Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Subject: Very important..

These kind of mails really make my day *&^%&)()


I lost my brand new Natraj HB pencil with a rubber attached.
The pencil costs Rs.3/. If u forward this msg I will get one
paisa from orkut. If you have heart and want to
help a poor child in need, plz fwd it to atleast
10 friends. Please don't neglect. Otherwise my mom will scold me.
If you forward it then your life will change for ever (u will get
one pack of sketch pens and an apsara non-dust eraser within 3 days).

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Understanding madness through art

Louis Wain was born in London’s Clerkenwell district in 1860 and eventually became an artist, selling his sketches of dog shows to the Illustrated Sporting News. He married his youngest sister's governess, Emily Richardson, which was considered quite scandalous at the time. His wife contracted breast cancer and died three years later. To entertain her on her sickbed, Wain started drawing their cat, Peter. Emily encouraged him to send these drawings to newspapers and magazines, and soon the Louis Wain cat was a household name, not only in Britain but also in America, where his comics and drawings of cats appeared in several newspapers. Louis Wain was elected as President of the National Cat Club and wrote the book 'In Animal Land with Louis Wain' in 1904. Wain continued drawing cats for newspapers and children’s books until he fell victim to schizophrenia in 1917 at the age of 57. Coupled with WWI and the public dwindling interest it cats, Wain soon fell into poverty and in 1924 was certified “insane” and committed to the pauper’s wing of a mental hospital in Tooting, England. Years later a foundation was set up for him by his peers (including the famous H.G. Wells) which enabled Wain to spend the last years of his life in comfort in private asylums in Southwark and Napsbury, where he continued to paint and draw his cats. Wain allows us a unique insight into the delusions and course of illness in a late onset schizophrenic.

Wain’s early work, while strange to some, is dominated by fanciful imagery of cats dressed in human clothes or engaged in human activity. Considering that much of his work was political cartooning and illustrating for children’s books, the early work seems an adequate representation of his pre-schizophrenic period.

During the onset of his disease at 57, Wain continued to paint, draw and sketch cats, but the focus changed from fanciful situations, to focus on the cats themselves.

Characteristic changes in the art began to occur, changes common to schizophrenic artists. Jagged lines of bright color began emanating from his feline subjects. The outlines of the cats became sever and spiky, and their outlines persisted well throughout the sketches, as if they were throwing off energy.

Soon the cats became abstracted, seeming now to be made up of hundreds of small repetitive shapes, coming together in a clashing jangles of color that transform the cat into something resembling an Eastern diety.

The abstraction continued, the cats now being seen as made up by small repeating patterns, almost fractal in nature.

Until finally they ceased to resemble cats at all, and became the ultimate abstraction, an indistinct form made up by near symmetrical repeating patterns.

Wain, like many late onset schizophrenics, never recovered from his illness. Because of the invention and increase in availability of medications effective in treating schizophrenia, the prognosis for someone diagnosed with the disorder today is much better than the one for Wain, who had been diagnosed in 1917. There is no yet known cause for the late onset in this type of schizophrenia, much like there is no known cause for the onset in the early type. Theories include much the same hypotheses as those for early onset, namely chemical imbalances and/or traumatic experience coupled with a genetic predisposition to the disorder.

The Origin of Silver Surfer

Freed from a distribution straightjacket that had been imposed upon it in the previous decade (limiting the company to only a dozen or so titles each month), the late 1960s saw a great expansion of Marvel's line of books. Beginning with the splintering of the venerable double-feature titles Strange Tales, Tales of Suspense and Tales to Astonish, editor Stan Lee soon branched out his line of comics to cover new features and formats. From the giant sized, semi-reprint book Marvel Super-Heroes, Captain Marvel had been graduated into his own title while Sgt. Fury knock-off Captain Savage and His Leatherneck Raiders was launched directly with its own # 1 issue only a few months before. In addition, there was a magazine-sized Spectacular Spider-Man comic and new, square bound 50 page comics (containing all-new material) sold at twice the 12-cent price of regular books.

It was in one of these 25-cent books that Lee decided to feature a character that had seized his imagination and that both inspired and prompted him to do some of the best writing of his career. Intended to appeal to the hard-core Marvel reader, the kind who was familiar with the company's increasingly complicated continuity and who thirsted for more coverage of the kind of serious themes that the regular comics only touched on, Lee determined to make Silver Surfer # 1 (Aug 1968) what these fans were looking for.

