Category Archives: ontology

Thesis Review Part One: Assemblages and Rhizomes

Hello you! There’s been no blog posts for a while. Comedy and academia have been eating up my time. In a few days time (Friday 15th to be exact) the world premier of Woodward and Jeffery: Laughter on the Outskirts will be on at the Leicester Comedy Festival. This looming comedy deadline has had the added benefit of forcing me to go full pelt at completing a draft of my thesis beforehand. (UPDATE: It’s been and gone and I wrote about it here).

It’s been a long three years, and its not over yet. But with a full initial draft of my snappily titled thesis Producing and Consuming the Posthuman Body in Superhero Comics finally in the bag, now seems a good time to present some of the ideas from it on the blog. A ‘thesis review’ where the monster’s still dying corpse can be dissected and unimaginable, as-yet-unnamed organs extracted from its still-warm carcass and held up to the light: “Now look what we have here”, I will say, rubbing the ungodly creature’s black blood on my lab coat.  As ever, the reader is forewarned that this is the blog and not the thesis itself, so expect a potentially unpalatable mix of personal literary style and academic writing. Although to be fair if you are still with me after the whole monster autopsy thing then we’ll probably be okay. So lets begin.

In short I set out three and a bit years ago (or perhaps 34) to investigate two related questions. Firstly, how had the figure of the posthuman body developed in superhero comics? Or to put it more accurately, in what ways did the development of the superhero relate to a wider discourse of the posthuman body? A discussion of how the posthuman body of the superhero has developed can be found elsewhere on the blog (here and here) so will only be touched on occasionally in this piece

Secondly, I wanted to know what sense comic book readers made of the posthuman body. For example, did a familiarity with the superhero genre make one more or less amenable to the idea of human enhancement as espoused by Transhumanism? The question of reader-text relationships is addressed briefly below but the more elaborate discussion it requires will have to wait until Part Three of this series. Part Two takes the theoretical concepts presented below and demonstrates the advantages of applying them to the study of superhero comics.

In Part One of this ‘thesis review’ I instead want to present some of the philosophical concepts that informed the approach I took in my thesis to the posthuman body in terms of both theory and methodology. Or to put it another way, the following discussion is about what separates a ‘critical analysis’ or ‘cultural theory’ of superhero comics from, say, reviewing them. Long story short: the questions of how superheroes have developed and what readers get from them are not simple to answer. Or, rather, may lead to a multitude of, often potentially conflicting, answers to those questions depending on the assumptions the questioner starts out with. As such this article lays out my epistemological and ontological framework.

As Voltaire once said, “if you wish to converse with me, first define your terms”.

Ready to define some terms? Let’s go!

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The Avant-Garde meets Peter Parker Part 1: Comic Book Cut-Ups

5. named peter parker-and harry osborn

I’ve long been fascinated by the idea of cut-ups, I had some familiarity with the concept from reading William S. Burroughs and Genesis P-Orridge but I’d never performed the experiment myself. So this post details my experiment in performing the cut-up technique on one particular comic, The Spectacular Spider-Man issue 183, chosen at random because I’d ended up with an extra copy. The full results can be seen here at my Flickr account or scroll down to the bottom of this post . First of all the history and theory of the cut-up will be outlined, followed by a discussion of its more occult implications. After this outline, I want to relate the technique to Robert B. Ray’s suggestions about using surrealist techniques as a way of theorising film and suggest that the same methods could be applied in the study of comic books. This is not a finely honed theory or methodological prescription however. For now it remains an interesting experiment. That said, the final section will discuss what this particular experiment reveals about Spider-Man. The plan is for this to be the first of several such experiments applying avant-garde artistic methods to superhero comics.

Never let it be said that I don’t know how to have a good time!

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Anarchy and Posthumanism Part 3: Anarchist Superhumans

In my thesis I have made a distinction between the types of posthuman body found in comic books and how these relate to various other versions of posthumanity in philosophy and transhumanist texts. Of particular interest in terms of posthumanism and anarchy is what I call the posthuman Cosmic Body (more detail can be found by clicking on the link). This final post on Anarchy and Posthumanism (part 1 is here and part 2 is here) will consider how anarchism has been presented within superhero comics and note how these representations usually chime with this vision of the ‘Cosmic Posthuman’. Continue reading

Comics are Magic 3: The Conscious Multiverse

For the next two posts I will be considering how the ideas of Alan Moore and Grant Morrison can be used in conjunction with the concept of comic book continuity to reach some strange, exciting conclusions about the nature of the printed comic book universe and our own, more fictional, reality.  These are big, unwieldy concepts so it’s split into two posts. First of all it’s worth clarifying our terms. What do we mean by continuity?

Each single issue of Spider-man or Superman is but a small element in one of two gigantic narratives known as the Marvel and DC Universes. Ros Kaveney suggests that these two seventy year old continuities are, “the largest narrative constructions in human culture…and that learning to navigate them was a skill-set all of its own” (2008:25). Jason Todd Craft calls such constructions ‘large scale fiction networks’ and notes that these universe are ‘emergent structures’ (as does Kaveney) : “the initial parameters…-parallel and ongoing serial adventures, produced by a variety of writers and artists for hire-resulted, over time, in unpredicted behaviours, specifically intertextual connectivity and a slowly encroaching sense of narrative history” (2004:105). Each ‘universe’ must be understood as a, “retroactive story structure, which imposes a continuity upon all the episodic comic books published before as well as after the universe’s advent” (ibid: 105-106).As Richard Reynolds describes it, while narrative continuity may seem a familiar idea to anyone who has ever watched a soap opera, continuity as practiced by Marvel and DC, “is of an order of complexity beyond anything to which the television audience has become accustomed” (1992:3).

Continuity is a product of ‘crossover’. The first use of crossover took place two years after Superman debuted; All-Star Comics#3 introduced the Justice Society of America, demonstrating that superheroes with their own serials could exist together. Continue reading

Keeping the Cosmic Trigger Happy Part 2: Ontological Anarchy

So now then, after the last post became a general hurrah for Robert Anton Wilson (no bad thing necessarily) I’ve finally got round to writing about his links with comic books. Only that hasn’t been as simple as it seemed either. Fortunately it seems to have resulted in an interesting little bit of cultural archaeology.

Some context: I’ve written briefly about Wilson and his cohorts as ‘scientist-shamans’ and how that ties into a vision of the posthuman I call the Cosmic Body, and how we can also discern the Cosmic Body in superhero comics. One of the questions I was asked when I delivered my paper on this (available here) was how much the depictions of cosmic superheroes like Dr Strange and Adam Warlock in early seventies Marvel comics constituted a way of ‘piggy-backing’ on the subversive cachet of the comix underground, which of course prided itself on its open depictions of drug use, sex and violence in a way that the Comics Code would never allow for superhero comics.

Underground comix are not my specialty by any means. Other than the usual suspects like Crumb and Spiegelman and British variants like Viz, and a broad-strokes idea of the movement and its relationship with mainstream comics, its not a history that I’m wholly familiar with.

What does this have to do with Wilson? In thinking and reading and googling this post I was surprised to find very little interest in RAW”s work and comics. Moore and Morrison have certainly both name-dropped him (and Moore delivered a poetic eulogy for him at an event in 2007-video included at the end of this post), but I couldn’t turn up anything specific in terms of direct referencing. (For instance, I wonder if Alan Moore enjoyed the idea that ‘V’ was also the Roman numeral for 5, a number to which a great deal of significance is attached in RAW’s work and Discordianism, of which RAW was a pope of course. Continue reading