How We Will Become GOD – The Philosophy of Grant Morrison – Wisecrack Edition


What’s up, Wisecrack? Jared, again. We saw your requests, so today, we’re puttin’
the crazy hat back on to dive into the philosophy of Grant Morrison, writer of such acclaimed
works as All-Star Superman, Flex Mentallo, and Multiversity. Like Alan Moore, Grant Morrison was part of
the British Invasion that revolutionized comics in the ‘80s. And also like Moore, he’s a self-proclaimed
magician with an affinity for psychotropic drugs. “To me it’s just a very simple equation
is that life plus significance equals magic.” But there are major differences between them,
beyond their obvious discrepancy in their haircut philosophy. As insane as Moore seems, Morrison might be
even crazier. He wrote some fictional girlfriends for a
fictional version of himself in The Invisibles, and then later claimed they appeared in real
life. “So, as a result of all this, I’d just
split up with my girlfriend. And I was like: ‘okay, I want a new one,
and I want her to look exactly like this chick in the comic, ‘cuz she’s cool.’ So, I did a sigil; a month later, the girl
turns up. Then, another one!” And when he wrote the about this fictional
Grant Morrison being attacked by bacterial gods, a demonic attack and/or Staph infection
brought real-life Grant Morrison to death’s doorstep — “I found that if I put the
character through a situation where he’d been tortured; where his lungs had bust and
he was being held in captivity; subjected to all these awful things. Three months later, I’m in hospital, two
bust lungs, dying of blood poisoning, and facing exactly the same shamanic trial I put
my character through.” — then, Christ appeared to him, after which
he was healed and gained the superpower to cure cancer in cats. But all of that pales in comparison to his
experience in Kathmandu, — “I’d been abducted by aliens in Kathmandu in 1994.”
— where he was abducted by “rippling, dripping blobs of pure holographic meta-material
angels” and brought to a “mega-medium in which entire universes are suspended”
and shown the nature of reality. Allegedly. It was like a burrito of religious revelation
and alien abduction all rolled into one. Whether he actually ascended to a heavenly
hyperspace or was just trippin’ balls is beside the point. There’s a surprising amount of sober-minded
philosophy and physics that seem to agree with certain aspects of Morrison’s Kathmandu
experience, including why he believes that the universe is essentially just a giant comic
book and how he’s the midwife to an incredible future wherein we become god. Welcome to this Wisecrack Edition on the Philosophy
of Grant Morrison. Spoilers ahead, and if you wanna dive even
deeper into the mind of this mad genius, join us over at wisecrackplus.com for an hour-long
podcast interview with the creators of this video. To be clear, Morrison is not suggesting we
could ever become the capital-G God described in the Bible, Torah, or the Koran, you know,
a single almighty creator of all things. When comic writers use the word “god,”
it’s more often with a lowercase “g,” like norse-deity-turned Marvel hero Thor or
other immensely powerful beings. With this logic, Morrison regards the Justice
League as the pantheon of American Mythology, and deliberately structured his roster in
JLA to parallel their Olympian counterparts. Now, we want to be very specific in saying
he doesn’t merely mean humans will become super-powered posthumans one day. He means something much more. It’s Captain Atom who uh… “inspired”
Moore’s Dr. Manhattan that gives us our first hint as to what Morrison means by “God.” Both Captain Atom and Dr. Manhattan achieve
god status because of their view of time, they experience every event in their lives
simultaneously. It’s not that they have perfect recall of
the past and total knowledge of the future. For them, there’s no past or future. Instead, every single moment is equally, eternally
real. Picture a film reel: as it rolls forward at
twenty-four frames per second, the light projects one image on the screen at any given moment. In this analogy, the screen is reality; and
only that single frame is “real.” A frame pops into existence as the projector
illuminates it and pops out of existence as we move onto the next frame. This is what philosopher J.M.E. McTaggart calls the A-Theory of Time. It’s how we, as humans, perceive time. McTaggart’s B-Theory, on the other hand,
is that events do not have objective tense. So, imagine if we were to illuminate each
frame of the film reel all at once, so that we could simultaneously gaze upon every single
moment in the movie. The main school of thought among B-Theorists
is Eternalism, which claims every moment in time is eternal, from the Big Bang to the
Heat Death of the Universe. Nothing ever pops in or out of existence. Rather, events exist alongside one another. The shattering of this illusion is a frequent
trope in Morrison’s writings. In The Invisibles, Lord Fanny’s initiation
into magic is accomplished at the age of eleven when the remainder of Fanny’s life – getting
raped and beaten in Rio, drugged out in a drag club in London, even eventually dying
– is experienced as if it already happened. The Aztec goddess Tlazolteotl reveals to Fanny:
“Time is not a river. Time is more like a bubble but is to a bubble
what a bubble is to a circle drawn on the ground…” So, Morrison philosophizes about the nature
of time in his stories. Cool, right? Well, he takes it further. Way further. To Morrison, a slightly more literal version
of this B-theory of time lies in the very medium of the comic book. On any given page, if were we to ask the heroes,
they’d tell us that page and that panel was the present moment, so far as they could