Created full-blown by artist Jack Kirby for Fantastic Four # 48 (Mar 1966), Lee at first had no inkling about the character, having admitted that the first he knew of the Silver Surfer was when Kirby's finished pages for # 48 arrived in the Marvel offices. In that first appearance, Kirby had created a completely emotionless, non-human Surfer who had no knowledge of what it was to be an ordinary mortal. At first, Lee went along with this interpretation but soon his vision for the character began to evolve. Realizing the potential and appeal the Silver Surfer could have as an objective commentator on the triumphs and foibles of the human race; Lee began to accentuate that part of him. As the popularity of the character grew, Lee bided his time and when Marvel's new 25-cent comics were launched, he used the opportunity to award the Surfer his own feature and make it the flagship of the new format.

With 38 pages of story available every other month to explore the character's personality, Lee expanded on earlier bits that hinted at the Surfer's tortured soul and left no doubt about the character's anguish at being torn between his pity of / desire to help the benighted human race and his loyalty to the memory of his former life on Zenn-La, the home of his lost love, Shalla Bal. As a result, throughout the life of the strip, the Surfer would remain in a state of almost constant angst at the predicament which found him exiled on Earth, a world he wasn't sure if he loved or hated. But in taking this route, by making the Surfer more human and so better able to understand the human race, Lee had risked diluting the very quality that made the character such an effective vehicle for social commentary. In this first story for example, Lee gives the Surfer an origin that places him on the paradise planet of Zenn-La where all is peace and light until the day it is visited by a ravenous Galactus. To save his world, Norrin Radd offers to become the space-god's herald in order to search out other worlds with which Galactus can satisfy his hunger. Galactus agrees and Zenn-La is saved but at a terrible price for Norrin Radd who, as the Surfer, can never return home, never see Shalla Bal again. Exiled on Earth, his misery is complete. But although Lee manages to give the Surfer's character more depth, it comes at the cost of a loss of credibility. How can readers really accept the Surfer's bewildered pronouncements about the human race when he's obviously as human as they are? Be that as it may, Lee still manages to pull it off with such ruminations by the Surfer as: "In all the galaxies…in all the endless reaches of space…I have found no planet more blessed than this…no world more lavishly endowed with natural beauty…with gentle climate…with every ingredient to create a virtual living paradise! Possessed of rainfall in great abundance…soil fertile enough to feed a galaxy! It is as though the human race has been divinely favored over all who live! And yet…in their uncontrollable insanity…in their unforgivable blindness…they seek to destroy this shining jewel…this softly-spinning gem…this tiny blessed sphere…which men call Earth!" Throughout the story, the script is bolstered by Lee's measured cadences and rhythmic lines, which in turn are underscored by the art of John Buscema (1927-2002).

Buscema was born in the "Red Hook" district of New York, at that time a predominantly Italian-American enclave within the borough of Brooklyn. His father, a barber by trade, expected his eldest son to follow him in the family profession, but his mother, recognizing an early interest in drawing in her son, encouraged the burgeoning artist. After grammar school, Buscema attended the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan. Part of the curriculum included weekly field trips to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and other galleries and art collections in the city, which inculcated a life-long love of Old Master painting. Unfortunately, the school's technical instruction was not as thorough as its art appreciation classes. To rectify this lack of practical training, Buscema began attending night classes at the famed Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.

Founded in 1887 by oil tycoon and philanthropist Charles Pratt, the Institute was dedicated to teaching art not as a mere abstract appreciation of beauty, but as the practical foundation of a skilled trade. Classical aesthetic principles of form, color, and space were taught with an emphasis upon hands-on training and rigorous technical studies. When Buscema commenced his life-drawing courses at Pratt in the early 1940s, the distinguished faculty included James Boudreau, the Director of the Art School, Frederick Baker F.A.A., illustrator Monte Crews, Maitland Graves, author of the influential book "The Art of Color and Design", illustrator Robert L. Leonard, and painter Frederick Whiteman. These artists instructed their pupils in the fundamentals of composition, the basic design elements of line and shape, and most importantly, the principles of figural drawing. This intensive analysis of the human form was based primarily upon the classic anatomical theories of the Renaissance, where particular significance was given to the unclothed body's potential for beauty as well as expression, and its ability to convey the entire range of human experience, from abject pathos to transcendent grandeur.

