Enquiry Concerning Superhuman Understanding

Hello there, Bloggers!  I think we must just take a short break from this whole “bunch of stuff I should be writing that hopefully hangs together half-decently except when I’m driven to just totally interrupt it” stuff, because today (as I’d nearly forgotten) is of course the very most perfect day for talking about the problem with Daredevil.


Well, didn’t you know that there was a problem with Daredevil?

Let me just say it up front, that I was an avid reader of Miller’s DD, but after his tenure ol’ Horn-Head became a lot less interesting to me.  I won’t blame Ann Nocenti for it — that’d be as silly as me blaming Mary Jo Duffy for me being less interested in PM/IF than I thought I was going to be — and I won’t say that I wasn’t interested in the Bendis/Maleev or Brubaker/Lark DD either, although after a while I confess it did all start to pale, a bit.  But I think I can blame Miller and his collaborators themselves, for it!  Because their performances were so indelible, and so amazingly reconstructive — after they left, it was still “their” Daredevil everyone had to work with.  And it still is.  And, rightly so.

But, I miss my Daredevil.  Daredevil the Rationalist…not Daredevil the Religionist.  That first guy really appealed to me, you see.  “When young David Hume was struck by radioactive chemicals, he lost his sight, but his other senses became SHARPER…!”  Yes, of course:  but what a recipe for disorientation, when the senses are precisely what we can’t trust, eh?  We’re all blind, in that sense:  lost in the synaptic gulf between world and self, perception and action, existence and non-existence…

“…They became sharper, but still it DIDN’T HELP…!”

And so the problem with Daredevil is that this May 7th of 2011 is David Hume’s tercentenary, and yet the writers of superhero comics — of all people! — seem to have forgotten all about him.  SHOCKER! I know;  and yet what other conclusion can we draw, but that they’ve forgotten about him?  God help me, I almost feel like I need to put in a link, here…to the historical philosopher I probably most resemble…

…So that we may revisit once again the marvellous world of superhero pedagogy.

Daredevil is a funny old bird;  as I’ve mentioned before, somewhere around here, he has the most cleverly-vexed secret identity problem of any superhero:  when he’s being DD, he’s in deadly danger of revealing the secret fact that he’s actually just a blind man in a fancy suit, and when he’s Matt Murdock he’s in deadly danger of revealing the secret fact that he’s not just a blind man in a fancy suit.  And yet in both cases he is, in fact, a blind man…and as a result of this, as a result of his superpower lying in his disability, his world is under constant, fantastic, paranoiac tension.  This isn’t like Superman having to pretend to be a coward.  This is somebody who has to remember to keep bumping into things.  And once the suit goes on he also has to remember to make everything he’s really doing look like something else.  So in a manner of speaking he’s like Clark Kent both ways — he’s Clark when he puts the glasses on, and when he takes them off he’s Clark once more.  In place of the amazing world of Krypton and a rocket ship he’s got a boxer Dad with a cauliflower ear who can’t make the hydro payments, and a promise to study hard and do well in school…in place of Perry White and Lois Lane he’s got Foggy Nelson and Karen Page, and so why go on with the comparisons then?  What’s the point?  If inside most superheroes is a chewy centre of freedom, wish-fulfillment, the pretense of magically-easeful adulthood that is childhood’s greatest privilege, inside Daredevil is the sheer difficulty of negotiating with the adult world that children above all are most familiar with…and also, shadowing it, the difficulty of negotiating with the adult world that adults are most familiar with.  Both ways, see?  Daredevil’s always getting it both ways.  Matt Murdock’s that terrific rarity in superhero comics, the genuine grown-up in his civilian identity who is returned to childhood when he puts on his suit…but the child’s world is hard to navigate too, when one is just pretending.  And hardest of all is the way the link between those two states makes it clear — after a while — that it is all just pretending:  Matt Murdock dominates his world so completely that he actually holds it up, maintains it, and without him it would just collapse into pieces.  He is the spine of the thing, and everything in it refers back to him;  he doesn’t fit into a larger society and he doesn’t have people like pillars holding the house of his life up for him, the exterior existence of things doesn’t reflect back on him to make his contexts cheerfully solid, and the things that determine him do not lie outside him, but he himself is the determiner of things.  And all this puts a rather edifying strain on the character of Daredevil, that would remain subliminal until Miller et. al. chose to finally have him snap…and when religion entered the picture all was made straight and clear, the uncomfortable dualism given a familiar shape and name:  concentrations that were reliable in part because they were stereotypical.  Solid, of course.  That DD lives a lie instead of merely having a secret is something we always sort of knew anyway:  after Miller, the lie has walls and a ceiling, and most importantly a floor.  You can see how Matt Murdock moves around in it, counting steps:  his most intimately familiar ground, his ultimate fortress of solitude.