tell. But as the reader, we see that all the panels,
all the pages, all the printed issues, are all equally now. Their time is an illusion, but one to which
we’re not subjected. Even the two-dimensional flat piece of paper
on which comics are drawn may be an apt analog for the structure of spacetime. Per Morrison: “Our universe… may even
all be a hologram, projected onto a flat, mega-membrane, which is, in turn, embedded,
along with many others like it, within a higher dimensional space[.]” “Oh, gnarly!” He’s referring, in his own way, to the Holographic
Principle. Per Stephen Hawking, “Information associated
with all phenomena in the three-dimensional world can be stored on a two-dimensional boundary,
like a holographic image. In a certain sense the world would be two-dimensional,”
like the pages of a comic book. So far, everything Morrison’s said seems
like a reasonable conclusion to draw from mainstream theoretical physics, and if all
he had to say was that, just as a film reel is a fitting analogy for A-Theory, so, too,
is a comic book an apt analogy for the B-Theory of Time, his contribution would be entirely
warranted. But then “The Kathmandu Experience” went
down, and things got weird. Now, although his more out-there ideas don’t
necessarily hold up to scientific scrutiny, they’re still worth exploring because they
take comic books and superhero stories and turn them into a compelling worldview. Whether warranted or not, many look to figures
like Superman and Captain America for moral inspirational. Morrison offers some justification for emulating
fictional heroes, treating them as gods, and even goes so far as to say that, “The idea
of Superman is every bit as real as the idea of God,” and suggests we’re even more
super, even more godlike. It’s for this reason that Morrison depicts
philosopher Giovanni Pico della Mirandola in the pages of All-Star Superman delivering
his famous “Oration on the Dignity of Man.” As he later said in his autobiography, “[Pico’s]
Oratorio is without a doubt urging us to go far beyond the human, into the realm of angels
and gods. It asks us to accept the superhuman as an
undeniable fact of our nature, and the goal of our future evolution as a people… Although his metaphors are Biblical, suggesting
Cherubs and Seraphs and Thrones as our role models and intermediaries on the road to ‘God’
or ‘cosmic consciousness,’ we can just as easily call them superheroes.” So, what happened at Kathmandu that made Morrison
believe that the universe really is a comic book, and that humanity really is a superhero? Well, he claims to have stepped outside the
multiverse and seen reality from the outside: “The universe – the entire space-time
continuum, from big bang to heat death, no less – was not a linear stream of events
with beginning, middle, and end. That was only how it felt from the inside… All life on Earth was one thing, a single,
weird, anemone-like mega-Hydra with its single-celled immortal root in the Precambrian tides…
a slowly complexifying, increasingly self-aware super-organism… ‘It’ was all of us, all life as seen from
the perspective of a higher dimension.” “Whoooa.” Whereas Eternalism is content to conclude
that spacetime is a timeless, four-dimensional object, Morrison goes beyond Eternalism by
claiming that by the same principle, every human being is actually a mere cell in a single
super-organism that is Humanity. And therefore, if each one of us is part of
a larger whole, then altruism and beneficence and charity are in our own self-interest. The simplistic divide of Right and Wrong,
and Good and Evil, in superhero comics suddenly seems less silly because our morals aren’t
arbitrary social constructs; they’re the genetic programing instructing this superorganism
not to destroy itself. Indeed, this view, as a basis for ethics,
is the very conclusion Lex Luthor reaches when he gains Superman’s powers and, upon
seeing with his super-senses all the fundamental forces and how they’re interconnected, he
begins to weep: “This is how he sees all the time, every day. Like, it’s all just us, in here, together. And we’re all we’ve got.” Okay, so if Humanity as a whole is like a
superhero comic book, we should therefore behave like these costumed do-gooders. It’s a compelling case, but if you think
that’s weird, he also saw 5th dimensional aliens, or what he called “mercurial hypersprites”:
“Five-dimensional intelligences could, as a condition of their geometrically elevated
position, get into our skulls quite easily, and we could expect their voices to come from
inside. They, in turn, could hear our thoughts as
easily as we can read Batman’s private inner monologues on a 2-D page.” This is illustrated in Multiversity: Pax Americana
#1. While reading a comic book, Captain Atom muses
to two scientists: “The story’s linear, but I can flip through the pages in any order,
any direction. Forward in time to the conclusion. Back to the opening scene. The characters remain unaware of my scrutiny,
but their thoughts are transparent, weightless in little clouds. This is how a 2-dimensional continuum looks
to you.” Then, staring straight ahead he says, “Imagine
how your 3-D world appears to me.” Atom’s fourth wall break brings us to another
major theme in Morrison’s works, metafictionality, which is the exploration of the relationship
between the fiction itself with the real world of the writer and reader. Morrison first wrestled with metafictionality
in the final issue of his run on Animal-Man, in which he donned what he calls a “fiction-suit.” He inserts himself into the comic itself to
interact with the character. He notes: “I explained to my character how
