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“I stopped needing to save the world. Saving is what misers do.”

I just lost a really long post about Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles, which probably won’t teach me to save my work as I write even though it should. Well, here’s a somewhat shortened version.

Here’s the difference between Jack and Boy in a nutshell, from Kissing Mister Quimper:

Boy: “…There’s gotta be more to life than running all the time.”

Jack: “Yeah, that’s gotta be it, ey? I don’t know: I just run ‘cause it’s quicker than walking, me.”

I had an utterly brilliant comparison between Boy’s leaving the Invisibles and Cipher’s trying to get back into the Matrix in The Matrix! Alas, alas. It’s a pretty obvious difference, though: Cipher is an asshole who betrays his crewmates, Boy is the first Invisible to really get an important part of what’s going on. Let’s look at some narration from the last issue of Invisibles:

I’m there at the end of the world that was and the beginning of birth into full understanding—fusion with the supercontext. I am part of “nature.” Every airplane, every power station is a result of “Nature’s” process. We never fell. We were never apart from the world. We lied to ourselves.

That applies to humanity as a whole—we thought we were fallen and reaching up toward God or enlightenment (religious people thought so, anyway), but we’re only a fetus trying to be born. It also applies to the Invisibles specifically, who think they’re separate from the normal world. Jack calls the non-Invisible world the “fucking land of the dead,” but he’s wrong. Running may be quicker than walking, but walking gets you moving forward all the same.

But now we’re being born, fully-grown, like insects, like Athena, the Goddess of Truth. Larval consciousness experiences the introduction of necessary inoculating agents from the supercontext as a form of invasion by hostile, bacterial forces. The inoculation is conceptualized by the developing larva as an invasion of threatening “not-self” material… the confronting and integration of “not-self” being a necessary stage in the development of the maturing larva’s self-awareness—”philogeny recapitulates history.”

This is what Boy figured out: you don’t need to be Invisible to help bring the world to birth. As long as the Invisibles stand apart from the world, they’re as much “not-self” as the Lost Ones and other followers of the Outer Church. You want to integrate with the “not-self”? Go talk to your neighbor. Go have sex and have a baby—genetic metaphor of the synthesis of self and not-self. It’s not that the Invisibles are bad, not that all the Invisibles should be like Boy. It’s just that their purpose is not to save the world from the Outer Church or from itself, but to engage in the process of integration. Mr. Six and some others do it by blurring the distinction between Invisible and Outer Church until the whole thing is a hopeless mess of quadruple agents and nobody knows who’s on what side. Jack does it by eating the Outer Church’s King of the new Aeon. King Mob does it by inventing a video game/drug that turns people into Invisibles. Lord Fanny does it with genderbending. Ragged Robin does it by writing herself into the story. Boy, maybe the most radical Invisible of all, does it by going home and living a little life.

Here’s what superheroes like Neo and Friends in The Matrix never quite figure out: you can’t save the world by treating the people in it like helpless cattle. If they really rely on you to rescue them from the Forces of Darkness and Control, the only thing you accomplish by rescuing them is to set yourself as the new Forces of Darkness and Control. Neo’s going to free all the humans from the Matrix? And what gives him the right to make that decision for the entire species? This is part of what Boy means when she says, “I stopped needing to save the world. Saving is what misers do.”

Tomorrow: Philogeny recapitulates history? Spurious biology, memes, and The Invisibles as critical response to Crisis on Infinite Earths!


  1. Rose says:

    Ok, so Boy is the reasonable one. Maybe. I have a very hard time interpreting Boy’s actions, especially because I’m never sure I
    believe the last episode, where she has a kid and hot pants. But assuming that’s true, assuming she finds some internal oasis of solitude in Harlem, what does it all mean?

    I guess I’m actually trying to figure out the significance of having a child in the Invisibles universe. If you knew the world was ending bloodily and humanit was heading toward total enslavement, would your first thought be that you ought to be bringing a child along for the ride? (Ok, not YOU, Steven, because I know your answer, and it will involve babytanks.) Or is this the ultimate subversive action, to not only go on living your own life but start up a life for someone else? What better way to let the apocalypse know you’re unimpressed? And is becoming a mother radical and transgressive or cowardly and selfish or both?

    It’s just strange that everyone from the cell who can get pregnant does, and that this doesn’t seem to have a clear meaning within this meaning-heavy narrative. I was fascinated with the baby imagery throughout, and when I get custody of the TPBs I may explore it in more detail, but it had gotten to the point where I thought Barbelith was going to just be a 2001-style zygote. And maybe it is, among other things.

    I was reminded in all of this of the first Lucifer trade, which I finished last night. At one point Lucifer is relating a Navaho creation myth (and I don’t know enough to know whether it’s a real one or not, so I assume so) but he’s talking about how this creation story involves climbing out of a long dark tunnel. And the high school girl to whom he’s explaining it says, “Oh, so
    it’s a birth metaphor!” and he says, “No, birth is a metaphor for it.” And I don’t know what metaphors hold birth in the Morrison universe. Or, really, birth is elided, but it’s still there, if covertly. Nobody is born in The Invisibles, but people exist who weren’t there before, and perhaps that amounts to the same thing. Boy is recreated several times, so to see her reborn as a mother isn’t shocking, just strange.

    — 20 April 2004 at 7:28 pm (Permalink)