But once — let me tell you — it was all another way.

If you don’t know David Hume, I’m not going to hold it against you.  There’s so much of him to know, after all, and I’ve forgotten most of what I knew about him anyway, so I couldn’t help you out too much even if you wanted me to, which you probably don’t.  And you’re probably right not to want that.  But the quick rundown’s easy enough:  what we think of as certainties are ususally just pretty flimsy probabilities;  and what we think of as “probable” is more usually unprovable by the means we employ to assess it.  We can have knowledge and we can be empirical, but in this as so much else, man is the measure:  knowledge of the world and knowledge of the nature of man is the same knowledge.  The world is more shadowy than we think it, causes are doubtful ghosts, reason stems from different sources than we think it does, and the continuity of our world and of ourselves alike is only an assumption we make.

But…where does the assumption come from, then?

That’s a darn good question, so it deserves a darn good answer, but the answer we’re going to use is a bit rougher and readier than that:  the assumption comes built-in to us.  Why do we assume that the world keeps its shape when we’re not looking at it?  Why do we perceive in ourselves a continuity of person?  Why on earth do we trust our senses, and why would we ever exalt our powers of reason above them?  Hey, I’m not even going to get into the way the Romans managed their inheritance laws!  But we could learn a lot from the Romans, actually:  they had gods for everything, only because they took nothing for granted.  Everything around them was imbued with a character, and every social relationship implied a mathematics;  causes and effects were descended from divinity just as people were.  Oh, the crazy Romans:  they didn’t have gods of numinous qualities, they had gods with jobs.  Gods for washing the windows and gods for mowing the lawn, gods to get hungry and gods to get thirsty, gods to go to sleep at night!  Gods of keeping yourself neat and tidy so you don’t embarrass your mother when you go outside!  And if they’re not boring enough for you, how about the Greeks?  Who above the gods set the facts, and went so far as to have causes cause themselves by partaking of causality.  Dostoyevsky gets to this later on in The Brothers Karamazov:  “and God said let there be light, and there was light.”

“But where did the light come from?”

SMACK TO THE HEAD!  “That’s where the light came from, all right?  Bit clearer on it now, or do you need a bit more of this theology I’ve got for you right here?”

As far as Hume’s concerned, there’s a lot there to reckon with, if we can just figure out how to reckon with it.  But to do that, we have to know what kind of a measure man really is.  What kind of registration can we achieve with this instrument, what is it made for?  But, you know…all that, you can get anywhere, and for Hume’s 300th birthday I really ought to try doing something a little bit different from the stuff you can get anywhere…not to mention the stuff that almost anyone will be able to do better than me.  A more personal note will make me look less like a putz, maybe…and maybe it’ll even not be bad, for a minute or two.

So, you wonder if there really is a link between David Hume, and Matthew Murdock?

I wouldn’t bet against the reading habits of comic-book creators, if I were you.  Look, here is a big problem of Hume’s day, and a problem of our own, that I don’t actually hear people talking about very much, which is:  once you embark on a Cartesian project of skepticism, where the hell do you go next, and how the hell are you supposed to know where to stop?  Doubt can’t swallow the cogito, but that ultimate reduction is what it is precisely because doubt can swallow everything outside it!  Inside the chocolatey coating of the superhero is the chewy centre of pretense, but inside the sweet fruit of ontology is a stone, and whether you pick it out or eat around it it’s still a stone.  Fine for regular living?  Fine for regular living, but if one wants to do some useful philosophizing the problem of knowledge is always there, for Plato as for Descartes as for you.  So in Hume’s time there was something like (let’s call it) a Roman-style longing for practicality that was making itself felt, in Scotland particularly:  moderation, compromise, balance, the limits of the problem of limits.  How does one go about looking for them?  Can the search be justified by anything less than a discovery?  Because a mere solution just won’t do, if you see what I mean:  this thing everyone wants, it’s too tempting to just say “oh, here it is, why it was here the whole time, okay that’s lunch everybody…!”  When people deceive themselves all the time, you know, you’ve got to admit the possibility they might be doing because they like it.  So what you have to find is some sort of principle that frees you from like-based conclusions.  But maybe that’s okay, eh?  I mean, maybe this is how the whole problem of the limits of knowledge came about anyway, by not realizing it’s getting too big for its britches!  Go back to Descartes:  existence exists, anyway.  We know that much.