This elevated conception of the human form emerged in Europe in the 14th and 15th centuries, when a creative grafting of Greco-Roman antiquity to medieval Judeo-Christian piety resulted in the socio-political movement eventually known as the Renaissance. This inspired union of Classical canons of beauty, Hellenistic philosophy, and Christian doctrine gave birth to a Humanistic culture that simultaneously celebrated the splendor of the human form, and recognized the powerful spiritual yearnings of the human person. The nexus of beauty and desire was the naked figure, and the apotheosis of the Renaissance nude was achieved in the work of Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564). In this Florentine's oeuvre there is held, in precariously dynamic equipoise, two equally strong sensations: the rapturous beauty of the naked human body, and a profound psychic need for escape from the bonds of the flesh. This fecund tension is evident throughout Michelangelo's long career, perhaps most clearly in a series of nude male statues, such as the "Rebellious Slave" (c. 1514), intended for the tomb of Pope Julius II. Here the exquisitely executed figures twist and turn in apparent revolt against their embodied fetters, gazing upwards with agonized yearning, in search of a long-sought release from the material world.

Michelangelo's aesthetics, developed in the intellectual milieu of such men as Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499), philosopher, translator, and founder of the Platonic Academy in Florence, and the politician and patron of the arts Lorenzo de' Medici (1449-1492), is a part of a larger Neo-Platonic revival within Renaissance culture. Neo-Platonism originated in late antiquity as a mystical philosophy, composed from equal parts of syncretic Hellenistic spirituality and Platonic doctrines. Its greatest exponent was Plotinus (205-270), a Hellenized Egyptian who taught in Rome for many years. After his death one of his most devoted and talented pupils, Porphyry (233-309), gathered his scattered writings into one grand opus entitled the "Enneads". According to Plotinus the universe consists of several hierarchically ordered stages of realty. Above all reigns the One, the Infinite and Absolute principle of the Good. From this omniscient, omnipotent, super-abundant unity flows the Nous or supreme Mind; it is pure Thought thinking Itself. This is the realm of Ideas as expounded by Plato in his dialogues, an abstract, supra-sensible plane of archetypes. These idealized thoughts are given concrete embodiment in the next lowest stage of existence, the Soul. A series of energies emanate from this creator of the sensible cosmos, which by a descending ladder of existence finally reaches matter. For Plotinus matter is utter privation, that which is closest to non-being, the antithesis of the Good, and therefore evil. However, man is not wholly depraved, composed of both matter and mind, he possesses an immaterial soul, which aspires to rejoin the Absolute. Through a process of ascetic withdrawal from the material world, contemplation of the Forms, and an ultimate ecstatic vision of the Infinite, man can unite once more with the One.

Seen in the wider context of late antiquity, Neo-Platonisms can be considered as another of the increasingly fractious tendencies within the Greco-Roman world. Creeping social decadence and economic chaos within the Empire, and mounting military pressures from without, eroded the political supremacy of the Augustan era. In the religious realm the increasingly ineffectual rituals of traditional piety lost favor, and pagan worship was gradually supplanted in the populace by various mystery cults, such as Mithraism and Isis worship, imported from the East. The heirs of Alexander and Caesar held precariously unto their material conquests yet craved spiritual salvation. It was in this atmosphere of religious and social turmoil that embattled early Christianity proclaimed its message of love, and the disciples of Plotinus melded academic metaphysics with mysticism, while yet a third group, the Gnostics, preached renunciation and inner wisdom, each vying for the soul of the Empire.

