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The New Skrullicism

Posted by Joshua Glenn  August 8, 2007 10:31 AM

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Drop everything, readers, and hightail it over to the uber-intellectual blog Crooked Timber, where John Holbo -- who teaches philosophy at the National University of Singapore, and founded the excellent literary theory blog The Valve -- has just unveiled an inspired conceit: The New Skrullicism.

After you've read it, come back to Brainiac and read the rest of this post. Before you leave, though, here are a few footnotes:

* The Skrulls are militaristic, imperialistic, Earth-invading, shapeshifting humanoid aliens from the planet Skrullos, in the Andromeda Galaxy. Dreamed up by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, they were introduced in the 2d issue of "Fantastic Four," in January 1962.

"Fantastic Four" #2

* "The New Avengers" is a Marvel comic book series launched in 2004. Written by Brian Michael Bendis, it concerns the adventures of a group of superheroes -- some of whom were members of the original Avengers -- whose number currently includes Doctor Strange, Echo, Iron Fist, Luke Cage, Hawkeye (as Ronin), Spider-Man, Spider-Woman, and Wolverine. In recent issues, they've been battling a mystical ninja assassin group called The Hand, whose leader at the moment is Elektra.

"New Avengers" #31

* In "New Avengers" #31 (June 13, 2007), whose last page is billed as "the most important last page of any Marvel comic this year," it was revealed that Elektra was, in fact, a Skrull masquerading as Elektra. In subsequent issues, an atmosphere of paranoia has descended upon the New Avengers, who realize that they may have been infiltrated, too. According to Wikipedia: "Bendis has stated in interviews that the Skrull revelation is only the start of a wider story arc that indicates many Marvel heroes are actually Skrulls." Creepy!

"New Avengers" #33

* Back in May, over at another of his blogs, John & Belle Have A Blog, Holbo dexterously inverted the lame scholar-fanboy joke about, e.g., how comic books provide deep insights into the works of Shakespeare. (See any of the many "'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' and Philosophy"-type books, if you don't know what I'm talking about; Frederick Crews was already making fun of this sort of thing in "The Pooh Perplex," in 1963.) He did so by arguing, mock-seriously, that "lots of [Shakespeare] plays started out as comics, early in Shakespeare's career, when he was working at DC in the late '60s." For my money, this sort of inspired put-on (better: the advanced irony of what the French call blague) is not only truly amusing, but enlightening.


OK, you're back from Crooked Timber? Here's some ham-fisted exegesis. Apologies in advance to Mr. Holbo.

Yesterday, with the publication of his Crews-esque mini-essay (Crews-esque in the sense that it's written in the paranoid academic style of one of Crews's imaginary critics) on "The New Skrullicism," Holbo pushed the inverted Shakespeare/comic book joke as far as it can go, drawing effortlessly on his deep knowledge of both subjects, not to mention the highs and lows of lit crit -- leading one Crooked Timber reader to comment, "What the hell just happened?"

Here's what happened: Holbo set out to prove, definitively, via what might be termed a lit-crit version of 'pataphysical science, that more than a few characters in Shakespeare's plays were, in fact, Skrulls. (Referencing "Hamlet," for example, Holbo suggests that Gertrude's lament concerning her "too much changed son," is "a clear reference to the protagonist's shape-changing abilities.") He also dreams up an entire field of literary criticism -- The New Skrullicism -- dedicated to outing Skrulls masquerading as characters in great works of literature. His (excellent) joke about a 1948 Leslie Fiedler essay titled "Come Back to the Rift Agin’, Huck Honey," will be comprehensible only to those readers as immersed in comic-book and lit-crit history as Holbo himself.

Top-notch blague, Holbo! And, like I said, enlightening to boot. Brainiac readers are invited to submit evidence that Shakespeare and other canonical writers infiltrated their own writings with Skrull shape-shifters. You will discover, I think, that when read through the lens of The New Skrullicism, some texts are changed, changed utterly.

For example, here are a few cryptic Shakespeare lines that no longer puzzle me: "OBERON: And, gentle Puck, take this transformed scalp/From off the head of this Athenian swain..." Or: "MARK ANTONY: My good knave Eros, now thy captain is/Even such a body: here I am Antony:/Yet cannot hold this visible shape, my knave." Or: "FALSTAFF: ... I will tell/you: he beat me grievously, in the shape of a/woman; for in the shape of man, Master Brook, I fear/not Goliath..."

Also think of Buck Mulligan's "shaking gurgling face," in "Ulysses," for example; or the way that Joyce has Mulligan "put on a blithe broadly smiling face." (Why phrase it that way?) And what, pray tell, does Fitzgerald imply when he writes, in "Gatsby," that "Daisy took her face in her hands, as if feeling its lovely shape..."?


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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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