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The Teiresias Wars

By Joe Palmer

I Tiresias, though blind, throbbing between two lives,

Old man with wrinkled female breasts, can see

At the violet hour, the evening hour that

strives Homeward, and brings the sailor home from sea,

I Tiresias, old man with wrinkled dugs,

Perceived the scene, and foretold the rest—

I too awaited the expected guest.

He, the young man carbuncular, arrives,

T S Eliot, The Waste Land

It seems fitting to open an essay about this story written by Rachel Pollack for the Doom Patrol (issues 75 – 79 from the 1990s) with lines from T S Eliot’s poem “The Waste Land.”  Eliot incorporated the mythical Greek prophet Tiresias as a voice in his epic just as Pollack does in her five-part story. Variations of the story give different reasons for this priest of Zeus being blinded. Some accounts say he revealed the secrets of the gods while others say that he caught Athena bathing naked. Poor Teiresias would run afoul of the gods again when he came upon a pair of copulating snakes: “When both attacked him, he struck at them with his staff, killing the female. Immediately he was turned into a woman, and became a celebrated harlot; but seven years later he happened to see the same sight again at the same spot, and this time regained his manhood by killing the male serpent.” I like to believe that prostitute in this case refers to the sacred prostitution conducted in temples as fertility rites and offerings.  Some accounts tell that the prophet was also a priestess for Hera, married and had children. I’ll return to the importance of the blind prophet to Pollack’s story later.

The layers of Pollack’s “The Teiresias Wars” both escaped and perplexed me upon my first reading. The story seemed especially dense with concepts of which I could only stumblingly skate upon the surface of, not unlike my attempts to read James Joyce’s Ulysses. Unlike the Irish author’s masterwork, I at least finished Teiresias Wars. It was then forgotten until researching Pollack’s character Coagula and set aside again with the mental note to come back to the story another time.

To be truthful, I think fully decoding and uncovering the layers of myth and symbolism layered in Pollack’s story still eludes me. What I have managed to uncover and begin to understand is fascinating. While this story arc is titled “The Teiresias Wars”, Pollack’s use of the concepts, imagery, and characters began in her first issue as writer in Doom Patrol #64 and continued to be part of the subplot through #66.

The basic theme behind Pollack’s use of the Teiresiae and the Builders, as they will later proclaim themselves, is the exploration of gender and the notion of rigid categories of things derived from a grammar-based language and their effects on human perceptions and choices.  By their very natures these two groups are opposing forces. The Teiresiae are anthropomorphic beings whose ability to change forms at will is modeled on the myth of the blind poet Teiresias. At some point in the mythic past, a curious Teiresias experimented with the novel idea of language based on grammar, thus creating names, labels, categories, the idea of opposites leading to a dichotomous world, and worst of all, trapping things in one form. From this development, Pollack recounts, the first war between the two factions arose which resulted in a truce with the Builders going into an eons-spanning sleep and the Teiresiae exiling themselves to a place beyond mortal reckoning.  Pollack uses the character of Dorothy Spinner to introduce the shape changers into her story by having Dorothy manifest them as archetypal shamanic figures inspired by African imagery. Their forms are draped with snakes and they speak in a poetic, grammar-defying language. As noted below, snakes are a powerful symbol of regeneration and magic for their ability to shed and grow new skins. Several other uses of snakes appear throughout the issue as well.

