Saturday, November 28, 2020

X-Men X-Overs Addendum: X of Swords

X of Swords wrapped up this week, and it was good enough to necessitate a revision of our list of the ten best X-Men crossovers. Fortunately, making space for it is as easy as bumping the Muir Island Saga off the ten-spot.

So now our list looks like:

10. Fatal Attractions
9. The Mutant Massacre
8. X-Tinction Agenda
7. Utopia
6. Messiah War
5. Inferno
4. X of Swords
3. Second Coming
2. The X-Cutioner's Song
1. Messiah Complex

Not that my opinion matters much (and not that X-Men comics are terribly important), but let's call this a tentative ranking. The other stories on this list have all been around for a decade at least and three decades at most, while X of Swords just wrapped up a few days ago. For all I know, it might age as well as John Greycrow's old codename. If anyone is interested in the reason for X of Sword's placement between Inferno and Second Coming, I'll say this: I struggled for a few minutes to decide whether X of Swords or Inferno deserved the four-spot. X of Swords earns most of its points for originality and for its explosive finale, but on the whole it tends to meander, and any story that makes Inferno seem focused by comparison is a story with a pacing problem. In the end, the penalty Inferno incurred by containing the limited series that introduced Wiz Kid allowed X of Swords to pull ahead. However, the points deducted from X of Swords for being a backdoor pilot for a new serial featuring Wiz Kid's comeback prevented it from even contending with Second Coming.

#4: X of Swords (2020)
Titles involved: Cable, Excalibur, Hellions, Marauders, New Mutants, Wolverine, X-Factor, X-Force, X-Men

In brief: Banished to a nether dimension thousands of years ago, Apocalypse's kids are still alive, and they're pissed off. Saturnyne holds a tournament to determine whether she'll allow them to cross the dimensions and bring their hellish, unstoppable army to Earth.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Twelve Rounds with Kant (Part 6)

Ellsworth Kelly, Grid Lines (1951)¹

Today, in my ongoing battle with Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason (1781–87), I would like to spend some time examining the I think.

No, that isn't a typo. What Kant calls "the sentence: I think" (der Satz: ich denke) might be—and I suggest this with no authority whatsoever—treated as the hidden thirteenth item in his catalogue of pure concepts of the understanding. The importance of the I think to the Kantian scheme cannot be understated. All of the other categories are predicated on it; Kant calls it "the formal proposition of apperception."

[T]his concept is the vehicle of all concepts in general, and therefore also of transcendental concepts, is therefore always included among them, and so is itself transcendental; has no claim to a special title, inasmuch as it serves only to introduce all thought as belonging to consciousness.

Kant expands on the importance of the I think in the Transcendental Dialectic (excerpted above), but first introduces the concept in the Transcendental Deduction:

It must be possible for the I think to accompany all my representations: for otherwise something would be represented within me that could not be thought at all, in other words, the representation would either be impossible, or at least would be nothing to me. That representation which can be given prior to all thought is called intuition, and all the manifold of intuition has, therefore, a necessary relation to the I think in the same subject in which this manifold of intuition is found. This representation (the I think), however, is an act of spontaneity, that is, it cannot be considered as belonging to sensibility. I call it pure apperception, in order to distinguish it from empirical apperception, or also original apperception, because it is that self-consciousness which, by producing the representation, I think (which must be capable of accompanying all other representations, and which is one and the same in all consciousness), cannot itself be accompanied by any further representations. I also call the unity of appereception the transcendental unity of self-consciousness, in order to indicate that a priori knowledge can be obtained from it. For the manifold representations given in an intuition would not one and all be my representations, if they did not all belong to one self-consciousness. What I mean is that, as my representations (even though I am not conscious of them as that), they must conform to the condition under which alone they can stand together in one universal self-consciousness, because otherwise they would not one and all belong to me.

Well: what are we supposed to make of this?

Friday, October 23, 2020

Twelve Rounds with Kant (part 5)

Caspar David Friedrich, Tageszeitenzyklus, Der Morgen (1820–1)

On we plow. I'm discovering that our friend John Ruskin wasn't being as facetious as he might have imagined when he insinuated that one should expect to commit a decade to studying Kant and the German idealists before achieving the comprehensive enlightenment they advertise. I've been rereading chunks of the Critique of Pure Reason (1781–87) every day or every other day for the last few weeks, and I feel the progress of my understanding approaching a sheer wall. Before too much longer I'm going to have to put the damn thing away and let what I've gleaned simmer in me for a few months before I revisit it again.

I can't tell you how much I regret the title of this series. "Twelve rounds" was an extempore choice, an obvious and serviceable cliche. But sometimes, somehow, a flippant remark is hoodwinked into affirming itself. Having declared "twelve rounds," it's as though I unwittingly signed a pact wherein I've consented to writing twelve blog posts about Kant or else must live with the ignominy of welshing on an obligation to the universe.¹

My bizarre guilt complexes can be a topic for another post. For now, I think I've only got the wherewithal for another three rounds (including this one). The remaining five posts...well, there's still the Critique of Practical Reason (1788) and the Critique of Judgement (1790), and I don't suppose there's any escaping them now. From what I understand, they're both shorter and more pertinent to mundane workaday experience than the Critique of Pure Reason, and I have reason to hope they'll be be easier to get through. Even so, I'm really not in any hurry to get started right away.

