Ideas, Stories and Beer Talks

Cartoons, Nietzsche, and Making Your Mark

Cartoons, Nietzsche, and Making Your Mark

Allow me a series of perhaps unconnected thoughts.

Over the course of my daily procrastination detail this week, I’ve seen popping up on a few of my friends’ feeds a recent Huffington Post article about the subtle yet ubiquitous presence of the letter-number sequence ‘A113’ in so many American animated films and television programs and special effects bonanzas. Film geeks, of course, were quick to point out that this was a non-mystery, that ‘A113’, for CalArts alumnae, is a sort of visual Wilhelm Scream, implanted as an homage to those that taught them at the animation department at their alma mater.

All of this may have bored the reader to the point that they moved on to something else. But some of you, those with a yen for the trivial and who aren’t totally averse to reading platitudes jotted down by others, may have been lead by curiosity to do a search for ‘A113’, ‘Wilhelm Scream’, maybe ‘CalArts’. You procrastinate in ways similar to my own.

So here, and I ask that you bear with me a moment, is something that wriggled itself loose from the maddeningly confused pile of stuff in my head as I scanned that short piece about honoring your teachers; something I am happy to be reminded of today:

Nietzsche, by way of Zarathustra, said that, “one repays a teacher badly if one always remains nothing but a pupil. And why do you not want to pluck at my wreath?” That is, once a teacher has imparted knowledge, it is the onus of the student, both in respect to him- or herself as well as to the debt owed the teacher, to take what has been learned and go beyond it to create something original and authentically their own. The transition from apprentice to master involves, at the threshold, evidence of ability equal to the master. But this is merely the threshold. As a soul stirred by the recognition of one’s ability to create, imitation must ultimately be revealed as wholly unsatisfying. The creative soul is never without problems to solve, even if that problem is only the nagging thought that, “What I want to say hasn’t been said before, not yet, at least not in the way I want it said” and working diligently to find the right sequence of words or images to manifest what doesn’t yet have a recognisable form.

This is not really a comment on what the CalArts graduates have done in the way of their winks at the camera. Homage is important; it reminds you what help you needed to get where you’re at. Rather, it is a recalling of that implicit yet perhaps too regularly forgotten notion that we are supposed to honor our mentors by progressing further down the road than they, for whatever reason, were ever able. Or by making a new road entirely.

I forget this notion too often: that I’m not yet where I’m supposed to be, that I’m not even completely sure where that where is. Put simply, I have work to do. In spite of my diploma and my commendations and my boss’ approval of my completed projects.

We should always be inspired by greatness and be thankful for those who take time to teach. We should equally aspire to impress upon that greatness the marks of a genius of our own conception, our own surpassing vision, or, again, to tear it all down completely and rebuild it so that it can do things better, or do things we maybe previously thought impossible.

This is that point in my workday, I guess, when I close all the windows on my laptop except the single blank page on which I’ll now try to wrestle out something new, and then wrestle that to make it better.