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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 05/16/2005
Vol. 2, #165

Scattered thoughts about what I call "consciousness visiting'".... Preternatural, beyond or transcending nature, slots of consciousness, how does consciousness manifest, all at once, in slots, in bursts, in discontinuous spreads, in serial order, in irregular spasms? How does it compare to Gurdieff's being awake, Buddhist mindfulness, sleep as multiplex consciousness....

Yes--Consciousness visiting...My arcane subject for today. I first became aware of it after I quit Superman, and had absolutely no income for a while to carry my family of six..... But first, let me take a view steps back of that.

I had reached, like a number of writers who worked for DC, usually the best, like Don Cameron, Bill Finger and others who were forced to work for Mort Weisinger after he squeezed out Jack Schiff, and found themselves in an unbearable situation. But this isn't about Weisinger whom I've discussed before. It's about what I did, and why I did it. Which brings me to the nub of this story, the strange experience of consciousness visiting.

In some earlier columns, I described fooling around with a friend of mine whose psychic gifts included an ability to channel. Please note that this word did not exist in those days. It simply started when my friend W suggested one evening while a guest at our home that since we hadn't anything especially interesting to do or talk about, that he pick up a pencil, sit in front of a pad at a small table, while I sat facing him, grasping his hand holding the pencil.

I've elsewhere described how after some hours of trying. the pencil began to write. W was convinced it was all his unconscious and, in any case, a lot of interesting stuff came out via this "channel"-- but what pertains most to this column was the statement, clearly directed to me, "If a man is pursued by insoluble agonies and there is nothing ahead of him but a cliff, he can leap and land safely, if his necessity be great."

At that time, with a wife and five kids and Mort seeing to it that barely any income came dribbling my way, I decided to leap. Did I land safely? Not for the first two months. I walked out of Superman and wound up in a tiny slum apartment where we tried to make do with the help of friends and some paltry savings for all of three months until, as though waiting for me at the very bottom of that cliff I'd jumped from appeared a friend whom I'd gotten to know as we contributed our parental share to the local cooperative nursery school in Yorktown Heights, New York.

N, my friend, also happened to run an ad agency in New York City and occasionally got wind of things and so, he showed up one afternoon and informed me that a think tank in the nearby city of Peekskill was looking for interviewers and suggested I go over there and try to pick up a few bucks as an interviewer, but added that I remember that these were "big degree people, real smart, so keep that in mind when they interview you." The place, called The Center for Research in Marketing had some major clients including manufacterers like Du Pont, Ford and Chrysler, General Foods Corporation, stuff like that. And when I got there, apparently they seemed to want more than an ordinary interviewer since I found all five top execs of the company sitting around a long table laid out with an assortment of consumer products ranging from test packages of toilet paper, a variety of the then new plastic housewares, several blownup ad pages and packages of cake mixes bearing such brand names as Pillsbury, Betty Crocker and Duncan Hines. And with scarcely any ado, they began asking me questions about each and all of the items, what did I think of them? Who would buy them? What was wrong about them? What was good about them? And also, tell us about yourself while you're at it.

That was when I first became aware of something in a concrete way that I had somehow possessed for a long time. It was like an additional sense. But it had a kind of depth that the other senses don't have, that is, it was almost a kind of clairvoyance. But not seeing into things far ahead or far away. Not seeing even into any kind of personal consciousnesses. It was a seeing in which I saw the objects they presented me with as emitting a kind of aura, not a statement, not a claim, truly an aura in which I could actually sense quite vividly who and what kind of persons each object was making an impression on. I discovered, in short, that these artifacts of admen and designers "broadcast" a kind of presence and evoked a particular response in particular kinds of people. In short, I was sitting there and suddenly aware of the fact that I was, in effect, visiting the "consciousness" of these branded products without ever having dreamed that such a kind of consciousness existed. I won't try to explain more at this stage.

Consciousness visiting, as I was to learn over a period of time, just happened to be a unique talent of mine, and certainly a few others as well, and made itself felt in a variety of ways that, even unrecognized, had already played a significant role in my life, especially my life as a writer, and certainly in the way I wrote comics, although that latter was effectively cut off by the crippled Weisinger ego which was trying to get something quite other than good stories out of his writers, some kind of unrelated personal fulfillment that a very few, in various ways, managed to provide. But this is a side-track I've been down before. Let's get back to my sudden discovery that morning of my own mysterious talent, consciousness visiting.

