Foi hoje apresentado o primeiro volume da segunda colecção Novelas Gráficas, da Levoir e com distribuição pelo Público: V de Vingança, de Alan Moore e David Lloyd. Uma vez que tive o prazer de ter sido o tradutor desta obra para português europeu, pela primeira vez, fui igualmente convidado para estar presente numa sessão que teve lugar na Universidade Nova. Numa outra ocasião, falarei brevemente da colecção.
Tendo escrito um texto (em inglês, para incluir Lloyd de imediato no diálogo que se seguiu) que não terá outro fim senão o que teve, deixo-o aqui para memória futura ou para quem o desejar ler, com algumas notas adicionais. Não tem qualquer valor académico, sendo apenas um texto de ocasião, mas que tenta sublinhar alguns aspectos que me parecem significativos na releitura deste livro, passados mais de 30 anos.
As imagens empregues foram retiradas da versão original, para demonstrar um ponto assinalado no texto.
Os meus agradecimentos aos editores da Levoir, ao Professor Rogério Puga e a Dave Lloyd.
V for Vendetta began its publication in 1982, and DC's colored version came out in 1988.
Whoever has had the chance to read this book, will surely identify immediately the many tropes, and sometimes direct quotes, from two of the most well-known political science fiction novels of the 20th century: Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, from 1931, and George Orwell's 1984, which came out in 1949. This strong intertextual nature should come as no surprise, as it would become one of Alan Moore's stylistic signatures. V for Vendetta presents the depiction of a what a right-wing militaristic regime could be from the perspective of a leftist living under Tatcher's Britain, so it brings about issues such as national identity, conformity, freedom versus security, economic stability, gender roles distribution, expression of sexuality and other themes. It does so also under the quite elastic genre of superhero comics, which the authors were not only exploring in their mid-20s, as they were actively helping subverting in a very particular way, just as they had with other genres before, such as the spy novel or science fiction, quite often politicized in a frank, direct manner. Allow me to remind you that the first issue of Warrior, the monthly magazine that published Vendetta, also carried the first episode of Miracleman (with Garry Leach as the artist) [which will be also published in Portuguese later this year].
V for Vendetta’s fortune is fairly known. To be honest, despite its initial success within Britain, its fame was assured globally after Watchmen’s accomplishment in the US helped to backtrack other Alan Moore’s titles, and then, much later on, after the cinematic adaptation, the Guy Fawkes’ masks became synonymous with Anonymous.
I really want to be as brief as possible, and I want to focus on one aspect of this book, which is its relationship to utopian desire, in the Romantic sense that one must find creativity in idealism, freedom and love, but also, responsibility. And that the book’s open-endedness is exactly the spot where readers can place their own phantasmatic desire. I assure you that I will keep academic jargon out of the way as much as possible. But not references, I’m afraid.
After Orwell's 1984 was published, Huxley wrote a letter to Orwell, in order both to praise and discuss some of the themes of the book, particularly by underlining the many similarities between them (but also the differences, of course, which has been a favorite topic in English literature papers around the world). Huxley writes that both books address what he calls “the ultimate revolution”, explaining it as “the revolution which lies beyond politics and economics, and which aims at total subversion of the individual's psychology and physiology”. End of quote. V for Vendetta, along with Miracleman, Watchmen and a few other series that appeared more or less within the same period by other authors would create storyworlds that not only exploit the fantastical possibilities of the existence of superheroes and their deeds, but also zero in on the consequences of their existence at a social, economic and political level.
Huxley underlines a very important trait that is quite often blindsided by other issues: “the subversion of the individual’s psychology and physiology”. Let us remember that the only thing we know is that V is a man. His gender is almost certain. In this future Britain, there are a number of undesirable traits that have been eradicated: “other” ethnicities and skin colors (than not the prescribed Anglo-Saxon whiteness), non-normative sexualities, alternative political alliances, diverging opinions, and so on. So V may be a communist, or a homosexual, a transsexual, an “all of the above” or perhaps something else. We know, however, that while he was in the concen…, I mean resettlement camps, he went through a profound transformation, emerging as a superheroic being. But instead of the “nuclear miracles” of Marvel’s Spider-man, the Hulk or the Fantastic Four, there was no “accident”; he was experimented on. V for Vendetta’s diegesis itself, in any case, is focused more exactly on the psychological and physiological transformation of Eve Hammond, a young woman who emerges as V’s heir. The difference is that while V’s education was done through violence, fear and hate, Evey’s was conducted through love. This is explained textually within the very narrative.
There are a number of issues that I would love to comment on, but we have no time. Gender issues, for instance, or the theatricality of the characters. Indeed, this is one of my favorite artistic traits of the book. The mastery with which David Lloyd employs page composition, panel transition, perspective, angles, body positions, lightning, and so on, imparts an overwhelming range of expressivity and emotionality on an ultimately, utterly, frozen smiling mask [A mask we see hanging on the second page of the book (see first image after the cover, above), next to an eerily similar motto to a certain contemporary candidate of a foreign nation].
