Grant Morrison's The Invisibles
On The Gapostasis of the Archons
Then mankind began to multiply and improve. The rulers took counsel with one another and said, "Come, let us cause a deluge with our hands and obliterate all flesh, from man to beast." But when the ruler of the forces came to know of their decision, he said to Noah, "Make yourself an ark from some wood that does not rot and hide in it - you and your children and the beasts and the birds of heaven from small to large – and set it upon Mount Sir."
Then Norea came to him, wanting to board the ark. And when he would not let her, she blew upon the ark and caused it to be consumed by fire. Again he made the ark, for a second time.
The rulers went to meet her, intending to lead her astray. Their supreme chief said to her, "Your mother Eve came to us." But Norea turned to them and said to them, "It is you who are the rulers of the darkness; you are accursed. And you did not know my mother; instead it was your female counterpart that you knew. For I am not your descendant; rather it is from the world above that I am come."
The arrogant ruler turned, with all his might, and his countenance came to be like (a) black [...]; he said to her presumptuously, "You must render service to us, as did also your mother Eve; for I have been given [...]." But Norea turned, with the might of [...]; and in a loud voice, she cried out up to the holy one, the God of the entirety, "Rescue me from the rulers of unrighteousness and save me from their clutches - forthwith!"
The (great) angel came down from the heavens and said to her, "Why are you crying up to God? Why do you act so boldly towards the holy spirit?"
Norea said, "Who are you?" The rulers of unrighteousness had withdrawn from her.
He said, "It is I who am Eleleth, sagacity, the great angel who stands in the presence of the holy spirit. I have been sent to speak with you and save you from the grasp of the lawless. And I shall teach you about your root."
(Norea apparently now speaking) Now as for that angel, I cannot speak of his power: his appearance is like fine gold and his raiment is like snow. No, truly, my mouth cannot bear to speak of his power and the appearance of his face!
Eleleth, the great angel, spoke to me. "It is I," he said, "who am understanding. I am one of the four light-givers, who stand in the presence of the great invisible spirit. Do you think these rulers have any power over you? None of them can prevail against the root of truth; for on its account he appeared in the final ages; and these authorities will be restrained. And these authorities cannot defile you and that generation; for your abode is in incorruptibility, where the virgin spirit dwells, who is superior to the authorities of chaos and to their universe."
But I said, "Sir, teach me about the faculty of these authorities – how did they come into being, and by what kind of genesis, and of what material, and who created them and their force?"
And the great angel Eleleth, understanding, spoke to me:And then the angel goes on to recount the entire beginning of the story all over again.
No, seriously. The story begins with the Gnostic account of creation, then goes through all the traditional history that follows albeit with a radically different interpretation, and then you get to the story of the Flood and suddenly the story just sorta veers off into this discussion which eventually loops back around to the very beginning recursively.
This is a fascinating example of the kind of gap or blockage that Iser is interested in. The story is to a Christian audience one of the most familiar, and thus it is tempting to fall into the illusion that the narrative will continue along familiar lines with, simply, some values reversed, creating a consistent new position. Instead, however, our anticipation of narrative continuity is foiled and we're presented instead with a radical new direction for the narrative to take, driven by a character who never appears in the canonical text at all.
I'm less interested in the intentionality of this swerve in its original context as I am in the readerly effect of this swerve for me in the present day. Its effects on me now, with my particular repertoire of familiar tropes, is profound. As a narrative and as a holy text, this works through, essentially, shock value--not shock driven by edgy content but shock driven by the narrative dramatically upending my assumptions. I find that it's like getting doused with cold water. It forces this whole new way of engaging with the text.
This might be one of the ways in which The Invisibles and Homestuck as avant garde texts carry the same sensibility of Gnostic scripture read in the present day. Core to Gnosticism of course is the assumption that the teachings we have been given are lies produced by agents of the Archons who rule this world. Isn't this the assumption of the Modern text, which constantly finds ways to make visible the gaps in our knowledge and the limitations of our beliefs, through avant-garde techniques? Again, I'm not suggesting this is something originally intended in the texts in some way, but it's impossible for me to not see a parallel as a kind of post-modern reader between the way characters like Sophia and Norea take over familiar narratives and the way avant-garde texts introduce metatextual elements to challenge the very process of reading.
Our Sentence Is Up
I'm struck by the parallelism of the end of Homestuck and the end of The Invisibles, both comics in which essentially every side gets what they want, and the structure of the narrative itself collapses dramatically.
In Homestuck we can see this in the way both the heroes and the villain have their apotheosis in parallel, Caliborn ascending and becoming a being capable of the kind of destruction he's always longed for just as the kids finally take the step into a new world free of the game's malign influence. This ending is challenging because it flies in the face of our understanding of what a narrative should look like, but this, despite what many in the fandom continually insist, doesn't make it bad, just, you know, avant-garde and artistically intriguing. The ending forces a recontextualization of what has come before in search of consistency. And I think it is quite possible to find that consistency, in an understanding of Paradox Space as the creation of all sorts of different vectors of agency and desire combining to form a subjective reality. And Caliborn, in the end, wants us to remember one thing:
"I WANTED TO PLAY A GAME."
The Invisibles concludes with the panels of the comic dissolving, eaten away by the effect of two realities splitting apart and humanity ascending into a higher state of being. The last few images are of Dane's final dialogue, as even the boundary between image and text become one. Making sense of this ending is tricky, and not something I'm going to attempt tonight, but this ending, like Homestuck's, asks us to reconsider the very assumptions underpinning our comic reading process.
At the very least, the last panel demands that we reread the last utterance in a new way. The closeup on the final word and period is a visual recontextualizer, providing information that, as Fish has it, helps us alter our sense of how we should understand the word "sentence." The pun here is that sentence can both mean a complete grammatical utterance, and a punishment for a crime. The close up transforms the final phrase into a kind of liminal, vibrating entity that occupies two positions at once, and this strange liminality demands we consider once more the other content of the comic and the way that language is positioned as a kind of force of control.
What I want to suggest with all this is merely that when we are confronted with strange texts like this, certainly in a Gnostic context but more broadly as well, it's worthwhile to consider what the texts are doing and why, rather than merely writing them off as bad writing. It's through being opened up by such texts, being read by them, that we come to understand ourselves better, and closing that off can only make us like Caliborn: stunted in our refusal to consider new possible ways of being.
And Homestuck in particular I think opens up some pretty incredible space where the reader enters the text...
But for that, you're going to have to read A Bodyless and Timeless Persona.
I will be releasing the book through my Patreon for $5 backers on Wednesday, August 3, at which point it will be possible for backers at lower levels to read the final article, "Is There A Text In This Classpect?" as well. Along with the book, backers at the $5 level have access to other cool stuff like the original Krita files used to compose the cover, and three hours of podcast material covering some of the articles in the collection.
And, of course, you also have access to my previous collections, My Superpower is Manpain! and Neighquiem for a Dream.
Let me know if you like this experimental article format, and remember to check in Wednesday for the book release!