But if it exists…then it must also be something, mustn’t it?

So if figuring out what that is can be a task, then it can also be a positive task.  Skeptical empiricism need not be entirely concerned with finding ultimate reductions of pure logic and reason like the cogito;  the mind is not all that there is, nor even all there is to find stuff out with.  A big task?  It’s a big task, indeed, and it all but makes the entire Scottish Enlightenment come into being.  What did Voltaire and Mandeville alike miss?  Hume is interested in the question, and will not have anyone tell him it is not a question.  It costs him his job, his girl, and his home, but his question remains, and even succeeds.  Three hundred years after his birth (um…give or take an hour or two, sorry Our Dave) we can only stop and stare at the vision of a non-Humean world zooming by us to the vanishing point, philosophy grown too compactly crystalline to allow anything but a conclusion.  I am not saying the Scottish Enlightenment had no radicals in it;  indeed Hume was its chief radical!  But he was a more sober one than Voltaire, a more sober one than Hobbes too…like Rousseau (uh, in my opinion I guess), he saw that even limits must have limits.  We can talk all we want about divinity, we can be fer it or agin’ it…but it doesn’t really matter either way, because God is not really the issue at hand.  And Hume proved that, you know.

Everybody else thought about it, but he actually went and did it!

At least, according to me he did.  But then you can’t necessarily go by me, because I am also saying that Daredevil did it.  There’s a thing we don’t see too much anymore in DD comics, partly because of the abandonment of thought-balloons (so necessary for this superhero, of all superheroes!  Yea, even unto Spider-Man!) but also partly because of Matt Murdock’s post-Millerian religious background.  I mean, yes DD was getting a little pointless before Frank injected that stuff, but in typical Frank style reinvigoration for the Batman of Hell’s Kitchen came at the cost of the existing mythological programme’s subtleties.  When Matt Murdock was Daredevil, he used to be the closest thing to a “happy-go-lucky” hero Marvel ever had:  the schismatic nature of his identity was (paradoxically?) intact, and the nightly escape into renascence worked…at any rate, far better than it ever had for Peter Parker.  But since Miller everything about the character is unified in a way it wasn’t before.  Look at that movie they made of it, Ben Affleck crunching handfuls of painkillers each evening.  Hey, I do understand it — hey, I do!  Remember, I liked it!  But maybe if you’ll remember that you’ll also remember my main artistic complaint about the DD movie:  that Matt never smiles when he’s under the hood.  And he should smile.  Heck, he should grind down those Tylenols while grinning.  Because it’s the only way to recall, even (though I prefer it as an irruption of unexpectedness into character) to recontextualize, that old happy-go-lucky stuff that used to be such part-and-parcel with Daredevil’s underlying grimness and seriousness in the pre-Miller days.  Hmm, and I guess I should also make a note to myself here, to remember to hunt up the relevant links:  Zom’s wonderful Miller/Mazzuchelli posts, my own revisitations of the Affleck movie, wherever the heck David Brothers hid that first “Ann Nocenti’s DD is all about how violence is stupid” thing…

…But it’s getting pretty late now for a David Hume tercentenary commemoration, and I’m getting goddamn sleepy, so I guess I’ll just have to do all that tomorrow.  And use this time instead, to return once more to the thing we never see in DD stories too much anymore:  Matt’s own point of view.  Remember that?  The silhouetted horns, the radar-circles, and the shadows they show up to his perception…my God what fantastic use was once made of such devices!  Dude cannot see.  What we would see, what in fact we do see there on the printed page, with all the contextualizing assumptions trailing in that sight’s wake, Matt doesn’t even know is there.  So he can’t put it all together as we do:  immediately, easily, soothingly.  He has to fight his way through Humean “connexion” even to get to the point of recognizing other superheroes who’ve got their own books, and even when he does get there, there is still…strangeness.  Look away from the world and then look back, are you really that sure it will be the same?  Are you really that sure all the logical consistency will hold?  Daredevil may see in every direction all at once (well he does, you know), but he is always surprised by the world and what’s in it.  The other Marvel characters are even weirder to him, then they are to us!  Because we are closer to their contextualized reality than he is.  All the other characters can see what we see, see as we see, even if it’s only us that know we’re holding a comic book in our hands.  But Daredevil reminds us that assumptions, even the assumptions that make up “suspension of disbelief”, are reasonably hard work.  And hey, I know it verges on the dumb to go that metatextual with it all, I really do:  Daredevil represents a different reading that lies under the text, which is a basic perplexity that we as readers share with him even if we can delight in the play of its contradictions and he can’t, yes yes, I know that’s all very airy-fairy and very far-off from the point — indeed the act — of reading these things in the first place…I mean what am I really saying there, that can’t be said more elegantly and more truthfully by simply noting that Daredevil is a superhero with a disability that occurs in the real world?  Not gamma-poisoning, not supercharged spider-bites, not mutations that make you look and function like a neat-o Jack Kirby drawing meant to tell a story but blindness or something.  But is even that phrasing entirely honest?  Is Matt Murdock really a representative of diversity in superhero comics, automatically because somewhere between Stan Lee and Bill Everett there grew an “oh wow cool” moment made up of the words “what if he were blind?”  No one credits Iron Man with opening peoples’ eyes to the reality of heart-disease sufferers, so why should Daredevil receive any similar credit?  After all — and you knew I was going to say this, of course — if you actually are blind like Matt Murdock is, you can’t feel he is speaking there on your behalf, as your lawyer if you’ll allow me that, if you can’t actually read the comic.  Can you?

