Archive for rory solomon

Do superheroes have supersouls?

Posted in Deleuze, Leibniz with tags , , , , on May 17, 2012 by immanentterrain2

Caped crusaders, parasitic costumes, and the Baroque fold of comic book artist Todd McFarlane.

Where and how can we identify the fold? Deleuze writes that “the fold can be recognized first of all in the textile model of the kind implied by garments: fabric or clothing has to free its own folds from its usual subordination to the finite body it covers. If there is an inherently Baroque costume, it is broad, in distending waves, billowing and flaring, surrounding the body with its independent folds, ever-multiplying, never betraying those of the body beneath … vested doublets, flowing cloaks, enormous flaps, overflowing shirts, everything that forms the great Baroque contribution to clothing of the seventeenth century.” (D 121)

Todd McFarlane is a comic book artist who rose to prominence in the early 1990’s while drawing for the Spider-Man series, but is probably most widely known for creating the character Spawn, pictured above. McFarlane cultivated an idiosyncratic visual style with distinctly Baroque aspects: incredible amounts of detail are always paid to the pleats and folds of the capes and cloaks of elaborate costumes. Like most traditional comic book artists, McFarlane expends more than enough time emphasizing the exaggerated physique and musculature of the comic book hero, but in a break from other artists, he often focuses as much if not more visual detail on these sartorial adornments, often to the point where they obscure or deemphasize the typical superhero body.

Left: In an earlier work of McFarlane we see: a human, enfolded by a superhero protector, in turn enveloped by a Baroque cape whose pleats fold into an infinity of bats, flapping and folding their wings as they fly off into the night. Right: Deleuze sketching the inflection point in the fold.

In McFarlane’s worlds, characters are defined not simply by their bodies and abilities but by the way they are framed and enveloped by costumes that create an interiority around the character, a point of inflection between the hero and the outside world, a kind of second skin that often imbues the hero with their special powers.

Describing Johann Joseph Christian’s Saint Jerome, Deleuze writes “A supernatural breeze … turns the cloak into a billowing and sinuous ribbon that ends by forming a high crest over the saint.” (D 122) In a way he could almost be describing this McFarlane rendering of Spawn:

But McFarlane’s Baroque pleated costumes are not simply superfluous visuals. Deleuze: “in every instance folds of clothing acquire an autonomy and a fullness that are not simply decorative effects.” (D 122) Indeed, Spawn’s costume is not simply decoration but is in fact the source of his superpowers: capable of shape-shifting and providing him with inhuman strength. The costume is in fact autonomous: a semi-sentient being with a will of it’s own. “Spawn had become aware that his costume was not merely clothing, but a living symbiote with a life of its own. He was able to control it to an extent, but it often acted without his will.” (Spawnworld.com)

An even more poignant example of the autonomy of the fold in the comic world of McFarlane is Venom: an arch-enemy of Spider-Man co-created by McFarlane and first introduced in the mid-1990’s. Venom is essentially a costume, but is also a full character with its own individuality. It is a parasite from another planet that cannot live on its own and seeks out hosts with which it merges, taking on and enhancing the properties of the host. Venom is drawn to Spider-Man because of all the hero’s well-known powers.

The Venom suit literally enfolds Spider-Man, creating an interiority for itself that is nevertheless still outside of the host – a new soul that the host’s inner soul must struggle to resist, as Spider-Man fights to assert himself and free himself from the parasite. How many monads should we count in this schema? Spider-Man, Venom, Spider-Man-as-Venom, perhaps also Venom-post-Spider-Man given that the costume acquires some of the hero’s powers, others?  Deleuze writes that even elements like water can themselves be creased: “skintight fabric will still be a watery fold that reveals the body far better than nudity … the spiderweb of the whole body, including the face.” (D 122) In the drama that transpires, the risk was that our hero could have failed. As Venom took over it made itself seem more and more appealing to the interior soul. For a moment the two souls were in accord. Ultimately of course Spider-Man frees himself from his enemy, causing the parasite to go in search of other hosts, which he finds and overtakes in turn, and the comic book drama continues. As Deleuze writes, they “do not allow the differences of inside and outside, of public and private, to survive. They identify variation and trajectory, and overtake monadology with a ‘nomadology’.”

