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“Dark Genesis” Animal, Vegetable, and Mineral Becomings in a Monstrous World or How I Became Elemental and Lived to Tell the Tale

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“Dark Genesis” Animal, Vegetable, and Mineral Becomings in a Monstrous World or How I Became Elemental and Lived to Tell the Tale. Phillip Thurtle. Assistant Professor Comparative History of Ideas University of Washington. A Story in Three Parts. Part 1: Why Genesis?

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“Dark Genesis”

Animal, Vegetable, and Mineral Becomings in a Monstrous World or How I Became Elemental and Lived to Tell the Tale

Phillip Thurtle

Assistant Professor

Comparative History of Ideas

University of Washington

a story in three parts
A Story in Three Parts
  • Part 1: Why Genesis?
    • “Animating the Future”
      • Look at how comic books are used to explore the affective/phenomenological domain of media
      • Explore the culture of the new or novel in comic books
  • Part 2: Why Dark?
    • “One Bad Day”
      • The novel is beyond the visible
      • Tells us about the structure of the world beyond cognition
  • Part 3: Why Monstrous?
    • “Escape to a Monstrous World”
      • Elemental logic of an inhabited world
envisioning the unthinkable
Envisioning the unthinkable

“The countless disaster movies bear witness to this fantasy, which they clearly attempt to exorcize with images, drowning out the whole thing in special effects.”

Jean Baudrillard,

The Spirit of Terrorism

Adventures of Superman issue no. 596

Released September 12, 2001

animating the future
Animating the future?
  • What is it about drawn or animated content that allows for envisioning novelty?
  • Informational ecology of media
    • In what ways do media “inform us”?
  • Media and scale
    • How do these scales influence the phenomenological and affective dimensions of media use?
why comics
Why comics?
  • Multiple images and mass production
    • Multiples are good example of mechanical reproduction
      • Think of your grocery store shelves
      • Comics-multiple volumes and multiple panels to the page
    • How you build complexity using simple elements
    • Points to the economies and affective-phenomenologies of scale in mass mediums
    • Tells us about how (post)industrial societies situate themselves in the world
  • Non-representational
    • Strength of animated content not in representing the real
      • Helps us see what can’t be represented
        • Merleau-Ponty: “[Painting] gives visible existence to the invisible”
what is information
What is information?
  • Information: informare--to give form to or to shape and fashion.
  • Two different conceptions:
  • 1) Information as message-involves understanding symbols and meaning
      • Doesn’t recognize the informational content of the unanticipated event
  • 2) Information as a “field of unarticulated possibilities”
      • Information as a habituation
      • “The difference that makes a difference”-Gregory Bateson
informational ecology
Informational ecology
  • News as information
    • “highbrow”
    • New York Times
    • News stories
  • News as entertainment
    • “lowbrow”
    • The World
    • Features and Advertising
    • Still informs us

Adapted from Michael Schudson, Discovering the News: A Social History of the American Newspaper, 1978

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Inhabiting as game play

From The World, Jan 28, 1890

“The comic strip and the ad belong to the world of games, to the world of models and extensions of situations elsewhere.”

Marshal McLuhan, Understanding Media, 169

comics as novelty
Comics as “novelty”

Detail from Action Comics #1, June 1938

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Comic production as the “novelty library”
  • A library that articulates unarticulated possibilities
  • Affective/phenomenological not semiotic

Chris Ware,

Acme Novelty Library No. 2, 1994

it is all in the numbers media and scale
It is all in the numbers: Media and scale

The magic is in the numbers . . .

“There are 356 pages and 124 illustrations in the average comic book.

A single issue ranges in price from $1.00 to over $140,000.

172, 000 comics are sold in the U.S. every day.

Over 62,780,000 each year.

The average comic collector owns 3,312 comics and will spend approximately 1 year of his or her life reading them.”