Gnosticism was not an original, coherent world-view, so much as a syncretistic amalgamation of Judeo-Christian, Neo-Platonic, and Eastern elements. Gnostics claimed to posses a personal, inward knowledge (gnosis) about the true workings of the universe. Like the followers of Plato, they posited reality as a divided hierarchy, with a strict separation between the spiritual and the material realms. Gnosticism, by blending the salvationist message of the Gospels with the cosmology of the Platonists, offered an alternative path to personal redemption. As in the theories of Plotinus, Gnostics developed a convoluted creation myth, wherein existence originated as a transcendent Unity. This unity quickly devolved into a corrupt multiplicity, culminating in the material world, in which the human spirit is now trapped. This view of creation gives rise to several characteristic beliefs. Among them is a radical form of dualism, where the region of the spirit is sharply divided from the world of vulgar matter. Man is similarly divided between his spiritual essence and the debased flesh in which his soul dwells. The material world is the creation of the demiurge, an evil entity identified with the God of the Old Testament. Whereas in Neo-Platonism matter is a negative evil, a final privation of unified being, in Gnosticism it is a positive evil, the ultimate degradation of spirit. The goal of the Gnostic, therefore, is to escape the nefarious lordship of this archon or rulers of the lower realm. Salvation is achieved by cultivating the inner self, the liberation of the spirit from material attachments, and the reunification of the spirit with a transcendent Supreme Being.

Along with Neo-Platonism, the esoteric tradition of Gnosticism was given a renewed impetus with the revival of ancient learning in 16th-17th century Europe. Spiritual movements such as Pietism invoked a Gnostic-like inner illumination of the soul as a precursor to salvation, while the 18th century Enlightenment promised a kind of secular redemption of man through the inner wisdom of scientific doctrine. The fervid utopianism of the French Revolution and Marxism, with their characteristic antinomies of class warfare and apocalyptic ideology, can be described as lay socio-political forms of Gnosticism. Paralleling the political secularization of Gnosticism, in philosophy the rationalistic dualism of the Cartesian method prepared the way for Kantian epistemology and the aesthetic Romanticism of the 19th century. Thus, Romantic aesthetics may be interpreted as an attempt at Gnostic illumination of the spirit through an artistic vision of cosmic grandeur, which evokes feelings of awesome sublimity. (The concept of the sublime is explored in Review # 23: Creatures on the Loose # 10). In William Wordsworth's (1770-1850) great Ode, the ecstatic contemplation of nature provides the solitary poet with inward "Intimations of Immortality" (c. 1803-1806):
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy,
But He
Beholds the light, and whence it flows,
He sees it in his joy;
The Youth, who daily farther from the east
Must travel, still is Nature's Priest,
And by the vision splendid
Is on his way attended:
At length the Man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of common day.
The lonely visionary who can still see the "trailing clouds of glory" becomes the prototype of the true Romantic, a poetic seer whose spiritual insights make him an outcast from society. This romanticized figure of the poetical loner enters popular culture through the prototypical figure of the misunderstood stranger or wandering savior. Set apart from other men by an inward vision, or inner conviction, that normal society does not share, or cannot bear to see.

In the early 1960s Stan Lee revolutionized the comic book industry when he introduced this Romantic figure. Ostracized because of their appearance and powers, heroes such as the Thing and Spider-Man are prototypical representations of romanticized exclusion. They embody the myth of Prometheus (a favorite with the English Romantics) because they use their extraordinary powers to help mankind, yet nevertheless suffer because of their exceptional abilities. One of the most representative protagonists of the visionary outcast is Dr. Frankenstein, a misguided "modern Prometheus", or human demiurge, whose creation ultimately turns upon him. With the Hulk (Review # 15: Hulk # 1, 1962) Lee explores these related themes of Prometheanism and radical duality within the contemporary contexts of Cold War politics and Freudian psychology. But it is the figure of the Silver Surfer, the ultimate stranger in a strange land, which may be Stan Lee's greatest Romantic character.

While Jack Kirby (1917-1994) formulated the Surfer's sleek, silvery body and kinetic dynamism, it was Lee who imbued the gleaming navigator of the space-ways with his characteristic pathos. It is this archetypal Romantic yearning for escape from earthly entrapment, an echo of the Gnostic desire to be released from the prison-house of the material world, which becomes the primary thematic motif in Lee's conception of the cosmic herald. Starting with the first issue of the Silver Surfer's own series (Aug 1968), Lee's Romantic vision was superbly abetted by Buscema's Renaissance-inspired artwork, which represents the character's plight with all the noble grandeur of one of Michelangelo's Neo-Platonic figures, plaintively grasping for transcendence. It is this canny melding of Gnostic/Romantic typology and Plotinian Renaissance conceptions of beauty which makes the Silver Surfer one of the most potent cultural icons of the Marvel age.

