Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Invisibles 1.1 - Anno-Commencation


 A bit late, but I thought I'd hammer out one last initiation, one last ritual of anno-commencation for the beginning of 2012, one last read through of the first issue with some final thoughts - WORD MACHINE GO!

 We will only organize the detonation. The free explosion must escape us and any other control forever.
- Situationist International, The Counter-Situationist Campaign in Various Countries

 A hot pink hand-grenade, blown-up day-glo menace filling the cover. A not-so-subtle suggestion of Warhol, the Pope of Pop. The one points toward the many here, a full spectrum of screen-printed hand-grenades gracing a panoply of canvasses, a rainbow of violent revolution. The Invisibles as weaponized serial, as pulp-Situationism. The conflation of cultural and artistic revolution with armed revolt. With The Invisibles in hand, you're armed and dangerous.

 But what is the gnostic situation? A basic definition: you are in a trap and you need to escape!
- Marcus Boon, intoduction to Eric Davis' Nomad Codes

 Morrison's opening move is to make a gnostic of the reader, throwing him into a closed circuit while pointing outside of it. With this new dawn over Giza, we have a new day, the beginning of a new cycle of initiation, a new reader being initiated, a new series taking its first steps, possibly an old reader beginning anew, a first issue in a serial - many births and rebirths here. Just another spin of the wheel.
  Elfayed's spitballing is interesting to me. He throws out myth, speculation, and confabulation, then negates it. Morrison sets a tone of ambiguity and hints at the baroque fugue of myth, conspiracy and fantasy that is The Invisibles the first chance he gets. Themes, concepts and ideas are constantly being played and replayed, augmented and diminished, inverted and negated as events and players interact and overlap. Elfayed begins with notes of eternal return, ties beetles into the theme, then spins beetles off in another direction before bringing a playful doubt into the mix and sweeping the whole thing away.
 One more idea that's been banging around in my head: writing as mummification of the living moment, the living event, the living word - removing the vital living elements and wrapping it in paper and ink, praying for rebirth on the reader's end. This puts communication as a whole into the realm of resurrection and recursion, makes The Invisibles itself a grand resurrection.

 The simplest Surrealist act consists of dashing down into the street, pistol in hand, and firing blindly, as fast as you can pull the trigger, into the crowd. Anyone who has not dreamed of thus putting and end to the petty system of debasement and cretinization in effect has a well defined place in that crowd, with his belly at barrel level.
- André Breton, The Second Surrealist Manifesto
 I think that pretty well sums up Dane's ethos here. Of other interest is the King Mob graffiti that Dane sees and seems to dimly recognize - looks to me like Morrison signing his work, via King Mob.


 I find King Mob and Edith's scene interesting here for the same reason as his earlier scene with Elfayed, and his later scene with Robin: it's almost as if Morrison, as King Mob, is just throwing out feelers here, probing, himself uncertain of exactly how this story is going to go. In addition we've got further intimations of a conflict between eternal resurrection/recursion and apocalypse here, with Edith bemoaning the "cold light of day", day as night and the ever-present death in life. "Soon to be picturesque ruins," King Mob states, as if everything carried within it the seeds of its own destruction, as if every form contained its own inevitable negation.


 I’d started writing The Invisibles as a little rebel, as a left-winger from a very poor, radical Bohemian background; I hated the government and I hated the police and I was a rebel against all forms of authority. By the time I’d got to the end of it, I had destroyed all my own certainties by picking them apart. Because that was part of what it was all about, y’know, I wanted to critique the things that I’d been brought up to believe as well as all the things I was already against. I was after total rebellion and that included trashing even very cherished beliefs about what we are and what we do and why it happens.
- Grant Morrison, Interview with Arthur Magazine

 Part of what interests me about The Invisibles is how there is a constant and anarchic building and tearing apart of historical framework, a very tactile rooting about through history for foundation to build off of, in which the search itself becomes the foundation. There's a sort of interplay between Mr. Malcolm's dire reverence for historicity and Dane's snarling indifference and indeference to it, between history as power vs history as prison.


 It's interesting to see Lennon handled here, and what it hints at - Lennon's invocation by Morrison as parallel to Lennon's invocation by King Mob; time as collapsed state, with Dane and Lennon each a ghost to each other; Lennon as godhead invoked through mind-altering drugs and magic ritual; Lennon as Dead Beatle - iteration and reiteration, a multiplicity of resurrections!
 Also interesting here is the arrival of a recurring specter, an icy shadow speaking of "good earthy method", a "strong owner", a "psychic land", and the dark side of the moon. How deeply ambiguous. I can't help but think of Ouspensky & Gurdjieff's idea of the moon as master of the unaware man, like some sort of cosmic psychic predator one step up the food chain.
 Everything living on the Earth, people, animals, plants, is food for the moon. The moon is a huge living being feeding upon all that lives and grows on the Earth.
 - G. I. Gurdjieff, quoted in P. D. Ouspensky's In Search of the Miraculous


 Then in 90's I joined the rave party and spent every single day of the decade getting totally wrecked on mind-altering substances which, I have to admit, I enjoyed immensely. I was never keen on stimulants like cocaine and speed because they did nothing useful or interesting for me but I loved the psychedelic drugs which could twist my head, erase my name and address, open up my subconscious and turn my brain into a super-conductor, so I dosed like a madman for ten years, studied the effects and wrote it all down in The Invisibles and Flex Mentallo.
- Grant Morrison

 Morrison puts the pop in apophenia! Morrison dialing up the porosity, the pliancy, the noise of the text, forcing the meaning back into the reader's court - the reader is forced to rely on his own pattern recognition here. You've got to be comfortable playing with The Invisibles, probing for meaning instead of waiting for it, trying on different options and weighing them against each other, ready to swap points of view as required. You're never going to see a definitive reading of The Invisibles because there's always a gap for the reader to fill, to re-evaluate and refill, to engage and disengage. "What does it mean" isn't a meaningful or interesting question here - what does it mean to you?


