In part 3 we delved into the mechanics of comic book continuity and touched upon some of the philosophical implications of such fictional universes as well as drawing attention to some analogous theories from modern physics relating to the idea of the multiverse. Come on, you remember. It was fun wasn’t it? In this part I want to explore further the notion that fictions have some sort of autonomy. We begin first by considering Alan Moore’s concept of “idea-space”. In an interview with Arthur magazine Moore explained that the impetus for his concept of ‘idea-space’ stemmed from trying to understand the nature of consciousness and where our ideas come from:
the best model that I can come up with for consciousness is consciousness as a form of space…Most of us never come out of our living room. We’ve got our individual little private space in our head–just like we’ve got a house as a private physical space. But most of us never go outdoors. We stay within our own identity. However: people who are creative, or people who are questing spirits of some sort or other, have to go deeper. I mean, most people don’t really need new ideas as part of their daily round, depending upon what their job is or what kind of people they are. The same ideas that they had yesterday will probably do just as well today. If you’re a creator, or scientist, or any sort of creator, then you have to look deeper. You have to travel further, to find ideas that no one’s come across before. Rarer ideas.
Moore naturally wonders if such a space would be inhabited; would it contain its own unique ‘flora and fauna’? In Comics are Magic Part 2 it was seen that Moore makes no distinction between art and magic. Both involve accessing, exploring and navigating this ‘idea-space’. As such the demons , angels and other entities encountered by the artist-magician can be understood as living ideas. Or as Moore said in an interview for Blather in 2000: “entities are a kind of compound idea, at least as far as I see them”. Clearly the notion of living-ideas existing within a shared realm that all human minds are capable of accessing has something in common with Jung’s collective unconscious (discussed in part 1) and Moore acknowledges as much in the same interview:
Would you agree with Jung, then, that the archetypes are the basis of religion and mysticism, regardless of the culture or society?
I think that the archetypes are in some ways what I’m talking about when I say “living ideas”.
With amusing understatement Moore has said of these entities/compound idea-forms, that he does, “see them occasionally”. He told Arthur magazine about an encounter with one such entity or ‘living idea’ :
I also had an experience with a demonic creature that told me that its name was Asmoday. Which is Asmodeus. And when I actually was allowed to see what the creature looked like, or what it was prepared to show me, it was this latticework…if you imagine a spider, and then imagine multiple images of that spider, that are kind of linked together–multiple images at different scales, that are all linked together–it’s as if this thing is moving through a different sort of time. You know Marcel Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase”? Where you can see all the different stages of the movement at once.
So if you imagine that you’ve got this spider, that it was moving around, but it was coming from background to foreground, what you’d get is sort of several spiders, if you like, showing the different stages of its movement. Now if you imagine all of those arranged into a kind of shimmering lattice that was turning itself inside out as I spoke to it, and I was talking to my partner at the time and sort of saying, This thing’s showing us it’s got an extra dimension I haven’t got, and it’s trying to tell me that it’s good at mathematics. [laughter] It’s vain. There’s something fourth-dimensional about this.
A while later- synchronicty alert!- Moore was given a book concerning the fourth dimension in mathematics. Although, “not a mystical or occult book, this is hard maths“, the author apparently allowed them self some speculation in he final chapter. Moore sums these speculations up: “Alright, if there was such a thing as fourth-dimensional life, how would this appear to us? Well my best guess is that it would appear as a kind of multiple images of itself at different scales arranged in a shimmering latticework.” As it happens Moore had already attempted to capture the form of Asmodeus in the illustration found at the beginning of his post. Moore told blather:
this demon picture that I put together out of multiple photocopies of an original drawing at different scales and arranged them into this lattice-work, to suggest the creature that I’d seen,
Moore’s picture inspired the video below by artist and designer John Coulthart (which can be found as a DVD extra for the excellent documentary The Mindspace of Alan Moore). The reading that accompanies the visuals is from a magical working/performance piece (again, Moore sees no difference between art and magic) performed by Moore and his collaborators as The Moon and Serpent Grand Egyptian theatre of Marvels which took place in 1994 and was released on CD in 1996. Coulthart describes the process behind the video:
Alan’s picture was the sole source for all the visuals even though for most of the running time these are a kaleidoscopic mesh of circles and hexagons. The reading (with sound effects by Tim Perkins) works symmetrically, building to a central point then reversing itself so that the words from the first half are read in reverse order. I followed this scheme with the animation; the film begins in abstraction, evolves into the Asmodeus portrait then devolves back into abstraction. There’s also a symmetrical split to the visuals which are matched along a vertical axis in the centre of the screen.
