More than any other semester since returning to college (or, really, any other semester in my entire college experience), this term has exposed me to a lot of dense theoretical texts. Unfortunately, few of the novels or poems I've been assigned this semester have proven page turners, even in comparison to the aforementioned literary criticism. I've already bored everyone with my rant against T.S. Eliot. The works of Rudyard Kipling, Matthew Arnold, and Joseph Conrad certainly aren't as frustrating as The Waste Land, but reading a few pages can make me feel like I've run a marathon.
One of my unconscious strategies in dealing with this stuff is to always keep my superhero alarm on the ready. In other words, if I read something that I feel like could easily be relevant to superheroes, it becomes more interesting and easier to read.
At the same time, it slows my work down because instead of, for example, thinking about how a particular essay relates to Heart of Darkness - which is what my professor wants me to do and my success or failure in doing so will be reflected in my grades - I'm thinking about how it relates to Batman.
Tonight, I came across a perfect example of this, and part of my reason for this blog entry is to purge it from my mind so I can keep on reading.
In response, I fear, to our look at The Waste Land, one of my English professors assigned a theoretical text whose title screams excitement and intrigue: The Secular Scripture: A Study of the Structure of Romance by Northrop Frye. The first chapter deals mainly with concepts of myth, legend, and folklore, so right away I was thinking "Hey! Superheroes!"
On page 18, I thudded to a stop and couldn't get past the end of a particular paragraph. He's talking about how the concept of mythology eventually comes to mean something that is "not really true." He talks about how the word "mythos" is used in The New Testament to describe religions other than Christianity. He writes:
Mythoi, or just stories, were what other religions had: what Christians had were logoi, true stories. Confronted with this distinction, a literary critic can say only that the structural principles of the two appear to be identical. But if one story is true and another one of the same shape false, the difference between them can only be established by attaching a body of discursive writing to the true story, designed to verify or rationalize its truth.
Particularly in that bolded sentence at the end, isn't this exactly what Marvel and DC has been doing in their dueling series of never ending crossovers?
Because, unless I'm reading Frye incorrectly (and I don't think I am because he even mentions something like this earlier), texts like The Inferno and Paradise Lost are parts of the "body of discursive writing" that are verifying and rationalizing the "truth" of The Bible, even though they are not literally part of The Bible.
The company-wide events of old used to be done a lot differently. For a few years, all the cooperative universe titles of the respective companies would each go their own way, criss-crossing here and there, and eventually many of the separate stories would merge into a Secret Wars or Crisis On Infinite Earths. Then, the separate titles would go their own directions for a while until the next big event.
Now, the events keep coming, and they all intersect. There are Big Events that lead to Huge Events. "Avengers Disassembled" leads to House of M. House of M breaks up into Decimation and Son of and The 198 (and probably a few others I'm forgetting, I honestly haven't followed any of them). And then all those, plus "Planet Hulk," "Annihilation," and "The Other," plus a few one-shots like New Avengers: The Illuminati lead to Civil War. Then Civil War will break up just like House of M, and then all the little shards will help to form something else. And on and on and on. I don't think anyone who browses comic book blogs needs me to illustrate the same thing going on at DC.
The effect is that each separate universe seems more real. Obviously, I'm not arguing it seems more "real" in the sense that Christians consider their God to be real, but in an aesthetic sense the two companies are at war as to who can suspend disbelief more successfully.
The interesting thing is that the "reality" of the universes is , I think, maintained by the disconnections more than it is by the connections. In other words, if DC had just released Villains United, waited for it to end, then released The Omac Project, and waited until it ended, and so on, it wouldn't seem as real. It would seem contrived and formulaic (yeah, I know, it already does, but it isn't like nobody's buying these things). Instead, they released four mini-series and a bunch of one-shots, all around the same time, each of which led to Infinite Crisis in peripheral ways. The cooperative universe seems more real because in the real world one event doesn't lead to another all on its own. For example, people tend to say that WW I led to WW II (hence the I and II), but of course isolated from the rest of history, WW I didn't wholly lead to WW II. More events than the most sleepless historian could name, all working simultaneously, helped to lead to the second world war.
I just find it interesting. Obviously, I don't think even the most crazed fans believe that Superman and Spider-Man are really out there somewhere, but aesthetically the conflict between Marvel and DC has become all about "attaching a body of discursive writing to the true story, designed to verify or rationalize its truth," or, more simply, which universe comic book readers decide is the "true" one.
I realize that if there's any response to what I've written, it will probably be along the lines of "Yeah, duh," but whatever. Had a thought. Wanted to write it. Got a blog.
Okay. I'm purged. Now back to reading this page-turning thriller.