 And so, after a quick GTA jam session and a thorough browbeating from a bewigged judge, Dane finds himself in The Harmony House, under the care of Mr. Gelt and Ms. Dwyer. They seem nice.

Ambiguity is a sign of human maturity.
- Bob Dobbs / Bob Marshall / Robert Dean

 The moon card and the tarot in general play into the recursion/resurrection and apophenia themes that keep showing up, but what's got me thinking here is King Mob's "apple for the teacher" comment. King Mob's applying the role of teacher to Robin for her random, disbelieving draw of a card - almost letting the noise of the situation, the flow of events, the vortex of environmental currents be his "teacher". And at the end of the issue, after what has essentially been fourty-something pages of people fighting over authority positions, especially the position of teacher to Dane, King Mob just... disappears. He sets himself up as an authority figure and then negates his position, goes invisible, leaving Dane on his own. Which may or may not be the same move that Dane's father pulled, it looks like.
 As an aside, King Mob's outfit reminds me less of some swinging 60's psychedelic superspy and more of some late 80's primitivist-punk action figure, complete with removable mask and plastic pistol. Once he's in the full get-up, it feels less suave and more brutal, material, and tactile. Very BDSM, like The Invisibles itself.


    Monstrum in fronte, monstrum in animo. [Monstrous in appearance, monstrous in spirit.]

- Latin proverb

  Dreams, virtual reality - more recursion here, worlds within worlds, worlds for us to put on and experience. In Dane's nightmare, the endless antiseptic halls of Harmony House are transformed into a succession of comic book panels ending in chains. Dane is a prisoner of his medium, already mummified, wrapped up in paper and dried out ink, in the series itself, in the paper in your hands. How the hell do you escape from that? Is it being implied here that The Invisibles works over the reader in the same manner, with the same violence as that being displayed in Harmony House? Is the world of The Invisibles as much a dream, a virtual reality, for The-King-In-Chains as it is for us?
 And then, hey, King Mob storms the place like a Punk Buddha, offering enlightenment with a quick castration and a bullet in the brainpan, an easy parallel to the Harmony House technique. Nyuk nyuk.


    Pleased to meet you
    Hope you guess my name
    But what's puzzling you
    Is the nature of my game

- The Rolling Stones, Sympathy For The Devil

  I can't be the only one who thinks of Elfayed's little story from the beginning of the issue as Gelt's insect escape pod is accidentally crushed under Dane's sneaker. Is the Outer Church and its cronies "a swarm of golden beetles carrying the sun of pure understanding out of the abyss"? What are the "mysteries of submission"? What would King Mob have seen in Gelt's "new eyes"?
 Radical zen on display here. King Mob comes off here as Dane's frustrated teen power fantasy - shoot the teacher and burn down the school, then race off in a cool car! As stated before, King Mob sets himself up as authority figure and then, after implying he may have just been a ghost, disappears, ditching Dane with a whole load of questions.  I can imagine an alternate Invisibles in which King Mob is Dane's ghost, folded back through every point in time to orchestrate everything...


  1. Really loving all of this so far, but this was the post that compelled me to comment. I think it's really interesting in the final paragraph where you pick up on King Mob coming off as "Dane's frustrated power fantasy". Having read the whole series about six times, I think Mob comes off in the end as the most "difficult" character, and that's one of the reasons why. He begins the narrative as this super cool anti-hero, but by the time we've completed the cycle, and "return and begin again", it seems less and less like he knows what's actually going on, and that he is as much a victim of circumstances as Dane is at the beginning. Even those parallels you draw between King Mob's own judicious use of castration and lobotomy and the methods of Harmony House make it so much more certain that King Mob is trapped in the same Manichean world view as most of the other players. That he later realises this is his "proper" enlightenment, a sure sign that the arrival of Barbelith does nothing to actually wake one up, just actives the beginning of the process. It's interesting too to consider whether Morrison meant for this character arc in King Mob, or whether this was something he learned about himself during the course of writing it.

    It is, in fact, that hardest message of The Invisibles to apply to oneself, I think. That there is *no point* fighting the machine, that you will simply be subsumed as another process, that you need to get *beyond* that. As King mob eventually does.

    Also interesting to note your take on the pop grenade - I can't help now but think that Morrison, likely subconsciously, put the seed of the later supercontext right there on the first cover...!

  2. Yeah, King Mob has been a difficult character to come back to. Before this reading, the King Mob in my mind was the King Mob of the end of The Invisibles, and I just hadn't realized/recalled how much of a journey he makes through the whole process. Should be interesting to keep a keen eye on his development.

    You know, the whole barbelith/awakening/illumination process reminds me of a half-remembered Buddhist(?) saying that I'll butcher here... "First, there is a mountain. Then, there is no mountain. Then, there is a mountain." It's like the secret war is a gateway, something to pass through toward enlightenment. First, there is no secret war. Then, there is a secret war. Then, there is no secret war.

  3. The Barbelith process is also neatly distilled in a thematically similar manner by Huston Smith. "The Sufis say there are three ways to know fire: by hearing it described, by seeing it, or by being burned." The Barbelith process is a universal one, which is why it is so easily spotted as it trickles down, by way of culture, to the thirsty masses. Most hear of it. A few see it. Even fewer, are burn victims. This mutilation can hinder interaction with others, as those touched by the fire are often perceived as being sufferers of a mental illness. And as we all know, the concept of such an illness is a social construct used to define relatively incomprehensible altered states of consciousness. I recently stumbled upon an article about Philip K. Dick and his apparent phylogenic memory, that you all may find interesting.