Pollack’s theme becomes increasingly more evident and ominous with the following issue. Public address systems spontaneously appear to declare, “This is your book, your book.” Strange beings with sigil-like heads manifest. A pair of entangled snakes appears in the crystal ball of a stereotypical fortuneteller, a sign in whose window reads: “One who delights in signs” – the very meaning of the Teiresias. A burst of energy emanates from the snakes to transform the female seer and her male client into the opposite genders. An older man sits in his government office. He briefs an unknown man about the strange occurrences, claiming that the Doom Patrol can’t be called in to fix the problem, as they may very well be a part of it. A few pages later, the same man, now clearly a general by his uniform, stands before a backdrop of red and white snakes writhing in distinct bands to symbolize the stripes of the American flag to deliver a speech to a crowd of faceless men wearing only workman belts stuffed with tools.  The general’s war cry: “A serpent outbreak has occurred in the world above. Mealy-mouthed prophecies, slippery perversions of everything decent. Sexual shedding. Are we going to allow this to happen?” Of course not or there wouldn’t be a story and a reason to bring the Doom Patrol into the crux of it all. The last page cliffhanger shows several of these “soldiers” breaching the superhero social outcasts’ quarters.

While the Doom Patrol is defending itself from attack bizarre events continue unimpeded. People drawn out of curiosity to investigate the carcass of a giant swine (it fell out of the sky last issue and I’ve yet to decode its meaning unless it has to do with animal sacrifice) spontaneously begin to change form and speak in long dead languages. The African shamanic figures reappear and people scatter while the General is conferring again by phone with his superior, mentioning a “Teiresias outbreak.” One of the shamanic Teiresias bestows a miraculous gift to Robot Man through Dorothy just before they abruptly depart for their world while Niles uses an illusion to trick the remaining faceless warriors to stop fighting and retreat as well.

It all seems a nightmare as the events recede while Dorothy, Cliff, and Niles move into a new headquarters and Pollack expands the team and supporting cast with more fantastic characters. There’re George and Marion, the Bandage People who at first glance you might believe have a connection to Rebus/ Negative Man; Charlie the “doll” who becomes Dorothy’s silent, unblinking companion; and a number of sexually remaindered spirits who haunt the new headquarters. Pollack explores the new elements in their own right before returning to focus on the opposing and contentious elements described above in her “The Teiresias Wars” story arc from issues #75 – 79.

The depiction of Teiresias, undoubtedly created with direction from Pollack, as drawn by interior artist Ted McKeever and rendered most strikingly by cover artist Brian Bolland deserves discussion. The face and long hair are clearly feminine, but the body lacks breasts and the pubic area is completely smooth and devoid of gender identifying genitals. The right side of the torso is masculine while the left is curved and female. Clearly Teiresias here is defying imposed sexual categories by being an androgyne.

Wings across the figure’s upper chest symbolize the connection bestowed by the ancient Greeks between prophets and birds. A pair of entwined serpents refers to the seer’s encounter with the snakes that led to his/ her transformations that crossed genders. Unlike Judeo-Christian thought, many cultures have held snakes in high regard as magical beings that gain immortality by shedding their skin. These serpents also allude to both Teiresias’ staff (rhabdos, Greek for a sort of magical rod) and the caduceus of Hermes, itself a gift from Apollo. A nearly hundred-year old article in the Encylopedia Brittanica recounts in a story very similar to Teiresias’ encounter with snakes of the staff’s transformation from a two-pronged rod decked out with garlands to its well-known form when Hermes came across a pair of snakes fighting between themselves and used it to stop them. Both male and female are represented each by a single snake of the pair, coming together, not to mate physically, but to join as an androgyne, the real secret of Hermetic power, as Teiresias symbolized by physical transformation. Additionally, Aphrodite and Hermes had a son named Hermaphroditus who would later become joined with the nymph Salmacis and become an androgyne.

Worms are hermaphroditic, possessing both male and female reproductive organs as are some types of beetles, if the insects are indeed beetles and not roaches, in which case I’m at a loss of their meaning. An upside down drawn building that lies behind the snakes may be a temple, referring to Teiresias’ role as prophet. The starry night sky theme of the torso’s left side contrasted with the ocean blue of the right suggests to me the calming waters that arose after the settling of primeval chaos and form began to emerge.