Moore’s palindromic text is as follows (in case you want to read along):
Symmetry becomes it. Come to ruin our impending feast, a presence that nourishes suffering. All things below voice his burning name. His turmoil offers only truth in which longer moments live. Let consciousness recapture the flicker it saw then. Torch our continuity of thought now, until that mind evaporates. Lust after shadows in us. Rend that lace of promises broken and white lies. Regard our love of wreckage; the way our heads thunder, approaching that warning pulse and temple of throbbing light that is ASMODEUS. ASMODEUS is that light throbbing of temple and pulse, warning that approaching thunder heads our way. The wreckage of love. Our regard lies white and broken. Promises of lace that rend us, in shadows, after lust evaporates. Mind that until now thought of continuity, our torch, then saw it flicker, the recapture: consciousness let live moments longer, which in truth only offers turmoil. His name burning, his voice below things. All suffering nourishes that presence, a feast impending, our ruin to come. It becomes symmetry
It is intriguing to note Moore’s suggestion that this vision/entity/thought-form appeared, “as if this thing is moving through a different sort of time”. Perhaps the entities that populate idea-space have a similar dimensional relationship to our universe as we do to the comic book universe. We have already seen (in part 3) how Grant Morrison has approached these universes ‘anthropologically’ as non-fictional. Moreover, Morrison has ‘allowed’ certain characters (or certain characters have used Morrison) to realise their own ‘fictional’ status. In Animal Man for example, the title character undergoes a visionary experience with peyote which allows him to gaze up out of the page to the reader above.
In fact fictional characters achieving the comic book equivalent of gnosis and gazing out of the page is a familiar trope in Morrison’s work and has also been experienced by Zatanna and Superman in Superman Beyond, which even came with 3-D glasses to literalise the metaphor of higher dimensional vision.
Of particular interest here though is the idea of time as a dimension. In part 3 we saw that Morrison described the 2-dimensional comic book universe as existing in line-time and our 3-d universe as existing in ‘cube-time’. Four dimensional beings, in this schema, would exist in ‘hypertime’. The idea of the fourth dimension has a long association with both occultism and the arts. As Alan Moore explained to Arthur Magazine,
One of the prime occult ideas from the beginning of the last century, which is also interesting because it was a scientific idea, and this was the sudden notion of the fourth dimension. This became very big in science around the end of the 19th century, beginning of the 20th, because of people like these eccentric Victorian mathematicians like Edwin Abbot Abbot–so good they named him twice–who did the book Flatland, and there was also C. Howard Hinton, who was the son of the close friend of William Gull, he gets a kind of walk-on in From Hell, who published his book, What is the Fourth Dimension? And so ‘the fourth dimension’ was quite a buzzword around the turn of the last century and you got this strange meeting of scientists and spiritualists because the scientists and the spiritualists both realized that a lot of the key phenomena in spiritualism could be completely explained if you were to simply invoke the fourth dimension.
Moreover, “just as sort of three-dimensional creatures can see the inside of a two-dimension square…[four-dimensional beings are] looking down on it through the top, from a dimension that two-dimensional individuals would not have”. Artists such as Picasso began trying to capture this perspective; “Picasso’s imagery where you’ve got people with both eyes on one side of their face is actually an attempt to, it’s almost like trying to create, to approximate, a fourth dimensional view of a person. If you were looking at somebody from a fourth dimensional perspective, you’d be able to see the side and the front view at once”. Duchamp’s “Nude Descending A Staircase”, seen earlier, is a similar attempt to capture the image of a form being projected through time. Viewing the images below one wonders if Picasso’s experiments were an influence on Jack Kirby’s early attempt to capture the same sensation in his 1957 story The Fourth Dimension is a Many Splattered Thing
In The Invisibles Morrison has expanded on these ideas of how three-dimensional beings might appear from a four-dimensional perspective. As Wolk puts it, “Morrison suggests that an “outside view” of a human being would appear as a gigantic, continuous worm-like structure, including all of that person’s physical positions through time–a “time maggot” or “knotted life cast”–which can then be mapped onto the two-dimensional picture plane.” What looks to us like ‘a person’ is in fact the intersection of a “time maggot” with three-dimensional space. When Dane in The Invisibles is shown his ‘cast’ he is told, “This is your complete body, not its section“.
