Too Close to the Heart?
Steven Berg’s look at The Dark Knight Returns introduces us to an interpretation of Miller’s Batman as a figure of the sublime (and here I am using the term in the Kantian sense of an object that taxes the rational mind beyond its’ capacity to judge…) The problem, for me, is that the text is confused in its’ exposition. As I stated yesterday, I believe that Busiek & Ross do a better job of conveying the same idea–we are not competent to judge “marvels”… For what it’s worth, I like Marvels much less than DKR (as this post makes fairly clear)–at least Miller has the courage to show us that the sublime is horrific and nothing but; he doesn’t ornament the face of apocalypse with simpering traces of pseudo-beauty, as B & R do…
However, Marvels does give us a spectator-narrator (Phil Sheldon) who fills the role played by Marlow in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness… In DKR, on the other hand, we are most often positioned within the sublime, which is the one place that a human subject can never be!
It starts with panel one, in which Bruce Wayne begins his first-person account of one of his habitual runs at a “good death”. Contrast this with the opening of Heart of Darkness: “The Nellie, a crusing yawl, swung to her anchor without a flutter of the sails, and was at rest.” Both stories are headed in the same direction, towards a date with “the horror”; but Miller’s tale begins in psychotic flux, Conrad’s in the eye of the storm–“at rest”. Is that really such an important disctinction? Well–for me–yes!
All of those layers of narration around the core of nihilism in Heart of Darkness are there for a reason! Critics usually interpret Marlow’s failure to dash “the Intended’s” hopes against the rocks of the plain, unvarnished “Truth” as some kind of failure of nerve–like Conrad’s whole book is just a mealy-mouthed indictment of “hypocrisy”. I, on the other hand, believe that Marlow’s fabrication, at the last moment, of a “noble lie” that he knows he’ll never forgive himself for telling, is the only authentic human response to this existential crisis (and, in bestowing this gift upon “the Intended”, at the cost of his own integrity, Marlow anticipates “Grant Morrison”‘s act in Animal Man!) By giving us Batman’s world primarily through the eyes of Batman himself, Miller robs his narrative of a great deal of the complexity that it might otherwise have possessed… I don’t know why he chose to do this–is it just the effect of an addiction to hard-boiled, Hammett-style prose? aping Red Harvest‘s style without grasping the significance of the style? I’m not sure… There may be reasons for it that are not yet apparent to me. Is Clark Kent left in the Marlow-position at the end of DKR? Maybe so, but that wink looks even lamer then, doesn’t it? You can bet that I’ll be mulling this over at the ol’ bookstore tomorrow!
Unfortunately, I’ve spent too much time on the CJ messageboard, and I’ve got some Canadian poetry to read, so I’ll have to cut this off early again–tomorrow I should be free to post more expansively!
Good night friends!