Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Moral exemplarhood

I'm reading a very interesting article written by Ryan Indy Rhodes and David Kyle Johnson in the Batman and Philosophy book called, What Would Batman Do? Bruce Wayne as an Exemplar (2008, pp. 114-125), where the authors argue that the fictional Batman character has as much right to 'belong' to a list of moral exemplars that have actually existed in history (Buddha, Jesus, Mother Teresa, Gandhi, etc.):

Although most readers probably don't need reminding, let's consider some examples of how Batman exemplifies moral virtues. Justice is a constant aim of his activities, not only in the general sense of fighting crime and protecting the innocent, but in more particular endeavors...(p. 115)

-the authors list an impressive demonstration of Batman's commitment to a 'moral code' in dealing with 'real', individual people as well as the villains (symbols) he is sworn to struggle against. But...

Since Batman is a fictional character, it would seem that he cannot be referenced by language. That is, because Batman is not real, sentences about him do not operate in the same way as they do about things that really exist. (p. 117)

The finer points of the authors' argument are compelling and interesting; I would tend to root for their argument whole-heartedly. The two lines of reasoning above are similar to the ones I proposed in Socrates the Man somewhere in this blog.

But there is a sweet irony in this particular paper: if we should deny Batman membership to this 'elite' list of real historical exemplars for the simple fact that Batman is fictional, perhaps we should re-examine historical figures in light of the inevitable embellishments of tradition and demand the same standards of them.

An 'exemplar', you see, is best interpreted semiotically rather than lexically: it is more an embodiment of a set of idealized characteristics than it is in reference to a person. After all, "What is a pond"? -depending on who and what you are (a dragonfly, a person, a frog, a bird, etc.), what makes a pond a 'pond' changes because your needs and emphases change (even from season to season).

Yeshua ben Yosef is my Lord and Savior, and no historical treatment of His figure can change that: He is an embodiment; He is an inevitability; He is expressed in the Nazarene (John 14:6). Period. Full stop.

But I also admire the Batman character. And, for different reasons. The Batman is not only psychologically-real, but psychologically-real that instantly makes him more than a fancy, a whimsy but a well-developed and highly adaptable (ie, stable) characterization of moral exceptionalism.

He has a certain integrity that is preserved across a broad spectrum of backgrounds and re-tellings. Miller's Batman (though the most original telling, to be sure) is inherent and adumbrated in the earlier iterations by other writers. There is an ineffable pedigree linking everything. Even Adam West's Batman has his place in this substantive mythos.

In the Inuit tradition, the Batman figure is very familiar, more so than the Christ figure (though Christ is readily accepted by Inuit): Kiviuq, for eg, is a 'normal' human being cast into exceptional circumstances. He is flawed but ultimately perseveres. And the story continues...

However, Inuit do not somehow mistake the Kiviuq character as someone real: he is an exemplar of human curiosity and ingenuity. Where he goes and what he does is restrained by the seasons and geography. These features are not obvious but may be justifiably extrapolated in each 'episode': it is autumn when the story begins because Kiviuq becomes lost in a sea storm and lands to a place where the bumble-bee woman ultimately 'invents' ice that traps him before he can qajaq safely away; in one episode, Kiviuq has to traipse across a gigantic cooking pot (ie, hunting area) where in one end  he jumps onto seal blubber (ie, Marble Island) and hops over to a series of ribs (ie, Belcher Islands on the other side of the Hudson Bay).

Each telling is different but, throughout, Kiviuq exhibits exquisite sensitivity and sensibility towards animals that he encounters (another hint to times of year) that justify Inuit hunting culture as much as are expressed by a realistic 'person' in Kiviuq that we may try and emulate and strive to be.

Jay

No comments:

Post a Comment