In a very interesting  essay on the blind prophet, author Tracy Boyd points to an observation by noted scholar Marie Delcourt that Teiresias’ sex change is a an indicator of a very ancient trace of “androgynous shamanism”. Thanks to anthropologists and, rather unfortunately, Christian missionaries we know of non-European cultures such as various Native American and native Siberian peoples that embraced traditions of shamans who not only often crossdressed but also crossed the boundaries of our rigidly held notions of gender. As you likely know, shamans in these societies had extensive knowledge of homeopathic cures, incorporating them in healing rituals as necessary, and because they defied (or united) the world of opposites acted as priests and intermediaries between the physical world and the realms of spirits, gods, and demons.

The topics of shamanism and its culturally fluid components of sexuality are far too complex for at length discussion here in a simple essay. There are numerous books written by people far more knowledgeable than I will ever be on the subject. Mircea Elaide is one such author and his Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy might be a good place to start from.

The title of the opening chapter, “A Handful of Dust”, refers to line 30 in Eliot’s poem: “I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”  Her story opens showing a man seated in a filthy alley, from appearances a derelict, wearing a pink, flower patterned dress. Bones are tossed onto the pavement, gibberish spoken, in reality a prophecy but no one listens. Calling upon “great Teiresias, the breaker of forms”, he raises a small crude model of a building. Then, a man wearing a general’s uniform suddenly appears and slays the psychic, proclaiming “this is the time of building” and then “Gentlemen, gentlemen. Observe what happens to those who try to revive the old customs.”

Obviously the “old customs” referred to in Pollack’s writing are pagan ways. However, Less clear I believe us that she’s referring to older pagan religions as they relate to the Orphic traditions of the goddess-oriented religions and mystery cults (an understanding of same that I’ve arrived at after reading “Chaos Gaia Eros” by Ralph Abraham). Abraham posits in his book that the inventions of writing and the wheel and its adaptation to the chariot coupled with a shift from nomadic tribes to sedentary villages to foster a shift in human consciousness that led to empire building, the rise of patriarchal societies and male-dominated religions, especially the three Abrahamic religions, and the suppression of these older ways. These ideas aren’t new, but Abraham’s book was the first time I’d encountered them discussed together.

Back to Pollack’s story. A trio of mysterious looking humans appears after the general and his ominous party has departed. Their dialog alludes to a truce with the “builders” being broken. They gather the prophets remains, inexplicably reduced in minutes to bones, and retreat through a wasteland (a nod to Eliot’s poem perhaps) to their home. Once safely arrived, the seer’s remains are used to divine a prophecy, one that foretells of war.

The Doom Patrol’s Kate, also known as Coagula, demonstrates her secondary ability to tune in to alternate realities (electronic visions if you will) using a keyboard and computer. The monitor focuses on a place where slaves are forced to build even rudimentary shapes or be beaten into submission by unseen rulers, in reality, the Builders. Kate informs Robot Man that she’s uncertain if these events are current or have happened in the past or will occur.

A little background on Coagula for those who aren’t familiar with the character. Kate was born in a male body, and realized over time that she inwardly  identified as a woman. Eventually she fully transitioned through surgery from an outwardly male body to her current one. During one period after transitioning, Kate was a prostitute and Rebus, the negative entity from Morrison’s run, hired her for sex. Kate developed the powers to coagulate and dissolve objects because of this intimate encounter. She became involved with the Doom Patrol after unsuccessful attempts at being a superhero.

Meanwhile the General who was last seen in Pollack’s first arc and other figures convene to assess their forces. Among them is a bearded man named Ur-Nammu, whom I first thought referred to the Sumerian goddess of creation post gender switch that began to occur, as societies became patriarchal. However, Ur-Nammu is the founder of the Sumerian third dynasty (approximately 2100 BCE). He is credited with writing the Code of Ur-Nammu, the oldest extent of a law code governing society, and also for ordering the construction of numerous ziggurats. In short, he is a builder of not only buildings and cities, but of society by way of its laws.

