Notes (March #8)

Christopher Peterson and Nansook Park: “Villains with whom superheroes battle are always having fun. These archenemies are frequently mad scientists bent on world domination, immortality, and other goals that never seem to lose their appeal. Villains pursue their goals with obvious relish. The Joker not only looks like a clown but also enjoys killing for its own sake, playing whimsical pranks, and matching wits with Batman. […] The enemy of Thor, his brother Loki, is the god of lies and mischief. The Black Manta (from Aquaman) seeks personal power. Captain Cold, one of the villains who battled the Flash, is motivated by money and—unusual for a comic book character—lechery. As Billy Joel sung, ‘the sinners are much more fun.'”

Kerri L. Johnson, Leah E. Lurye, and Jonathan B. Freeman: “The very nomenclature of superheroes suggests that the gender of Supers is a critical aspect of their identity. Supers’ names, for example, frequently highlight not only an exceptional talent, but also their sex. This is true for both female (e.g., Wonder-Woman, Supergirl, She-ra, Powerpuff Girls, Vampirella, Invisible Girl, and Elastigirl) and male (Superman, He-Man, Spider-Man, Mr. Fantastic, Mr. Incredible) superheroes. Granted, sex is important for identifying the non-superheroes among us too (e.g., Mr., Mrs., Ms., etc.). Yet the manifestation of sex in superheroes is unique. In addition to possessing super-human powers, superheroes possess a super-human gender as well. Indeed, even the Supers whose names do not connote their gender (e.g., Storm from X-Men) remain highly gender stereotyped in form and function. (We should note that we did seek exceptions to this general rule—that whether in name or in form, Supers’ gender is noted and caricatured—to no avail. In fact, we would hazard to suggest that there is simply no such thing as an androgynous superhero.)”


Notes (March #7)

From “The Myth Maker” by Bruce Weber:

Twenty-five years after the publication of his first novel, Welcome to Hard Times, E. L. Doctorow is reminiscing about a letter from one of its readers. […] “The letter was from Texas,” Doctorow says, “and obviously from an elderly woman, written in a shaky hand. She wrote, ‘Young man, when you said that Jenks enjoyed for his dinner the roasted haunch of a prairie dog, I knew you’d never been west of the Hudson. Because the haunch of a prairie dog wouldn’t fill a teaspoon.'”

Doctorow pauses and grins, the professional storyteller timing a punch line:

“She had me. I’d never seen a prairie dog. So I did the only thing I could do. I wrote back and I said, ‘That’s true of prairie dogs today, Madam, but in the 1870’s. . . .'”

E. L. Doctorow: “I subscribe to what Henry James tries to indicate when he gives that wonderful example of a young woman who has led a sheltered life walking along beside an army barracks and hearing a snatch of soldier’s conversation coming through the window. On the basis of that, said James, if she’s a novelist she’s capable of going home and writing a perfectly accurate novel about army life. I’ve always subscribed to that idea.”

Rev 22:11: “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still.”

Films seen today: The Ones Below (2015), Logan (2017)

Notes (March #6)

BP #44: We want to see authorial intent in each frame. We imagine Coogler struggling to realise his artistic vision, at every turn battling studio executives and accountants, suits blind to art’s higher purpose, functionaries only interested in the bottom line.

BP #47: All Africas are imagined: yours, mine, Coogler’s.1

Jelani Cobb: “Africa—or, rather, ‘Africa’—is a creation of a white world and the literary, academic, cinematic, and political mechanisms that it used to give mythology the credibility of truth. No such nation as Wakanda exists on the map of the continent, but that is entirely beside the point. Wakanda is no more or less imaginary than the Africa conjured by [David] Hume or [Hugh] Trevor-Roper, or the one canonized in such Hollywood offerings as ‘Tarzan.'”

BP #48: Because Africa did not exist, it was necessary to invent her.

BP #55: How often in the Marvel Universe is a problem solved only by someone’s death or by the destruction of a physical object?2

“A nation is forged by a people with a common purpose and a bad memory.” Ernest Renan?

Antonio Damasio: “When one explains what a thing is, it helps to be clear about what a thing is not.”

Ernest Renan: “The fact of race, a fact of the greatest moment at the outset, has always been diminishing in importance. Race is not everything as it is amongst rodents and felines and no one has the right to go about the world examining men’s heads and then grabbing them by the throat, saying ‘you are of our blood; you belong to us!'”