But why this obsession with the living costume in Todd McFarlane’s work? Perhaps he is expressing a certain monadology. The world exists, populated with individuals, pleated souls that express and are expressed in their world; but McFarlane then folds all of this into another – aliens from other planets (Venom) or other dimensions (the Spawn suit is said to be from hell itself) are costumes with their own individuated interiority that they then enfold around our protagonists. The heroes draw their power by being selected and enwrapped in this way, by becoming enfolded into a second higher world. But where have we seen this before? Aren’t nearly all superheroes already pleated in this way? Spider-Man is actually Peter Parker, Superman is Clark Kent. Perhaps the most common trope in the comic book universe is that the hero is the alternate identity – the caped avenger and the mild mannered regular guy – the superhero already stands in for this pleat in the individual. McFarlane is simply doing it again – a kind of higher order repetition of this pattern that enfolds the fold in another, and suggests a repeating of the monadological folding to infinity.

Deleuze writes: “if we want to test the definition of the Baroque – the fold to infinity … we must dig into the everyday recipes or modes of fashion that change a genre.” (D 122) And indeed, the wildly creative and innovative visual and narrative experiments of Todd McFarlane were in many ways genre-changing comic book worlds that succeed at demonstrating precisely that.

McFarlane’s Batman with pleated cape and marble sculpture: folded layers of the Baroque.

– Rory Solomon

“Al Simmons | Spawn Encyclopedia | SpawnWorld”, n.d. http://www.spawnworld.com/encyclopedia/alsimmons.htm.

Deleuze, Gilles. The Fold : Leibniz and the Baroque. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993.

Koulish, Robert. “Spiderman’s Web and the Governmentality of Electronic Immigrant Detention.” Law, Culture and the Humanities (2012). http://lch.sagepub.com/content/early/2012/02/02/1743872111433376.abstract

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Theoriography – On the writing of concepts

Posted in Deleuze, Deleuze and Guattari, Immanence, Process Ontology, Rhizome with tags , on March 5, 2012 by immanentterrain2

… in which a new student of Deleuze attempts a commentary on/using his methodology.

“There is no sharper point than that of Infinity. What bliss to plunge the eyes into the immensity of sky and sea! Solitude, silence, incomparable chastity of the blue! … monotonous melody of the waves, all these things think through me or I through them … I say they think, but musically and picturesquely, without quibblings, without syllogisms, without deductions.” — Baudelaire, “The Artist’s Confiteor,” Paris Spleen.

– to begin in the middle, experiencing the sea not as one does from the shore – the water first touching a toe, then a knee, then perhaps the shoulders, and after a while wading back out; tension rising and falling as a narrative arch, rising and falling as the waves, which, by keeping one’s head out of the water are always clearly visible from above. No. Instead, plunging into the water. Perhaps at night, perhaps upside down. Trying at first to orient oneself, to find the surface, but then, acclimating, acquiescing. The waves are not now visible as distant, discreet entities with beginnings and endings, but rather are felt, as flux and flow that pass over and affect.

This is to read Kafka. And to read Deleuze. I was impressed to learn Kafka’s method of writing “The Judgement”: in one sitting, overnight, flowing, writing almost continuously, “thinking through things,” or at least, thinking through writing, “without syllogisms, without deductions.” When Deleuze writes about Kafka, he writes about blocks and lines of flight. As someone currently working on a thesis project, I know about blocks – which is why I was so intrigued by Kafka’s methods and Deleuze’s reflections on them: they gave me a new inspiration to just write. Having already done much research and already constructed many thoughts on my topic, reflecting on this method of writing initially made me feel that all I needed to do was write and transfer those internal concept structures into a written form.

