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Batman and Joker: Apollonian and Dionysian Forces?

Authors:

Abstract

Batman and Joker are two of the most famous characters born on the pages of a superheroic comic book. Their popularity goes far beyond the paper world they are from: it reaches every mass culture’s corner. The symbolic strength of those characters and their resonance on the collective imagination is not restricted to entertainment phenomena but reaches psychological, literary, anthropological and philosophical themes and concepts. It is from the philosophical point of view that I intend to analyse the relationship between the dark knight and the clown prince of crime. I will refer to Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy, namely his analysis of the Apollonian and Dionysian concept, in order to analyse the relationship between Batman and his nemesis. Joker as a chaotic and irrational force on the one side and Batman, who tries with all his strength to oppose the chaos and absurdity, marking his life since the murder of his parents on the other side. I will show how this fight embodies the eternal struggle between the two Nietzschean principles. First, I will investigate Batman and Joker’s birth: why do they create a whole new identity? How is Joker’s reaction to suffering and irrationality different from Batman’s one? I will then dig deeper into the relationship and the fight between the two enemies, focusing mainly on the balance of their morbid relationship. Finally, taking into consideration the Nietzschean concept of the Übermensch, I will try to understand if one of the two characters comes to incarnate the Beyond-Man described by the German philosopher. I will mainly refer to the most emblematic stories lived by the two characters, which are: Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One by Frank Miller, Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum and The Death of the Family and End Game by Scott Snyder.
Marco Favaro
PhD Student Otto-Friedrich-Universität Bamberg Berlin, 12.04.2018
Weißenseer Weg 1, 10367 Berlin
Email: marco-favaro@outlook.it
Mobil: +49 (0) 152 06087 771
Batman in Popular Culture Conference
April 12-13, 2019
Bowling Green State University, Jerome Library,
Pallister Conference Room
Batman and Joker: Apollonian and Dionysian Forces?
Batman and Joker are two of the most famous characters born on the pages of a superheroic
comic book. Their popularity goes far beyond the paper world they are from: it reaches every mass
culture’s corner. The symbolic strength of those characters and their resonance on the collective
imagination is not restricted to entertainment phenomena but reaches psychological, literary,
anthropological and philosophical themes and concepts. It is from the philosophical point of view that
I intend to analyse the relationship between the dark knight and the clown prince of crime.
I will refer to Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy, namely his analysis of the Apollonian and
Dionysian concept, in order to analyse the relationship between Batman and his nemesis. Joker as
a chaotic and irrational force on the one side and Batman, who tries with all his strength to oppose
the chaos and absurdity, marking his life since the murder of his parents on the other side. I will show
how this fight embodies the eternal struggle between the two Nietzschean principles.
First, I will investigate Batman and Joker’s birth: why do they create a whole new identity?
How is Joker’s reaction to suffering and irrationality different from Batman’s one? I will then dig
deeper into the relationship and the fight between the two enemies, focusing mainly on the balance
of their morbid relationship. Finally, taking into consideration the Nietzschean concept of the
Übermensch, I will try to understand if one of the two characters comes to incarnate the Beyond-
Man described by the German philosopher.
I will mainly refer to the most emblematic stories lived by the two characters, which are: Alan
Moore’s The Killing Joke, The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One by Frank Miller, Grant
Morrison’s Arkham Asylum and The Death of the Family and End Game by Scott Snyder.
Origins
A traumatic, painful and unacceptable event marks the birth of both the Dark Knight and the
Clown Prince of Crime. Both confronting themselves with inconsolable grief and dull suffering: they
feel suddenly emptied and drained. Both have to deal with the absurd and the absence of meaning
of reality. Their world makes no sense anymore. “All sense left my life, says Bruce in Year One of
Frank Miller.
1
Facing the absurd is dramatic. Grief is tightly linked to the experience of the absurd. Feeling
the need to find a sense in happiness is not that urgent, because we feel fulfilled, at peace. However,
suffering upsets the balance and brings back the human need to find a reason to survive the world.
Batman and Joker's origin stories are not so different from each other. Just a bad day, as Joker says
himself in Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke.
2
Man, the bravest animal and most prone to suffer, does not deny suffering as such: he wills
it, he even seeks it out, provided he is shown a meaning for it, a purpose of suffering. The
meaninglessness of suffering, not the suffering, was the curse which has so far blanketed mankind.
3
With these words, Nietzsche makes clear the connections between grief and search for
meaning. Pain is unacceptable and senseless in itself. If we cannot avoid it, then we have to find a
way to justify it. We need to make sense of the chaos.
