Author2Author: Kevin Guilfoile & Tom Morris

Longtime readers may recall that I shared a college class with Kevin Guilfoile, the author of the quasi-futuristic thriller Cast of Shadows. When he and I were thinking about who we might convince to do an Author2Author with him, we turned to a former Notre Dame icon with whom both of us were familiar: former philosophy professor Tom Morris. Kevin actually got to study under Tom; I was routed into another class, but I heard about his guitar-wielding pedagogical technique all the same. Tom eventually left academia to work as a corporate advisor, but he still keeps his hand with the books—his most recent work is as the co-editor (with his son, Matt) of Superheroes and Philosophy, an anthology that combines insights from contemporary philosophers and comic book creators into the themes and concerns underlying some of today’s leading comics titles. Because Kevin’s novel is also a blend of pop culture tropes and philosophical reflection, the three of us figured there’d be plenty of interesting things to talk about…I hope you’ll agree.

guilfoile.jpgKevin Guilfoile: In the terrific first essay of Superheroes and Philosophy, DC Comics’ Mark Waid describes the task of coming up with a more psychologically complex Superman for the 21st century, and his deliberations are fascinating. How was Superman affected by the knowledge that his home planet and his family had been destroyed? How was he influenced by the parenting style of Jonathan and Martha Kent? What about Kryptonian nature vs. human nurture? Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?

But isn’t there something of a conflict in these stories (in all modern stories, I think, but especially in comic book myths) between philosophy and psychology? Superman, after all, is a classic existential protagonist: It is not his extraordinary powers that make him a superhero, but his extraordinary choice–against great temptation–to use these powers for good. Hasn’t the example of Superman always been that the person we become is a choice? That, even though my subconscious substitutes food for affection, I refuse to eat that cupcake because the person I choose to be is two belt notches thinner? (The Kierkegaard Diet Plan! Eat that, Atkins!) If we replace free will with post-Freudian analysis, Superman becomes a more nuanced character, but is he still a real superhero to us?


8 July 2005 | author2author |