Superman strip, I turned it down until, shortly after that offer was made, I discovered Clark Kent as a kind of everyman sitting alone in a diner and became aware that this was Superman too, and that in the struggle to adapt this Kentian ordinariness to the overwhelming potential of the Superman character lay the real story, if the editors would let me write it. Jack Schiff was the editor who did. Because what I knew, even then, perhaps because of prior literary and poetic reminders, was that all of us could fly. All of us had the capacity to see things on the other side of the world, all of us had at various times experienced timelessness and forms of the self that made our daily lives seem mere holding states, preparatory conditions, for a universe that from time to time, and in the long run, continually transcended the shackles of materialism and its limits. Most significantly, the structures of time.

So I've stopped thinking in terms of "reality." I don't write anything "real" anymore. I don't see "reality" in the same way. So I don't plot my books and stories anymore either. It's too much like trying to copy a copy. That's what fiction, as we understand it really is too. It's probably why fiction, on the whole, isn't selling as well as it used to.

My way of working these days is perhaps best described as a way of consorting with something more vast. It's taken me a long time to learn that "real" is not much more than the doormat. At its worst, it's misleading, at least from where I stand. If it's merely real -- why bother duplicating it in some similar form? What can you discover that way?

It's so necessary, today especially, to go beyond the real. And so, I've learned to do just that. I've learned to see things in metareality. And in the end, I learned how to recognize how every single day brought unexpected glimpses of the new and marvelous, provided I remembered to watch for them. I began awakening each morning to the realization that this day had a surprise in store for me, but only if I remembered to be watchful instead of being totally bogged down with daily trivia and the material impediments I had been taught to accept as final and ineluctible. I've discovered metareality!

But careful! It hasn't been all roses. Sometimes it's scary. There were times of terror. I came to understand what St. John of the Cross described as "the dark night of the soul." Because all of it was really too much to handle.

Imagine it this way. The philosopher Soren Kierkegaard describes this old bum trudging along the sidewalk when suddenly from down the street comes the Royal Equipage. And suddenly, this magnificent vision draws to a stop alongside the bum gaping on the sidewalk. The Emperor in all his glory, steps down from his carriage and approaches the shabby awe-stricken man and says with absolute surety:

"I want you to marry my daughter."

Of course the bum couldn't believe it. Of course the bum was overwhelmed, confused, and more than a little fearful. Yes -- terrified. Who wouldn't be. But it's like that when it happens.

So I would suggest that you start to think that way, that you are, in fact, chosen. That you are indeed the Superman you dream about. Indeed, if you weren't, how can you account for the incredible popularity of such a character, a personality that has transcended the "pop culture" framework that created it? How do you bring your mindset into conformity with this possibility?

Start by watching your day for the things that I've described. Make no final decisions about who and what you are. Know that you are more, and be patient.

That's all? Not quite. There's more. But you'll find out about that along the way. Try it and see.

And tell me about it.

While you're at it, read AN UNLIKELY PROPHET. It has just been issued in a new edition. And this time, you won't have any trouble getting a copy. Begin to get acquainted with metareality. My new publisher, Destiny Books, an imprint of Inner Traditions, is probably the only major publisher to specialize in the metareal.


<< 05/29/2006 | 06/19/2006 | 07/05/2006 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Round Table.

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