No, of course you can’t.  Even his problems with not being able to piece together a rationale for the presence of other superheroes in his world (I mean superheroes, who believes in those, they don’t make any sen…oops here is one!) are only educational in the sense that they put before sighted kids some narrative uses of blindness…maybe a bold thing for superheroes at the time, to use Matt’s blindness as a psychodramatic inflection of superhero action, but then again the superheroey-ness of it all makes him kind of not really blind, too…so…

Where’s the real diversity, here?

It actually could be in Hume.  Because Daredevil’s blindness gives him a recurring problem to deal with, but it probably would be a stretch to say that the problem is only logistical, or that it only refers to the Superman-style secret identity business, when beyond doubt there is an existential problem here as well.  It isn’t that super-hearing is just another modality for story explication.  Until Steve Gerber comes along DD’s non-sighted-ness won’t be made explicitly Phildickian, but then again up until Gerber there is still the paranoia this particular secret identity engenders, and even Gerber’s capacious bookshelf can’t find any improvement on the absence of God that permeates a world where Matt Murdock is the defining character, the orienting character, the one-and-only pole of his own milieu’s tent, that holds it up…and yet is still a work of many hands, necessarily schizoid, changeable, I mean who is Matt Murdock, really?  Until Frank Miller and his local geniuses come along, the question will go forever unanswered…after they come along, it will go forever darn well answered.  But our old friend (I hope by now you will consider him a friend) David Hume would say, much as Marvin Minsky or the Buddha, that there is no self, that the self’s solidity undergoes transpiration as soon as it is looked at carefully, rises slowly up from the lotus pond into the golden cloud of the atmosphere, and then is seen no more.  In other words:  the mirror turns into mist, and diffuses away.  Of course all the Enlightenment thinkers, Hume not least, would probably remind us that Newton already showed each tiny water-droplet to be a prism in its own right (hey, maybe Morrison should write DD?) (that’d be cool!), but that doesn’t exactly do much more to tether “selfhood” to earth, does it?  But rather makes it a thing essentially dispersible anyway.  Naturally if God is in the picture all the water-droplets turn to iron and fall right to the solid ground, even find a magnet to cluster around:  and we call that “character” today, that sort of clustering…

But once — let me tell you! — it was all another way.

A way in which neither the senses nor the reason could be fully trusted, and yet we were still not ever relieved of the burden of having to try to understand.  So…yeah:  I guess it isn’t that Daredevil has a problem I wish could be solved, it’s that the problem of Daredevil is what I miss about Daredevil.  Hey, so:  Romans, I come not to bury Daredevil but to praise him…!

And maybe that seems like a bit of a weak ending, here?  After all it is easy for me to plug in all this stuff after the fact, and make a pattern of comprehension where maybe none ever really existed.  But that pattern made a big difference to me as a young comic-book reader, and so I’m not willing to say it never really existed at all

Only to say, perhaps, that if I have seemed to see further in this case than can be seen, it’s only because I have swung across the rooftops of giants…!

And so further, deponent saith not.

And anyway it’s time for bed.

Happy Birthday to David Hume, and to all the ships at sea!  There was a three-hour delay on this one, but then they do say no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.

