‘It’s Always Been Politics

“It’s Always Been Politics”
(Soundtrack: The Levellers — Levelling the Land)

Has anyone noticed that the “mind-wipe” conundrums that Meltzer is exploring in Identity Crisis go back directly to Squadron Supreme, but with a reactionary twist? (I’ve only read the first two issues, so maybe I’m off-base here…)

Here’s how it looks to me: the most interesting thing about Squadron Supreme, as a series, is the fact that it declares absolute war upon the hero-villain dynamic… As usual in Gruenwald, the thing is not to “beat the villains”, but to bring them on-side… (by hook or by crook, as they say!) If you’re out to change the world–do the opponents of the new order have the right to the “sanctity of their personalities”? What you get, in Squadron Supreme, is Calvinism freed from the constraints of nature (and Augustinian quotas) by science (the subtitle of the paper I intend to write any day now is “Science and Soteriology in Squadron Supreme)… The “b-mod” machine is a “virtual grace” dispenser. At long last, “sanctification” can be mass-produced–and the theological doctrine of the “perseverence of the saints” can be “guaranteed by the manufacturer” (Tom Thumb)! All of this ties in with the question of technology’s capacity to expand the “possibilities of the human” (anyone ever read Bernard Stiegler’s La Technique et le temps?) and theories of sovereignty (notably Carl Schmitt’s) that emphasize the centrality of “The Decision” to all polities (despite the liberal dream that laws can be drawn up to account for every contingency)…

What intrigues me is that, while Gruenwald’s book sets up this problematic perfectly (I call it “metahuman momentum”–in contrast to the logic of the “Machiavellian moment” that you find in a different type of superhero narrative, like, say, Kingdom Come), it balks (although it certainly does raise the possibility–at least implicitly!) at forcing the Squadron Supreme to consider making “the final decision” (to force everyone–including themselves–to undergo the b-mod process…)


Here we are haunted by two Emersons:


1. “To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private
heart is true for all men – that is genius. “

and
2. “I would write upon the lintels of the doorpost ‘Whim’.” (with its corollary: “our moods do not believe each other”)

So which is it? Isn’t it both? That’s why the world is so fucked! (and also why I’m so in love with Gruenwald’s book!)

In Identity Crisis, of course, we’re back in mythological territory. The show must go on. The idea that “villainy” (or human conflict) should be dismantled (mainly through technological innovation), rather than opposed, is not even considered (even if, in SS, this is ultimately shown to be an “undecidable” question… The title of my paper is “TKO’d by The Decision”). It’s significant here that Meltzer’s “b-mod” equivalent is a magic spell (which depends upon the supernatural, not human ingenuity) that restores the status quo by making sure that villains play by “the (mythological) rules of the game”

Good evenin’ friends!

Dave

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5 comments

  1. Actually, you’re overstating the ‘grace’ implications of the first and forgetting the interesting implication of the damage Meltzer’s version does to the minds of those who undergo it: Dr. Light becomes a halfwit, the Top goes insane… the implication is that if you go into someone’s mind, you’re essentially raping him or her, and the lesson is learned but the damage is irreversible.

    – Matt

  2. I’m more interested, though, in the rationale behind the decision to modify… In SS, it’s to eliminate criminal behaviour; in Identity Crisis, it’s to make the criminals “play by the rules” (in the ritualized violence of the hero-villain conflict)…

    And as for “tampering with the sanctity of a person’s mind”–well, I’m not sure there is such a thing! In SS, certainly, the “b-mod victims” do not suffer any actual averse effects–and that’s another interesting thing that I’ll be exploring: the difference between Gruenwald’s take on mind tampering and its obvious precursor in A Clockwork Orange… Gruenwald doesn’t ignore the fact that something is lost through such powerful training–but it’s not the same thing that Alex loses (i.e. his aesthetic sense–I mean really, who the fuck cares if an asshole loses his ability to appreciate “Ludwig Van”? not me!), it’s the ability to respond to ethical situations that divide the “categorical imperative” against itself…