A few words to clarify the significance of ziggurats and perhaps Sumeria in general. In this ancient empire  called Ken-gi-r, meaning “the Civilized Land”, there were paved roads, schools, writing, banking and finances, and use of the arch and vault in architecture. It was the accepted belief that the higher one could rise from the earth, the closer one would be to the gods in heaven. As part of a larger temple complex, the ziggurat at Ur, known as Etemennigur at the time, was considered the dwelling place of the moon god Nanna. The Sumerians depicted Nanna as a wise yet enigmatic old man with a flowing beard and four horns. A ceremonial bedchamber for the moon god was constructed as the highest point of the structure, where a woman chosen daily by the priests would spend the night as an offering to the moon god.

In many ways it must have indeed seemed like an ideal land. As wonderful as this culture may have been, there were also significant changes in Sumerian society that are relevant to Pollack’s story. From a grossly oversimplified anthropological viewpoint, people began to adapt in all sorts of manners as humans went from nomadic life as hunter-gatherers to sustain themselves and began to settle down, first in villages as they learned how to farm and domesticate animals. One significant aspect which is a lynch pin for Pollack’s story is the shift in religion from the lunar, earth, feminine, mother-goddess cults with oral traditions to the solar, sky, masculine, god dominated sects that use the invention of writing to their advantage that rise and eventually suppress the former. Then as now, history is written and recorded from the view of the dominant forces.

Pollack reveals the most about Ur-Nammu and the forces she refers to as the Builders in a speech: “…Anchors of stability form now, in abundance beyond even the early days of the original tower [Note: referring to Babel.] From birth to old age to final death, lives lived without change or growth. Males and females hold firm to their genders. …Dreams imprisoned. The burden of personality dissolved forever.”

An unknown figure dressed in a Greek or Roman toga reminds the General of a pair of escaped slaves who are now known to be hiding with the Doom Patrol: the characters known as Marion and George, the bandaged couple. Pollack fills in their history in a flashback scene that recounts how as young, aimless adults they came under the influence of a man who identified himself only as “The Contract” who persuades the couple, as the cliché goes, sign their lives away on a contract. Once the pretense is dropped, Marion and George come to the stark realization that they’ve signed their lives and bodies away (as a scene depicts their forms being removed and swathed in their familiar bandages. Marion recounts: “They left us our eyes so we could see and—and our fingers so we could hold the machines. And our mouths so we could pass on orders. We all had to speak English. ‘All one tongue’ they told us.” They’ve become anonymous slaves to help build a second Tower of Babel secretly being constructed to penetrate the earth under the Pentagon, a clear metaphor for the patriarchal gods raping the mother-goddess archetypes. They take advantage of some unexpected event that distracts their captors, and wander empty hallways, eventually finding a blindfolded male figure named Eliot shackled to the wall. Once freed, Eliot’s body spasms and transforms into an androgynous Teiresias, imbuing their bandages with a life force through the gesture of an erotic kiss. Eliot’s freedom is short lived as s/he sacrifices it so George, Marion, and other slaves can escape.

The freed couple is not the only reason the Builders are interested in the Doom Patrol. The group had certainly been an attractor of the bizarre in Morrison’s run. In Pollack’s hands, Niles as a bodiless head, Robot Man without male defining genitals (something he never had in robotic form anyway), Dorothy whose ugliness seemingly overwhelms any femininity, and Kate with her trans body are clearly an assault on the Builders’ beliefs. Each in their own ways defy the socially acceptable ideas of what it means to be male and female.