click image to open larger version in pop-up window In the opening scene of this origin narrative, Lee introduces the Surfer as a paradigmatic wanderer, alienated from mankind, separated from his true home, a solitary spirit (pp. 1-6). Irrevocably exiled from the cosmos he yearns for, misunderstood and feared by humanity, he finds a modicum of solace in communion with nature. This world's natural beauty is a balm to his tortured soul, yet the comfort is transient, for the burdens of exile lie heavily upon his wearied brow. Only the possibility of escape beyond the bounds of earth, to the eternal freedom of untrammeled space, offers any true hope of lasting happiness.

Then, in the first of two flashback sequences (pp. 7-11) we begin to discover the genesis of this exile's tragic fate. We are transported out among the nether regions of the universe, to the wanderer's birthplace in idyllic Zenn-La. Yet this apparent interstellar paradise (note the literary allusion to Shangri-La) for all of its physical beauty and material progress harbors a peculiar sadness. Its denizens suffer from ennui, a metaphysical boredom induced by the total fulfillment of every conceivable physical need or want. Yet, only one citizen of this supremely sated world, Norinn Radd (as our wanderer was known in his homeland), is conscious of the pangs of a soul glutted to excess, and desires transcendence.

Suddenly, a chance encounter with a band of brutish Yetis, high atop the Himalayas, brings the lonely wanderer's musings to a temporary halt (pp. 11-17). Their unthinking violence mirrors the human savagery the Surfer has witnessed since his exile in this terrestrial prison. Physical aggressions can be overcome with cosmic powers, but the memory of such thoughtless barbarity lingers. Soaring once more upon his surfboard, the wanderer discovers an ancient gateway buried in the snow. With another echo of Shangri-La, the disclosure of an abandoned city, lost in a barren Himalayan fastness, brings a final surge of memory. This solitary citadel recalls the downfall of another civilization, the destruction of proud, glorious Zenn-La.

In the second crucial flashback sequence (pp. 18-20) Norrin Radd unburdens his heart to his beloved Shalla Bal, pouring out his dissatisfaction with Zenn-La's material perfection. He desires a form of perfection that lies beyond any physical fulfillment, "…for the prize you crave can be nowhere found-lest you journey beyond the farthest star." It is this very surfeit of the flesh, which the Gnostic/Romantic imagination cannot bear, the material world becomes "but a land of shadows," and a dimly conceived state beyond all earthly desire or consummation beckons as the spirit's true home. For the secular Gnostic movements of the Enlightenment and beyond, this rapturous transport is achieved not through individual salvation, but by a cataclysmic societal shift. An apocalyptical event, such as the "Dictatorship of the Proletariat" in Marxist doctrine, is prophesied, and it is this eschatological occurrence that is the agent of transcendence. In historian Eric Voegelin's (1901-1985) provocative phrase the Gnostic imagination, particularly in its various modern manifestations, wishes always to "immanentize the eschaton," to strip the illusory nature of existence in a world-shattering epiphany of apocalyptic destruction.

The arrival of Galactus at Zenn-La (pp.20-26) is just such an eschatological epiphany. In a catastrophic instant, a millennium's worth of progress is laid waste. All of Zenn-La's material accomplishments, its complacent wealth and technological superiority, prove useless before Galactus' onslaught. It is at this moment of seeming utter destruction that Norrin Radd grasps at salvation, both for himself and his planet. He conceives of a Faustian bargain, whereby he will exchange himself for the life of Zenn-La and its inhabitants. This exchange can be viewed alternatively as megalomaniacal hubris, astounding naïveté, selfless sacrifice, or self-serving connivance, but its sheer audacity improbably convinces Galactus to spare Norrin Radd's homeland (pp. 27-31).