14 responses to “Enquiry Concerning Superhuman Understanding

  1. This is all good stuff, but I think you’re leaving something out. Because when Marvel created Matt Murdock back in the sixties, what they were basically doing is updating one Golden Age character, the Bart Hill Daredevil, and bringing in the most notable feature of DC’s Doctor Mid-Nite, who was doing the whole blind-guy-who-can-really-see thing long before Murdock was, if not so interestingly.

    It’s tempting to try to map Daredevil onto some kind of DC analogue, and there are a number of candidates. Doctor Mid-Nite, of course, not that that’s a very interesting one. Batman, of course, although you’re getting pretty reductionist if you do that, and besides there are other candidates for Batman. But the one I like is one that was suggested to me by DD’s old subtitle: The Man Without Fear.

    And who’s DC’s Man Without Fear? Green Lantern, of course.

    Now here you have Daredevil maintaining the fictional world around him by sheer force of will; without him the whole thing would collapse. And that’s as good a description as any of what GL can do with his power ring.

    But when Marvel and DC do their crossovers, they always map GL onto Iron Man, which I guess works well enough, but I’d prefer GL and Daredevil. And these days you can always match up Iron Man and Steel, or–getting a bit far afield here–Iron Man and Luthor or something.

  2. I remember when I first read Miller’s DD that it was good, but not what I’d have called Daredevil. More like a reimagining, if such word had existed. Seems to me that writers had difficulty identifying what exactly the strip was supposed to be. If at worst just a cheapo Spider-Man clone, at its best it was noirish and drawn by Gene Colan. DD had something of a thriller about it: Murdock was imprisoned by a sightlessness not fully complemented by his extra sense, and stories were advanced by noting an increased heart rate or the checking of a watch. Sherlock Holmes-ish, to a degree. Then the billy club would come out and the illusion tended to vanish, but that’s comics.

    When Miller came along, he made it high tension and violent and grubby, and I’m not complaining, but something subtle and fearful got dropped, and maybe in an alternate universe DD could have developed in a very different, but still good, way.

  3. Ha, Matthew! I was all ready to say “no, no, the DC analogue is Superman!” but GL fits pretty snugly into my little thesis here, for sure! Good eye.

    And Clone, yeah…I’m not complaining either, and especially since it was much more of a genuinely reconstructive effort than we generally think today! The last time I re-read all that stuff it blew me right away how it was not just a “I’m Frank Miller and this is how I think Daredevil should be” sort of thing — he was much more Busiek than Byrne, than he’s given credit for. His DD (I’ve said this before) could be profitably compared with Don McGregor’s Black Panther, in that sense — and maybe that comparability was even intended, since there are a whole lot of “Panther’s Rage” echoes in Frank’s DD, right down to the comic relief — though with a much more overt “back-to-basics” message lying alonside all the innovations. Hey, as long as I’m referencing “Panther’s Rage”, Tucker and David do a dandy pas-de-deux on the subject here, here, and here…well worth a read!…

    Hold on, gotta continue in a minute…

  4. Ah, there we go…just had to make sure all that took properly…

    But yeah, any type of reconstruction is still a reconstruction, even if it’s badly needed and wanted. I would sooner do without Byrne’s FF than Miller’s DD, and I even think Miller’s DD represents a much more respectful and artistic way (at the same time, good God!) of reconstructing a superhero comic that’s fallen away even from the value of nostalgia for how it used to be good…

    But the original thread still gets broken, so there is another History Of Daredevil “out there” somewhere, for sure. The detective work, the aggressiveness of the internal dialogue, the atmosphere that was noir-ish in a manner completely different from the noir-ish stuff we’ve got now…

    But I really do miss the absence of religion most of all.

  5. You know, I’m tempted to write a bit about the “senses get sharper” thing too — Matt Murdock’s senses do get sharper, but to anyone who’s ever heard the bit about real blind people getting “sharper” senses I would really like to suggest walking around with artificially-impaired vision even for just a lazy Sunday or something, even just sitting in a chair. I think in a time where neuroscience is such a media-friendly study we should not be leaning on the “senses get sharper” approximation anymore — something does happen with the senses, but it isn’t magic, and it’s actually very interesting! I am not sure if saying all that will get me a cheer from blind people or a raspberry — is “interesting” insulting? After all I can go right back to 20/20 vision after my “interest” has been piqued, so maybe I’m a bit of a jerk to talk about being blind as though it were fun, or something — but I do think we should be able to think about disabilities more personally and less parodically, less distantly! in these our times. A good reason to watch the Celebrity Apprentice is to hear Marlee Matlin say, when asked about Dionne Warwick:

    “Well, I understand that Dionne is apparently this really well-respected person…”

    Trump hits the ROOF! “Well-respected, this is DIONNE WARWICK we’re talking about here, she is SUPER-FAMOUS…!”

