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Some versions of mysticism have taught that the ordinary world around us is sacred and wonderful, that the meaning of life is to be found not through some extraordinary knowledge or awareness, but in appreciating what already surrounds us. I believe that both Spider-Man comics and Plato’s dialogues offer exactly this deep vision, and that they introduce us to it in some remarkably similar ways. I cannot do any kind of justice here to the richness of either set of works, or to the variations of style and meaning within each of them. Instead I shall focus only on four interconnected themes they share. Both sets of works foreground sexual aspects of life. They both emphasize the inadequate, shadowy dimensions of our lives and a need to get beyond those limitations. Both prominently include a great deal of self trivialising humour. In Plato this humour is typically ironic, in Spider-Man it is typically flippant, and both connect with more serious ironies. And they both present their themes centrally and incompletely through sensory images.


This is a chapter in the edited volume Comics as Philosophy edited by Jeff McLaughlin. The copy of record is available from the publisher at Copyright © 2005 University Press of Mississippi. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.