Here’s a continuation of my Misprision and Feeling Mystical Series. If you missed part one, read it now!
Part Two: The Big Other
In the 1980s, with Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, comics shifted toward making heroes more “real,” as in more gritty, petty, and filled with perversion, violence, and sadness. It also saw comics trying to “scientifically” account for zaniness or classic design features (like the costumes). Grant Morrison has gone on record several times to say that this was a futile direction. Instead, he wanted to take our reality to the comic books, which are real in the universe made of paper and ink, and as I said in my last post, in our collective imagination.
My main experiences reading Morrison are through New X-Men, Arkham Asylum, Final Crisis, The Invisibles, and All-Star Superman. Although these works are very different, one thing they share is that they embrace the crazy, the possibilities of the medium, and moreover, the possibilities of imagination. All of these comics tell killer stories—that’s a given, but they also offer a new way to experience our linguistic understanding of the world, a way to hijack the Big Other.
Final Crisis, the oft-hated conclusion to DC’s crisis trilogy that confused fans everywhere, ushers in a type of mystical apocalypse in the format of a big company crossover. After the battle between the good gods of New Genesis and the evil gods of Apokalips, all the gods of the fourth world are basically dead, but Darkseid orchestrated his spirit to fall to earth, where he held the ultimate gambit: if he dies, then all space and time will be sucked into his absence and destroyed. Damn, that sucks.
Superman finishes Darkseid off with a song. All the solar powered supermen in the multiverse gather to stand against the eater of worlds, the corrupted version of the Big Other, who eats stories and forgets them, the antimonitor vampire. The ultimate evil in Morrison’s work is missing out on the sublimeness of creation, of not witnessing these superhero stories for what they are—the precious chronicle of possibility, the site wherein we can change our own world into becoming—and especially, draining them of their symbolic potency. At the end, Superman escapes the terrible physics of the comic book by wishing a happy ending into existence. That’s how it works in superhero stories. You wish and make it happen.
One of the key principals of contemporary magickal traditions is by causing a change in the immaterial realm, the imagination, the subconscious, the astral realm (whatever you call the part of our existence that can’t be explained by atoms and stuff), a change manifests itself where the atoms live. You implant sigils there, manipulate astral figures, etc. It’s the “as above, so below,” maxim from The Emerald Tablet by Hermes Trismegistus. Or, in Lacanian terms, we tamper with the structure of the Big Other, causing our symbolic understanding of the world to change. In Grant Morrison’s terms, magic is when you cause things to have meaning.
Through Morrison, we can begin to see writing, literature, creating new worlds, comics as a type of prayer. Language and image planted in the field of the Other, the field of God, or the field of the collective consciousness. You can take your pick. There’s no reason why these stories can’t be read as transcendent, mystical encounters with the divine. And it isn’t just that it is fiction, but it is fiction that gives hope in seeing us as our best possible selves and models of the best possible universes. Or at least, the most interesting, exciting, dramatic, and redemptive possible selves and universes.
Language is the material with which we create gods. Take the Gospel of John, for instance: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” If we take this concept to be allied with Lacan’s Symbolic realm and apply it to the collective words of everyone, we’re back in the territory of the egregore. Lacan’s term for this is the “Big Other,” meaning the radical alterity that governs our conventions of symbolic meaning. It’s God in the machine of language. But it’s also our system of how things mean.
This is what Scripture is: in serious theology, the Gospels are not histories so much as Christological portraits. In other words, misprisions. The word Gospel itself comes from “god-spell” or good news, a calque from “euaggelion” or Eu (good) aggelion (messages), the Greek word that also gives us evangelist. Morrison, and other comic book writers, give a similar thing at their best: a Supermanological portrait that manipulates the canon history of the character alongside the superhuman messages the creator wants to highlight. Misreading the character to put forth certain “good messages.”
And ultimately, these gospels, once implanted into the collective subconscious, can change the landscape of the symbolic realm, and the body of the Big Other, which can change the way our brains work. Superhero comics, at this point, have become part of our collective vocabularies, and their structures, no matter how fantastic, color our new moments of creation. The best part, though, is that they might also be able to color all our other moments.