Superman: Modern Day Socrates

In Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill vol.2, Bill has a very interesting monologue. Perhaps the most famous monologue in the entire two-part saga.

The essence: he slices through the very nature of Superman, and argues for the idea that Clark Kent is the image Superman perceives of us, as a species, as the human race.

Here’s the speech:

(edited to remove spoilers)

As you know, l’m quite keen on comic books. Especially the ones about superheroes. I find the whole mythology surrounding superheroes fascinating. Take my favorite superhero, Superman. Not a great comic book. Not particularly well-drawn. But the mythology… The mythology is not only great, it’s unique.

[…]

Now, a staple of the superhero mythology is, there’s the superhero and there’s the alter ego. Batman is actually Bruce Wayne, Spider-Man is actually Peter Parker. When that character wakes up in the morning, he’s Peter Parker. He has to put on a costume to become Spider-Man. And it is in that characteristic Superman stands alone. Superman didn’t become Superman. Superman was born Superman. When Superman wakes up in the morning, he’s Superman. His alter ego is Clark Kent. His outfit with the big red “S”, that’s the blanket he was wrapped in as a baby when the Kents found him. Those are his clothes. What Kent wears – the glasses, the business suit – that’s the costume. That’s the costume Superman wears to blend in with us. Clark Kent is how Superman views us. And what are the characteristics of Clark Kent. He’s weak… he’s unsure of himself… he’s a coward. Clark Kent is Superman’s critique on the whole human race.

–Bill, from “Kill Bill vol.2” (2004)

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Alejandro Aravena on the Force of Architecture

“So be it the force of self construction, the force of common sense, or the force of nature, all these forces need to be translated into form, and what that form is modelling and shaping is not cement, bricks, or wood. It is life itself. Design’s power of synthesis is just an attempt to put at the innermost core of architecture the force of life.”

– Alejandro Aravena

Aravena was this year’s Pritzker Prize laureate. The Chilean architect has redefined the role of the architect in society, and the relationship between architecture, the economy, and the forces of life. As he beautifully articulates in the quote above, architecture moulds life, whether consciously or subtly. His social housing projects (the famous “half a house” concepts like Quinta Monroy in Chile) prove that inventive ideas, combined with strong collaboration with the societies that are directly affected by, and for whom the projects are designed, can truly change the world.

Timeless Wisdom from Carl Sagan

Human history can be viewed as a slowly dawning awareness that we are members of a larger group. Initially our loyalties were to ourselves and our immediate family, next, to bands of wandering hunter-gatherers, then to tribes, small settlements, city-states, nations. We have broadened the circle of those we love. We have now organized what are modestly described as super-powers, which include groups of people from divergent ethnic and cultural backgrounds working in some sense together — surely a humanizing and character building experience. If we are to survive, our loyalties must be broadened further, to include the whole human community, the entire planet Earth. Many of those who run the nations will find this idea unpleasant. They will fear the loss of power. We will hear much about treason and disloyalty. Rich nation-states will have to share their wealth with poor ones. But the choice, as H. G. Wells once said in a different context, is clearly the universe or nothing.

And also:

Every one of us is, in the cosmic perspective, precious. If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another.

As long as unnecessary violence persists, can we truly call ourselves an evolved, intelligent species?

An interesting perspective on Superman

Bill: As you know, l’m quite keen on comic books. Especially the ones about superheroes. I find the whole mythology surrounding superheroes fascinating. Take my favorite superhero, Superman. Not a great comic book. Not particularly well-drawn. But the mythology… The mythology is not only great, it’s unique.
The Bride: [who still has a needle in her leg] How long does this shit take to go into effect?
Bill: About two minutes, just long enough for me to finish my point. Now, a staple of the superhero mythology is, there’s the superhero and there’s the alter ego. Batman is actually Bruce Wayne, Spider-Man is actually Peter Parker. When that character wakes up in the morning, he’s Peter Parker. He has to put on a costume to become Spider-Man. And it is in that characteristic Superman stands alone. Superman didn’t become Superman. Superman was born Superman. When Superman wakes up in the morning, he’s Superman. His alter ego is Clark Kent. His outfit with the big red “S”, that’s the blanket he was wrapped in as a baby when the Kents found him. Those are his clothes. What Kent wears – the glasses, the business suit – that’s the costume. That’s the costume Superman wears to blend in with us. Clark Kent is how Superman views us. And what are the characteristics of Clark Kent. He’s weak… he’s unsure of himself… he’s a coward. Clark Kent is Superman’s critique on the whole human race. Sorta like Beatrix Kiddo and Mrs. Tommy Plimpton.

Superman is arguably the most recognizable hero. This is one of my favourite monologues from Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill movies. It challenges the conventional notion that the superhero is a kind of apotheosis of mankind. It suggests that the mask is a facade that represents humanity’s cowardice, contrasting it with Superman’s alienness that distinguishes him from the rest of his super-brethren. Superman is inherently alien, yet his upbringing by humans instills in him a strong moral focus that guides his later adventures as guardian of our species. Here, we explore an idea of how the Man of Steel perceives the human race, contrary to what preconceived notions are of his übermensch-like conception.

I’m curious to see how Zack Snyder and co. will continue to represent him in the ever-expanding DC Cinematic Universe.

In the midst of darkness…

I dimly perceive that whilst everything around me is ever changing, ever dying, there is underlying all that change a living power that is changeless, that holds all together, that creates, dissolves, and re-creates. . . . in the midst of death life persists, in the midst of untruth truth persists, in the midst of darkness light persists.

–Mahatma Gandhi

What should a human being do?

Robert A. Heinlein, a popular (and controversial) science fiction writer, on what a human being should be capable of doing:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

– Robert A. Henlein, Time Enough for Love (1973) p.248

Specialization is, indeed, for insects.

Niccolò Machiavelli on intellects

There are three classes of intellects: one which comprehends by itself; another which appreciates what others comprehend; and a third which neither comprehends by itself nor by the showing of others; the first is the most excellent, the second is good, and the third is useless.

– Niccolò Machiavelli

From his book The Prince. I think that in today’s world, we need more of the first class – those who can think lucidly in the face of noise and chaos; those who can think first for themselves, incubate new ideas in their minds and formulate thought independent of the interference of external influence. They will be the ones who will push the human race forward.