    To which Marlee replies:

    “Yeah, DEAF PERSON OVER HERE, right? I’ve never heard a song, you know?”

    It’s a damn good place for the conversation to come up, I think. Pop culture, fame, covers of magazines, household words and all that. Trivia games, red carpets, everybody knows everybody. And Marlee Matlin is part of all that, so it’s a somewhat natural assumption to think that she moves in that sphere, she lives in that stratum, it’s like a neighbourhood, it’s like a gated community of S*T*A*R*S! People know one another by reputation in a very deep way, there: and everybody’s reputation supports everybody else’s reputation, maintains the currency of fame for all of them, so they’re all involved.

    That’s the assumption, perhaps…but of course the assumption is false, because Marlee Matlin’s world is one where celebrity impressions of Whitney Houston or Bruce Springsteen are meaningless…she might not be able to pick them out of a lineup, conceivably. So on Trump’s show, which is all about the propping-up of the culture of gaudy glitter and respect-as-tribute, it’s kind of awesome to see this exchange go down (although I still haven’t seen it myself; Ed just told me about it) — it’s the perfect forum for saying “no, DEAFNESS IS NOT A COMPONENT OF FASHION, I am not just putting it on, I am deaf even when America is not looking!

    And so are lots of other people!

    She was right to go on that show, I think. Good for her. Half the contestants are like “some guy, some guy, some chick, oh look there’s another mysterious person”…what a perfect environment for raising awareness about deaf culture.

    And Jesus is that the TIME! I’ve got forty-five minutes to get to the store.

    Back soon, probably.

  6. Once I tried to figure out if there was a way to do DD comics where you could represent Matt’s super-senses VISUALLY so you didn’t have to do all that thought balloon/caption stuff.

    I couldn’t think of anything outside of maybe little “popup” boxes containing that sensory info rendered visually (however the hell you’d do THAT), but I realized that it was for the best because you’d really MISS that thought balloon/caption stuff (I still prefer thought balloons for the perceived immediacy). It’s cumbersome to have to keep writing, you know, “Sound of a gun cocking! Twelve feet away. By the aftershave, I can tell he’s blah de blah…” but that, I suppose, is kind of the POINT with a blind superhero. It SHOULD be kind of cumbersome, because Matt has to INTERPRET everything, even if it IS immediate. Daredevil is the one comic where you can get away with the sin of describing in words what the reader can see on the page anyway!

    I am actually looking forward to Mark Waid on Daredevil. I think I’ll actually walk into a store and buy that. I believe he’s going to push DD back toward being a sort of laughing cavalier, but it doesn’t mean he’s healed. That might be interesting, right? All the other superheroes all “Jeez, Matt, you seem like you’re masking your pain with humor and I’m not sure that’s healthy,” and Matt’s like, “So what, you want me to grit my teeth and brood on a church steeple in the rain every night until I retire?”

  7. “What kind of friend are you, Spider-Man, that you don’t think I should be able to crack a joke while punching a bad guy just because all of my girlfriends are dead?”

  8. HA!!

    And, hmm, that point about it being the only comic where you can get away with describing what the reader can already see…

    You’d think people would be all over that, wouldn’t you?

  9. I hadn’t thought of it before, but Marvel’s actually got kind of a duplication-of-effort going on here. If Daredevil should be a fearless-swashbuckling kind of guy, but he’s been bogged down in some cumbersome religious stuff instead, then that makes him just like another Marvel hero that the same thing has happened to, by which I mean Nightcrawler. Maybe the two of them should get together. It could be the Power-Man-and-Iron-Fist of the ‘Teens.

  10. What we would see, what in fact we do see there on the printed page, with all the contextualizing assumptions trailing in that sight’s wake, Matt doesn’t even know is there. So he can’t put it all together as we do: immediately, easily, soothingly.

    Hell, this stuff never seems far from the act of reading comics, to me! :)

    Speaking of privilege, whether it’s okay or not to talk about how facets of blindness or other disability are “interesting” or not is a really fine line. I personally have no problem with it; inasmuch as I think my senses (maybe hearing, especially memory) are sharpened by visual impairment, I’m fine with talking about that! I think it’s a bloody good thing and I’m lucky to have, if not sharper than they’d be otherwise (because who even can tell what that’d mean), at least quite good senses that either help “make up” for my disability or are just a great coincidence.

