A colleague of mine asked me the following question regarding my ongoing graphic novel project:
I wonder, though, whether Nietzsche’s aphorisms, or particularly La Rochefoucauld’s, are the kind of stuff that you are making a use of for your graphic novel stories?
Pretty much. The Maxims was the result of a conversation game between La Rochefoucauld and Madam de Sable and Jacques Esprit played in their drawing rooms. They wrote down sentences expressing ideas of morality and psychology in solitude and then debated them afterwards. Unlike preachers, there are no appeals to a superior moral authority, for their judgments that studied human nature and custom were ambiguous and performed at the level of man. Instead of the ponderous treatise or the prose of Cicero, or academic language, they chose short forms ( maximes, sententia) that deigned to provoke rather than instruct. And La Rochefoucauld played this game the best by turning the myth of Narcissus upside down with a spectacular demolition of heroism.
Where La Rochefoucauld says self esteem is invincible, all-pervasive, endlessly variable, Schopenhauer adds that self-deception is not an accidental state of mind but part of its normal function. Indeed, such insights of La Rochefoucauld and Nietzsche, among others (Stendhal, James) are part of the grand heuristic scheme of my intent to write stories, and they were absolutely essential for the profiling of the characters. Much like your plot devices, my heuristic scheme relies on a collection of wisdom from the greatest strategists (Sun-tzu, Clausewitz), statesmen (Bismark, Talleyrand) courtiers (Castiglione, Gracian) and seducers (Lou Salome, Benjamin Disraeli).
As you’ve put it in the past, stories are a great vehicle for culture, which passes along its tradition through mythology and practices. The stories in the majority of fiction are intended as didactic exercises, wherein a moral is taught. The the protagonist as hero does the right thing, indirectly teaching the reader what the right action is, and the reader understands this vicariously.
However, in comic books, the content of its stories depend for more on a visceral impact, the drawings, in which reduces the requirements of the instructive goals of the story to a simplistic good versus evil theme. Granted, the content has matured when writers began to emphasize the psychological perspective, particularly in the works of Miller with Daredevil in the early 80’s, and Batman shortly after. But despite his creative efforts, others in the industry misunderstood this revolution by revamping the characters with a grim theme, making them darker, more edgy, and thus more willing to utilize whatever means in order to bring about the same ends.
Generally, comic book characters are archetypes, but inferior writers cannot imagine them as anything other than mere mouthpieces of banal modern propaganda. These cardboard cutouts rely on the superficial appearances of our society: be civilized, decent, democratic, and fair. But woe to whoever tries to actually play by those rules of appearance, for they are crushed by others who are far less foolish. The game is complex, for some of the best players are those who deny the very existence of the game – they use strategies that conceal the nature of their manipulation.
So the psychological content remains premature, at best superficial, especially when compared with some of the transcendent examples in recent literature (Jude the Obscure, The Idiot, Beast in Jungle, etc). Thus the didactic goals haven’t progressed much further, and this is where I come in. There are rules of behavior that tend towards efficiency, in which are basically strategies for personal gain, and they’re far more instructive than the moral preacher’s clichéd tale of Goofus and Gallant. Heh.
Balzac said “there are no principles; there are only events. There is no good and bad, there are only circumstances. The superior man espouses events & circumstances in order to guide them. If there were principles and fixed laws, nations would not change them as we change our shirts and a man cannot be expected to be wiser than a nation.”
This general project, the subordination of ethics to strategy, is very modern, especially when the rules of ethics are sacrificed when in order to achieve perfection, one must adapt to the circumstances. The strategies have a long history themselves, how people become successful (in military, society, politics, Hollywood, business, seduction) and most importantly, how they think and behave. There is a large chasm between ideas and experience, where our ideas are understood but not applied or put into practice, and our fertile experiences go unexamined and fail to inspire us with ideas, thus we ignore its lessons. The solution is strategy that links between the two, and they help deal with the greatest game of all: life. My intent is to show these rules or strategies by telling the story version with gods, immortals, and some mortals.