While the Builders have marked the Doom Patrol as a dangerous element to take care of, the Teiresiae swear to protect them. The lines are drawn. The General and his forces confront the group and demand the return of Marion and George. An initial victory heartens Niles’ team. Simultaneously, Pollack takes up the plight of Eliot (Marion and George’s savior), showing us his feeble looking body wandering the rooms and hallways of the Hotel of Lost Light. I believe this is a reference to a work by poet Galway Kinnell. Not having read the piece makes it impossible for me to know its relevance to Pollack’s story though.  The hotel here is a prison constructed by the Builders. Encountering four of his jailers during his walk, Eliot cajoles one pair to give him six questions and the remaining duo for six answers. Returning to his room, Eliot prays and intones the nonsensical questions and answers that circumvent the rigid constraints of grammar and thus his bondage, allowing Eliot to transform again into a Teiresias and return to the world of opposites where hir unique form immediately becomes a sexual attractor for passersby.

Having learned Marion and George’s horrible history, Niles decides that a defensive position is in the Doom Patrol’s best interest. Under his direction, George and Marion envelope the headquarters with their living bandages strengthened by Kate’s power to coagulate, and further reinforced with the powerful presence of the sexual spirits inhabiting the building (their speaking “in tongues” keeps the Builders at bay). In a defiant act of bravado or stupidity, Cliff exits the safe position only to be ambushed by the Builders and have his body blown to tiny pieces.

The ragtag band of social if not sexual outlaws mount an attack in order to rescue the now disembodied Cliff. It isn’t the first time Cliff’s body has been damaged and rebuilt or upgraded, but every previous time was done without his input. Not again, Cliff asserts to Niles. This leads to an insightful discussion, and in essence the premise of Pollack’s point, between Cliff and Kate, who, having undergone sex reassignment surgery, has an intimate understanding of the emotional and spiritual components of body image.

Cliff: “You know something? I used to think I wanted to be normal. Or at least look normal so people wouldn’t stare and point all the time.”

Kate: “Yeah, I know. It’s called ‘passing’.”

Cliff: “This is going to sound nuts, but I think I like being different. Does that make any sense to you?”

Kate;” Yes, Cliff. A lot of sense.”

Having sensed the violent Builders attack on the Doom Patrol, Eliot the Teiresiae decides to intervene into the matter and unsettles the heroes by manifesting inside their building. Upon revealing hir nature and intent, Kate is eager to chime in by retelling the traditional story of the prophet Teiresias, only to be interrupted by Eliot who insists on telling the real account behind the myth, an account that in part at least reads like a creation story. In the timeless time, s/he begins, nothing held itself in one form apart and distinct from anything else, everything rising and sinking from the primordial waters recreating its parts over and over. From this constantly reshaping energy and mass the world created the Teiresiae as the embodiments of its own knowledge.  Out of them arose one who felt desire to experiment with language and grammar, defining things with names that in turn solidified forms. This rebel, the first man, was followed – or trapped perhaps – by others, and to separate himself above the others, he proclaimed himself a god, and named his followers the Builders. It is they who raised the Tower of Babel as a metaphysical engine of frozen language to create our world of opposites. A terrible war broke out between the Builders and the Teiresiae, one that ended in a truce and withdrawal from the earthly realm by both factions until the Builders were accidentally ironically disturbed by construction work of modern civilization.

Eliot surprises the Doom Patrol by informing him of a new plan to destroy the Builders. They must call upon the remaining Teiresiae in their dwelling place outside of our reality.  The shock comes when Eliot reveals the otherworldly beings will ignore his pleas because he abandoned them for the earthly plane, and so two humans must merge to become a new Teiresiae and go instead. Kate and Cliff with his freshly designed robotic body are the ideal candidates. They’ve understandably reservations. Despite facing bizarre and often inexplicable phenomena on a regular basis doesn’t prepare you for the idea of merging your corporeal and mental/ psychic selves. In order to affect this union, Pollack has a dead tree (a connection with mother earth) come to life and it encases the duo inside a womb made of its branches. Their act of sexual ecstasy releases energy in a Kundalini-like manner to allow their transformation into a unique robotic appearing hermaphroditic form I believe some comparison between Kate and Cliff’s transformation could be made to the story of Hermaphroditus (son of Hermes and Aphrodite) and his unwilling union with the nymph Salmacis.