In this respect, the birth of the villain and the hero follow the same pattern: one bad day in
which the sense of the world falls apart and, together with it, also their identity falls apart. The
difference lies in the reaction they have to the absurd that storms into their lives. While the Joker
completely embracing the chaos, Batman keep pretending that life makes sense, that there’s some
point to all this struggling!
4
Bruce faces the abyss of absurd but refuses it: by creating Batman’s identity he contemporary
creates a new meaning for his life. The creation of the mask is a reaction against the absurd, which
has forcefully torn apart his existence up to that point it is a way to force the world to make sense
as he says himself: My parents… taught me a different lesson… lying on this street… shaking in
deep shock…dying for no reason at all… they showed that the world only makes sense when you
force it to…” thinks Miller’s Batman during his last fight against Superman.
5
Creating and wearing a
mask a new identity means forcing the world to make sense.
The Joker, on the contrary, gives up altogether his former identity, fully embracing the chaos. That
is highlight by the fact that the Joker’s real identity is usually unknown, he has destroyed it he
rejects any search for meaning, almost any identity.
Dionysus and Apollo
In Nietzsche’s work, the Apollonian mask is intended as an illusion, as the only way that the
human being has to survive and overcome the Dionysian chaos. Dealing with Dionysus means
dealing with the absurdity of being. Absurdity because it appears as inhuman, illogical, chaotic,
averse to life. Nietzsche talks about ancient Greek that descended in the depth of Being, “knew and
felt the terrors and horrors of existence. For this reason, he chose the surface, the illusion and
invented the rational, Apollonian masks:
6
that means truths, morals, laws, and so on.
At our first glance, we can easily see in the Joker an incarnation of Dionysian chaos, while in
Batman, with his desire to impose a meaning on the world, the Apollonian force that opposes it,
creating a sense to contrast with the Dionysian absurd. A chaotic and destructive force that tries to
destroy every rule, and a force of will that tries to create and preserve masks, truths, order and
meanings. Both face each other, the first trying to overcome the second, which tries to stem the
chaos.
However, the dynamic between Apollo and Dionysus, just like the one between Batman and
Joker, are not as simple.
The Joker clearly embodies a force of chaos and destruction he is an agent of chaos like he
says in The Dark Knight.
7
He is not so chaotic as he says, but his actions have no other objective
then the chaos. What about Batman? He is, precisely like the Clown, a product of the same irrational
force. As we saw, both are born from absurd and nihilisms.
The destruction of the imposed sense of the world and the old values should not necessarily be
harmful nihilisms can also be useful to get rid of old truth and cages. It can also be the beginning
of a new creation, and that is what Bruce does by creating the Batman identity.
We start to see that these two forces that seem in opposition to each other are the same.
Nietzsche writes, “at the end Apollo speaks the language of Dionysus
8
. That means: the Dionysian
force not only destroys but also creates the apollonian masks. Like the destruction of sense, also its
creation is an expression of the Vital Dionysian force. There are not two principles that seek to prevail
over one another, but rather a single principle that manifests itself in two different ways, following a
cycle of creation and destruction. What initially seems like a clash between two opposing forces is
revealed as the two different expressions of a single one.
That means that Batman and Joker, products of the same force, are more similar than we like to
admit. We can see the proximity that links Batman with the Joker in different stories. One example
is the Videogame Arkham Knight. Another is The Killing Joke which ends with the Joker and Batman
- the two crazy guys escaping from the asylum - who laugh together.
Also, speaking of madness: another remarkable graphic novel is Arkham Asylum by Morrison and
McKean. In this story, both locked up in Arkham, the two appear crazy almost in the same way. The
Batman draw by McKean seems to have lost all its connection with humanity, appearing to us only
as a shadow (understood in the Jungian sense). Both appear to us as expressions of madness - of
chaos - with the only difference that one of the two, still has the possibility of returning among men,
to make somehow a sense of this chaos. However, as the Joker reminds us at the end, there is
always in Arkham a place for Batman.
In this similarity, we also find one of the reasons why the two do not destroy each other.
The Joker, a chaotic and destructive force, is unable to create a meaning, a Apollonian mask.
However, he can find meaning in the fight itself, in the dynamic with Dionysus. “Fighting for
meaninglessness but giving meaning by virtue of the fightas the Joker states in End Game.
9
The
Joker challenges the Dark Knight: he does not just want to kill him no, that would ruin his fun! He
wants to force him to betray his rules, to renounce his moral, to embrace again the absurd of being.
