Friday, April 20, 2012

My El Guapo

It's been a long time between updates here, and much has happened. While I am no less busy now than I have been, I find I have an increasing desire to write about what is on my mind, and blog topics have begun to backfill in my brain.

First, the big news: I begin work as a tenure-track Assistant Professor at the College of Coastal Georgia in the Fall. There's much to say about this felicitous turn of events, but for now I have to limit myself to, "The book worked." Because I had no illusions that I would sell tremendous quantities of Superheroes of the Round Table (168 at last count); I wrote that book to get a job.

But let's get to the real topic of this post: a big hairy guy who's out to kill us. Yes, I am talking about El Guapo. No, not that El Guapo, the one who got his legs blown off by a missile. I mean this El Guapo:
Lucky Day: I suppose you could say that everyone has an El Guapo. For some, shyness may be an El Guapo. For others, lack of education may be an El Guapo. But for us, El Guapo is a large ugly man who wants to kill us!

I don't think shyness is my El Guapo. And certainly a lack of education is not my El Guapo. For the people of Santa Poco, their El Guapo just happened to be the actual El Guapo. My El Guapo is Dr. Marc Singer.

Because Marc is neither ugly nor especially hairy, some explanation may be in order. I basically have a huge inferiority complex and Marc -- who is a genuinely swell guy and who is probably reading this -- has always been that guy who was smarter, funnier, more successful, and just better read than I am. And I have a deep and long lasting envy of the man. I suppose I could claim envy is my El Guapo but I can't think of anyone else I actually envy. Sorry, Marc. You're it.

What this means is that in my darkest moments -- and we all have them -- I bludgeon myself with the firm conviction that there are always going to be people who make me feel stupid. (I can admit to fears of failure now, when I have landed a good job.) Fortunately, Marc is such a stand up guy -- as you would expect my El Guapo to be -- that he remains always the gentleman and, in my brightest moments, I'm able to turn that envy into a motivating desire to succeed that makes me sometimes smarter and more articulate than I otherwise have any right to be.

All of which has led me to reconsider Geoff Klock's book How to Read Superheroes and Why. Now, this is a really well written book and a fun read for any fan of superhero comics because Geoff is wide ranging in his subject matter and the authors and characters he deals with. Where else are you going to read an academic book that analyzes WildCATS vs. Aliens? Nowhere else.

But although it is engagingly written, diverse in its material and ambitious in its scope, I have always kind of relegated the book to "Interesting but..." status because I disagreed with the fundamental theoretical foundation of the book, which is Harold Bloom's Anxiety of Influence argument. And if you are following along, you now see where this is going.

Bloom approaches literature with a (modified) Freudian perspective and argues that authors are essentially trying to one-up or out-do their artistic "fathers", whoever that might be. So, for example, Shakespeare's early career can best be understood -- Bloom argues -- by seeing it as Shakespeare's effort to surpass or break free of Marlowe. But Marlowe died young, freeing Shakespeare from his primary source of artistic anxiety, and this resulted in the more experimental and masterful Shakespeare we eventually got. In other words, Marlowe was Shakespeare's El Guapo.

Looking back on my own personal experiences, which are of course idiosyncratic and should not be extrapolated across a discipline, I have to admit I have felt my own "anxiety of influence" and, well, Bloom and Klock might be on to something. Academics are already well aware of the foolishness of trying to apply one theoretical lens to all texts in all situations, so I don't really need to caution against doing that, but taken in some moderation, seasoned with a recognition that influences are multiple, across the inner self and the outer social one, it seems equally silly to dismiss the anxiety a thinker feels because he has role models who are So Damn Smart.

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