Some years later, in my memoir, AN UNLIKELY PROPHET, I was able to demonstrate advanced forms of consciousness visiting under various unique conditions. But on this particular morning back in 1958, I was just becoming aware of it. Confronted by the questions of the "master manipulators of the consumer mind" as someone once called them, I suddenly became very loquacious. Every package and box and product on that table seemed to reveal itself, not just whether it was appealing or not, but in a much more rounded way, to whom it appealed and to whom it didn't and precisely why. I knew

instantly who would be likely to buy the Betty Crocker stuff, who would prefer Duncan Hines, and what everyone was likely to think of the Pillsbury products. In each instance, I recognized types, backgrounds, attitudes, value systems and preferences of the potential market for every product they showed me.

It was something like clairvoyance, but less judgmental and less personal. My reactions were as objective as a geneticist counting variations in strains of drosophila. But I talked for two hours, seemed to have my interviewers utterly entranced, and when I had finished I was offered a job that almost doubled the money I had been making in comics at the best of times.

So, what had happened? I use the term "consciousness visiting." In Unlikely Prophet, years later, I wrote about getting into the consciousness of an ostrich, of an old woman and even of a whole flock flying birds, not to mention the inner presence of a solitary housefly. But it began back then in 1958, at the Center for Research in Marketing, and it's been with me, consciously, ever since.

Now, I realize I have some explaining to do. No, I do not read minds. I invade no one's privacy, nor can I. But I can literally sense what it is to be that person or thing or event without in any way influencing it. To be more precise, if a friend tells me a long story about his visit to Africa with his physician father, way back during his childhood, the whole experience becomes alive to me. I am experiencing and seeing Africa exactly as it was seen by my friend during his childhood, but oddly enough, I am not seeing my friend himself.

I am there, in Africa, just as he was there, but I am not inside his consciousness as he tells the story or as it unfolds. I am visiting his consciousness as it relives his African experience. Does that make it any clearer?

Perhaps I should first say a few things about consciousness itself. I have to explain how consciousness brings the so-called material world into being and then interlaces itself through everything and anybody. I know this, but I'm not sure I can go much beyond that statement without virtually getting into a book on consciousness theory.

But let me present it another way. Many years ago when I was working on a Warner News TV series, I was sitting around with the whole cast during a lunch break, and we were discussing foreign cities. The time, mid fifties or thereabout. My talks w ith the actors coverred details about cities like Munich, for example, or even details, almost never known to mere visitors, about certain customs in one of the wine-making regions of France. And suddenly I realized, hey, these people probably think I've been to these places myself. I explain to them, no, I haven't. By the way, every one of them were Europeans.

Then how come you know so much about it, they ask. And here I have to explain that I'm picking it up from them in some immediate way, as though, in their having been there, I have at that moment managed to pick up all the objective details of their experience without in any way sensing them in it personally. I experienced what they experienced as though I stood in their shoes, but it never really was that personal. I didn't really sense them, only what they were telling me about. But my mind or imagination was then able to ratiocinate upon and expand their experience, enabling me to see elements in what they told me that they themselves didn't see. It was as though their experiences provided a window through which I could look but from which I could find elements that they themselves were not aware of.

Sound strange? Well, not really. Think of it as their providing the window while their attention picked out certain features and mine, based on my kind of interests, picked out something quite unique to myself, in their experience.

Consider this for a moment. It may sound odd at first, but if you can accept well established extra-sensory capacities such as remote viewing, you should be getting a glimmer of what I mean when I speak of consciousness visiting. It may not be the most elegant term in the world, but it's the best I can come up with so far.

Now, as I started to say, I was in effect doing consciousness visiting during my strange interview at the Center for Research in Marketing. But it wasn't the consciousness of people directly. It was the consciousness that had been built into those designs and packages by the people who had created them out of perhaps long discussions and research efforts at the agencies where they worked. In short, I'd look at a package and read to whom its message was directed either very clearly (in which case the package was working). Or, if I didn't get it, then I'd rule out the effectiveness of the package. But again, this was an exercise in "consciousness visiting." And I'm convinced today that the reason I've been called by some critics "the best Superman writer ever, " is because even way back then, that faculty was working in me. In a purely imaginative way, I could become the main character well enough to see what he saw, think some of his thoughts, and feel the presence of some of his supercapacities. Only, back then, I didn't know I was doing it. Nor do I believe that gift was exclusive to me. I think Don Cameron had it and I'm sure it was present in Bill Finger even though it was colored by certain specific elements in Finger's personal history.

As for myself, as my awareness grew of the nature of consciousness visiting, I found myself able to travel all across the world, into some of the most difficult places to reach by means of other personalities who had actually been there. And I also believe that through a combination of circumstances too detailed to set down in these columns, I was able to become acquainted with, influenced by and affected by the otherwise incongruous, but no less real, Mr Thongden.

More next week.

--Alvin

<< 05/09/2005 | 05/16/2005 | 06/06/2005 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Round Table.


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