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After the Golden Age by Alvin Schwartz
Giving a glimpse into the formative years of comics and beyond.

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AFTER THE GOLDEN AGE for 05/03/2004
Volume 2, #122

According to the Eleatic philosopher Parmenides--there is only permanence with no change. There is no movement as we understand it. What am I saying? Not that it's all nothing. It's very much something. But nothing is happening. There's quite a difference. Hold on and I'll explain.

Remember the story of Zeno? He's the one who had Heracles racing the tortoise. The tortoise, in one version, has a great head start. Heracles can easily catch up with him--but can he? Every time he covers half the distance that separates them, he still has half to go. And no matter how fast he goes, there is still half left. So how, Zeno asks, could Heracles ever catch up with the tortoise? There have been mathematical disputes about this down the ages. If you want to get a real load of them, look up Zeno in the Thirteenth Edition of the Encyclopedia Brittanica. They've got all the math arguments, pro and con, lined up for your delectation.

But without consulting encyclopedias, you only need to know that Zeno of Elea started it all back toward the end of the Fifth Century BC. As a friend and pupil of Pamenides whose doctrine of the One precluded the existence of the many, Zeno worked out a set of paradoxes seeking to prove there was only the One, and the Many did not exist. That's putting it simply. But taking all his great arguments into consideration, as well as the support of many mathematicians over the ensuing centuries, the fact is--er--I mean, my opinion is that if Zeno had been right, Heracles would have been unable even to take that first stride, let alone get halfway close to the tortoise.

Because, of course, how does he manage half a stride? And half of that again? In short, how can there be motion? That's how it looks at first glance. Too much.

But hold it. Because it really looks to me as if Zeno was right. And Parmenides was right too. There really is no movement and no time. That's what I'm saying, just like those old Eleatic philosophers. Why? Because I'm an old comics writer (among other things) and I've been dealing with that problem for years and years--by writing comics.

That's right--you read a comic book story and see lots of action and go through whole universes of time. But surely you must have noticed--NOTHING ACTUALLY MOVES.

From panel to panel, amid all the smashing and crashing--there isn't an iota of movement. As for time--why you can look at the entire page all at the same time. No time either. Time and motion are simply assumptions that exist between and behind the panels. You can't see it and you'll never find it. And it's like that with everything, from the movies with its stills and pixels, or when you cross the street. Were you there before you got there or after? Where were you in-between?

Half way across--half of halfway across? So--how did it happen? Or did it?

Now let's take this a step further. In all graphic art--everything is permanent and timeless, and everything implies time and motion. These last two are the offspring of Parmenides' One! They are ideas born out of the stillness, centuries born out of the continuous endless instant.

In a way, if you examine the whole thing closely, superheroes are a special way of exaggerating this point. They are time and motion fantasies pouring endlessly out of the ever still endless now.

I guess I had to write this because these last few weeks, ain't nothing at all been happening around here. My books are in the hands of publishers I never hear from. My words sometimes make for splashy effects in the mind, but they don't really stir up anything at all. Even my columns don't always get written because there's that awful halfway point. Y'understand?

In the midst of all this quietness, by its very means, in fact, the world seems to be blowing up all over the place. And there's George Bush right in the thick of it. Yet nothing works, nothing seems to happen, nothing seems to get anywhere. In fact, everything seems to be getting a lot worse and yet--if you look closely--even Bush's lips aren't moving. How do you explain all that?

That. my friends, is what Zeno is all about.

--Alvin

<< 04/19/2004 | 05/03/2004 | 05/17/2004 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Round Table.


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