the people who wrote his life needed drama and shock and violence to make his story interesting. The implication was that our own lives might
be ‘written’ to entertain or to instruct an audience in a perpendicular direction we
could never point to, interacting with us in ways we could scarcely understand but that
could be divined in the relationship of the comic world to the world of the creator and
audience.” This is the crux that connects Morrison’s
metafiction to his musings on spacetime: if comic books reflect the nature of our universe,
can we say that the physical comic-like universe reflects the nature of some higher reality? Who are our cosmic “comic” creators? Who writes the plot lines of history, pencils
the particle interactions, letters the thought balloons of intelligent minds? Morrison’s answer is the fifth dimensional
aliens that we can’t grasp with our feeble three-dimensional minds, but he admits the
particulars are less important than the implications that follow from there being intelligent designers. If the analogy of our universe being like
a comic book extends so far as to suggest that it has something like a writer, then
the mere fact that it is a “written” work implies a purposefulness to our existence. Now, of course, being created doesn’t necessarily
impart dignity. We might be like Morrison’s Animal Man,
with all our suffering for no greater purpose than to provide drama in a piece of cheap
entertainment. We might be made by a hack. Our whole purpose might be to pass butter. But contra his younger self when writing Animal
Man, the more mature Morrison became more optimistic. In Flex Mentallo: Man of Muscle Mystery, Morrison
once again used metafictionality as a means of exploring questions about our own purpose. Just as Morrison sees reality as having a
three-tiered structure, with his Fifth Dimensional imps at the top, the 2D comic book characters
at the bottom, and us in the middle, so too is the story of Flex Mentallo set across three
levels of reality. There’s the cartoon world of Flex Mentallo,
the “realistic” world of Flex’s writer, Wallace Sage (an avatar of Morrison himself),
and yet a higher reality inhabited by superheroes more real than their writers’- or the 5th
dimensional aliens. In the story, it’s revealed that superheroes,
instead of being merely a product of the imagination of writers like Wally, were in fact the beings
that created Wally’s entire world, after which they retreated into the imagination,
seeding our culture with superhero stories in anticipation of the day that mere mortals
are ready to become like them. As a result, humanity only needs to resolve
their uncertainty about whether superheroes are real or not and decide to believe them
into existence. Here, Morrison is suggesting a much more dignified
purpose to our existence. We’re meant to discover our fundamental
purpose in the pages of comic books and to believe into existence the idea of the Superman,
to incarnate him in ourselves. For Morrison, the medium of comics and the
plot structure of superhero stories are so closely connected in our culture because both
are parts of the same pattern that explain everything else in existence. In recognizing this pattern, Morrison writes
his own autobiography Supergods in the style and structure of an archetypal superhero story,
including a secret origin in Glasgow, the call to adventure atop Kathmandu, and a death
and rebirth in which he brings the hidden knowledge he gained on his Hero’s Journey
to the comics community. And while that hidden knowledge is parsed
out in piecemeal in his comics writing, it’s in Supergods where he’s most explicit about
just what makes humankind itself a “supergod.” Already, we can see Humankind as having all
the attributes of comic book superheroes or even pagan gods. Whereas Mercury carried messages at the speed
of thought to the Roman gods, we have instantaneous interconnectivity via the Internet. Whereas Heimdallr’s all-seeing eyes could
spy everywhere in all nine realms, our satellites can zoom in on any spot on earth. Like Superman, we’ve flown faster than a
speeding bullet. Humanity, when viewed as a whole, is already
a “supergod.” Insofar as there is no future frames of the
film reel popping into existence, we are not “becoming” this supergod – we already
always are. This epoch of human history is merely its
secret origin story as to how it gets its superhuman powers, but all of its ongoing
adventures and never-ending battles to come are all already written, published, printed,
and on the shelves of some higher dimensional comic shop. If mankind is this superorganism with all
these stupendous superpowers who’s supposed to act according to the simple morality of
a superhero, whose whole history is structured like a superhero story, and who’s living
in a cosmos that’s constructed like a comic book, then Morrison’s obvious conclusion
is this: mankind’s purpose is to be a superhero. It’s for this reason that Morrison calls
the Sun-god from Smallville “our greatest-ever idea as the human species.” Not because Superman was the prototype on
which all other superheroes would be based, because he is the template for which the supergod
of humanity must become, all-powerful and all-good, all at the same time. This is the summation of Morrison’s philosophy,
articulated best by Jor-El to his one and only son regarding the essential truth about
man and Superman, and not the mankind within the comics, but about the mankind reading
comics: “You have given them an ideal to aspire to, embodied their highest aspirations. They will race, and stumble, and fall, and
crawl, and curse, and finally … they will join you in the sun, Kal-el.”

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