Where Do We Find Ourselves?
Just blazed through Stanley Cavell‘s new book, which I got from the Michigan State U. Library (they’ve got everything! and, when it comes to comics, I mean everything… even more fascinatingly–to me anyway!!–the curator of the Special Collections, Randall Scott, published citation indexes to the Hulk, Iron Man, and Avengers lettercols in the late seventies… can you imagine my joy? yes, things are good here–except for the fact that the best thing in my life is not–here, I mean… that would be Christine…) But I digress…
Anyway, Cities of Words is wonderful, and very helpful to a comics scholar of my own very particular bent… It’s kind of the summation of a career (Cavell is almost eighty) that has, increasingly, zeroed in on an elucidation of a theory of “moral perfectionism” best represented, wackily enough, by Emerson, Wittgenstein, and selected classical Hollywood “comedies of remarriage” and “melodramas of unknown women”… As it happens, Cavell has become increasingly wont to fixate with doddering intensity upon a passage from “Self-Reliance” that I have associated with superheroes since I first read it, a long time ago:
I shun father and mother and wife and brother, when my genius calls me. I would write on the lintels of the door-post, Whim. I hope it is somewhat better than whim at last, but we cannot spend the day in explanation.
The idea here is, in part, the fairly common one that the artist must turn away from those immediately near and dear to him/her in order to “open up intercourse” with a larger segment of humanity (by writing something outlandish in a very public place–“Whim”), and (this is where it gets interesting), if you believe Cavell, to both instruct and derive instruction from them (by inscribing a place for imaginative, even transformative, criticism–like Nietzsche’s, Thoreau’s, Stanley Cavell’s, and maybe Grant Morrison’s too!–into the text itself)
You mean like a letters page Dave?
You mean that Peter Parker puts on that suit in order to express the “moral perfectionist” sentiment that the “world he converses with [at the Daily Bugle] is not the world he thinks?” and to enter into an adventurous dialogue with the kinds of people who might be similarly dissatisfied with the world as it is (alienated teens and college freshmen? you bet!)?
And consider the applicability of this statement (from another Cavell book–Pursuits of Happiness–in reference to Clark Gable & Claudette Colbert in Capra’s It Happened One Night) to the relationship that Stan Lee and his writer/editors (through the agency of their protagonists and their engaging, conversational narrative style) cultivated with “Marvel Zombies” (they used to call ’em “Merry Marchers”) in the sixties and seventies:
What this pair does together is less important than the fact that they do whatever it is together, that they know how to spend time together, even that they would rather waste time together than do anything else–except that no time that they are together could be wasted. Here is a reason that these relationships strike us as having the quality of friendship, a further factor in their exhilaration for us. Spending time together is not all there is of human life, but it is no less important than the question whether we are to lead this life alone.
Needless to say, I have more to say… but I must go now! I’ve got a week’s worth of nine-to-five orientation days beginning in eght hours!
Welcome back friends!