Thursday, July 08, 2004


Failure, then, failure! so the world stamps us at every turn. We strew it with our blunders, our misdeeds, our lost opportunities, with all the memorials of our inadequacy to our vocation. And with what a damning emphasis does it then blot us out! No easy fine, no mere apology or formal expiation, will satisfy the world's demands, but every pound of flesh exacted is soaked with all its blood. The subtlest forms of suffering known to man are connected with the poisonous humiliations incidental to these results.

And they are pivotal human experiences. A process so ubiquitous and everlasting is evidently an integral part of life. "There is indeed one element in human destiny," Robert Louis Stevenson writes, "that not blindness itself can controvert. Whatever else we are intended to do, we are not intended to succeed; failure is the fate allotted." And our nature being thus rooted in failure, is it any wonder that theologians should have held it to be essential, and thought that only through the personal experience of humiliation which it engenders the deeper sense of life's significance is reached?

He adds with characteristic healthy-mindedness: "Our business is to continue to fail in good spirits." The God of many men is little more than their court of appeal against the damnatory judgment passed on their failures by the opinion of this world. To our own consciousness there is usually a residuum of worth left over after our sins and errors have been told off -- our capacity of acknowledging and regretting them is the germ of a better self in posse at least. But the world deals with us in actu and not in posse: and of this hidden germ, not to be guessed at from without, it never takes account. Then we turn to the All-knower, who knows our bad, but knows this good in us also, and who is just. We cast ourselves with our repentance on his mercy only by an All-knower can we finally be judged. So the need of a God very definitely emerges from this sort of experience of life.

But this is only the first stage of the world-sickness. Make the human being's sensitiveness a little greater, carry him a little farther over the misery-threshold, and the good quality of the successful moments themselves when they occur is spoiled and vitiated. All natural goods perish. Riches take wings; fame is a breath; love is a cheat; youth and health and pleasure vanish. Can things whose end is always dust and disappointment be the real goods which our souls require? Back of everything is the great spectre of universal death, the all-encompassing blackness: --

"What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the Sun? I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit. For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; as the one dieth, so dieth the other, all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again. . . . The dead know not anything, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love and their hatred and their envy is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in anything that is done under the Sun. . . . Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the Sun: but if a man live many years and rejoice in them all, yet let him remember the days of darkness; for they shall be many."

In short, life and its negation are beaten up inextricably together. But if the life be good, the negation of it must be bad. Yet the two are equally essential facts of existence; and all natural happiness thus seems infected with a contradiction. The breath of the sepulchre surrounds it.

As you can maybe guess, I had a suboptimal day today. My passage to my new set-your-own-hours-just-work-40-a-week job has been slowed, and is still not complete, and I am supposed to do the duties of the new job and the old job as well. I have heard that, in the business world, if you're going for a promotion you better have somebody to replace you. Apparently this is also true in the world of office suites in middling public hospitals.

But--HEY. There's a bright side. The physics test was absurdly simple. On Wednesday one of my professors (who I was begging a rec letter from) said if I could get my MCAT up about 3 points, combined with my GPA, I'd have a much broader range of schools to realistically pick from. And he said not to settle for the local med school, which I'd love to do but he dislikes the way my college serves as a funnel to the local med school. Doesn't like people limiting themselves because they think they're not good enough, either. I appreciate his points, but I am concerned with the financial burdens of going somewhere nonlocal. I mean, it's like low vs. middle six figures, right? Wotta racket.

Why George Bush sucks worse than a Hoover.

An appreciation of the vast Mark Gruenwald run on Captain America, one of my favorite superhero stories from my youth. An honest enough appreciation to admit the later issues of the run weren't so good. But the first half, when Cap was fighting Scourge and ULTIMATUM and the Serpent Society and a bunch of other groups, and then the Red Skull popped out and revealed he'd been behind it all? Really good stuff, especially when you could ride your bike down to the CVS and check the racks and be happy when the doublesized issue of Captain America that had the Skull's return finally came out. Back when comics still had a little bit of steam left as a mass medium. Now you'll get whatever that mass manga is and maybe a Jughead's Double Digest in the CVS.

Tim also put out this great little paragraph:

I believe the Marvel Universe died the day Mark Gruenwald did, because he was the last person who really cared about it as a living, cohesive organism. Right before he died the MU was split into a number of different competing fiefdoms – the X-Books, the Spider books, the Avengers titles, the "darker" Marvel Edge books, and a couple others that weren’t as important to the universe proper (such as the licensed properties and the 2099 books). The fact is, continuity was never really about a constant referencing of everything that had gone on before in an anal-retentive way (which is what folks like Joe Quesada tend to think) so much as the sense that every book in the MU exists in the same space and time. Stan and Jack and Steve always used to have the Fantastic Four meeting the Avengers or Spider-Man meeting Dr. Strange, and it gave the books an immediacy because there was a sense of reality there that had never existed in superhero books before.Not only did the heroes meet, but they seemed to be palpably the same characters when they appeared in other books, not just bit players with fake Spider-Man masks on. Those kind of things give the reader a visceral thrill – stuff like "hey, that guy with the redhead on his arm while the Avengers are flying by may just look like a punk but he’s really the Amazing Spider-Man!" or "boy, wouldn’t it flip the FF out to know that their blind lawyer was actually Daredevil, the Man Without Fear?" When these things stopped happening as often, it got less fun to hang around the Marvel Universe – and for a while there it had stopped altogether. Nowadays there are a few writers who try to keep that kind of fun alive – the dude who writes She-Hulk definitely tries, as does Brian Michael Bendis – but it just isn’t the same. The fact is that the Manhattan in New X-Men is not the same Manhattan as the one in Avengers or the one in Spider-Man, and that realization kills a little bit of the childlike joy I used to find when diving into a superhero book. That’s a big part of what the fans say when they refer to continuity as a dead issue, and as far as that goes they’re 100% right.

Via Neilalien. And more from Tim on the end of Marvel continuity.

Tomorrow: my soul is unfree for a standard workday, give or take a few hours depending on my mood. My mood--maybe she not be so good tomorrow, you know? So maybe I take a few hours' leave. Okay? Okay.

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