Examined from a Gnostic perspective, the narrative yields certain exegetical insights. Galactus bears a close resemblance to the archons, the demiurgic rulers of the lower realms, who in the guise of divinity, cruelly rule over the denizens of the lower realms. Galactus, a conflation of the terms God and galaxy, is a darkly inverted parody of the Judeo-Christian deity. Gnostics associated the wrathful God of the Torah (the Christian Old Testament) with this evil demiurge. It was with this fallen archon that the Hebrews had formed their Covenant. The God of the New Testament, the all-loving Father proclaimed by Jesus, was the truly transcendent One of Plotinus and the Gnostics. Yet the Gospel message of Jesus was esoteric, hidden from the common Christian, revealed only to those with inner Gnostic insight. It is this perverted Old Testament deity, in the guise of Galactus, to which Norrin Radd offers his life.

This offer is not a completely disinterested one; there is something to be gained from such a transaction. Although Norrin Radd accepts the terms with a sense of fatality, in another way it can be seen as an answer to his prayers. By becoming the herald of Galactus, he leaves behind his increasingly constricted life on Zenn-La, and achieves a kind of cosmic liberation. It is only after the transformation is complete that he can bring himself to enunciate this second, and perhaps more important motivation for his sacrifice, to himself as well as to Shalla Bal (pp. 35-36).

A herald is a messenger, forerunner, or representative of a royal personage. The herald's duties include proclaiming challenges to combat, declaring war or generally announcing the will of the king. In theology, heraldry is associated with prophecy, or the pronouncement of God's word. John the Baptist announced the coming of the Messiah, and an angel announced the birth of Jesus to Mary, Christ himself heralds the Good News and is the incarnated representative of the Father as the second Person of the Trinity. The Silver Surfer participates analogically in all these heraldic functions. As Galactus' herald he will find worlds to devour, announce the coming of his master and witness his cosmic rapacity. According to certain Gnostic tenets, angels are not only divine messengers, but manifestations of man's spiritual aspect as well. Gnosticism's radical dualism cleaves man in a lower fleshy being known as an eidolon, a mere phantasm or illusion, and a higher spiritual essence, called a Daemon. This Daemonic spirit is the self's actual soul, trapped within the material carapace of the body. When Norrin Radd is transformed into the Silver Surfer, he discards his illusory body, and assumes his transcendent Daemonic form. Finally, with his imprisonment on earth, the Surfer begins to embody a singular messianic function. By descending into the realm of fallen humanity he becomes a propitiatory figure. This sacrificial atonement, with its echoes of Christian salvation, is recast as a Gnostic ritual of demiurgic retribution.

Buscema portrays Norrin Radd's plight with consummate narrative skills honed through years of early work in comics, a later career in commercial illustration, and finally his triumphant return to Marvel in the mid-1960s (Buscema's career is explored in greater detail in Review # 10: Avengers # 54). With Stan Lee's encouragement, Buscema quickly mastered Jack Kirby's kinetic storytelling methods, yet he continued to bring his neo-classical love of the idealized male body to his work, as is evidently clear in this story. From the graceful contraposto (harmonic balance of masses) of the cover figure, to the dynamic diagonals of the splash page, to the powerfully foreshortened limbs of the Surfer in flight, the Renaissance conception of the human form suffuses the entire narrative. The litheness of the limbs, the nobility of the postures, the pathos of the gestures, the sublimity of the countenances themselves communicate the desire of these mortal bodies to aspire to a higher, more ethereal notion of beauty.

But it is in the critical first encounter between Norrin Radd and Galactus, and his subsequent dramatic transformation into the Silver Surfer, that Buscema employs his Michelangelesque technique with supreme effectiveness. By depicting each in a full-page illustration he communicates the monumental nature of the event by its sheer scale. In the first scene (p. 29) a colossal Galactus towers over the supine figure of Norrin Radd, whose left arm gesticulates upwards in an attitude of supplication. Visually, this posture is answered by Galactus, standing within a mandorla of glorious light, who extends his left arm downwards in a gesture of divine omnipotence. Such a gesture at once mirrors and subverts the life-giving outreach of Michelangelo's puissant creator God (Sistine Chapel, 1509-1512). The process of metamorphic rebirth reaches its climax in a depiction of Galactus' titanic hand overshadowing the newly transformed Surfer, his gleaming form haloed by coruscating bolts of cosmic energy (p. 33). The iconographic parallels between these scenes of rebirth, and Michelangelo's rendering of mankind's genesis, cannot be overlooked.
click image to open larger version in pop-up window
These visual analogies are charged with heightened ironic force when they are reversed in the story's momentous penultimate panel (p.38). Unlike the Sistine Chapel Creation frescoes, this deity's monstrously large hand overwhelms the tiny, prone figure upon the ground. Michelangelo's powerfully rendered gesture is used once more, this time not to grant power, but to take it away. The entire Gnostic leitmotif of the story, leavened by Buscema's Neo-Platonic Christian iconography, is simultaneously recapitulated and transfigured in the poignant final image of the Surfer. His outspread arms and tortured expression consciously recalls a scene of crucifixion, a savior sacrificed upon the altar of an alien god.