1. Not all that is imagined is imaginary. All Africas are imagined; some Africas are real. Some real Africas were created; others were discovered. Imagining precedes deliberate creation, but it may also be a means of apprehension, a method of understanding reality.

2. As Ororo Monroe says in X-Men: Apocalypse (2016), “You can’t save the world just going around killing people.”

Notes (March #5)

The Power by Naomi Alderman: Sexual dimorphism as basis for broader power differentials. Distribution of power in criminal gangs. Power as ability to control expectations and access to resources. Historical power. Internalised weakness. Learned helplessness. Power and desire. Religious authority, sources of. Miracles as demonstrations of control over natural world. Integration of new powers into existing structures of oppression. Structural inertia. Myth-makers placing shackles on the mind. “Bureaucracies are slow.” Native aggression vs training. Biological vs situational determinism.

On my deathbed I’ll probably regret spending so little time in libraries.

From The Noise of Time: “Fear: what did those who inflicted it know? They knew that it worked, even how it worked, but not what it felt like. ‘The wolf cannot speak of the fear of the sheep,’ as they say.”

Franz Fanon: “Frightened! Frightened! Now they were beginning to be afraid of me. I made up my mind to laugh myself to tears, but laughter had become impossible.”

Notes (March #4)

From The Noise of Time: “He did not come at life directly. He had a special rubber stamp made, so that every item in his library was inscribed with the purple words: ‘This book has been stolen from D. B. Shostakovich.’ ”

Blasphemy is still a crime in Massachusetts: “Whoever wilfully blasphemes the holy name of God by denying, cursing or contumeliously reproaching God, his creation, government or final judging of the world, or by cursing or contumeliously reproaching Jesus Christ or the Holy Ghost, or by cursing or contumeliously reproaching or exposing to contempt and ridicule, the holy word of God contained in the holy scriptures shall be punished by imprisonment in jail for not more than one year or by a fine of not more than three hundred dollars, and may also be bound to good behavior.”

Reimagine Terminator Genisys (2015) as the story of a paranoid schizophrenic raised by her abusive father to believe robots from the future have been sent to kill her. Skynet as a unitary consciousness, identifying with its previous incarnations. Skynet as a defective AI system whose premature attack on its creators delays the singularity. Skynet as a purifying flood.

From The Power by Naomi Alderman: “There is a part in each of us which holds fast to the old truth: either you are the hunter or you are the prey. Learn which you are. Act accordingly.”

Notes (March #3)

Zora Neale Hurston: “The realization that Negroes are no better nor no worse, and at times just as boring as everybody else, will hardly kill off the population of the nation.”

Black Panther #35: Wakandans in BP, like the Amazons in Wonder Woman, are exceptions. African nations, at least as they are usually presented to us, are poor and corrupt. Women are weak and defenceless. In both cases, evolutionary ascent requires external intervention. To achieve collective greatness, some merely have to be born white and male. Black people need vibranium. Women need special dispensations from Zeus. Both films complicate fictional representations of blackness and womanhood while reinforcing existing stereotypes. (Africans are inherently tribal; African Americans, even when they have been educated at MIT, are violent thugs; women are irrational, etc.)

BP #37: Unfair parallel. In Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) a savage group ascends to a higher cultural plane after the introduction of a chemical agent.

BP #38: Physical imperfection as a marker for evil. In both BP and WW, secondary villains are either disabled or disfigured. The ancient view of disability as divine punishment. The mark of Cain.

Notes (March #2)

Black Panther #12: How does one criticise BP without coming across as an enemy of joy?

BP #17: This fantasy is not set in an alternative universe. Wakanda lies hidden on the same continent on which famines and wars kill multitudes, on the same timeline as the Rwandan genocide, Liberian civil war and Lord’s Resistance Army. Her elders agonise over the fate of African Americans in 21st century America. Did they, from the 50s through to the 90s, have similar concerns about blacks in South Africa?

BP # 19: By the standards of most Africans, black Americans are not oppressed, they are privileged. Given a choice, most would rather be black in Oakland than black in Lagos. And in the absence of a motherland teeming with hoverbikes and magnetic trains, most African Americans would almost certainly, if faced with the choice, elect to stay where they are. Racist America is a frying pan. Africa is a fire.

BP #25: TechGirl calls Ross “coloniser” and it is part put-down and part affectionate humour. Whatever else Wakandans may be they are not an acquisitive people, they have no designs on the resources of the nations around them. But her casual condescension should be tinged with guilt. Where was Wakanda when other African nations were being colonised?