Kate/ Cliff emerge from the tree womb in this new form to find they’ve been transported to the Teiresiae world, and so set off on their own Hero’s Journey across a devastated landscape. Their separate personalities remain still and they both try to express and come to an understanding, of experiencing the sensations of this new body of metal and flesh, breasts and feminine hips and sexless crotch. As with all epic journeys, Cliff/ Kate faces trials. The first of these is when s/he encounters a pair of copulating snakes just as Teiresias did. To further reinforce the similarity, a walking staff instantly appears in Kate/ Cliff’s hand, the same object with which Teiresias struck the serpents.

Much can be said about the symbolism and import of the walking staff. For the sake of brevity I will mention only a single point and refer those interested to Tracy Boyd’s article referenced to and linked above. The staff or stick can be seen as an extension of Teiresias’ body, both of which undergo a magical transformation as “instruments of magic and healing” upon contact with the snakes. The secret of transcending the world of opposites becomes encoded in the staff itself, thus transforming it into a sacred object.

The reptiles sense their distinct personalities and goad them into killing one of them. “Kill the female snake and become a woman. Kill the male and become a man.” “Which one do you want? Your choice. Only thing is – how do you tell us apart?” They refuse to kill either and are mocked by both snakes. “Too bad. Now you’ll have to do it the hard way. By delighting in signs. That’s what ‘Teiresias’ means…’he who delights in signs.”

With their initial trial won, they continue along the barren path and up a cliff.  A new challenge presents itself when the sky mysteriously becomes a giant eye and blocks them from going forward. Instead they walk into the eye itself and find themselves reliving their worst incidents of their lives. For Cliff it’s regaining consciousness after the operation to save his life from nearly fatal injuries received in his racing car accident and discovering he’s a human brain encased in a robotic body. The worst for Kate is the experience in high school when she first dressed as a woman and was ridiculed and threatened by classmates.

Moving forward, Kate/ Cliff come upon a marker, a sign, written in the dead language of the Teiresias. Holding it in their hands creates a mystical means of communication that allows them to hear the voices of the Teiresias tell them they must “burn up their pain if [they] want to find [them].” The sky has turned harsh, sending torrents of rain down that then turn to ice, making their trek in this timeless land a grueling one that punishes them beyond their limit. It’s here when they’ve collapsed that the being referred to as the Contract appears and makes the most tempting of deals to Cliff and Kate in turn: new, sexually idealized bodies of their respective gender identities. Cliff/ Kate laughs when presented with the agreement and pen. “You don’t understand. We don’t want your ‘real’ bodies. We’re not imitating anybody. We just want ourselves….You don’t have anything we need” is their reply as they turn to walk away. They have passed their last temptation. With each step the elements take an increasing toll upon their body until they fall down. Corrosion eats away at the metal form until it’s nearly indistinguishable from the mounds of earth around it. At this point when their body is nearly erased and identities nearly just memories that the walking staff exhibits its sacred power by resurrecting Cliff/ Kate, replete with symbols adorning their form to confirm the change into a true Teiresias, to be welcomed by the mystery and awe of the remaining three cosmic beings. Mission accomplished!

Kate/ Cliff and the remaining Teiresiae transport to earth and find themselves in the middle of a fierce battle between the Builders and the rest of the Doom Patrol who are aided by Eliot. Things start to go terribly and unexpectedly amiss. Cliff/ Kate rushes to fight alongside their teammates only to learn hir combined form is useless. Much to Kate’s dismay, Cliff forces an abrupt end to the union.  The Teiresiae, eager to assert their power against their polar opposite, are shocked to find that the power of Babel and its fixed grammar has rendered their speech unintelligible and they are therefore rendered impotent. Only Eliot because of hir choice to live apart on earth has retained power by virtue of hir sacrifice. While s/he retains the ability of speech, the time spent both wandering freely and imprisoned by the Builders has greatly diminished hir power.