At the same time, Batman cannot kill the Joker. "Why have you never killed me?” asks the Clown
in The Death of the family. “you don’t do it because I’d win – that’s what you tell yourself. you kill me,
and suddenly who knows?! What’s stopping you from killing all of us baddies from going on a
downright spree?!
10
Killing the Joker Batman would prove him right: he will give up his moral, his rules the Apollonian
mask he had created to survives the chaos. However, Killing the Joker would also mean embracing
the Dionysian chaos again: Batman would become himself The Joker or something similar. One
fearful recent example is the Batman who laughs.
Übermenschen
So the Joker and Batman are just the same, like Apollo and Dionysus? Not quite. The Dionysian
force has two faces. The Joker embodies only the destroyer. That is what Nietzsche calls “negative
nihilisms”, a nihilism that can only destroy but is unable to create. Nietzsche talks about a free spirit
who laughs at our certainties and truths.
Nevertheless, he is free from the old apollonian masks, he remains a slave of Dionysus himself.
He is not able to overcome the absurd, to create new meaning. As the free spirit the Joker laughs at
our moral, but he is himself a slave of the absurd that initially destroyed his life.
Batman, on the other hand, can gaze into the abyss of the absurd, without abandoning himself to
it, without becoming himself an agent of chaos. On the contrary: he fights for meaning despite the
absurdity of existence.
In Joker by Azzarello and Bermejo we can see the actual difference between him and Batman.
Look at you… Desperate to be feared, you want to be perceived as a monster, draped in black. And
yet… you have that little window… a glimpse at the perfection underneath. Obvious-- the chiseled
good looks-- not the jaw, the mouth of a monster… Why do you let it be seen? Tell me why.
To mock you” answer Batman.
11
How? Not with words, but showing that he is not entirely a monster. He is still human and that
means that he is not just a product of chaos, but he can face it, go over it and creates. He can impose
meaning on the absurd.
His connection with the human world highlights that his world still makes sense. However, it is a
meaning that he chooses after facing Dionysus, and that is what makes him a Beyond-man.
Not all masks are equivalent. Nietzsche distinguishes, on the one hand, the decadent masks,
dictated by fears and insecurities, which suffocate the human being, on the other the not-decadent
ones born from an overabundance of life force and energy. The first ones are imposed and spread
as truths, although they are just stiffened and useless illusions; the second ones are on the contrary
the result of the creative force and spirit of the individual, they accomplish a personal interpretation
of the world.
The mask of Batman is an expression of the hero’s titanism, rebellion and independence. It is a revolt
against the absurd and not an escape from it. Fighting the Joker Batman faces the absurd over and
over again, never escaping it. Like the Sisyphus from Albert Camus, it is precisely in this eternal
dance with the absurd that he finds meaning. That is what Nietzsche calls “positive nihilisms”, and
that is what characterises the Übermensch.
The Joker can represent the laughing free spirit, the one that can see behind the human lies the
meaningless of existence, the one that laughs at us for believing all those lies. Batman embodies
the Beyond-Man, the one that sees the absence of sense, and yet fight to impose his meaning. To
paraphrase The Killing Joke again: Batman can see “the funny side”, “He already heard it” but he
does not laugh because he was already able to survive it and get over it.
While the Joker, in front of the absurd, takes refuge in madness, Batman faces it, and despite it
imposes a new sense. He is also able to create a new vision of the world, new values: a new mask
and illusion.
To conclude: we do not just see in Batman an Apollonian force against destructive Dionysian chaos,
but an Übermensch, moved by the same Dionysian force of his enemy, but that does not seek
destruction, but creation of meaning. That is also shown by his connection with the human world (the
world of meaning in opposition to the chaotic world of the monster). In his eternal fight against the
Joker, he should reaffirm each time his truth; he must impose his meaning to the world one more
time.
Bibliografia
Azzarello Brian (Writer), Bermejo Lee (Artist), Joker. DC Comics, Burbank 2008.
Miller Frank, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. DC Comics, Burbank 1986.
Miller Frank (Writer), Mazzucchelli David (Artist), Batman. Year one. DC Comics, Burbank
2005.
Moore Alan (Writer), Bolland Brian (Artist), Batman: The killing joke. The deluxe edition. DC
Comics, Burbank 2008.
Morrison Grant (Writer), McKean Dave (Artist), Batman. Arkham Asylum: A Serious House
on Serious Earth. DC Comics, New York 1989.
Nietzsche Friedrich, Also sprach Zarathustra. Kritische Studienausgabe herausgegeben von
Giorgio Colli und Mazzino Montinari. DTV de Gruyter, München 2016.