Wolk notes that, “if the intersection of a “time maggot” with three-dimensional space looks like a person, it follows that other higher-dimensional constructs will be similarly deformed as they are observed in 3-D space”. That is a discussion for another day but it is possible to find instances of three-dimensional beings deformed on the 2-dimensional plane. At the end of his Animal Man run Morrison created a paper and ink avatar of himself to meet with the pseudonymous superhero and explain to him that he is a fictional character whose “life story was being written by some demiurgic Gnostic overlord”. Naturally, as Morrison points out:
the implication was that our own lives might also be “written” to entertain or instruct an audience in a perpendicular direction we could never point to, interacting with us in ways we could scarcely understand but tha ould be divined in the relationship of the comic world t the world of the creator and audience
In our own universe there is a long history of mystics, madmen, psychonauts, poets and philosophers who have been illuminated by glimpses into the true nature of reality. Who have experienced multi-dimensional (higher) consciousness and who have sometimes observed or conversed with the beings who exist in these spaces. Amusingly, in 52 Animal man describes his gnostic experience to his fellow characters and is met with bemused indifference, much as we might shrug at a man with schizophrenia telling us the secrets of the multiverse at the back of the bus. In subjecting comics characters to similar experiences are we perhaps witnessing the opening act in the birth of comic book consciousness? Is this the first rumblings of a level of philosophical and narrative complexity that Moore suggests would be necessary for an idea to gain sentience? The birth of what Moore described to artist Eddie Campbell as:
self-referential idea clusters that, upon broaching a certain frontier of complexity, have become either aware or apparently aware…. It is my belief that all gods are stories, or at least the ideas behind the stories, but stories or ideas that have become in some way almost alive and aware, or at least appear to be to all practical intents and purposes….
As we saw in Comics are Magic Part One the archetypal figure of Superman seems to have broached Moore’s ‘frontier of complexity’ enough to allow himself to manifest in our 3-dimensional reality on occasion. But another notion arises. If an idea, a story, can become so complex that it could become aware of itself, then why not an entire collection of stories? Certainly the complexity, intertextuality, extratextuality and self-referentiality have reached a point where certain characters existing in those universes are aware of their fictional status. If Superman can appear in our world, and Animal Man become aware that our world exists (and its relationship with his) then what is to stop other characters following their leads? And if we, as potential entertainments for higher-dimensional beings, can become complex enough beings to begin questioning our own ontological status and taking control (or so we’d like to think) of our own destinies, then what happens when our 2-D contemporaries do the same? What happens when the multiverse becomes aware of itself and our ‘fictions’ no longer need us?
Now, a sensible answer would be to say that a character such as Animal Man is not self-aware, but merely written that way. Thus the author, in this case Morrison, is in control. But the better and more fun answer is that Morrison, like all of us, is only a puppet controlled by higher-dimensional entities. In Moore’s conception of idea-space, fictional characters, archetypes and idea-forms appear to exhibit just such multidimensional characteristics. Moore’s vision of Asmodeus was as a “lattice work”, multiple images linked together as if “moving through a different sort of time”. A seeming paradox emerges then: that the archetypal beings who ‘write’ and ‘read’ our adventures make their presence known to us by appearing in our fictions. Perhaps than our relationship to our ‘fictions’ is one of co-dependence rather than control (to think them demonic is simply a religious hangover). Let us say that our universe exists in a similar relationship to the fourth-dimension as ours does to the second-dimensional universe of comics books. Fourth-dimensional beings, moving through hyper-time, would be able to see the past. present and future of our miraculous and tragic human lives as easily as we flick back and forth through pages. To paraphrase the old hymn-we/they’ve got the whole world in our/their hands.They read us reading them.
Why might they want to do this? Surely life as a higher-dimensional sentient idea-form must be pretty sweet? No doubt. But they also exist outside of linear time. Ideas cannot age while in that form, cannot know change. But humans exist in linear time, we change and grow old and die. The higher dimensional inhabitant of idea space manifests themselves through the intermediary of the artist, because being reborn in 2-d space in a form always different from their true one, partly as a result of having been deprived of a few dimensions and partly because each idea, while existing in some pure, platonic form in idea-space, is translated through the unique nervous system of the artist at hand. This would explain, for instance, the fact that the Greek, Roman and Norse Pantheons all had gods that represented single ideas, such as love or war or poetry, but which took forms appropriate to the socio-cultural-historic context. Human beings are the agent through which archetypes can know change.
That seems like a bold enough statement to end on doesn’t it?
See you next time when we will conclude our discussion of the conscious multiverse. For the time being anyway.