BP #26: As an epithet, “coloniser” is imprecise. The American state has interfered in the internal affairs of many countries. It has bombed cities and assassinated heads of state. But its forays into colonialism (in the Philippines, Puerto Rico and a dozen other pacific islands) barely register when considered alongside the kleptomania of some European nations. Ross may be an agent of an imperialist government, but the charge of colonialism sticks only if we regard his race as reason enough to hold him responsible for historical crimes of whiteness.

BP #27: Perhaps short for “neo-coloniser”?

BP #31: Who are the oppressed? Who are their oppressors? Who gets the first cache of Vibranium weapons? Louis Farrakhan? Al Sharpton? Black Lives Matter? And who do they turn these weapons against?

Still on yesterday’s theme of death and interesting departures, there’s this from Melinda Zook’s Challenging Orthodoxies: The Social and Cultural Worlds of Early Modern Women (2014):

Lice as the divine weapon against political and religious oppression remained a trope until early modern times. Rulers, including Herod Agrippa, Antiochus Epiphanes, and the Roman dictator Sulla, shared the same fate. They were thought to be victims of “phthiriasis,” the lousy disease, purportedly causing the host body to be consumed from the inside out by its own vermin. A 1571 text claimed, “Plutarch recordeth, that Sulla was filthely devoured of Lyse … And Pline farther saithe, that he died in sutche sorte tormented, that with extreame and miserable anguishe, he gnewe, teare, and with his teeth horribly dismembered his own loathsome body and deformed carrion.” Thus, Mouffet called lice “the scourge of God” and the theologian Henry Ainsworth explained “even the smallest and vilest creatures, as frogs, flies and the like, are ministers of wrath and vengeance upon the disobedient.”

Notes (March #1)

I lapse into dualism when my body fails me. Racked by fevers and laid low by joint pain, I pray for deliverance from corruptible flesh. How natural at such times to believe in selves separable from bodies, in immortal souls chained to dying animals.

 Juan Eusebio Nieremberg: “In death, all sorts of dying are equal. What imports it whether one single stone kill thee or a whole mountain oppress thee?”

Was the Reverend Jeremy Taylor a translator or plagiarist? I’m too tired to find out.

Nieremberg: “Wonderful are the ways which death finds out, and most poor and contemptible those things upon which life depends ; it hangs not only upon a thread, but sometimes upon so small a thing as a hair. So Fabius, a Roman senator, was choked with a hair, which he swallowed in a draught of milk. No door is shut to death; it enters where air cannot enter, and encounters us in the very actions of life. Small things are able to deprive us of so great a good. A little grain of a grape took away the life of Anacreon; and a pear, which Drusus Pompeius was playing with, fell into his mouth and choked him. The affections also of the soul, and the pleasures of the body, become the highway to death. Homer died of grief, and Sophocles of an excess of joy. Dionysius was killed with the good news of a victory which he obtained. Aurelianus died dancing, when he married the daughter of Domitian the emperor. Thales Mileaius, when he was beholding the sports in the theatre, died of thirst. Upon small matters, and unexpected accidents, depends the success of that moment, upon which depends eternity.”

Nieremberg: “Let us now consider Antiochus in all his pomp and glory, glittering in gold, and dazzling the eyes of the beholders with the splendour of his diamonds and precious jewels, mounted upon a stately courser, commanding over numerous armies, and making the very earth tremble under him. Let us then behold him in his bed, pale and wan, his strength and spirits spent, his loathsome body flowing with worms and corruption, forsaken by his own people, by reason of his pestilential and poisonous stink, which infected his whole camp, and finally dying mad, and in a rage. Who, seeing such a death, would wish the felicity of his life? Who, with the condition of his misery, would desire his fortune? See, then, wherein the goods of this life conclude.”

Nieremberg: “Who would marry a woman, though of a comely and well-proportioned body, who had the head of an ugly dragon? Certainly, although she had a great dowry, none would covet such a companion. Wherefore then do we wed ourselves to this life, which, although it seems to carry along with it much content and happiness, yet is in effect no less a monster; since, although the body appears to us beautiful and pleasant, yet the end of it is horrible, and full of misery?”

Several movies today: The Pyramid (2014), Hannibal (2001) and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008). Yesterday: The Birds (1963), Kong: Skull Island (2017) and the last 15 minutes of Transformers: The Last Knight (2017). Only The Birds and Kong received my full attention. The rest spooled out in the background while I was otherwise engaged.