Actually, if you allow me just one little detour on my theme, one of the reasons why I was not completely happy about the film is that one has access to sound, but that added layer actually undermines one of V for Vendetta’s strengths. As you know, there is no sound in comics, unless you want to explore the materiality of the pages creaking and turning, and so on, a quite valid point. But I’m referring to diegetic sound. In Vendetta, there are no sound effects whatsoever. And we do not know what V’s voice sounds like. The film uses Hugo Weaving’s booming voice. But by giving us this powerful, masculine, deep, bass voice it curtails many other possibilities for V’s identity, which must remain as multiple and plastic as possible. And we’ll see why. [A point I brought up in my interview with Ian Hague.]
We may think of superheroes as utopian figures, but the truth is that, despite the auspicious but very brief start with Siegel's and Shuster's New Deal-imbued Superman, dealing with some of the economic and social problems of post-Depression America, most of these characters never truly challenged the status quo of their fictional realities, even if they did contribute in the most diverse ways with models for real-world politics, both progressive and conservative. But in these fictive worlds, the heroes actually change the world where they live in. V topples the British Fascist Government. Marvelman or Miracleman abolishes nuclear weapons and money and provides means for everyone to fulfill their dreams. In Watchmen, the very existence of Dr. Manhattan alters global economy and the balance of political power, and that situation leads to Ozymandias to create a plot in order to deter nuclear annihilation.
If we create a simple, reductive and even silly dichotomy between Brave New World and 1984, we could describe the former as a sort of euphoric utopia where social control is exerted through the means of distraction, illusion, and immediate gratification, and the latter as accomplishing that via constant surveillance and acts of repression, whether direct acts of violence, or impeding threats, creating a systemic feeling of fear. Going back to Huxley's letter, the English writer believed in the superiority of his own fictive future's probability over Orwell's, when he states that “the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging and kicking them into obedience.” End of quote.
Up until a few years ago, as for instance when the movie version of V for Vendetta came about (in 2006) I really believed that that what one may call the “left's wet nightmare”, that is to say, a fascistic, militaristic regime, where hate speech, ignorance as virtue, fear—mongering would rule - was a fiction of the past, because Brave New World's many inventions had come true. After all, people are more attentive to current affairs through Facebook than by actually reading papers.
But when I consider the situations in which we live in today, almost 35 years after the first pages of V for Vendetta were put out, and I see the political extremism taking hold in many fields, the utter disgust that many people feel for representative democracy, the emergence of identitarianism a little everywhere, the sheer indifference before the human suffering of people that are “not us”, and the utterly convoluted nationalism that rears its head only when connected to the show business of football, I wonder if we are that really far away from a gloomy future after all.
“Happiness is never grand”, one reads in Brave New World. We need nightmares to wake up. Vendetta presents a nightmarish reality in which we can place our utopian desires. Utopia here should mean not an unrealistic, utterly perfect society, one that we would not believe as feasible but rather, with Walter Benjamin, in “a more realistic sense... a society that is feasibly but radically transformed from what it is at the moment.” End of quote.
Desire is never about attaining the very object of desire. I have to be somewhat reductive now, as this opens up a number of complex theoretical issues that would warrant some context and theoretical discussion, but, allow me to quote from Slavoj Zizek’s Plague of Fantasies. He explains, quote, “how fantasy is on the side of reality, how it sustains the subject’s ‘sense of reality’: when the phantasmatic frame disintegrates, the subject undergoes a ‘loss of reality’ and starts to perceive reality as an ‘irreal’ nightmarish universe with no firm ontological foundation; this nightmarish universe is not ‘pure fantasy’ but, on the contrary, that which remains of reality after reality is deprived of its support in fantasy.” (84)” But being deprived of one’s fantasy is also possible by attaining one’s fantasy. In fact, Zizek’s explains this with a misogynistic anecdote, about how a man, when fantasizing about wanting to live with his mistress instead of with his wife, if for some reason his wife is put out of the picture, he loses his mistress as well, because she is no longer the distant object of desire, but something else. This metaphor, as you are all well aware, if used blatantly throughout V for Vendetta, with the feminine depictions of Justice, Democracy and the computer Fate.
One of the criticisms that I have seen in relation to the book is that after the fascist government is toppled and destroyed, V offers no real solution, putting back the decision on the hands of the people (who, incidentally, are the ones spared from the purges and who probably elected the powers that be, but that’s another issue). But I think that that is actually a wonderful ending. It is not their role (both Vs, I mean) to provide a solution, but to pose the question and leave the people, and the readers, by proxy, to engage with their own individual, psychological and physiological, desires. A plasticity, if one recalls, akin to V’s shifting identities [as in accordance to Evey’s “vision”]. And that’s what good comics are capable of.