    But you are right to be wary of being a tourist in the realm of disability. Mostly because it’s such a slippery slope to being horribly offensive, as so many people, even well-meaning ones sometimes, do. Anyway, even if that weren’t good enough reason on its own to avoid it, it doesn’t really work. I don’t think I’d have the good memory that I do (if I do, to the extent I do…) from sitting blindfolded for an afternoon. I think it — or my awareness of it, my ability to rely on it and have confidence in it, which amounts to about the same thing anyway because what good is a skill if you don’t believe you can use it? — developed over a long period of having no choice but to go with what I had, or thought I had, as it was better than nothing. When I had piano lessons, memorizing my piece for a recital was never a problem for me; I had to half-memorize the damn things just to manage to play them anyway! Because I couldn’t really see the music terribly well when it was at the distance it is on the piano. Oh I could see something, it would help jog my memory, but it wasn’t always enough to be useful to me. I’ll never know if I’d be any good as a sight-reader of music, because I don’t have the sight! I need the memory. And that builds up over time, it doesn’t come from a gimmick like being lead around with your eyes closed.

    (I know, because I’ve had that as well; when I was young I had an eye infection or something, no one ever got around to telling me exactly what of course, because I was just a damn kid, all I knew was that my eyes hurt so badly but they hurt so much worse when I opened them. I spent a whole vacation this way, one parent or the other tugging me around by the hand. There are pictures of me standing places I have no memory of being. And that’s part of the thing; your memory is so different when you can’t see. Which obviously would be as true for any normally-sighted person too, thrown into that weird situation. But still, it wasn’t a gimmick at least.

    Anyway. I forgot what I was talking about. Is any of this any good?

  11. Oh yes, it’s good. The pictures of you standing places you don’t remember being is…I dunno, Kundera-ish?

    Yeah, sitting in a chair blindfolded for a few hours, well…it doesn’t let you know much, does it? You can still see; you are still a sighted person. You’re not using your other senses for anything much more than what you usually use them for: components of the sensory suite that includes vision. And memory? Well, I’m glad you brought that up, since it isn’t like memory doesn’t arrange the world for us in concert with the senses, too! So to shift all those relationships around, even a little, is asking quite a lot from a lazy Sunday. You’re not going to start living with it, you’re not going to find yourself practising echolocation or anything. Hmm, well, maybe more accurate to say you won’t find yourself attending to the sense of hearing any more than you usually do…?

    A lot of perception is streamlining, I tend to think: paring away “extraneous” inputs. Lots of sensory stuff goes on unnoticed in the background, but the backgrounds can differ. Jim Woodring said something like that about hallucinations, he said he thinks everyone occasionally sees a man with a green face out of the corner of their eye, then they forget about seeing that because it isn’t really there and so it doesn’t matter. I always bring everything back to synaesthesia because it is something I know about, but also I think it does have some broader applicability than just “tasting music, that’s so weird” or whatever — everybody “has” it, it’s a part of normal cognition, it’s just that most people disregard it, don’t think about it, are not very good reporters of their own internal states, etc…how that faculty gets employed by a non-sighted person on a moment-to-moment basis is something I don’t have any idea about, of course, though I’ve got no doubt it’s there…

    But I do think anything would help, if it encouraged people to think of the human sensorium as something that doesn’t come in different varieties, just something whose use gets shaped differently. Thinking of memory the way you do, I think it’s possible for someone to glimpse that, and so maybe not see it as some…I don’t know, divine compensation, that doesn’t apply to them? My only significant brushes with the fact of my own myopia have come during two periods of about ten days when I lost my glasses and couldn’t replace them, and it was surprising to discover that I was accustomed to reading people’s lips when I was talking to them — without being able to do it, I lost about twenty percent of what they were saying. No problems talking on the phone, though! So I became aware that I was usually working with, uhmm…different “hearing media”, according to situation, and that was a somewhat-stunning realization: that “hearing” could be an output, that could be assembled in different ways.

    Oh, now I’ve forgotten what I was talking about too.

