Translation: The Flash vs. Gurdjieff by Alejandro JodorowskyA column article, Comics Bulletin Soapbox by: Maxwell Yezpitelok
The following article was written by Alejandro Jodorowsky (legendary director of El Topo and The Holy Mountain, among others) way back in 1968 for the now defunct Spanish science-fiction magazine Nueva Dimensión. It has never been translated to English before, as far as we know. Big thanks to Joan Navarro for posting the original Spanish article in his blog and to Demetrio Babul for tweeting about it!
by Alejandro Jodorowsky
In Issue 391 of the Batman magazine published by Editorial Novaro there is a Flash adventure titled "The Flash Stakes His Life On You." This comic is the most important literary argument of recent months. The story is as follows: By the docks a girl plays with a doll that she drops from her hands, which is then dragged by the sea current. The girl cries, but Flash appears and making use of his superspeed, walks on the water without sinking until he rescues the doll.
The girl tells him: "Thank you, Flash! I'll never forget you -- never, never, never!"
Meanwhile, a strange gentleman has conceived an invention to bring an end to Flash. It is a machine which uses radiation to erase from the minds of the citizens the memory of the superhero. Flash visits the police chief -- his friend -- who greets him in this way:
"You go back to whatever costume ball you came from, mister -- go on before I run you out as a public nuisance!"
Flash goes up to his girlfriend, his old acquaintances, walks the streets searching for his admirers: Nobody recognizes him. What's worse, his body becomes transparent and his silhouette evaporates; he feels his weight disappear. The strange gentleman captures him, blowing him away like a bubble of soap.
He explains the following:
"The unique device that I perfected [. . .] spread a certain radiation over this city! [. . .] It erased all memory of you from the minds of the people here! And since our own belief in ourselves is based on how others feel about us -- you began at once to lose your own identity! Your contact with reality was shattered! Right now there's only one thing that's keeping you from disappearing altogether -- the fact that only one person still believes in you -- namely me! [. . .] When I turn the radiation on myself, Flash, the last person in this city will have ceased to believe in you -- and a short while afterward you'll vanish completely and forever!"
The gentleman erases Flash's memory from his mind and he evaporates even more, although he doesn't disappear completely. He remembers being told that as long as someone believes in him, he will not disappear... Since he has not disappeared completely, he deduces that someone in the city still thinks of him. He concludes that it is the girl with the doll. He goes looking for her. She is still at the docks. After approaching her Flash solidifies and becomes his old self. But when he moves away he weakens again. He depends entirely on the girl's presence. He adopts her as his helper and, thanks to the superspeed he acquires in her proximity, writes thousands and thousands of letters explaining what's happening to him. These letters he distributes among the citizens. Upon reading the letters they are convinced and decide to believe in the hero again. He goes back to normal and captures the strange gentleman, who is an international thief.
This comic appeared in the United States on the month of August 1966 in The Flash #163, drawn by the brilliant Carmine Infantino with plotting by John Broome. This parable -- we can't avoid calling it that -- raises a problem: Are Infantino and Broome aware that the strange gentleman is Gurdjieff? The resemblance is striking: the same bald head, the same features and moustache. The content of the parable could very well belong to the philosophy of this enigmatic being.
What does Flash signify? He is a man who possesses superspeed. Upon acquiring it, he can go around the world in less than a second, can walk through walls, can be in two places at once, etc. He is, in synthesis, the king of superficiality, always running from one place to the other, never being "AT THE THING". Superspeed prevents him from anchoring himself to reality. Objects become inconsistent and human communication impossible. By walking through objects everything becomes superficial. People admire him because of "HIS DEEDS." He is the perfect example of those who Gurdjieff described like this: "They are so lazy at helping themselves that they want to help others."
[Note: The actual quote is "They are too lazy to work on themselves, and at the same time it is very pleasant for them to think that they can help others."]
The teacher, wanting the character to be conscious of his inner emptiness, proves that his existence, by being so "from the skin outwards," depends on others. If the others stop paying attention to him, he does not exist, the reason being that all his values are based on the opinions of the rest. Flash lives not for himself, but for others. He exists in those who see him.
By no longer being seen and admired, the artificial self behind which he hides evaporates. By becoming naked, depending on his own values, he realizes that he is nothing. Gurdjieff says that man is born without a soul and that through huge and systematic efforts he must create it for himself. Flash never made an effort to create himself. At that moment of crisis, instead of stopping to ponder, reflecting on himself and working on his inner being, he decides to go after the girl he had impressed with the classic miracle of walking on water.
It is known that Zen Buddhists reject miracles. In the book Woumen-Kouan the following parable is told:
Huang Po, teacher of Linji, one of the most thriving Zen schools in modern Japan, was walking across the mountains when he encountered a monk. They walked together. When they came across a torrent that interrupted the path, the unknown monk rolled up his habit and crossed the waves walking, without sinking.
Turning around, he shouted at Huang Po: "Come across."
He rebuked: "Ah, had I known you were a monster, I would have cut off your legs."
The monk, full of admiration, replied: "You are a true man of religion" and disappeared.
We can see in this parable that the Zen rejects the miracle: to them it is a superficial element used by demons to impress the unwary. This is what Flash does. He finds the girl to establish a sickening relationship of interdependence and he regains, at last, what he thought he had lost: his old artificial self.
We are left with the moral that it is hard it is for teachers to teach. The disciple fights with all his strengths to get back the crutches that had been taken from him. The master says: "YOU WIN BY LOSING!" but the disciple becomes distressed when confronted with emptiness and believes he can recover his self-confidence by destroying the image of the teacher ("Thief").
I recommend this issue of Flash as a literary event worthy of being placed beside works like The White Dominican by Gustav Meyrink or Mount Analogue by René Daumal.
Maxwell Yezpitelok is a writer from Chile. He likes doorknobs. Find him on Twitter (@mrmxy) or outside your house OMG