Friday, June 03, 2011
The works here range from text essays to full-page illustrations to comic stories. The only constant is that they are entirely and exclusively the work of Ditko. The text pieces seem largely responsive in nature, with Ditko reacting to what seem to be very specific articles or incidents, but they're mostly centered around creativity, art and intellectual property. One piece, for example, goes at length providing his thoughts on the ownership of original comic art and seems to stem almost exclusively from his being asked to sign a petition in the 1980s to get Jack Kirby his original pages of Marvel work back.
The comics primarily revolve around the basic precepts of Objectivism. Some are more fictionalized narratives, while others are decidedly more direct in saying, "Here's what this philosophy is." But they all center around the same ideas.
The first thing I learned about Ditko himself is: he's not a very good writer. Good artistic storyteller, but not a good writer. While there are no real issues with grammar or spelling, his actual writing style is very dry and unengaging. He also tends to get sidetracked with some minutia that isn't particularly germaine to his larger point. Consequently, his longer text pieces took me forever to read because I found myself literally nodding off while wading through them.
Despite that, though, I did get a better sense of where Ditko is coming from, I think. Certainly not a complete understanding, but a better one. Most significantly, I've realized the problem people have with his adopted philosophy.
The issue at hand is usually obscured by the examples. Many of the arguments Ditko presents in his pieces, regardless of the specific topic, focus on a binary solution set. You're either good or evil. You're either for creative expression or against it. Readers see that and try to point out the grey areas in between. What about the good person who inadvertently commits evil acts? What about those people who are so invalid that they simply cannot live without support but are still able to contribute things of benefit? Where exactly does the boundary lie between true creativity and repurposing existing ideas? People on both sides get caught up in these types of arguments, and miss the broader issue: a basic assumption that runs underneath all of the discussions.
Namely, that man is a rational being.
There's a tacit belief than man, because he can think, is rational. The problem is, man is NOT rational. Even the most rational among us behave irrationally. If we were rational beings -- truely rational beings -- we would not respond to art. We would have no need to create art. We create and respond to art on an emotional level; that we have emotions means that we act on those emotions. We can react beter or worse in any given situation, and try to keep things under control, but we are all subject to happiness, fear, hate, love...
So, as long as we have emotions, we'll continue to act irrationally. We're going to make "incorrect" decisions because we have an overwhelming fear of rejection or a burning desire for acceptance or whatever. As long as emotions are part of our makeup, Objectivism in the strictest sense won't be possible.
Which isn't to say that the ideal isn't a valid one anyway. But that ideal is necessarily different from the reality, and Ditko's central basis for most of his arguments glosses over that point. I doubt that it's a deliberate obfuscation of the issue, but it sets up all of his personal comics work (Mr. A and the like) in a reality that's fundamentally unrecognizable, despite a veneer of normalcy that it has over, say, his Dr. Strange stories. It's an odd dichotomy, if you think about it -- Ditko's almost surreal Dr. Strange art is more approachable and understandable than his mundane-looking personal works...
Which is a pity, because there's some interesting ideas worth considering in his work. He winds up asking more questions than he answers and can really make you think, but it's only in something approaching the body of his work that it looks like you can get an appreciation of what Ditko is bringing to the table. And that that requires such a concerted and ongoing effort means that few people are going to do that much digging.