The mother-maiden-crone archetype comes up a lot here at the Library.
We’ve got quite a bit on Blake.
You know, there’s really no simple answer here. We’ve spent a while researching and reading the text and reading internet arguments about what the text does (some academic and thoughtful, some personal and angry, some angry and academic and thoughtful and personal all at the same time). What we can tell you that there’s definitely no simple answer. There are some things in AGOY that are imperfect. There are also some surprisingly redemptive qualities, perhaps where people didn’t expect to see them. We haven’t quite published our research on AGOY yet, and we’re not sure if we ever will. For now, what we can do is give you some useful tips for thinking about AGOY.
Firstly, I’m convinced that Neil’s not hateful. He’s said so himself many times - once quite recently, actually. With respect to Neil’s personal achievements with AGOY, the fact that we’ve got a trans character like Wanda in AGOY is awesome. It is a step forward. Whatever we end up deciding about the way Wanda is portrayed and whether or not it’s problematic, AGOY is a milestone, because it’s DC publishing a trans character in 1989. It might not be the end of the journey, but it is a step, and I can guarantee you it will be remembered as such.
Secondly, although I’m convinced that it wasn’t Neil’s intention to create a problematic text, that doesn’t mean the text isn’t problematic. How do we resolve the two? Quite simply, actually - it’s entirely human to make mistakes. Have you ever read Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness? It’s a pretty famous novella critiquing European colonialism - but it’s actually quite a difficult book in some ways, because it contains a whole lot of unexamined assumptions about the relationship between European colonists and the colonized Africans that are, simply put, perpetrating the racism that he’s writing against. It’s sneaky racism - it’s the racism that Conrad hadn’t noticed in his own ways of thinking. So on one level it’s possible that there was some sneaky cultural perspective that got in between Neil’s intention and the final result. I’m not convinced that’s the case though.
This is where we play with some theory. In the study of English, there’s two halves to the discipline. There’s hermeneutics, which is the study of how a text engages with a culture and reproduces or challenges various social norms. The other half is poetics, which is the study of how the text works as a text. That’s talking about rhythm or metre or pacing or narrative structure. These two halves actually get quite confused in the debate about AGOY. For example, one of the big criticisms is that Wanda shouldn’t have died. Neil argues that she should have died, because it’s a tragedy. From a poetics perspective, that makes sense. It’s internally consistent. We start crossing wires when people attack the decision from a hermeneutics perspective, arguing that it reinforces a cultural narrative which says that trans people will never live happily ever after. The response is that Wanda does live happily ever after, after she’s dead, and the response to that is that Wanda may well have liked to live happily ever after while she’s alive - she might have liked, for example, to become integrated and accepted into society as a valid human being.
This is the point where things often fall apart, because we come back to arguments about the nature of the afterlife, and debates about the happiness of the individual against the political statement in a broader societal sense, and all of a sudden we find we’re not talking about AGOY at all. We’ve left it behind in the dust. It has become the jumping off point for a discussion about several other things - and let me tell you, at this point the poetics side of English is feeling very left out. The point here is simply that often, the debate about AGOY is not, in fact, debate about AGOY at all. When that is the case, then it is deeply misleading to frame the question in terms of the text. To say “AGOY is bad because it doesn’t give Wanda happiness in life” is not so much to critique AGOY as it is to critique the concept that happiness in the afterlife is as valid and important (if not more) than happiness in life. C.S. Lewis makes this same point in his preface to Paradise Lost, where he writes that often people who don’t like Milton’s God simply dislike God, and carry that over into the text. There is no point arguing about Milton’s portrayal of God if people do not begin from the same position regarding God in the first place. What happens is that one ends up trying to convince the other round to one’s own starting point, instead of critiquing the internal logic of the other’s argument. I suspect the same thing happens to AGOY - not all the time, but sometimes.
Hopefully that helps! Let us know if you’ve got any further questions, or if we need to clarify something further.
There are several levels of awesome in this ask.
1) Somebody’s getting enjoyment out of the blog. That’s awesome, because that’s pretty much our big goal for this thing.
2) There is a paper about Sandman and mythology in a university somewhere. That’s awesome, because Sandman is clearly getting some academic exposure!
3) We’re being used as a source for a university paper somewhere. That’s also awesome, because it feeds our egos (and also makes us remember to keep posting).
What uni are you studying Sandman at? I might have to transfer…