Modernism Superheroes & the Unfinished Business of Common Good Discussion

Modernism Superheroes & the Unfinished Business of Common Good Discussion ORDER NOW FOR CUSTOMIZED AND ORIGINAL ESSAY PAPERS ON Modernism Superheroes & the Unfinished Business of Common Good Discussion I’m studying for my English class and need an explanation. Modernism Superheroes & the Unfinished Business of Common Good Discussion This week, you read three articles: “Modernism, Superheroes, and the Unfinished Business of the Common Good,” (Historical) “Our Unconscious Mind,” (Psychological), and “Brain Matters: From Environmental Ethics to Environmental Neuroethics” (Ecocritical). Now that you have read these articles carefully, address the following discussion prompt: For each of the three articles, choose 1-2 claims or ideas that you found interesting. Include those claims word-for-word using quotation marks, and be sure to include a page number for each one. Then, explain why you thought that claim or idea was interesting. Be sure to organize your post logically, and make it clear which claim came from which article/author. Your introduction, as all of your discussion posts this semester, should be 200-400 words. Modernism Superheroes & the Unfinished Business of Common Good Discussion pt_1.pdf pt2.pdf pt3.pdf “But — what can anyone do about it?”: Modernism, Superheroes, and the Unfinished Business of the Common Good Andrew Hoberek University of Missouri Modernism’s frequently discussed antipathy towards mass culture might be seen as continuous with its distrust of the welfare state, insofar as both mass culture and the welfare state figure versions of collective modern agency at odds with modernism’s typically conservative, individualistic response to modernity. Seen from this perspective, modernism lies on a historical trajectory both with postmodernism’s putatively more open approach to mass culture and with neoliberalism’s now triumphantly mainstream celebration of individualism and critique of institutions. While we can identify other versions of modernism in authors like James Joyce and John Dos Passos, we might also look to the far less prestigious medium of the comic book, and in particular the superhero genre, to begin to map an alternative vision of aesthetic engagement with modernity — one that wrestles with the contradictions of but remains nonetheless committed to collective actions on behalf of the common good. Keywords: comics / modernism / postmodernism / individuality / collective agency I n Action Comics 12, cover dated May 1939, Superman tackles a problem that might seem incongruous to contemporary readers, but is in fact typical of the character’s earliest adventures, written before the conventions of the superhero genre had fully gelled. En route to his job at the Daily Star (the precursor of the Daily Planet) Clark Kent comes across a crowd and discovers that a reckless driver has killed his friend Charlie Martin. He calls the mayor to complain about the city’s traffic problem and, after being rebuffed — “It’s really too bad — but — what can anyone do about it?” (Siegel and Shuster 155) — decides to take action in the Andrew Hoberek ( is a professor of English at the University of Missouri and the author of Considering Watchmen: Poetics, Property, Politics (Rutgers UP, 2014). He is also the comics editor at the Los Angeles Review of Books. Journal of Modern Literature Vol. 39, No. 2 • Copyright © The Trustees of Indiana University • DOI 10.2979/jmodelite.39.2.09 09-39_2 Hoberek (115-25).indd 115 3/28/16 1:50 PM 116 Journal of Modern Literature Volume 39, Number 2 guise of his alter ego. He crashes into a radio station and commandeers their facilities to issue a warning: The auto accident death rate of this community is one that should shame us all! It’s constantly rising and due entirely to reckless driving and inefficiency! More people have been killed needlessly by autos than died during the world war! From this moment on, I declare war on reckless drivers — henceforth, homicidal drivers answer to me! (Siegel and Shuster 156) Proving himself as good as his word, Superman smashes the cars of traffic violators stored at an impound lot and the unsafe cars for sale by a used car dealer. He frightens a drunk driver and then, after being struck by a hit and run driver, pursues the car and threatens its occupants. He destroys a factory that makes a brand of automobile involved in many accidents, telling the owner “It’s because you use inferior metals and parts so as to make higher profits at the cost of human lives!” (161). Returning to the radio station (and once again smashing through the wall that has just been repaired following his last visit) reissues his threat. v He sees a policeman about to accept a ten-dollar bill from a speeder, and intimidates the officer into refusing the bribe (and punching the driver), then carves a new road to replace an unsafe stretch of highway. Finally, he takes the mayor on a frightening drive, ending with a visit to the bodies of accident victims at the city morgue, finally extracting a promise from the public official to “do all in my power to see that traffic rules are rigidly enforced by the police!” (166). The story ends with Clark Kent receiving a ticket for illegal parking, and remarking under his breath “Hooray! It