    Dave

  3. Is mind-swapping philosophically possible? I mean, that would indicate the that the mind and body are two separate things and can be separated from one another. As well, when the minds are being transported from one body to another what holds all the knowledge and memories of the mind together? I would the think the brain would somehow magically do this while the mind and body are intermingled, but once the contents of the said mind are moved outside of the brain what is to stop the essence of the person/mind-swap subject from floating of into space or falling on the ground? Moreover, isn’t the essence of a person (what makes you you) partially your experiences and partially your physical attributes? So if mind-swapping is possible wouldn’t the mind-swap subjects essentially be entirely different people like a movie remake or a cover song or something? Oh well, I am naive. I don’t know what I’m talking about.
    Also, I started reading Darkling I Listen. I think it’s funny and I didn’t think it was going to be a romance novel (rather romantic comedy), but I like it. Mike is kinda stuck in his head, isn’t he?
    Ever seen the film Mildred Pierce? I know it has nothing to do with Darkling I Listen or Identity Crisis, however, I watched it this morning and I was wondering if you had anything to say about it. It’s not really a remarkable movie, but there is some cool stuff in it. I thought Veda was a fun character. Well, keep up the great blogging!

    -Marlon

  4. Marlon!
    I’m so pleased that you’re reading the book! (and yeah, I pretty much write romances–at least this may give you some insight into why I’m so dead-set against reading superhero tales as action/adventure stories–that’s not my style at all!)
    Anyway, you’ll have to let me know what genre you think DIL fits into when you’re done! I like to think of it as a romantic comedy that goes noir, but–of course!–in a “soft-boiled” way! Also, you know what I think of “authorial intention”, so don’t pay this any mind if you don’t want to–but I can say that, most of the time, while I was writing the novel, I considered it “Dawn’s story” (you may not even have met her yet, actually!), and the most disturbing thing about that, of course, is that, yes, we are trapped in a character’s head a lot of the time, and it’s not hers!

    On Mildred Pierce–I love it! (both the film and the Sonic Youth song) Veda is indeed a hell of a character. I like Wally too (“I’m so smart it’s a disease”–that opening sequence where she leads him to the beach-house and abandons him there is astonishing!)… And then, of course, there’s Eve Arden (“alligators have the right idea–they eat their young”) It’s a great script, and chock full of interesting character actors and noir stylings by Curtiz… (and it’s interesting as well that, unlike your typical film noir–it’s the present that’s ominous! All of the flashbacks–and there’re a lot of ’em–use standard Hollywood domestic drama lighting!)

    About mind-switching: I agree with you, I don’t think much of that kind of storyline… but mind-tampering! Ah, that’s a different story entirely! Basically, I see stuff like the “b-mod” device in Squadron Supreme as speculations upon the possibilities of cultural “training”… i.e. the processes that force us to internalize “maxims of conduct”. (and that’s another really interesting thing about SS: forcing a person to think according to certain rules is one thing, but forcing a person to feel a certain way about a specific other person is quite a different matter! But no one is made to forget anything in SS–unlike in IC!–they are merely shown the “error of their ways”, according to some–still “man-made”–standard outside themselves) Would we miss our old training if we were “retrained”? I don’t see why, if it were done right! I know I don’t miss eating meat, although I thought that was alright back when I was eight…
    I’ll have a lot more to say about this soon! (also–I’ve gotten hooked on Identity Crisis in spite of myself, and I’ll probably do a big post on it once the final issue comes out–the same day as my last seminar paper is due, coincidentally!)

    thanks for reading (in more senses than one!) Marlon!

    Dave

  5. Just a few nitpicks. I’m not sure if they’re of great detriment to your central argument or not, but having just finished the SS trade, I noticed these:

    “In SS, certainly, the ‘b-mod victims’ do not suffer any actual averse effects…”

    I’d suggest Lady Lark’s stalkerish infatuation was an adverse effect, but certainly it falls under the heading of “adverse” that Ape-X goes catatonic when she’s faced with a scenario in which her “programming parameters” are in direct conflict. Both scenarios point to the problem of mechanically chaining a mind: even if you discard the ethical questions, b-mod is flawed in that it forces adherence to the letter of the law without allowing for the very human (and, I’d argue, very necessary) ability to understand the intent of laws. It doesn’t just take away choice, it takes away the ability to evolve, as well (probably not an accident, then, that Gruenwald’s primary example of this is an ape).

    “But no one is made to forget anything in SS–unlike in IC!–they are merely shown the ‘error of their ways’, “

    This one’s far more minor, but Nighthawk does have his people use the b-mod to make Blue Eagle forget he caught them undoing Shape’s b-modding. And oddly enough, he feels more remorse for that single act than he seems to feel at the bloodbath that his attempted coup incites. Not sure where I’d take that, but there it is.

    Jason Kimble

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