“Faith Held Me Back A While”

(Soundtrack: Judy Garland — The Complete Decca Masters, Volume One)

Greg/Ned’s big speech near the end of The Filth is definitely worth the wait:

Scale’s the next big frontier, they say. You can power a whole city with the energy in a human cell. Only humans could make something kinder and better than themselves–that makes them smarter than God in my opinion… Like anti-bodies in the great big body of nature except antibodies don’t get sad like we do. Because they know their place.

There’s so much here, if you keep in mind the context in which it’s uttered. It’s a clear invocation of Marx’s mentor, Ludwig Feuerbach, the guy who knocked Hegel’s “Absolute Spirit” on its ass. God isn’t the subject, he/she/it is the predicate–it was a radical theory in its time, but I think most of us take it for granted by now. Why the fuck would an omnipotent being create anything? But it’s easy to see how such a figure might appeal to vulnerable mortal minds. Consciousness/subjectivity equals not knowing your place. We create God so that we don’t have to pay attention to the shifting ground beneath our feet. He’s a crushing place-marker. If you accept this, it becomes obvious that Calvinist theology is the only theology that matters: “God” is the unknowable antagonist. He’s not your friend. As good ol’ Jonathan Edwards was wont to say: “He hates you.”

That’s if “He” existed, I mean. And of course “He” doesn’t. We made “Him” up–just as Max and Greg and their crew made up Spartacus Hughes.

Hughes understands his function, and he recognizes others who take a turn in the role–like Simon, the “world’s richest pervert”, in issue #2:

You were like some evil God there for a bit, weren’t you? Fucking a whole world up. Turning a sugary heaven into a sexy hell. And they’ve had generations to plan revenge on their gods.

But The Filth is about ceasing to plan this revenge, accepting the pain of subjectivity without seeking to cathect it upon imaginary conspiracies/shit-monoliths/creators, and to channel all of that I-Life into a new and kinder appreciation of what is.

People generally hate the old “it was all a dream” scenario, because they get off on seeing resolution through conflict. We’re a dialectical species. We’re big on redemption-through-blood-sacrifice.

In The Filth, Morrison refuses to give it to us. Which side are you on? Neither. There are no sides. But there’s no “wholeness” either. Morrison is no Buddhist. He doesn’t hold up anti-bodies as a model for humans to aspire to. What would be the point of that? To be human is to have consciousness.

What does this all have to do with Hawthorne and “Young Goodman Brown”? Well, I don’t have much time left, so I’d better say something about it. In case you don’t know the story, here it is in a nutshell: a recently-married New Englander sets off on a journey into the forest, despite his wife Faith’s plea not to go, in search of knowledge/an audience with the Devil. Brown hopes that, by indulging this one dark urge, he can silence the voices in his head and enter more fully into communion with his wife, whom he sees as “a blessed angel on earth;”. “After this one night I’ll cling to her skirts and follow her to heaven.”, he tells himself.

Except, of course, that all he learns from the devil is that everyone in the town, from the Deacon on down–and including Faith–is alienated from God. Sadly, this is the one thing he was unprepared to hear. People generally don’t mind thinking that they are bad, as long as there are “saints” in the world to pick up the slack. Brown doesn’t really know anything about his wife–she’s just a bunch of pink ribbons to him. He returns home to a truly “fallen” world, and whether it was all a dream or not, he has learned a very important and counter-productive lesson:

Often, waking suddenly at midnight, he shrank from the bosom of Faith; and at morning or eventide, when the family knelt down at prayer, he scowled and muttered to himself, and gazed sternly at his wife, and turned away. And when he had lived long, and was borne to his grave a hoary corpse, followed by Faith, an aged woman, and children and grandchildren, a goodly procession, besides neighbors not a few, they carved no hopeful verse upon his tombstone, for his dying hour was gloom.

That’s how it ends. He has gained knowledge without letting go of unrealistic expectations. That’s pretty much the definition of a cynic, no?

Well, Morrison has always placed his “Faith” in the animal kingdom. The Filth is Morrison’s completely uncynical rejection of “sacred cows”. Greg/Ned (not to mention Max–a lifelong member of Greenpeace) has to learn not to tie pink-ribbons upon the heads of his mammalian friends. Tony isn’t a saint, he’s a normal (and hungry!) cat. Dmitri is a motherfucker (that’s why “is there a Hell for monkeys, dad?” is more than just a funny line–it’s a very poignant moment of self-interrogation on Morrison’s part.) And what about those psychopathic dolphins? “Don’t patronize me!” yells the one in the “aqua-tank” as he trains his blasters on Max Thunderstone. What do you think Morrison was doing in Animal Man #15?

We don’t get any closer to “God” by loving people or animals, we just get closer to ourselves–and each other.

Bon Weekend Les Amis!



  1. “The Birthmark”, “Rappaccini’s Daughter”, and “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment” are relevant here as well, to the extent that Morrison hammers home the need to accept the pain (abjection?) of corporeality as part of that pain of subjectivity. The point that Mother Dirt makes to Greg at the end is an antisomatophobic one. Not a celebration of the body (we know what Hawthorne thought about that), but a warning against the aversion to and impulse to transcend the Ick, Ooze, Goo, and Feh of our fragile animal selves.

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