Kate makes a defiant stand against the Builders’ most destructive weapon, a structure referred to as the “White City.” I must confess that I do not know any historical or mythological references that Pollack may have drawn upon for her use of the White City as a great engine of pain and destruction. It may simply be the most sacred icon of the Builders’, a counterpart of sorts to Teiresias’ staff of magic and healing. It all seems to go from bad to worse when Kate is whisked inside the structure and forced to relive the painful event of her being discovered trying to express her inner female identity. In some unexplained way, Dorothy is able to insert herself into Kate’s memory. Her role may be that of psycho pomp as she is instrumental for Kate to take action against her attackers. Now healed, Kate and Dorothy escape the White City.

The tide of the battle is turned when Niles realizes the sexually remaindered spirits whose speaking in tongues aided their defense several days earlier are pivotal to their success. Glossolalia was a common practice in some pagan religions, shamanism, and considered a form of communication with spirits, as well as some Pentecostals. Their seemingly unintelligible language serves as an offense against the General. It also seems to be a language that the Teiresiae understand. This communication restores their connection to power and they unleash it against the Builders with a great fury. Defiant in his last moments, the General shouts, “You can never destroy Babel. Babel is the foundation of the world. If you want to destroy Babel, you will have to destroy the world. This truth is irrefutable and so, the Teiresiae ascend into the sky, carrying the Doom Patrol and Eliot along with them to witness their destruction of the second Babel.

At Dorothy’s urging Kate speaks to the Teiresiae in the hope of persuading them not to destroy the earth. Her facial expressions and body gestures assume the look of an oracle. Her eyes remain closed, perhaps as a nod to blind Teiresias or that Pollack wants to show that Kate is the very embodiment of the seer? Kate stands alone, midway between the looming Teiresiae, singularly focused on annihilation (ironically of form, no less) and her friends. She is mediator, a herald attempting to make peace, a gender-crossing (instead of the typical cross-dressing) shaman petitioning the gods for a stay of execution, for the continued gift of life.

Selfishness is not her motivation as Kate implores. “I know you want to bring back change and freedom. And you think they can’t exist in this – this world of choices. But you’re wrong. I can show you.” The Teiresiae are not swayed until she holds her own life up as an example and those of her friends who similarly defy strict categorization due to their own unique circumstances. It is Eliot who finally sways his kin when he sides with humanity and entreats them to agree to renew the truce. Hir final sacrifice is to act as overseer to ensure the Builders cosmic slumber. They agree to destroy only the tower portion of Babel and to leave its foundation, the metaphysical foundation of the world, untouched. The Teiresiae withdraw, closing the portal between worlds and leaving behind Eliot who looks blissful at the prospects of exploring a new world.

It is with some disappointment that I look at memories of reading Pollack’s Doom Patrol stories and disliking them, partly for Ted McKeever’s unique style, but mainly because my understanding of her metaphors and ideas was lacking. In the intervening years I have become fascinated with some of the elements that Pollack drew upon to tell her.

Language is such a common ability that its implications often seem to be taken for granted, perhaps only pondered while trying to learn a foreign one and its peculiarities. Why do nouns and adjectives take on or reflect gender in some and not others? We shape language and in turn it shapes us. This is why writing was strictly controlled and accessible only to certain castes for thousands of years. It was with writing that language became a force to control people. Once only spoken, a ruler or priest could now point to physical objects proclaim it as the sacred words of their respective deities or rulers. It was the birth of history and a radical shift in social structures, a separation of peoples along tribes, of man and woman, of what is both proper and expected in codified gender roles, of goddesses being discarded or remade into male counterparts, and the repression of the knowledge of humanity’s sacredness and connection to the divine.

At least this is what Pollack’s story has come to mean for me now.

September 6, 2017
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