Nietzsche Friedrich, Der Fall Wagner. Götzen-Dämmerung. Der Antichrist. Ecce Homo.
Dionysos-Dithyramben. Nietzsche contra Wagner. Kritische Studienausgabe herausgegeben von
Giorgio Colli und Mazzino Montinari. DTV de Gruyter, München 2014.
Nietzsche Friedrich, Die fröhliche Wissenschaft. Kritische Studienausgabe herausgegeben
von Giorgio Colli und Mazzino Montinari. DTV de Gruyter, München 2016.
Nietzsche Friedrich, Die Geburt der Tragödie. Kritische Studienausgabe herausgegeben von
Giorgio Colli und Mazzino Montinari. DTV de Gruyter, München 2016.
Nietzsche Friedrich, Jenseits von Gut und Böse. Zur Genealogie der Moral. Kritische
Studienausgabe herausgegeben von Giorgio Colli und Mazzino Montinari. DTV de Gruyter,
München 2014.
Snyder Scott (Writer), Tynion James IV (Co-Writer), Capullo Greg, Cloonan Becky, Fletcher
Brenden (Artists), The Joker: End Game. DC Comics, Burbank 2016.
Snyder Scott (Writer), Tynion James IV (Co-Writer), Capullo Greg, Glapion Jonathan
(Artists), Batman. Volume 3: Death of the family. DC Comics, New York 2014.
The Dark Knight, Nolan Christopher. USA, Regno Unito 2008.
1
Miller Frank (Writer), Mazzucchelli David (Artist), Batman. Year one. DC Comics, Burbank 2005.
2
Moore Alan (Writer), Bolland Brian (Artist), Batman: The killing joke. The deluxe edition. DC Comics, Burbank 2008.
3
Friedrich Nietzsche, Jenseits von Gut und Böse. Zur Genealogie der Moral. Kritische Studienausgabe Herausgegeben
von Colli G. und Montinari M. DTV de Gruyter, München 2014. P. 411.
4
Moore A., Bolland B., The killing joke. Cit.
5
Miller Frank, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. DC Comics, Burbank 1986.
6
Diese Griechen waren oberflächich aus Tiefe! Nietzsche Friedrich, Morgenröte. Idyllen aus Messina. Die fröhliche
Wissenschaft. Kritische Studienausgabe Herausgegeben von Colli G. und Montinari M. DTV de Gruyter, München 2011.
P. 352.
7
The Dark Knight, Nolan Christopher. USA, Regno Unito 2008.
8
Nietzsche Friedrich, Die Geburt der Tragödie. Kritische Studienausgabe herausgegeben von Giorgio Colli und Mazzino
Montinari. DTV de Gruyter, München 2016.
9
Snyder Scott (Writer), Tynion James IV (Co-Writer), Capullo Greg, Cloonan Becky, Fletcher Brenden (Artists), The Joker:
End Game. DC Comics, Burbank 2016.
10
Snyder Scott (Writer), Tynion James IV (Co-Writer), Capullo Greg, Glapion Jonathan (Artists), Batman. Volume 3: Death
of the family. DC Comics, New York 2014.
11
Azzarello Brian (Writer), Bermejo Lee (Artist), Joker. DC Comics, Burbank 2008.
... Çünkü Nietzsche bir nihilist değildir, felsefesi nihilizme karşı bir mücadeledir ve üstinsan nihilizmin üstesinden gelecek olandır. 1 Üstinsan kavramı ve bir edebiyat karakteri arasında daha bütünsel bağlantılar Kazancakis'in Zorbası (Özden, 2016) ve Dostoyevski'nin Ölüler Evinden Anılar kitabındaki Orlov karakterinin incelenmesidir (Hamilton, 2000). The Dark Knight filmindeki Joker'i değil ama farklı çizgi romanlardan yola çıkılarak Joker ve Batman karşıtlığı ile Nietzscheci anlamda Dionysos ve Apollon kavramlarının karşıtlığının benzerliği gösterilen bir çalışmada Batman üstinsana benzetilmektedir (Favaro, 2019). ...
