Soundtrack: The Breeders—“Pod”
Went to visit my mom today (Thursday)—it’s her birthday right now (Friday). I was overjoyed to see that she seems to be doing quite well (she had a by-pass recently, and, with all my comprehensive-exam related scurrying, I’ve been unable to see her as much as I would have liked…) We had some fine old debates:
–about the relative merits of the CFL and the NFL (my mom’s a Canadian patriot; I think the CFL’s a joke—the players are NFL-rejects, the three-down rule eliminates a lot of strategic short-yardage plays [aficionados of the league will tell you that this makes the games more exciting, and what they mean by that is that it makes it more like hockey, which I loathe], and, most importantly, the CFL, until a few years ago, consisted of eight teams, two of which were called the “Roughriders”!!! How the Hell can you take that seriously, even if they finally forced the Ottawa team to rechristen themselves the “Renegades”?)
–about the future of socialism in the West—my mom still thinks the working-class is on the verge of attaining class-consciousness. Well, maybe, but I don’t think there is a working-class in the West anymore…
–about that old chestnut “free will vs. necessity”. I’m getting more and more convinced that the only thing we are free to choose is whether or not we accept what happens to us. Predictably, she took the opposite point of view…
As she put it: we are an argumentative clan, and it was good to get back into that mode.
It was also good to see the beasts at the ancestral home—Zeus (the schnauzer/chow), the cats (Marbles & Rover), and a whole flock of Blue Jays. On the other hand, my little brother (Matt) was out the entire night, chillin’ in the park or the mall or something. Ah, Suburbia…
Anyway, I know I said I was going to do a lot more marvel/puritan stuff tonight, but I’m really hoping to finish Leon Chai’s book tonight, and I don’t want to start throwing all kinds of terms at people that I don’t have time to define properly. For the moment, I’ll just set up the “visible”/”invisible” saints binary.
According to a consensus of 17th century Puritan Divines, “invisible” sainthood was perceivable only by God. And by sainthood, I mean “election”, not the kind that is bestowed posthumously by a group of Cardinals poring over dubious accounts of “miracles”. The “Elect” are, quite simply, the souls chosen by God, before the world began, to join the Heavenly choir, when the time comes. There are only supposed to be about 144 000 of these, so it’s a pretty select club… All of that is beside the point, from the vantage of worldly community-builders. For them, “visible sainthood” would have to be good enough. You get to be a visible saint by experiencing “conversion” (that is, claiming to receive grace) and convincing the public that you weren’t hallucinating. No orthodox Puritan would claim to be able to say for sure if your experience was real—which is why humans can’t see “invisible saints”… Profoundly skeptical (& practical) people, those Puritans—you gotta love ‘em! And then you have the Antinomian fringe (back in this column to bedevil us all), whose whole rebellion consists in blurring the boundary between visible/invisible sainthood (because even you yourself cannot tell if you really are saved, and if you start to feel as sure of it as God is supposed to be, you know you’re in trouble!)
Anyway, in the Universe that Stan, Jack, and Steve built, it’s pretty clear who the “Visible Saints” are—because they’re all wearing spandex (if origin stories are equated with “conversion” and super-powers are equated with “Grace”) —but it’s pretty significant that almost all of them have secret identities. Certainly, Peter Parker’s “conversion” fails to bring him “pillar of the community” status, which is what “visible sainthood” is supposed to be about. The FF, on the other hand, disclose their experiences to the world almost immediately, and set themselves up at the Baxter building to keep watch over the flock, which is sound orthodox procedure… So you can make an argument that, when Spider-Man swings through Marvel New York (manifesting evidence of grace, without revealing himself publicly), the man in the street is actually witnessing the passage of an “invisible saint” (maybe this is what Kurt Busiek was trying to get at in his—over-rated, I think—Marvels)..
I’ll keep at this, and tomorrow I’ll bring letters!
Good night friends