worked!” (166). As this summary suggests, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster had not yet, at this point, worked out what would become the defining characteristics of their character, and through his influence, the superhero more generally. In this story, Superman acts in ways that we might associate with supervillains: breaking rather than upholding the law and gleefully destroying private property — even when such destruction is unmerited and unprovoked, as with the radio station’s ill-fated walls. He does so, however, in the interest of the public good and in service of the modern value, as he declares, of efficiency. Superman in this story clearly represents modernity, or more specifically a counter-modernity posed against the destructive version unleashed by technology and capital. In this respect, the story also suggests an analogy not just with modernity but with modernism, at least the version of modernism in which figures like T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound sought to oppose what they saw as the negative consequences of modernity with a more modern form of literature. But whereas the work of these modernist writers limits itself to an aesthetic response — shoring fragments against one’s ruins, in Eliot’s famous formulation (42) — Action Comics 12 suggests a way of understanding their formal strategy as a kind of content: what a superhero does in the world. And, as should be apparent from my summary, the story of Superman’s “war on reckless drivers” gives away the hidden continuity between the superhero and that other great promoter of the 09-39_2 Hoberek (115-25).indd 116 3/28/16 1:50 PM Superheroes and the Unfinished Business of the Common Good 117 general welfare that was, if not invented, then certainly refined in the 1930s: the welfare state. As Michael Szalay has taught us, many modernists were as deeply suspicious of the welfare state as they were of the mass culture that produced the comic book superhero. In what follows, I’d like to suggest two things: first, that modernists’ suspicion arises in both instances from their distrust of the collective, rather than individual, agency that mass culture and the welfare state make possible; and second, that in establishing this point, we can begin to understand the character of the superhero who came to dominate the comics once they moved from newspapers to comic books as at least potentially a figure for what modernism might look like if unbound by that constraint. William Faulkner’s 1932 Light in August offers what we might identify as a typical modernist allusion to the comics in their pre-comic book newspaper format: it invokes them not as a parallel art form but as a register of an alienating modernity. In Light in August, the grandmother of Faulkner’s protagonist Joe Christmas travels to the town where her grandson is being held for murder and attempts to see him. Modernism Superheroes & the Unfinished Business of Common Good Discussion After being rebuffed by the jailor, she travels to the courthouse in search of the sheriff, a scene that Faulkner describes in the following manner: The folks didn’t know what she was doing, because Metcalf hadn’t had time to tell them what happened at the jail. They just watched her go on into the courthouse, and then Russell said how he was in the office and he happened to look up and there that hat was with the plume on it just beyond the window across the counter. He didn’t know how long she had been standing there, waiting for him to look up. He said she was just tall enough to see over the counter, so that she didn’t look like she had any body at all. It just looked like somebody had sneaked up and set a toy balloon with a face painted on it and a comic hat set on top of it, like the Katzenjammer kids in the funny paper. (353) This reference to the sort of prank that the German children Hans and Fritz might play in the long-running comic strip drawn by Harold Knerr (who took over from its creator Rudolph Dirks in 1912) has the effect of dehumanizing Christmas’s grandmother. With the top of the counter framing her like the bottom of a comics panel, in the process both hiding her body and accenting the plume of her hat, she appears like not even a comic strip character but an object placed by such a character to give the appearance of a person. This simile is, in fact, part of a series of such similes in Light in August. After Christmas has killed his adoptive father Mr. McEachern, for instance, he sets out on the old man’s horse and rides the progressively slowing animal until “It — the horse and the rider — had a strange, dreamy effect, like a moving picture in slow motion as it galloped steady and flagging up the street and toward the old corner where he used to wait, less urgent perhaps but not less eager, and more young” (210). And Christmas’s grandfather, an old man obsessed with his grandson’s mixed-race parentage, rants about God’s will in bringing this fact to light until 09-39_2 Hoberek (115-25).indd 117 3/28/16 1:50 PM 118 Journal of Modern Literature Volume 39, Number 2 “His voice just stops, exactly like when the needle is lifted from a phonograph record by the hand of someone who is not listening to the record” (371). These similes do not stress the new formal possibilities of such modern media as the cinema, the