It’s Not You God, It’s Me

(Soundtrack: Fastbacks– The Day That Didn’t Exist)

Here it is–the history of Idealist Philosophy, from Plato to Nietzsche, in two panels, from Doom Patrol #25:

Dorothy Spinner: [ma & pa didn’t have time to teach me anything, so my imaginary friends educated me instead…they used to play with me and tell me stories. It was real fun at first, but it got so I didn’t like the stories they started to tell me.] They told me about the little mermaid and about the girl who couldn’t stop dancing till they cut off her feet… They were giving me bad dreams. So I shot them.

Joshua Clay: You shot your imaginary friends? With what?

Dorothy: An imaginary gun! What else? (she peeks into an imaginary rifle sight)

This is basic Freudian psychology–the human mind is usually up to the task of extricating itself from untenable situations; unfortunately, these rescues invariably take on the characteristics of an abduction. To a certain extent, we are all in thrall to the (alienated) products of our own mental labour.

You might call Doom Patrol #25 (“Imaginary Friends”) a “fill-in issue”–it’s one of those “slice-of-HQ-life” stories in which the main characters do not appear, and Doug Braithwaite subs (in subpar fashion) for Richard Case on pencils–but I prefer to think of it as a manifesto for the series. “Every wish has its price,” explains a little Morrison caption, pushed up into the corner of a splash-depiction of two ruby slippers soaked in blood.

In Dorothy’s case, the price is a horrific sprint through subterranean corridors, with Damn All, Darling-Come-Home, and Flying Robert in hot pursuit. (hey, they’re her dead imaginary friends, not mine!)

“For God’s sake, Dorothy!” Josh exclaims, “Ghosts of imaginary people can’t possibly exist!” Tell that to the freaks killing each other in the Middle East. Nietzsche composed a nice obituary for the Lord in the 1880s, but it obviously didn’t take… And it’s easy to see why–becoming your own God isn’t any better than projecting beards onto the stratosphere. Every beneficent ideal is a Cheshire Cat destined to morph into a homicidal smirk… And it’s not like this is just between Dorothy and her private demons either –poor Josh almost dies in the middle of this psychodrama!(and that’s where this story goes beyond the usual comic-pop psychology: without this important qualifier we’re basically watching a re-run of X-Men #143, with Kitty Pryde alone on X-Mas Eve at the X-Mansion…)

Blame it on the materioptikon–a machine in the Doom Patrol’s custody that, Miles Caulder explains, “Doctor Destiny used to externalize the subconscious.” Sounds a lot like the romantic theory of poetic creation, no? Thanks to the magic of language/art, your problem is my problem. People trample each other every day, on the way to some visionary paradise or hell. We are all materioptikons.

Is there no way out of this maze of clarity? Sure there is–they call it good ol’ apophatic mysticism (although I prefer Frank O’Hara’s more socially-aware variant: “magnetic otherness”). Any conjecture about the nature of reality, is, by definition, wrong. We approach the divine by stripping away the things that it is not. The via negativa leads inescapably to the conclusion that God does not exist, because we can imagine this attribute, and thus it cannot be a predicate of God.

I read the Doom Patrol as a sustained attempt to hack a negative path through the ideological terrordome. One of the keys to this interpretation, for me, is Morrison’s brilliant character, The Quiz–a member of the Brotherhood of Dada who possesses any power that her opponent has not thought of and then voiced. This series speaks the names of every gnostic “truth” its author can imagine. It begins where Alan Moore and Rorschach end: we are not “free to scrawl our own design upon this morally blank world”. The moment we pick up the pen, we become unfree–and monsters in the bargain. Better get yourself an eraser instead.

Tomorrow–the Brotherhood of Dada!

Good afternoon friends!



  1. Wow, a Doom Patrol Companion, co-authored by Dave and Jess . . . drool. Hey, innit neat that #25 has some allusive spillover from the first story-arc —Struwwelpeter, the source-text for the Scissormen, provides the lines with which the shadows taunt Josh?

    –Josh Lukin

  2. Nonononono! Get thee behind me, Satan@temple.edu! I have a half-million word manuscript to work on! I do *not* need another book to write.

    And honesty compels me to admit that Dave is MUCH better at criticism than I am. He should write it himself.

  3. Okay . . . so long as someone can do it better than Shaviro (And than me, in my two Morrison essays). But Jess, anyone who does it will use your words as the ground, the foundation, the ur-text, the lettercol comments that were for fifteen years the most interesting published remarks about the series. Shoulders of giants and all that.
    –Josh Lukin

  4. Josh–thanks for the kind words. And maybe a criticism-by-dialogue-with-Dave-and-I would yield something interesting. But, me, I’d rather read Dave’s comments.

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