Critique of The Invisibles

Philip Sandifer wrote a sharp critique of The Invisibles. Here’s a bit about the role of chaos magic in the book and how it, although as he notes it has been around since the 70s, rose to prominence in the 90s:

Chaos magic is magic for libertarians. It sprung up, unsurprisingly, in the late nineties because it was a flavor particularly suitable for the techno-libertarians who disproportionately dominated the early Internet. And it was, in hindsight, a complete and utter bust. It’s just another flavor of the Heinlein-style science fiction that animated Babylon 5 and space opera in general. It amounts to Robert Heinlein in fetish gear, which is mostly just redundant.

Full Story: TARDIS Eruditorum: Pop Between Realities, Home in Time for Tea 52 (The Invisibles)

I’m not sure if he’s referring to chaos magic or The Invisibles as “Robert Heinlein in fetish gear,” but either one seems appropriate. It hits on one of the paradox’s of Morrison’s work, which is that on the one hand he dismisses the idea of individuality as silly Western Thoughts, but simultaneously spouts individualist and libertarian rhetoric.

He adds in the comments:

I thought about dealing with Lord Fanny. But that involves getting into Grant Morrison’s frankly shameful engagement with transgender issues, and that’s really far afield. And just makes me angry. [...]

It’s not even that Fanny herself is bad. It’s that she fits into a larger and virulently transphobic context on Morrison’s part in which he casually deploys offensive slurs and appropriates trans experiences. It’s really astonishingly vile, and gets at the almost sociopathic narcissism that I find so infuriating about him. I think it’s very rare that Morrison manages an ounce of humanity in his work.

Sandifer wrote more on what was good and bad about The Invisibles in his piece on Lawrence Miles’ Dead Romance. He also wrote about Grant Morrison’s Doctor Who comics, which also touches on the rivalry between Morrison and Alan Moore.

All of this is part of Sandifer’s massive ongoing critique of Doctor Who, which he promises to follow in a few years with an in-depth look at the Morrison/Moore.

See also: Invisible Sexuality: Lord Fanny and the Gender Question

5 Comments

  1. I think it’s unfair to claim Morrison is appropriating trans experiences in his writing, considering he’s talked multiple times about his experiences with transvestism when he was younger (there are pictures around too) – obviously it’s not the same as being transsexual, but it still gives him some license to write about the abuse people who don’t read as fitting into the conventional gender narrative experience. Also, part of the reason minority groups are disadvantaged is because the majority of writers (who are privileged) don’t include anything other than cis white people in their work, leading to under-representation and thus fear of the unknown and the defining of individuals in such groups by their most obvious differences rather than viewing them as complex human beings.

    • You raise a good point about whether it’s better to try and fail to write good minority characters, or to just not try at all. But I do think it’s fair to criticize his approach — that’s how representations improve.

  2. Captain Commander

    February 5, 2013 at 11:53 am

    It seems like the author neglected to read the scene where one cell of the Invisibles coerces another cell into generating auto-critique.

    In any case, Lord Fanny is who s/he is.

    The Invisibles also suggests that sexual identity is a social construction. The grandmother influenced Lord Fanny’s sexual identity as a matter of expedience because her daughter failed to produce the desired daughter, then died after giving birth to a boy. So the grandmother took actions that led to Lord Fanny taking on the identity of a girl while having a boy’s body. Suppose she had never given Lord Fanny the dress? Suppose she had chosen a dress at odds with Lord Fanny’s innate aestetic sensitivities? Of course, we’ll never know the answers to those questions. Much hinges on Lord Fanny’s willingness to accept the dress. The grandmother admits that there is a chance that Lord Fanny will reject the dress. But he doesn’t.

    It was clear to me from reading The Invisibles that Morrison was well-aware of the moral ambiguities surrounding his actions.

  3. Since it’s come up here, I figure I should briefly express my actual reasons for disliking Grant Morrison’s handling of trans issues and characters. Lord Fanny, on her own, mostly does not bother me. The tendency of Grant Morrison to casually use a disparaging slur to refer to trans people while blatantly equating his own experience cross-dressing with being trans does. (Examples of him using the slur are at http://www.newsarama.com/comics/110806-Kill-Boyfriend-Morrison.html , http://www.barbelith.com/old/interviews/interview_7.shtml , http://www.wired.com/underwire/2009/03/mid-life-crisis/ , and http://geeksout.org/blogs/captain-canine/grant-morrison-outs-batman-talks-wonder-womans-lesbian-utopia . It’s not a one-interview problem at all: this is a recurring bit of bigotry on his part.)

    As for the auto-critique, I don’t think that single scene fixes the problems. Yes, Morrison is on some level aware of the problems, but that doesn’t make them disappear. There are a lot of ways in which The Invisibles can be used as the main source for a damning critique of itself. I think its own standards end up being one of the easiest sets of standards to damn it from.)

  4. Captain Commander

    February 5, 2013 at 11:38 pm

    @PhilSandifer

    I was unaware of him making disparaging comments in interviews. There was disparagements used in The Invisibles, but almost exclusively by people conditioned by society to use them, which I assumed was for realism.

    On the other hand, I now recall that Lord Fanny refers to himself as a “faggot,” but perhaps one could argue that the whole thing is ambivalent and complex. Lord Fanny may have internalized some of the negative attitudes, or he may be using the term ironically, etc.

    Some people use the terms, but they do not necessarily mean anything. Sometimes its a matter of old habits not being completely overwritten by a higher consciousness. There is also a lot of survival of the terminology through ironic use in the media, such as people using terms like “artfag,” etc. People also use the terms to reclaim them. Some people don’t have a problem calling themselves faggots, or fairies, etc. But then they’ll a problem with other words for some reason.

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