The Mask and the Symbol

  • Abstract:

    The superhero wears a mask or a costume. The mask’s purpose is not only to hide who he/she is but also to show a completely new identity. The person behind the mask is forced to create a new identity after a tragic event, a trauma: the experience of absurdity. Batman lost his parents, Spider-Man his uncle Ben, Daredevil his father – there are hundreds of examples. I will also show that while the superhero stays in connection with his previous “human” identity (he has a double identity), the specific identity of the antihero becomes his mask – character. V (V for Vendetta) or Rorschach (Watchmen) are perfect examples thereof. Each of them finds itself in a new reality where the meaning the world has had until that moment gets lost. They must create a new meaning which involves a new identity and a new interpretation of the world. I will refer to F. Nietzsche’s concept of the mask in connection with the pain and the absurdity of existence. This new identity created by the superhero and the antihero is not a common one: it embodies a symbol, a supernatural force, an ideal. The superhero wants to be seen, but only in the way that he has chosen. With his disguise, he tries to deprive other people of the possibility to objectify him. He wants to be – and to be seen – only as what he has chosen to be. I will refer to J.P. Sartre and his concept of Subject (being-for-itself) and Object (being-in-itself), in connection of course with being-for-others. Thanks to the connection of Nietzsche’s and Sartre’s philosophy I will show that the new identity taken on by the superhero creates a new meaning of the world.