First apologies for their being no Across The Pond over the past fortnight. Not Floyd’s fault (he’s actually ahead by a few weeks) but entirely mine.
Western Philosophy is Intensely Relevant to Comics reading and vice versa, but not neccessarily in a Good Way
Lying in bed, thinking about Western Philosophy and comics. Such is the Friday morning life of an ESL teacher with too much time on his hands. Mind you, I like to think about both things when I’m busy, since then I’ve got much more train time in which to read comics and think about Western Philosophy.
Since my audience is mostly comics’ people, a little introduction as to the philosophy is in order. I love philosophy, me. I started studying it when I was seventeen and have never really lost interest. For me, philosophy reaches the parts other disciplines don’t reach, to paraphrase the old deodorant ad. Consider economics deals with how we make money, philosophy deals with whether the money exists in the first place.
Criminology asks how we can stop people being criminals, philosophy asks what crime is. I realize that since most people know that money exists and have a pretty good idea what crime is, these examples may make philosophy seem less than burningly relevant. I’ll get to my other reasons for liking it presently.
Firstly here is a brief survey of major philosophers and their attitude to and interest in comics.
Plato: often confused with Socrates, since Plato wrote pretty much everything Socrates is alleged to have said. Famous for the world of ideal forms, viz, there’s a heaven of universal concepts in which there is the perfect chair. The one I’m sitting on is a mere copy of that chair. A picture of a chair is a copy of a copy and not much chop. Plato (or Socrates) would have been massively unimpressed with chairs as they are drawn in comics. A comic based on a video game or an anime movie would be a copy of a copy of a copy and would fill Plato (or Socrates) with disgust.
Socrates (or Plato) is often seen as enlightened and nice; but he was deeply anti-democratic… Plato took the view that experts should do the things they were good at and that people who were good at running a state should do that (these people were, oddly enough, a lot like Plato). I am sure I saw a tough-looking quotation from Plato advertising the Judge Dredd movie. I mean it was something about the importance of law and Judges, not “see Judge Dredd, it’s dead good, mate”.
Aristotle is much better than Plato (or Socrates) and is much underrated. He invented having a look at things before you made up your mind; doing dissections to find out about biology and including case studies of failed states in his discussion of politics. He also took account of what most people think in his writings on ethics, saying “well a lot of people think this, so maybe there’s something in it”. This common sense approach would be why he’s not so popular with young people who like saying “nobody else exists except for me”.
Both Aristotle and Plato appear in an illegal wrestling match in an Alan Grant story, in which they argue about whether people are innately evil (Plato) or become evil through a series of choices (Aristotle), whilst beating the crap out of each other. The next match was to be Jesus Christ vs B.F Skinner, but Judge Anderson closed the wrestling promoters down, which is a shame.
Aristotle would probably have been more pro-comics than Plato, since he was pretty positive about the arts in general, basing his opinion on a lot of actual art. Moving right along and skipping a few hundred years of scholastic philosophy (don’t forget to look up Occham’s Razor after class) and Bayeaux Tapestry jokes, we come to Berkely, Locke and Hume, the three stooges of British Empiricism. All of them contributed a lot to the “how do we know anything is really there at all?” school of philosophy, which has made the subject so popular with the rest of the population. Locke tried to anticipate Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, by arguing that “a child is born with no state of mind/blind to the ways of mankind”, in other words that we were born with no innate ideas. This may seem like a stupid thing to try to prove, but a lot of people at the time argued that we were born with an innate idea of God (whose existence, therefore, couldn’t be debated) Hume, having tried and failed to become famous, gave it all up to play backgammon in Paris, where his novelty Scottish accent made him very popular. He would have been right into video games now. Probably. He is brilliant, although some other philosophers are suspicious of his reader friendly writing and approach to fun.