Today I'm going to spend a little more time trying to dislodge the tenets of transcendental idealism from my craw. Our visual garnish for this session comes from Caspar David Friedrich, peerless painter of Romantic landscapes. The reason for his inclusion may shortly become transparent.²

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Twelve Rounds with Kant (part 4)

Charles Demuth, Machine (1920)

The operation was a success: after writing more words about X-Men comics than a grown man should be permitted to exhibit without opprobrium, my brains are more or less de-wormed, and we can resume our extemporaneous study of Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason (1781–1787). I won't ask if you're as avid as I am to dip back into transcendental idealism and the possibility of synthetic a priori knowledge—surely everyone's answer is a spirited HELL YES!

Hmm—but I'm finding that putting aside Kant for a few weeks is like reneging on an exercise regimen: you don't return to it with quite the same spryness and stamina you could muster before going idle. Maybe we should keep today's session relatively short, and begin by stretching our ganglia a bit. We'll also stimulate our eyes between blocks of text with some paintings by Charles Demuth, whose precisionist sensibilities are not inappropriate to a discussion of one of philosophy's most renowned (or infamous?) Order Muppets.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

X-Men X-Overs: The ten best of 'em (part 2)

Picking up from where we left off...

#5: MESSIAH WAR (2009)
Titles involved:
Cable, X-Force

In brief: Bishop travels through time and destroys the world to kill Hope, the mutant messiah. Cable and X-Force fight Stryfe like it's 1991. Deadpool boosts sales.

Friday, September 25, 2020

X-Men X-Overs: The ten best of 'em (part 1)

Oy. I have at least three more posts' worth of hoi polloi Kant commentary to compose (after which I'll be able to honestly say to myself that I've "engaged" with the Critique of Pure Reason), but I've got to tell you: after that last one, I find myself suffering from acute proto-German Idealism fatigue. The cure: putting an inordinate amount of effort into writing something about pop-cultural feelgoods so I'll be desperate to think about Kant again. This is one of the benefits of a having a freeform blog—though perhaps in the drunk-man's-walk scatterplot of Beyond Easy's topics, the emergent rhythm is one of bingeing and purging.

So! Let's talk about X-Men comics for a while.

This week saw the release of the X of Swords: Creation one-shot, kicking off the first crossover story of the new and very much improved line of X-Men comics. Given the grand slam Jonathan Hickman hit with House of X/Powers of X and the generally high level of quality across the current line of X-books, I expect good things from this. (Drama! Schlock! Betrayal! Inspired retcons! Eldritch magic and weird science!)

Back in July, we observed the launch of a new volume of X-Factor with an overview of the best moments of the title's earlier volumes. Today, as X of Swords begins to unfold, we'll be looking at the ten best X-Men crossover events up until now.¹ What fun!

(Postscript: you can read about X of Swords here.)


Mentioned on the basis that there's probably an off-the-books but strictly enforced law against talking about the best X-Men events without including everyone's favorite grimdark alternate-timeline epic. However, Age of Apocalypse is disqualified from this list because an event is not the same as a crossover (though most every crossover is an event). You can read each miniseries comprising Age of Apocalypse by itself without ever missing anything because you went from Generation Next #2 to Generation Next #3 without reading Factor X #2 in between. For it to be a crossover, you need to follow the "what to read next" instructions at the end of each book in the story, or else risk getting lost and confused. It's an imprecise rule, and there are exceptions (particularly during those bullish periods where the editors assume readers are already buying every X-book that comes out), but it works well enough.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Twelve rounds with Kant (part 3)

Artist unknown, but found on as excellent a layman's
introduction to Kant as I've ever seen

Today, as a third step in my effort to better understand Kant's Critique of Pure Reason (1781–7), I will attempt to find fault with it.

Using a simile from a sphere I'm more at home in, this is going to be like trying to compete with Daigo or Sonic Fox through haphazard button-mashing. To confront someone like Kant, who's armed with a comprehensive homebrewed epistemology, one must either find fatal inconsistencies within his conceptual apparatus (which I doubt I'm qualified to do) or otherwise counter it with a proximately comprehensive alternative scheme—which I do not possess. I have inklings and opinions, yes, but these are insufficient to put a dent in something so densely armored by internal substantiation.

I won't be snatching at the low-hanging fruit for the Kant critic—his insistence on the ideality of space and time. This position was controversial during Kant's own life, and has become veritably indefensible since the development of non-Euclidean geometries and of Einstein's theory of relativity. To sum up the difficulties these present: contrary to Kant adducing Euclidean geometry as evidence of a priori concepts of space, geometry contains more than just a kernel of empiricism, and as it turns out, non-Euclidean geometries may be more useful to us when we're talking about the trajectory of a photon over trillions of miles (since the curvature of spacetime will bring parallel lines toward convergence or divergence when they're traced across supercluster-scale distances). And if time, as the pure form of inner sense (as Kant claims), has no independent existence, then how do we explain the necessity of correcting for relativistic dilations in GPS satellites' computations?

Responding to non-Euclidian geometry as a "gotcha," Kant might just shrug and say that Euclid's Elements remains a catalog of the a priori concepts which make possible our coherent experience of life on planet Earth. And he might say that whatever's going on with orbiting clocks doesn't displace time from is position in his scheme as the pure form of inner sense. He might also dare to venture that time, as we experience it, might not be identical to the physical process that makes a satellite's clock run a few microseconds slower than a terrestrial timepiece. My guess is that these new facts would compel Kant to make some relatively minor emendations to the Critique, but he wouldn't find in them sufficient cause to demolish his edifice and start over.

So what now?