phonograph, and the newspaper comic strip, but rather employ mass culture in the service of making humans appear thwarted, objectlike, even mechanical. Modernity, these similes imply, does not open up new possibilities of agency for people, but takes away the ones they have. As suggested by the passage about the grandmother, told in Faulkner’s typically socially dispersed fashion (folks who don’t know what she is doing watch her, and then someone named Russell relates a story of what he is doing when she materializes in front of him), this dehumanization is further linked with the social. And indeed Light in August demonstrates notable skepticism about collective agency. In two of the most obvious examples, public opinion dooms the Reverend Gail Hightower to isolation for his wife’s promiscuity, and the National Guard captain who organizes a force to protect Christmas from lynching ends up himself killing and castrating the fugitive.Modernism Superheroes & the Unfinished Business of Common Good Discussion It is perhaps not a coincidence, then, that each of the allusions to mass culture that I have cited effaces language, whether in the form of a reference to the visual components of media that also include verbal ones — a comic strip panel with no words; what looks like a silent film scene three years after the advent of talkies — or an invocation of the silence when a needle is taken off a record. Words, it seems, remain either the harmful murmurings of the crowd or the province of a real artist such as Faulkner. Subtending all of this, we might argue, is Light in August’s obsession with the itinerancy of Lena Grove, Christmas, and others, a register perhaps of the stress placed on regional autonomy in an era when both the Depression and the New Deal were radically remaking the American South. As Donald Peyser has argued, Faulkner’s writing evinces a “stimulating cluster of anxieties concerning commercialisation, modernisation, powerlessness before financial and bureaucratic authorities, and miscegenation” (2) that early took the form of anti-semitism but later was dispersed into a more general critique of modernity embodied not least by the “centralised, bureaucratically administered governmental power . . . realised in such grand projects as the Tennessee Valley Authority” (11). Movies, newspapers, and phonograph records are, we might say, metonyms for the real external threat to both a community like Yoknapatawpha and the South in general: a federal government whose economic largesse comes at the cost of disruptive social change. This admittedly schematic account of Faulkner’s relationship to mass culture and modernity has the virtue of suggesting that Siegel and Shuster are not entirely idiosyncratic in positing the superhero as a figure for the New Deal in Action Comics 12. Siegel and Shuster’s story allows us to see the superhero as a figure for the way modernity not only hinders but also facilitates human agency — think here of Batman’s scientific and physical training, and later (and more directly) all the Marvel superheroes of the early 1960s who derive their powers from exposure to radiation. The superhero genre understands modernity, to borrow Homer 09-39_2 Hoberek (115-25).indd 118 3/28/16 1:50 PM Superheroes and the Unfinished Business of the Common Good 119 Simpson’s unselfconsciously dialectical account of alcohol, as the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems. Modernism’s understanding of modernity, at least in its most conservative incarnation, is more black and white. Modernity, including its various mass cultural avatars, is purely a problem, and the only good form of innovation is the aesthetic innovation of modernist artists. This limits modernism’s commitment to making things new to both a rearguard action and (as numerous commentators have noted) an individual protest, since largerscale interventions remain linked to “centralized, bureaucratically administered government power.” It is precisely this link, though, that Siegel and Shuster court, a potential perhaps already implied by the name of their most famous creation. If, as Ted Atkinson has argued, Faulkner intends the lynching at the end of Light in August as a figure for a “mob mentality . . . distinctly associated with the lower ranks and marginalized sectors of the social structure, as well as outside agitators” (151) — that is to say, for “the potential rise of homegrown fascism” (152) — then the utopian dream of Superman’s young Jewish American creators is that the Übermensch might be bound to democratic goals.Modernism Superheroes & the Unfinished Business of Common Good Discussion Of course the superhero genre has its own commitment to individual action, one that is — and this is perhaps the most fascinating thing about the genre — prima facie at odds with the stories it tells. This is the paradox that creators like Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, and Frank Miller would explore in the 1980s, in the process giving rise to the comic book’s own belated modernist period. But Siegel and Shuster’s 1939 story, with its seemingly incongruous combination of individual lawlessness and social planning, might be seen as an attempt to work through this contradiction before the conventions of the genre had become fully fixed. It is in part this vexed