Book Review, Classic Literature, Cullen Bunn, Deadpool, Deadpool Killustrated, Don Quixote, Eternal Recurrence, existentialism, Fondation of Reality, Friedrich Nietzsche, graphic novel, Hannah and Her Sisters, Literature, Marvel, Meta, Moby Dick, Murphey, No Excuses: Existentialism and the Meaning of Life, Novel, Penis, Penis Jokes, Philosophical Coward, Philosophy, Reading, Reality, Robert C. Solomon, Samuel Beckett, Sherlock Holmes, The Gay Science, The Great Stress, The Portable Nietzsche, Waiting for Godot, Woody Allen
Moby Dick is a penis, that’s the joke. Deadpool is sitting in a row boat waiting for the great whale to appear, and because he’s Deadpool he has to make a joke, a joke about the size difference to be specific. I can assure the reader that this isn’t in fact a teaser trailer for the next Deadpool movie, but instead one of the most philosophically profound books I have ever read: Deadpool Killustrated.
Before I get to Deadpool however, I need to discuss Friedrich Nietzsche.
Over the last few weeks I’ve been listening my little sister’s “Great Courses” tapes No Excuses: Existentialism, a series of lectures by Robert C. Solomon that looks at the writings of such writers and philosophers as Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Soren Kierkegaard, Jean Paul Sartre, Franz Kafka, Herman Hesse, Albert Camus, and of course Nietzsche. The latter man’s work has chiefly been The Ubermensch, his novel Thus Spoke Zarathustra, The Gay Science, and most recently the idea that I’m the most familiar with, the theory of Eternal Recurrence. This last concept, apart from the Ubermensch and his misunderstood phrase “god is dead,” is one of his most popular philosophical creations albeit not for the reasons he would have preferred.
I first encountered this concept when, like just about everybody else in America I trust, I had to take an Intro to Philosophy course to satisfy a core credit. Unlike many of the people in the class who dropped after the first three weeks however, I took Philosophy because I genuinely wanted to. It was an interesting time in my life. I had just met the woman who would become my wife, I had a job on the university that I was botching regularly yet still enjoying immensely, and for the first time in about three years I found myself actually happy in life. Dr. Krebs who taught the class wore Hawaiian shirts, cowboy boots, smoked camel cigarettes, and over the course of the semester made me question every facet of my reality down to whether or not happiness, or my lovely lady wife, was in fact even real.
I eventually settled comfortably, though carefully, into Empiricism, but that didn’t stop Dr. Krebs from regularly challenging me. The man must have seen something in me because he not only regularly asked me questions during class, he also recommended I buy The Portable Nietzsche, his favorite philosopher, and to specifically read one passage. I still have the page marked with his office faculty card with the note messily scribbled on the back. The passage is labeled 341, The Great Stress, out of the larger work The Gay Science. I would find out later that the passage in question was often referred to as the Eternal Recurrence, and reading the passage this title is apt.
How, if some day or night a demon were to sneak after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you, “This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything immeasurably small or great in your life must return to you-all in the same succession and sequence– even this spider and this moon- lght between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned over and over, and you with it, a dust grain of dust.”
Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or did you once experience & tremendous moment when you would have answered him, “You are a god, and never have I heard anything more godly.”
If this thought were to gain possession of you, it would change you, as you are, or perhaps crush you. The question in each and everything, “Do you want this once more and innumerable times more?” would weigh upon your actions as the greatest stress. Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal Confirmation and seal? (101-2).
If the reader didn’t process all of that I have a second quote by Woody Allen from one of his more watchable films, Hannah and Her Sisters. The main character’s ex-husband Mickey is having a philosophical crisis following a near-cancer scare and he starts reading philosophers to try to find meaning in life again and at one point he notes about Nietzsche:
Mickey: And Nietzsche, with his theory of eternal recurrence. He said that the life we lived we’re gonna live over again the exact same way for eternity. Great. That means I’ll have to sit through the Ice Capades again. It’s Not Worth it.
