Monday, May 7, 2012

Origin stories

Book: Mutants and Mystics: Science Fiction, Superhero Comics, and the Paranormal
Author: Jeffrey J. Kripal
Published: 2011 (The University of Chicago Press)
Pages: 334 (not counting endnotes)

Holy shit, comic book writers are just as crazy as you think they are.
Kripal’s conclusion is a lot more nuanced, academic, and sympathetic than mine. But all his research into the great minds of speculative fiction basically comes down to this. Everyone from Alan Moore to Jack Kirby to Philip K. Dick to pulp writers of the 1950s had some sort of paranormal/religious experience that brought them out of their own consciousness in some elaborate mind-melting way that may or may not have involved drugs (it’s split about even along the users/nonusers line). And boy howdy did they ever want to dissect the hell out of these experiences in print.
I won’t cheat or pretend to remember by paging back through for some random quotes about any of this stuff. It was confusing and blurred into one giant blob of higher intelligent beings revealing themselves to grant their higher knowledge on the open-minded. Basically, these guys did not go, “You know what would be AWESOME? SPACESHIPS and sexy goddesses!” and proceed to make it up as they went along. They were transcribing, translating, and interpreting. Their work was not their own.
To me, that’s disappointing, mostly because I want to hear how artists take control of their own creativity. I wanted to read about how they took ordinary lives and molded them into fantastical allegories about their world and its direction, disguised in mystical experiences that their audiences would use for escape. I did like that Kripal had enough insight to divide the experiences into different socio-historical anxieties, like alienation, radiation, orientation, mutation. 
But then he dropped giant musing paragraphs into the middle of everything and lost me out in the cosmos. Maybe I’m just not ready for enlightenment yet.

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