Opening sequence from the movie “Unbreakable”

non normative events
Non-normative events
    • But, for all that, there is something queer about the twin co-ordinates of this comic-book world.
  • There is, for example, the matter of calculating chances and probabilities as a basis for virtuous revulsion from crime. Thus, in [Crime Doesn’t Pay] there is a separate tale called “A Lesson in Murder,” which begins:
    • One hundred police working on a case can make a thousand mistakes before they strike on the right solution, but the criminal, working against these hundred police, cannot afford to make a single error.
  • So far as human daring and courage go, this stacking of cards is a challenge. And the kids feel it as such. The criminal is the hero because he is fighting against hopeless odds. Against this kind of daredevil there is no use taking up the mealy-mouthed righteousness of the respectable businessman.”
  • Marshal McLuhan, The Mechanical Bride, 31.
one bad day the disaster in comic books
One Bad Day: The disaster in comic books

This city has seen its share of disasters. I watched the aftermath of that plane crash, I watched the carnage of the hotel fire. I watched the news waiting to hear a very specific combination of words but they never came. Then one day I saw a news story about a train accident and I heard them: “there is a sole survivor and he is miraculously unharmed.” The movie Unbreakable)

Much of our “lowbrow” media as looping people’s bad days

disasters and industrialization
Disasters and industrialization
      • As both Creation and Fall, the accident is an unconscious work, an invention in the classical sense of uncovering that which was hidden—before it emerges into the light of day.
      • Unlike the natural accident, the man-made accident is the product of the introduction of a new device or material substance. Pg. 23.
  • Paul Virilio,
the importance of qualitative change
The importance of qualitative change

To endure can lead one to a new qualitative logic . . A logic of non-scalar events

From Doom Patrol, Archival Edition Volume 1

scale free systems
Scale free systems

An accident at a highly connected juncture can become a disaster

From Albert-László Barabási, Linked: The New Science of Networks, 71

Industrial Technologies mediate relationships of scale

9 11 as scale free event
9-11 as scale free event
  • Hubs and connectors

: “. . . the attacks had a critical effect on another kind of network that we’ve created among ourselves: a tightly coupled, very unstable, and highly nonlinear psychological network. We are all nodes in this particular network, and the links among us consist of Internet connections, satellite signals, fiber-optic cables, talk radio, and 24-hour television news.”

Thomas Homer-Dixon

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Alan More, The Killing Joke

One Bad day as “non-scalar” event

to endure is to be a superhero
To endure is to be a superhero

From Plastic Man, Volume 1,Issue 1

Spiderman-radioactive spider bite

Flash-tritiated water

Plasticman-acid

Batman-urban crime

X-men-low level radiation

On and on

“The thing about Jim was no matter how many times he got shot he always got back up again. Of course nobody knew what a mutant was in those days. We just called him Lucky. Lucky Jim.”

From Ultimate X-Men, Vol. 5, Issue #2

the monstrous
The monstrous
  • The Superhero as monster embodies the monstrous logic of the world
    • The possibility beyond comprehension
    • That savage “anomaly”that marks quantitative change
escape artists and magic
Escape artists and magic

Escapism is an art. . . It depends on where you escape to

Neil Gaiman and John Bolton

Brian Vaughn and Pia Guerra

monstrous world
Monstrous World
  • Change does not come from personal transformation
    • Superhero as agent
    • Doesn’t recognize the elemental nature of the superhero
  • Change comes from inhabiting a world beyond control
    • “Philosophically the world is the monster. The monster is not an invasion from outerspace, its an ingress from immanence: an emergence from or surprising self-disclosure of the world already in process” (Brian Massumi, Parables for the Virtual, 233)
monstrous world27
Monstrous World
  • Change does not come from personal transformation
    • Superhero as agent
    • Doesn’t recognize the elemental nature of the superhero
  • Change comes from inhabiting a world beyond control
    • “Philosophically the world is the monster. The monster is not an invasion from outerspace, its an ingress from immanence: an emergence from or surprising self-disclosure of the world already in process” (Brian Massumi, Parables for the Virtual, 233)
the elemental logic of the world
The elemental logic of the world
  • The world is telling us things all the time
  • Listening to the world requires a willingness to inhabit the monstrous
  • There is a consistency to the world that comes through our inhabiting it and allowing for the possibility of the one bad day.
  • This consistency is one way to think about information-comes about through the interaction of things with things (difference) although our knowledge of it comes when it enters our event horizon (makes a difference).
welcome to the world welcome to your duty
Welcome to the World,Welcome to Your Duty
  • In Alphonso Lingis terms it is an embodied imperative
    • “The transport of one who at length found the song he was born to sing, who one day standing on Himalayan summits or in the white Antarctic night knows that she sees the grand things her eyes were made to see, who has found the intellectual, social, or environmental task that commits in the most exacting fashion all his energies, is the exultation of destiny.” (Alphonso Lingis, The Imperative, 2)
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