But this is where my initial understanding was slightly off. Deleuze would not be interested in this idea of some internal structure that writing simply transfers to the page, nor do I think this would be his interpretation of Kafka’s method. This is what Deleuze would call a tracing rather than a mapping. The tracing attempts to copy the internal to external; “to explore an unconscious that is already there from the start, lurking in the dark recesses of memory and language.” (TP, p. 12) This is the thought that seems perfect at 4am but then melts at the first light of day. The Baudelaire passage poignantly illustrates this: his beauty is always lost and distant. Baudelaire’s “incomparable chastity of the blue” connects with what Rebecca Solnit calls “the blue of distance”: “the light that does not touch us … that gets lost [and] gives us the beauty of the world.” Baudelaire watches the waves from the shore. This is the desire always out of reach that Walter Benjamin describes as the “Blue Flower” in his essay on Surrealism “Dream Kitsch.” When thinking about Kafka writing “The Judgement”, I initially thought of the automatic writing of the Surrealists, but now I realize that this too is more of a tracing than a mapping. About the Surrealists, Benjamin writes: “They seek the totemic tree of objects within the thicket of primal history” (TWoA, p. 238) clearly not a rhizomatic pursuit.

Deleuze contrasts the map to the tracing: “The map does not represent an unconscious closed in upon itself; it constructs the unconscious.” (TP, p. 12) In his introductory notes to A Thousand Plateaus, Brian Massumi clarifies his translation of “lines of flight”: the original French term fuite conveys “not only the act of fleeing or eluding but also flowing, leaking and disappearing into the distance.” (TP, p. xvi) Indeed Kafka (and Deleuze) is not content to contemplate infinity from afar in quiet reverie, but instead is always moving towards it. So my task then is not to write some predefined internal structure but instead to create the structure through the act of writing it.

[Added paragraph, 5/17/2012. -rory] The distinction here is the difference between the map and the tracing. Mapping involves a transfer from one domain into another — which requires the collapsing or consolidating of certain dimensions (as in from 3D to 2D), and/or the selective filtering, ignoring or abstracting of certain details. Each of these operations require some kind of subjective decisions at each step (the introduction of perspective, for example). That means that maps are productive, create power, can be expressive of ideology and so on — and as such, mapping can be an operation that consciously challenges all those things. On the other hand, tracing is intended to be value neutral and thus can only pass those things through, not challenge or recast them. My impression is that “automatic writing” is intended to be this kind of “pass through”: a tracing of the unconscious onto the page. By contrast, in “The Judgement”, K was flowing but not ignoring reflection or critical judgements; or rather, he was trying to cultivate a process that did all these things through the process of flowing.

But all this brings me to my one confusion / critique of Deleuze so far, and that is: how does one sustain the time or duration that is essential to his process ontology? How does a becoming not simply reduce into a new fixed category? [This example updated, 5/17/2012. -rory] For example, a droplet of water. As a fixed identity it is just a molecule. But it always exists in motion, as a part of some flow or process of becoming — for example, falling as rain. Is this then a fixed category “rain”? No because that too is in motion: into a stream, into a river, into the sea — in process and becoming. And yet, this entire process of becoming could be defined as another fixed thing, for example, the water cycle (precipitation, percolation, evaporation, etc). How does process resist always falling into a fixed static identity or concept? Even the wave can exist as a standing wave — a flowing that becomes a fixed thing. Perhaps I am misunderstanding something. Though really it probably doesn’t matter. As Brian Massumi advises in his introduction: “The question is not: is it true? But: does it work? What new thoughts does it make possible to think? … What new sesnsations and perceptions does it open in the body?” (TP, p. xv) Perhaps, at least in my case, it may at least help make possible the thinking (and writing) of my thesis first draft.

– Rory Solomon

Baudelaire, Charles. Paris Spleen. New York: New Directions Pub. Co., 1988.

Benjamin, Walter et al. The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility, and Other Writings on Media. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2008.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus : Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis, Minn.; London: University of Minnesota Press, 1998.

Solnit, Rebecca. A Field Guide to Getting Lost. New York: Viking, 2005.