After all that, how could anyone not agree that it was an impressive launch for the new feature? And as long as the title remained in the giant, square bound format it continued to shine. Unfortunately, things didn't stay that way for long. After Lee and Buscema reached their apogee with the character in # 3, the new format was discontinued with # 7. With the reduction to normal size, much of Lee's enthusiasm for the book seemed to have followed the lost pages, but while it lasted, the Silver Surfer managed to become Marvel's conscience, the handbook where the dominant themes of the later grandiose years were gathered and codified and made plain to every reader.

Also included in this issue is a back up story featuring the Watcher. Created by Lee and Kirby in an early issue of the Fantastic Four (cf. review #16: Fantastic Four # 13), the Watcher was another in a group of objective observer types popular with the company (another was the Recorder, featured in The Mighty Thor). In this story, "The Wonder of the Watcher," the reader learns how the race of Watchers, eons before Man had appeared on Earth, had learned a valuable lesson in hubris, prompting them to retreat from active participation in the events of the Galaxy and to become merely passive "watchers" who have taken vows of non-interference.

Appropriately drawn in cosmic style by Gene Colan and inked by Syd Shores, Lee tells the story of how the Watcher's race, thinking to help less advanced peoples, only made things worse by plunging those they only wanted to help into war and suicidal self-destruction. "Poor, weak, fumbling mortals! They desire so much, yet know so little!...None are more in need of aid...aid which must be denied them...forever!" But "Though my knowledge is virtually without peer, though my power is unsurpassed by any mortal being, I, too have my limitations! I too, have known my failures...have tasted my defeats!"

A bit obvious, sure, especially at a time when the United States was involved in Vietnam, perhaps making the same mistakes that the Watchers did, but this sort of message, told the way it was in Lee's flowery, melodramatic style, was exactly in keeping with the times and resonated with readers who were questioning and wondering why their world couldn't measure up to the optimistic vision for it that Marvel Comics seemed to have?

Be that as it may, this story too could also be interpreted from a Gnostic point of view. Both it and the Surfer story begin with a basic similarity: a race of super-evolved beings upon a distant planet rich in material wealth and technological prowess. Here the stories begin to diverge, whereas the citizens of Zenn-La choose solipsistic isolation, the denizens of the Watcher's home world decide to use their superior powers for good. When their hubristic, if albeit well-intentioned intervention, results in a catastrophic nuclear war, the Watchers remove themselves from the workings of the universe, and assume their passive roles, eternally vigilant yet aloof. Interestingly, in certain ancient Gnostic sects, there were certain cosmic entities known as the Irin, a Hebrew word that means Watchers. These supra-temporal beings observed the various levels of creation, and as an illuminated human soul ascended through the various levels in its path back toward the One, it would have to pass by these Watchers at each cosmic gate. An analogous liminal function may be observed in Lee's conception. His Watchers look upon the struggle of life in the cosmos as it strives to rise, through various stages of evolution, to its ultimate destiny of universal enlightenment.

The inclusion of various Gnostic elements in the work of Lee, Buscema and other creators laboring in the fields of pop culture need not imply a close knowledge of arcane theosophical doctrines however. Rather, its presence indicates a wide, if at times not fully conscious, diffusion of Gnostic thought in the cultural patrimony of the West. Such diffusion may be accounted for in a variety of ways. The Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) argued that Gnosticism corresponds to the deepest psychic mechanisms of the human mind. According to this theory the Gnostic desire to extract the soul from its entrapment within the material body, can be likened to the psyche's attempt to liberate itself from a destructive egotism and achieve a fully integrated awareness of both conscious and subconscious mental processes. This progression from a reductive egoistic consciousness (or an exclusive identification with embodiment), to the rediscovery and reintegration of the unconscious within a reconstituted self, corresponds with the Gnostic journey from fallen nature to eventual reunification with the transcendent One. For Jung, as opposed to Sigmund Freud, the unconscious is a corporate entity, so that the Gnostic mythos of a primal fall from grace and the quest for spiritual reintegration necessarily underlies the entire collective human psyche.