Rene Descartes famously said “I think therefore I am” thus laying the ground for thousands of “brain in a box” stories and indeed the Matrix movies. His influence on science fiction and comics is incalculable although I think it’s fair to say that he did not anticipate Keanu Reeves fighting an army of identical Australian character actors.
Jean Paul Sartre invented unsuccessfully having it off with two women at the same time (and wrote a play in which Hell consisted of a man and two women stuck in a room together). He wrote two extremely funny plays, ‘Keane’ and ‘Nekrassov’. He popularized an idea of ‘good faith’, meaning that you do what you really want, man, and not what you think you should want. As the band TISM later said: I’ll take responsibility for my innermost wishes and I’ll be buggered If I’ll do the dishes, won’t do the dishes.
Sartre also smoked a lot, knew Miles Davis and put the President of America on trial for war crimes. Respect.
Ludwig Wittgenstein has been quoted in at least one comic that I know of, one of 2000 AD’s Future Shocks. It was a quote to the effect that you can keep a man imprisoned in an unlocked room forever providing he pushes rather than pulls at the door. Deep and confusing, like a lot of Wittgenstein’s philosophy. Ludwig is beloved by philosophy students for being a genius who revolutionized two very different fields of philosophy and who is important to many different areas of it today and for being an eccentric who was no good with people. Wittgenstein was gay, but he was pretty bad at relating to men too, so he didn’t get much action. A lot of aspiring philosophers are clueless in dealings with their fellow human beings and like the idea that this might mean they’re geniuses. More probably it just means they are clueless and need to have a wash and get out a bit, but Wittgenstein gives them hope. Apart from being a rich source of confusing aphorisms that can give your comic that wise air, W was a devotee of pulp fiction and devoured the work of a lot of men who wrote about hard-boiled detectives for 20 cents a word in the 20s and 30s. I’m sure he would have loved comics. Comic writers who want to give their story that extra air of depth could do a lot worse than pick up a second hand copy of Philosophical Investigations (or just look him up on dogpile.com) for a Wittgenstein quote to adorn their otherwise mundane tale of spaceships, betrayal and blokes with tentacles on their faces. Here’s one to be going on with: “I fail to see what problems immortality would solve”
Foucault, also gay, achieved legend status partly through being bald, French and getting all the action that Wittgenstein didn’t. He died from AIDS after a lot of random unprotected sex with strangers. His books are full of interesting anecdotes about prison and sex which are a good resource for the aspiring adult comic writer.
Which brings me, by way of ignoring a lot of important French blokes, to the present and to my other reason for liking philosophy. It’s escapism, the same reason I like reading books and comics. Philosophy gets me miles away from the bills, my inability to give up smoking, my boss and so on, just as good escapist reading does. Two examples:
Robert Nozick, who died in 1994 was very important to libertarianism and took a bold stand against redisributive ideas of justice. He gave life and respectability to the idea that the state shouldn’t take your money to pay for roads.
I like him for grue and bleen. Bleen is a colour which is blue until (say) June 27, 2008 after which it turns green. It helps us think about evidence and how we prove hypotheses; every time we see something blue, it is also evidence for the existence of bleen. I like it because it’s so cute and could transform comics (“look in the skies! It’s the Bleen Lantern”).
The other guys I like are Saul Kripke and David Lewis, two recently dead analytic philosophers who were into possible words. Lewis was positive that they existed although they include such dull worlds as the one in which everything is the same except that I got up at 6.30 instead of 6.35 this morning. All the possible worlds beloved of writers who need a quick get out, really are out there ; worlds full of large-breasted flying women, worlds in which the Nazis won WW2, George Bush won the 2001 election and so on. They’re all there, but we can’t get to them.
There’s a newsflash I hear you cry, but Lewis proves we can’t get to them in a very clever way which I’ve forgotten. No wonder I didn’t get far as a professional philosopher.
Will also loves philosophy although he’s more a Plato man than Aristotle. He does however love David Hume for his brilliant arguments against theism.