Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Myth of Superman (no, not THAT "Myth of Superman")

The title of this post is a reference to an essay by Umberto Eco entitled "The Myth of Superman".  I write about Eco's essay here.

Like a psychoanalytic reading, a mythological or archetypal reading of a text is content-based.  And like psychoanalytic readings, mythological/archetypal readings are typically preoccupied with symbolism.  Rather than being concerned with psychology--with the workings of a mind--however, mythological readings are concerned with mass-psychology--with the collective imaginings of all people.  And though mythological/archetypal readings have in the past made a claim to account for all people, many critics now argue that archetypes are culturally bound, so when archetypal critics talk about "all people" they often really mean "all people who share our culture".  On the other hand, given the effects of globalization and the ease with which cultural/mythological/archetypal ideas spread,  there's a good case to be made that all cultures have interacted with all others to at least some degree.

In any case.  Mythological/archetypal readings are also reminiscent of some kinds of structuralist criticism, because both often appeal to archetypal narrative elements like "the hero".  In these terms, Superman seems particularly easy to read.  Superman is the hero.  He is an archetypal representative of masculine strength.
Clark Kent is both an archetypal representative of the hero's weakness and also of the Jungian "persona", emphasizing that the face we show to the world is not the same as our "self".
Definitely two different selves.

This, by the way, is the answer to the commenter on the Marxist post who pointed out that Superman's boss is only a cover, that Clark is not really allied with the proletariat because his "boss" has no real authority over him. That's definitely true.

On the other hand, part of the point of Superman is that the self is divided. Debates about whether Clark or Superman (or Bruce or Batman) is the "real" identity miss the mythological resonance that makes the secret identity such a compelling narrative archetype.


  1. Fun post, but there are some far more biting criticisms lurking within Eco's critique as a Marxist materialist that you can explore HERE:


    Doc T

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