Allen’s comedy aside there’s a reason Nietzsche’s title was “the Great Stress” rather than the Eternal Recurrence, and if the reader is paying attention to it Allen explained it perfectly. The demon that appears to the unnamed narrator suggests that every aspect of life shall be lived again and not just the pretty moments. Taking this realistically that implies that every mistake, every boring conversation, every papercut, every hour spent in line at the DMV, every hour of traffic, every time you didn’t walk over to ask that girl in high school to dance, every Thanksgiving when your Uncles and cousins started talking about Trump and everybody had to smile and pretend nothing was happening, will be lived over again, and not just once, but for eternity. This realization is enough to make one consider the “stress” implied.
Nietzsche as a writer and philosopher is often listed with the Existentialists, and while this philosophy has fallen upon hard times in recent years, the core of the movement is actually rather positive. Looking at this passage the reader has to determine in which camp would they fall: do they gnash their teeth and mourn their fate, or do they face the demon and pronounce that they shall live?
It’s an honest question and certainly one that’s worth asking. If you found yourself saying “oh god that sounds miserable” then it’s likely Nietzsche is proving a point. Living a life without passion really isn’t living at all, and if you look upon life as misery then you’ll never be able to live with a real purpose which would bring you a kind of satisfaction. It’s the man or woman who is able to say yes to this question who is living with purpose and also one who is likelier to say honestly that they are happy.
I recognize that this may be a difficult concept and as such I decided Deadpool would be a good way of explaining Nietzsche’s idea…that, and I needed an excuse to review this graphic novel.
Deadpool Killustrated appealed to me originally out of what some may call pompousness, but what I prefer to call pompousness, because most of the references were to books I had read or read about as an English major. The front cover of the book was Deadpool about to shove a cartoon bomb into Moby Dick’s blowhole, phrasing, and the subsequent covers were all gruesome reimagining’s of “the classics.” The graphic novel was actually a sequel to a previous work Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe. The book picks up in the aftermath of the mass slaughter. Deadpool has killed every living thing in the universe because he realizes that he, like everyone else in the Marvel Universe, are living in a false reality created by other beings known only as “the writers.” The voice in Deadpool’s head comes up with the idea that killing off the origin of stories, specifically the original “classics” may cause a split in reality and thus end his existence. Using a handful of scientists he’s enslaved, Deadpool is able to enter the idea-verse and systematically kill off the characters of classic fiction such as Don Quixote, Little Women, Dracula, Moby Dick, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and The Jungle Book to name a few. He’s eventually “beaten” by Sherlock Holmes, who manages to subvert his efforts and begin healing the damage.
The book is, realistically, an opportunity to “watch Deadpool kill stuff,” and as a Deadpool fan, and part-time Deadpool apologist, I’ll admit freely that I absolutely love the book for it. Listening to Dr. Solomon discuss the idea of The Great Stress though I went back to the book and found an early passage:
It’s from this discussion that Deadpool’s path becomes clear. In order to overcome the cycle of constantly killing everything and then starting over again, living a life out of his control, he has to find a way to stop the cycle from starting over again.
In short he doesn’t just have to kill the story-teller, he has to kill the very idea of stories.
This is a rather difficult concept for most people to process because death itself is already a damn riddle. Religion and philosophy have already scoured our consciousness in order to establish some working idea of the difference between life and death, and in their defense they’ve done the best they could, but even then the concept of death is still something which will drive men all their lives to create in a desperate effort to conquer the unknowable inevitability. Deadpool’s struggle then is likely one that will cause some confusion for his aim is not to die, but to simply not exist.
The only other narrative that follows this line of thinking is Murphey, a novel by the Irish playwright Samuel Becket. If you don’t know anything about Beckett I should warn you going forward that it’s just going to get weirder from here.
Samuel Becket was a writer who, apart from being an acolyte of James Joyce, once popularly said that his grand masterpiece would be a blank sheet of paper. Throughout his work Beckett pushed the form of art and writing trying to explore the philosophy of nihilism and the element of silence. He’s most popularly known for his play Waiting for Godot which is about two men constantly waiting for their friend Godot who never shows up. For Beckett the notion of existence was something that was fragile and, more often than not, a kind of disease that plagued the world. The cure for this disease was either madness or death.
His novel Murphey, follows this aesthetic, for the entire novel is about a man named Murphey who wishes to attain one thing: nonexistence. It’s important to recognize the distinction between this and death. Murphey doesn’t want to die because even in death some part of him will live on, whether it be his spirit, his soul, and even the components of his physical body. Nonexistence however is a state in which consciousness and physical existence will be forever purged from reality.
