Monday, 4 August 2014

An Incomprehensible Condition

Andrew Hickey An Incomprehensible Condition (2011)

Seven Soldiers of Victory may be one of the greatest comic book series Grant Morrison has ever written - which I state as someone who isn't always particularly well disposed towards the man - and there may even be an argument for it being the greatest comic book series ever written by anyone, depending on the flavour of that which floats your boat. To suggest that it was both deep and multilayered may be misleading for its depths are quite unlike the narrative cat's cradle of Watchmen, and more in the way of a certain richness of thematic resonance. Specifically, there's so much in there of which very little is absolutely vital for at least a basic understanding of the whole, and there may even be certain pertinent details which have emerged from the creative process without having been put there in any formal sense. Bravely, Andrew Hickey here attempts to draw together some view of the larger picture of Seven Soldiers of Victory, roughly speaking that which forms the landscape at the edge of the frame.

To first dispense with a few minor niggling concerns, An Incomprehensible Condition initially appeared as a series of essays on Sci-Ence! Justice Leak!, Andrew's generally superb blog. I personally think there's a lot of scope for internet material repackaged as print, not least because I dislike reading from a screen for any length of time, but in order to truly benefit from the transition, the material needs to become a book, rather than simply a website pasted onto pages of text. In this respect An Incomprehensible Condition mostly works, although I found the footnotes providing links to assorted websites a little disconcerting, and the tone occasionally retains a little too much of that which was better suited to a more ephemeral medium - by which I mean the occasional asides (I generally take the view that there always needs to be a really good reason for anything rendered in parentheses), confessions of the occasional blind spot, and certain jokier remarks. It's not that An Incomprehensible Condition doesn't work in print, because it really does. I just feel that it could have been somehow tighter with a little more tweaking. For example, whilst the rhetorical who says the Ancient Greeks were misogynist? is a point well made, it becomes overstated and unnecessary with repetition, not least because the morality of ancient civilisations held to account by contemporary standards has always struck me as something open to more expansive debate than can be encompassed by a solitary zinger, regardless of how disgusting or inhumane their practices may have been. Finally, there's also the matter of layout with the captions of certain illustrations shunted along to form the uppermost line of the following page, which just looks a bit clumsy.

But anyway...

Regardless of the above, An Incomprehensible Condition provides an absolutely compelling read, which should not be taken for granted given the almost comical breadth of subject matter brought in for the purpose of discussing something which remains quite difficult to define. Hickey invokes William Blake or Stephen Hawking in support of some seemingly tenuous association with the previous statement, roughly nailing it down then asking or is it? like some sort of weirdly ontological James Burke before launching off in the general direction of either John Bunyan or black hole physics. That sentence undoubtedly reads like a parody, but nevertheless this is what happens as the fabric of Seven Soldiers is pulled apart, or at least invoked, taking the book a long, long way away from the descriptions of who fought who in which issue of My Greatest Adventure which a more literal-minded author might have produced; and because this is an investigation of themes rather than a series of Top Trumps, it works as a narrative in its own right regardless of the material to which it refers. Inevitably, it bewilders in places, but it also sets you to thinking, punting the reader off in unexpected directions which is only what any good book should do.

As the two persons and one basset hound comprising my regular subscribers may well be aware, Andrew Hickey is, in addition to anything else, the author of Head of State, a forthcoming Faction Paradox novel from Obverse Books. Given the impressive showing here, the weight of his philosophical arguments and the originality of his perception, I would say that novel should be eagerly anticipated.

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  1. I always enjoy his writing at His fifty articles about Doctor Who were really great and often more interesting than the source material and his current series of essays about Cave Sim and Cerebus the Aardvark are similarly perceptive and worth reading even if you're not familiar with the comic. By the way I keep trying to leave the odd comment here from time to time but they keep vanishing! (just in case this one doesn't)

    1. Not sure what the vanishing comment thing could be. Nothing to do with me, I'm afraid.