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Çalışmada, The Dark Knight (Kara Şövalye, Christopher Nolan, 2008) filmindeki Joker karakteri ve Nietzsche’nin üstinsan anlayışının benzerliği gösterilecektir. Bu bağlamda Nietzsche’nin felsefesinin temelleri ve Joker’in eylemleri/düşünceleri arasındaki doğrudan paralellikler ortaya konacaktır. Nietzsche’ye göre toplum öncesi efendilerin en büyük özelliği mesafe pathosudur ve diğer insanları araç olarak görmeleridir. Joker için diğer insanlar tamamen araçtır. Nietzsche’ye göre hakikat yoktur, insanlar ahlaki değerlerin gerçek olduğuna inanabilmek için hakikatler uydururlar. Yaşam güç istencidir. Değer sistemlerinin temelinde anlamsızlıktan, acıdan kaçma isteği, bir avuntu arayışı vardır. Ancak hepsi yaşamı değersizleştirir ve nihilizmin taşlarını döşerler. Joker’in bütün çabası insanlara bu anlamsızlığı göstermektir. O yüzden sürekli “neden bu kadar ciddisin?” diye sorar. Ahlakın altında insanların güç istençleri yatar. Kendilerini kandırırlar. Joker insanlara bu ikiyüzlülüklerini göstermeye çalışmaktadır. Nietzsche için adalet; eşitlik değil, güçlü ve güçsüzün ortaya çıkmasıdır. Kaos bunu sağlayan şeydir. Joker de kaosu adil olarak görmektedir. Joker hem yıkıcıdır hem de değerleri yeniden değerlendirmektedir. Joker varolan toplumsal değerleri önemsememekte, acıdan kaçmamakta ve sürekli tehlikeye atılmaktadır. Acıdan kaçmaması, yaşamı bir bütün olarak olumlaması (Dionysoscu Evet) bir üstinsan tavrıdır. Joker geçmişini herkese farklı anlatır çünkü Nietzsche’ye göre üstinsan belleğinin ağırlığından kurtulmuştur. Bengi dönüş öğretisine göre herhangi bir anın oluşması için sonsuzluk gerekmiştir. Tek bir anı olumlamak oluşu bütünüyle olumlamak demektir. Oluş olumlandığında ise insan; zihnini geçmişte bırakan hınç, vicdan azabı, pişmanlık gibi onu edilgin ve tepkisel kılan bütün duygulardan kurtulacaktır. Çileci idealin temsilcisi düşmanı Batman’i öldürmek istememesinin sebebi de bengi dönüş gereği rakibinin aslında hep geri gelmesidir. Batman sürünün değerlerinin koruyucusu çobandır.
Mazzucchelli David (Artist), Batman. Year one. DC Comics
  • Miller Frank
Miller Frank (Writer), Mazzucchelli David (Artist), Batman. Year one. DC Comics, Burbank 2005.
Batman: The killing joke. The deluxe edition. DC Comics
  • Moore Alan
Moore Alan (Writer), Bolland Brian (Artist), Batman: The killing joke. The deluxe edition. DC Comics, Burbank 2008.
McKean Dave (Artist)
  • Morrison Grant
Morrison Grant (Writer), McKean Dave (Artist), Batman. Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth. DC Comics, New York 1989.
  • Giorgio Colli Und Mazzino Montinari
  • Dtv De Gruyter
Giorgio Colli und Mazzino Montinari. DTV de Gruyter, München 2016. Nietzsche Friedrich, Der Fall Wagner. Götzen-Dämmerung. Der Antichrist. Ecce Homo.
Kritische Studienausgabe herausgegeben von
  • Dionysos-Dithyramben
  • Nietzsche
  • Wagner
Dionysos-Dithyramben. Nietzsche contra Wagner. Kritische Studienausgabe herausgegeben von
Nietzsche Friedrich, Die fröhliche Wissenschaft. Kritische Studienausgabe herausgegeben von Giorgio Colli und Mazzino Montinari. DTV de Gruyter
  • Giorgio Colli Und Mazzino Montinari
  • Dtv De Gruyter
Giorgio Colli und Mazzino Montinari. DTV de Gruyter, München 2014. Nietzsche Friedrich, Die fröhliche Wissenschaft. Kritische Studienausgabe herausgegeben von Giorgio Colli und Mazzino Montinari. DTV de Gruyter, München 2016. Nietzsche Friedrich, Die Geburt der Tragödie. Kritische Studienausgabe herausgegeben von
Nietzsche Friedrich, Jenseits von Gut und Böse. Zur Genealogie der Moral. Kritische Studienausgabe herausgegeben von Giorgio Colli und Mazzino Montinari
  • Giorgio Colli Und Mazzino Montinari
  • Dtv De Gruyter
Giorgio Colli und Mazzino Montinari. DTV de Gruyter, München 2016. Nietzsche Friedrich, Jenseits von Gut und Böse. Zur Genealogie der Moral. Kritische Studienausgabe herausgegeben von Giorgio Colli und Mazzino Montinari. DTV de Gruyter, München 2014.