Alphabets of Desire: Sorting It Out.

Promethea

(Promethea copyright DC Comics.)

Welcome to the first installment of our extended analysis of Alphabets of Desire. Yesterday we broke ground with a thorough introduction, which includes the full glory of the piece. Today we take on the first chunk of text. The illustration above is a page from another Todd Klein collaboration with Alan Moore. Promethea is so good that I will never get enough, and that particular page leads into the concept we will be exploring. Hang on to your hat, your head is going to be in question.

A is for apple, first fruit from the Tree of Knowledge whereby we discover that we cannot know the apple. We cannot perceive reality directly, are aware of nothing save our own awareness, an unending storm of information roaring in the ganglia, the retina and the tympanum, washed across the cobbles of the tongue and gusting in the cilia.  Attempting to construe a habitable cosmos from this chaos of sensation we evolve some form of language, words that will define distinct, recurring elements in the surrounding landscape and will separate one concept from another.

When Todd Klein asked Alan Moore to write something suitable for exquisite lettering, language was an obviously perfect choice. The result is a rambling romp through a wordsmith’s wallowing in what words really are. It starts at the top, with the letter “A”. Then it starts twisting. Why cannot we know the apple?

The Tree of Knowledge is a metaphor for the roving mind that each of us pilots through life. That slippery little self is rather clever, and it will not stop until it is convinced. There is one big problem with that. Pretty soon the mind knows that there are many things that it will never really know. Science knows how to prove, and in the case of the behavior and characteristics of subatomic particles it has already proven itself completely inadequate to explain the reality of the situation.

Don’t even get me started on the big questions. We cannot prove that we are not brains in a jar on the table of some mad doctor. We cannot prove how this all started. We cannot even begin to think about how to prove why things are.

As Alan Moore points out, the only thing we ever experience directly is our own personal array of sensory information. He uses technically poetic terms for thinking, seeing, hearing, tasting, and smelling. We feel the world. That’s all we ever do for sure.

As social animals, we then look to share our sensations with each other. Before I could explain Alan Moore’s first three sentences to you, I first needed to understand them for myself. That demands categories. Sorting the swirling input calms things down. Dividing the raw feed into boxes of thought is something that uses words as tools. We build a house of flashcards to soothe the roving mind, and then we take pictures to show our friends.

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