For Eric Voegelin, Gnosticism represented the eternal human urge for redemption, not through ecclesial instrumentalities, but by inner illumination. In Eastern thought this breakthrough into enlightenment is the founding tenet and final goal of both Buddhism and Hinduism. In Latin Christendom the similar illuminist tendencies of Gnosticism were declared heretical in the early centuries of the 1st millennium, but continued as a potent underground stream of thought for many centuries. In the 12th century it erupted as the revolutionary Albigensian movement in southern France. The rise of secularism in post-Cartesian Europe did not eradicate Gnosticism; its eschatological hopes were merely transferred to various radical socio-political ideologies:
Gnostic speculation overcame the uncertainty of faith by receding from transcendence and endowing man and his intra-mundane range of action with the meaning of eschatological fulfillment. In the measure in which this immanentization progressed experientially, civilizational activity became a mystical work of self-salvation. The spiritual strength of the soul which in Christianity was devoted to the sanctification of life could now be diverted into the more appealing, more tangible, and, above all, so much easier creation of the terrestrial paradise.
- Voegelin, The New Science of Politics, p. 129.
The social and political ferment of the 1960s can be seen as a more recent continuation of such ideological movements. This youthful culture of anti-war protest and drug experimentation, which disdained the incremental social progress and material wealth of President Lyndon Johnson's (1908-1973) "Great Society," and whose presiding psychedelic messiah, Timothy Leary (1920-1996), preached a gospel message to "Turn on, tune in, and drop out," embraced many of the utopian dreams of secular Gnosticism as Voegelin characterized it. The Silver Surfer, as a cultural symbol of its time, represents this generation of alienated, disaffected youth, seeking freedom from what it saw as the stifling constraints of modern social structures. More comprehensively, he embodies mankind's perpetual need to go beyond the limits of human nature, overstep the boundaries of the material word, and find salvation in the limitless beyond.

Suggested Reading:

Hibbard, Howard. Michelangelo. 2nd edition. Cambridge, Mass.: Harper & Row, 1985.

Jonas, Hans. The Gnostic Religion: The Message of the Alien God and the Beginnings of Christianity. 2nd edition, revised. Boston: Beacon Press, 1963.

Jung, Carl Gustav. The Gnostic Jung. Selected and introduced by Robert A. Segal. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1992.

Lee, Stan. Son of Origins of Marvel Comics. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1975.

Spurlock, J. David. The John Buscema Sketchbook. Introduction by Jim Steranko. Lebanon, N.J.: Vanguard Productions, 2001.

Voegelin, Eric. The New Science of Politics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1952.
Science, Politics, and Gnosticism; Two Essays. Chicago: H. Regnery Co., 1968.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The shadow warriors

In Panchvati, a new life begins for Rama, Seeta and Lakshman, trying to fit in an alien city where danger lurks in every corner and the spies if Ravan combing the urban fabric for Seeta. It is rumored that Ravan has sent forth his most skilled assassins...'The Andhkar' or the shadow warriors, manufactured and trained especially to hunt down and kill Humans. Three of the most notorious of the Andhkar brotherhood are now on our hero's trail, Khara, Dushan and Surp'naka. Hunted and running for safety, help comes from the most unexpected corner, The ape lord Shugreave and his renegade band of Vanaras.

Monday, July 16, 2007

My ambitions in life

- Learn German, go to Deutschland and participate in the Oktoberfest beer-drinking championships.

- Go to Ireland, make friends, drink beer, beat people and have a ball.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Quote of the day

I am gonna make two hermit crabs live with each other. -- Demetri Martin

Saturday, July 14, 2007

You need eyes baby!

People say they don't believe in miracles.

I say, you need the eyes to see a miracle. Every moment, every incident of our lives is so miraculous...but we fail to recognize it.

Inspired from: Run Lola Run