Beckett offers an insight into his protagonist’s mind midway through the novel:
It is most unfortunate, but the point of this story has been reached where a justification of the expression “Murphey’s Mind” has to be attempted. Happily we need not concern ourselves with this apparatus as it really was—that would be an extravagance and an impertinence—but solely with what it felt and pictured itself to be. Murphey’s mind is after all the gravamen of these informations. A short section to itself at this stage will relieve us from the necessity of apologizing for it further.
Murphey’s mind pictured itself as a large hollow sphere, hermetically closed to the universe without. This was not an impoverishment, for it excluded nothing that it did not itself contain. Nothing ever had been, was or would be in the universe outside it but was already present as virtual, or actual, or virtual rising into actual, or actual falling into virtual, in the universe inside it. (65).
Murphey is man who is clearly broken in some form or fashion. He doesn’t recognize that he has a mind or a body, but he does understand that these objects exist. Beckett continues this analysis as he writes:
Thus Murphey felt himself split in two, a body and a mind. They had intercourse apparently, otherwise he could not have known that they had anything in common. […]
He was split, one part of him never left this mental chamber that pictured itself as a sphere full of light fading into dark, because there was no way out. (66-67)
At this point the reader may be wondering what relevance this near incomprehensible novel has to do with Nietzsche or Deadpool. In fact it has everything to do with both of them. Nietzsche’s premise in the Great Stress is that the cowardly individual is one who faces the reality of the Eternal Recurrence and, rather than rising up and accepting their lot in life, rejects it and tries to overcome it. Because they don’t like themselves or their life they try to make excuses for their misery or, in the case of Murphey and Deadpool, they come up with ways of getting out. To Murphey he tries to destroy himself to achieve non-existence.
Likewise, Deadpool faces the reality of the Eternal Recurrence and is ultimately undone by it. The “voices in his head,” the source of most of his fourth wall breaking, serves as the functional demon pushing him to try and overcome existence which he sees as a disease.
Before I conclude, it’s important to be realistic.Deadpool Killustrated is in many ways just a dumb Deadpool story loaded with bad puns and references that will become outdated in a few years, but to ignore the philosophical implications Cullen Bunn manages to write in this book just because the main character is Deadpool is to miss something important. Many people will stumble across this book, and many young kids who enjoy Deadpool and who have never read Don Quixote or Moby Dick will experience the classical works of literature in a way entirely unique. This impression seals itself upon reality indefinitely and Deadpool himself explains this concept:
Life is an absurd mystery often filled with unnecessary pain and suffering and so a concept like The Great Stress is something relevant despite what your Dad who sells mufflers says about Philosophy. Yes thinking about reality repeating over and over again is not going to help you pay your car note, neither is it going to add anything to your resume so you can get that temp job and move out of your parents place, and it’s definitely not going to stop your family talking about politics during Thanksgiving. Despite the lack of utilitarian value, considering the notion of The Great Stress is important because it can make someone reevaluate the way they are living their life. Our choices are informed by our worldview and whether or not we feel that life is genuinely worth living. Facing the demon and saying “Yes” is not saying yes to some bullshit thought-experiment, it’s about affirming to yourself that you are actually living a life you want to live and not just one you’re living for someone or something else.
Deadpool is the coward and the loser of the Great Stress because he clearly doesn’t like himself or his life and so rather than lead a life that would bring him purpose he takes his frustrations out on those characters who have faced the Demon already and found something worth living for. The narratives of our lives are built upon those that came before us and left behind living stories that recur indefinitely. It’s from these stories that imagination is fed and developed into a living breathing being which provides direction, inspiration and purpose.
But I suppose watching Captain Nemo blow-up the Little Mermaid by being shot out of a torpedo tube can provide its own kind of philosophical statement. I’m not sure what it is, but I’m sure it’s profound.
I’ve included a link to a brief biography of Nietzsche if the reader is at all interested:
I’ve also included a link to my latest “Jammer Talks: About…” YouTube video where I provide a small lecture over everything we’ve covered. If you’d prefer to hear me talk rather than read, I hope you enjoy.
All passages of Nietzsche were taken from The Portable Nieztsche, Penguin Paperback. All passages from Murphey came from the Grover press Paperback. Finally all Deadpool Killustrated passages came from the Marvel paperback edition.