  12. Yes, output assembled in different ways, absolutely. This makes me think of telling you about why I prefer “e-mail”, because I use the shape of words to help me tell what they are when I can’t see the letters properly (or even when I can but have something better to do with my energy). And I do stuff like that all the time — I barely even notice the stupid ways I have of telling whether an oncoming bus might be mine, while still having enough time to flag it down if it is (of course I’d almost rather miss the bus than suffer the embarrassment of sticking out my arm for the wrong one when no one else is getting off or on and then wilt under the perceived gaze of the angry driver who, I imagine, thinks I am just winding him up as I am clearly some kind of troublemaker). This isn’t stuff you pick up in an afternoon. I’m not even sure I’d realize the complex way I interact with traffic; I used to horrify the “blind teachers” as I called them (as in, teaching me how to be blind, not teachers who were blind) who were horrified that I’d cross the street without looking. But, especially before I had my glasses, which is when most of this useless training took place, it did me much less good to look for cars than to listen for them. I was surprised to learn how often this had me walking into oncoming traffic when I moved to the UK; without ever realizing or expecting it, my hearing thing was more than sensitive that I knew which way the cars were coming from, and thus knew when I had to hurry to get to the curb before cars zoomed past my heels, or when it was okay to start sauntering across so that I’d get to the middle of the road only after a car on the far side had gone past… only when I moved to somewhere where cars drive on the wrong side of the road and found myself walking out into oncoming traffic, or scampering to the curb even though the cars were on the far side of the road from me, that my directional cues were all screwed up and would have to be re-learned. (As indeed they were. So now it’s when I’m back in the US that I find myself paranoidly looking each way about six times, like someone watching a tennis match in fast-forward, before I will even think about crossing the street: knowing my perceptions are messed up, I just go for the scattergun approach rather than trying to re-finesse them, and even when I’m in the middle of crossing the road I’ll keep looking one way and the other, stupid though I know this must look.

    But yeah, it’s stuff like that, you never see portrayed in stories about disability. I mean, real blind people? They don’t even bump into things that much (unless they’re in some kinds of unfamiliar places or they’re really tired or whatever, I suppose, I mean there are some instances in which perfectly sighted people bump into things, so you know, it’s bound to happen to some extent). But I mean, it isn’t the kind of thing I’d necessarily want to do more if I was having to pretend to be blind, like Matt Murdock does. There are expressions and gestures and posture, even, that make me think someone might be blind, but I appreciate these are all more subtle to make for good fiction, especially with illustrations. (But then I don’t know if I’ve ever seen any Daredevil comics and it’s possible these kinds of things are present and I’m judging them unfairly. Still, when comics art doesn’t seem to get that women’s tiny waists would snap under the weight of those watermelons up on their collarbone if they were anything like the proportions a lot of them are drawn to in comics these days.)

  13. Ha, you’re afraid I’m going to go all crazy on “e-mail” now! I’ll admit it’s easy to read, and of course…like with the lip-reading thing (and the synaesthesia, for that matter), recognizing the distinctive shapes of words, it’s obviously a component of reading too…

    But it’s the devil to type out, when you’re trying to concentrate on something else, so my “@” policy holds.

    One of the interestingly vexed things about Daredevil’s secret identity is that even though he doesn’t need to count steps and memorize, if someone were to move a chair in a room he would have to remember to bump into it, right? So though he can perceive everything all around him, he also needs his memory to be working at a “superhuman” level…jeez, if he wasn’t actually blind, he wouldn’t be able to do it! I mean, no sighted person is walking around counting steps and memorizing anyway! ha, now there’s an experiment to try at home…

    So blindness represents also a discipline, here, as well as a disability…which is kinda interesting again. The same friend who’s given me the heads up that Mark Waid may be bringing Daredevil a bit more out of the world of Popular Blindness Cliches also indicates that Matt Murdock would have a personal assistant to transcribe case-files for him (even if, as Daredevil, he can touch-read print on paper!), and even Daredevil can’t touch-read a computer screen so it is not like he’s unaffected by technology — he needs the same, ah, “sensory prosthetic” (actually that’s a fairly reprehensible way to put it, isn’t it? A keyboard’s a keyboard, right?) technology as every other blind person. What you say about mannerisms and posture is interesting too…hmm, also reminds me of something Bendis did, he had Matt meet a blind woman (shock! you mean there are other blind people in the MU?) and of course she recognized him as the same person whether he was in the suit or out of it — his disguise wasn’t there, for her. It didn’t matter.

    Bendis did a lot of things I didn’t like, but I did like that!

    And as I was saying to my informant there, all of the “real blindness” stuff makes DD potentially a really interesting book — people like learning about stuff they never heard of before, after all, it’s why we have detective fiction and why my father slogged his way all the way to the end of the Da Vinci Code.

    Whoops, HOCKEY! Gotta go.

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