The Theorists (preramble)


Comic books so often tell the tales of superheroes. Superheroes so often derive their superpowers from one of a few sources:

-Science (a spectrum with Iron Man at the far end, and Bill Nye on the near – MacGyver somewhere in between)

-Pseudoscience (the gamma radiation that acted as whey powder to Bruce Banner or turned Louis Slotin into Dr. Manhattan)

-Fantasy (the magic powers of John Constantine, the deific stature of a Delirium or Dream)

And the manner of exposure is fairly often:

-inheritance (Superman’s hometown was full of ubermenschen; Claire Bennett had more quarterings on her coat of arms than the Duke of Luxembourg)

-random chance (such as the Darwin-rolls-over “next step in evolution” of the X-Men films…)

-contact with a macguffin (…or Energy X in the printed material)

((YES, I am painting with a broad brush here. Even a roller. I understand. This is not meant to be an analytical exercise, which seeks to conjure some sort of pure and universally applicable dichotomization. This is the basis for a generative exercise, whose first goal is to make something, and only other goal is to have that thing be new.))

One might create a sort of Punnett Square for superpowers:

superhero punnett square

In order to create a superhero who does not fall within the boxes assigned above is somewhat difficult to imagine. If you discount the logical extent of the possible (Batmobile, Bat-space-elevator), and the patently impossible (Bat-perpetual-motion-machine), surely there is nothing left! If you discount the tangible (a squeeze bottle of Energy X) and the intangible (a squeeze bottle of Energy Xistential Angst), what is there left?

All I knew was that, whatever the result, would be new.

After some thought I have come upon a potentially suitable answer to this question. I did so by – youth that I am – dividing the problem among schools of academia. What wouldn’t fall into the science department, nor the humanities? What is there that isn’t micropipettes or meter, counting atoms or cataloging arias?

The answer is: theory.

The more cynical sort of academic – myself rather firmly in those ranks – might accuse this of being no answer at all, in the same way that theory is not a real discipline of study. It is, at the very best, ineffably meta: it deals with everything, by itself being nothing. And at worse it is the most vile sort of errant doofus wankery, so far up its own ass that it is in danger of emerging fully-formed from its own forehead like Minerva with a dual PhD in semiotics and unemployability.

Yet is there not a sort of fascination there? A sneaking suspicion in the mind of the most strident critic – be they scholarly or practical, supremely intelligent or ignorant enough to actually hold employ – that, however silly the stuff, we are lesser men for not being its master? The idea that an internally consistent framework may be nothing but the mirage of a house of cards – and yet, in its way, be as beautiful as a lake, come upon by a thirsting man in the barren desert, for in this first & modern world what deserts are there, what man does thirst?

Can you imagine it? A superhero, or gaggle of superpowered people, who derive their powers, not from molecules, not from magic, but from the mysteries of words – mere words? Who, from the intense and passionate study of things, learn to manipulate them at a level deeper than might be approached by a surgeon or a sorcerer? Who do not manipulate the rules of the world, nor a created set of rules, but some strange mid-point in between? Who work neither with the atomic nor the arcane – but with the academic?


~ by davekov on 3 July 2013.

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