commitment to the common good that remains foreclosed by the modernist aversion to mass culture. And while we sometimes understand postmodernism as departing from modernism in more readily embracing mass culture, from the perspective we are charting here that embrace seems more like a stranglehold. Consider, to cite examples from two different media, Donald Barthelme’s 1964 story “The Joker’s Greatest Triumph” and Roy Lichtenstein’s series of paintings based on comic panels such as Whaam! and Drowning Girl (both 1963). If Faulkner’s evocations of mass culture efface language, maintaining it as preserve of serious literature, these works — including, strikingly Lichtenstein’s paintings — incorporate it. They do so, however, in a way that continues to link it with a degraded, deindividualizing social realm. In Barthelme’s story, Bruce Wayne’s friend Fredric Brown tags along (Robin, at least initially, is at school at Andover) when Batman is summoned by Commissioner Gordon to consult on a clue to a future crime that the Joker has sent the Gotham police. The story incorporates the conventions of comic book dialogue, imbricating them with and thereby reducing them to the level of banal small talk: “Flying Dutchman!” Fredric exclaimed, reading the name painted on the bow of the model ship. “The name of a famous old ghost vessel? What can it mean!” 09-39_2 Hoberek (115-25).indd 119 3/28/16 1:50 PM 120 Journal of Modern Literature Volume 39, Number 2 “A cleverly disguised clue!” Batman said. “The ‘Flying Dutchman’ meant here is probably the Dutch Jewel merchant Hendrik van Voort who is flying to Gotham City tonight with a delivery of precious gems!” “Good thinking Batman!” Commisioner Gordon said. “I probably never would have figured it out in a thousand years!” “Well we’ll have to hurry to get out to the airport!” Batman said. “What’s the best way to get there from here Commissioner?” “Well if I were you I’d go out 34th Street until you hit the War Memorial, then take a right on Memorial Drive until it connects with Gotham Parkway! After you’re on the Parkway it’s clear sailing!” he indicated. Modernism Superheroes & the Unfinished Business of Common Good Discussion (39) Here, as throughout Barthelme’s story, the lack of commas and abundance of exclamation points (applied to both eureka moments and traffic directions) give the effect of a flat, affectless tone. Barthelme’s characteristically postmodern fiction incorporates mass culture, to be sure, but hardly in the interest of celebrating it. Similarly, much of the satiric effect of Lichtenstein’s enlargement and reproduction of comics panels or portions of panels depends upon the clichéd language found in the originals: the caption box narration “I pressed the fire control . . . and ahead of me rockets blazed through the sky . . .” and eponymous sound effect of Whaam!, based on a 1962 Irv Novick panel from DC’s All-American Men of War (Harris); the thought balloon “I don’t care! I’d rather sink . . . than call Brad for help!” of Drowning Girl, derived from a 1962 Tony Abruzzo splash page for the company’s Secret Hearts (Miller).1 Lichtenstein’s comics-based paintings, like Andy Warhol’s paintings of Campbell’s soup cans or sculptures of Brillo boxes, are generally recognized as breaking with the modernism of abstract expressionism to inaugurate postmodernism in the visual arts. Yet Lichtenstein’s characteristic enlargement of the Ben-Day dots then used in the color printing process for comic books — an enlargement that makes them both visible and abstract — might be seen as continuous, at the level of the image, with the critic Clement Greenberg’s modernist dictum that each art form should work “to determine, through the operations peculiar to [that form], the effects peculiar and exclusive to itself ” (5). It is, in this regard, specifically the words in Lichtenstein’s paintings that both push them into the realm of the postmodern and at the same time insist upon the triteness of the mass cultural idioms that they borrow. Crucially, Lichtenstein omits from the Novick panel he adapts for Whaam! the more mysterious and potentially poetic language spoken by the pilot in a word balloon, “The enemy has become a flaming star!”2 Yet this is only one possible history of modernism’s relationship to comics, and a different history might give us a different, more expansive version of modernism itself. Writing nearly a decade before Light in August, the cultural critic Gilbert Seldes — whose tenure as an editor at The Dial had encompassed no less seminal a modernist event than the 1922 publication of Eliot’s The Waste Land — made a case in his 1923 The Seven Lively Arts for the aesthetic value of popular art forms 09-39_2 Hoberek (115-25).indd 120 3/28/16 1:50 PM Superheroes and the Unfinished Business of the Common Good 121 such as the movies, vaudeville, and, as one of his chapter titles put it, “The ‘vulgar’ comic strip” (193). In that chapter, Seldes dismissed The Katzenjammer Kids as “the least ingenious, the least interesting as drawing, the sloppiest in colour, the weakest in conception and in execution, of all the strips” (200), but commended the drawing and storylines of other featu … Get a 10 % discount on an order above $ 100 Use the following coupon code : NURSING10

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