Marvel Comics' Benedictine superhero?: on the unknowable X-Men
Introduction: Why does the letter “X” connote the mysterious and elicit fascination? The letter continues to be used in popular culture: Lil Nas X’s summer 2019 hit “Old Town Road,” the recent reboot of the series The X-Files, and Madonna’s current album and tour Madame X are just a few examples. It is surely not arbitrarily chosen: one could not imagine, say, The T-Files, Lil Nas Q, or a Madame W tour signifying in the same way.
Through reading the “X” in X-Men and focusing on the Catholic superhero on this team, this presentation aims to introduce the CSBSJU campuses to my research focus on German philosophical aesthetics and literature from around 1800 through a topic relevant to the cultural moment (the contemporary popularity of Marvel Comics) and to the Benedictine heritage of the campuses. NO SPOILERS: you’ll have to attend the talk to find out who the possible Benedictine superhero is!
The Current Popularity of Marvel Comics: Superheroes may currently be at an all-time high in popularity. The Walt Disney Company’s $4 billion purchase of Marvel Comics in 2009 and $71 billion purchase of 20th Century Fox in 2019, which includes the rights to the Marvel Comics franchises The Fantastic Four and X-Men, show that superheroes are big business. The current highest grossing film of all time to date is the 2019 Marvel Comics superhero film Avengers: Endgame. The massive worldwide viewership of these characters and how they define heroism by dealing with ethical dilemmas provides the stakes for reading these figures critically.
Research: This talk draws on my research focus on German philosophical aesthetics and literature from around 1800—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Immanuel Kant, and the Romantics—to demonstrate that this tradition strongly informs even popular forms of art today. For the philosophers Jean-Luc Nancy and Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, our cultural epoch still is the Romantic period. Reading the history of “X” from Descartes’s mathematical usage through its famous articulations by Kant, Goethe, and Hoffmann lays the foundation for understanding why “X” fascinates us. For example, in Kant’s epistemology, the transcendental object is referred to as the “unknowable X,” Goethe’s famous drama Faust contains the “X” in the crossroads at which Faust meets the demon Mephistopheles, and E.T.A Hoffmann, the Romantic writer of the original Nutcracker story, first wrote of a “Professor X” in his 1818 collection Die Serapionsbrüder.
Prepare for senses-shattering thrills, sensational heroics, and German philosophy!
Hollender, Kurt, "Marvel Comics' Benedictine superhero?: on the unknowable X-Men" (2019). Forum Lectures. 404.