Zippy the Pinhead, Bill Griffith
From Philosophy Now:
When I first tried to read Heidegger, I was in the thick of a doctoral program, investigating what I perceived to be the rampant hostility directed in Western thought at visual paradigms. As a long-time visual artist, I took umbrage. I was desperately seeking something in support of visual experience that was enriching and opening, instead of the ubiquitous objectifying gaze. When I stumbled upon Heidegger’s, The Age of the World Picture (1938), I jumped to what I thought was the obvious conclusion: finally, here was someone who was extolling the virtue of picturing. I approached his essay with that expectation in mind. I was so sure of what I would find in his essay that even as I was reading it I was blinded to the actual words Heidegger had written – blinded to the fact that he was not lauding but bemoaning the modernist tendency to ‘picture’. As I read, I had the strangest sensation of swimming against the tide. While Heidegger has been accused of many things – being reactionary in his attitude towards technology, being a Nazi sympathizer – as far as I am aware, he has never been accused of being easy to read. And if, like me, you don’t read German, you’re reading a translation, for starters. But reading Heidegger believing he is saying one thing when in fact he is saying quite another, was an impossible experience.
As I read, I became aware that my forehead was scrunched up with effort. I was working incredibly hard and understanding almost nothing at all. I was tempted to throw my hands up and say uncle. At those moments, in an effort to calm myself, I would think, just read this as poetry – or perhaps as Heidegger might have encouraged, as language. Just let the words wash over you, I would coach myself. Don’t try to understand him in a linear, rational way. And doing so, suddenly, remarkably, meaning would take shape.
In Being and Time (1927), Heidegger examines what he calls our everydayness. He suggests that by discovering how we are, every day, we will prepare the way towards understanding Being: “By looking at the fundamental constitution of the everydayness of Dasein [personal experience] we shall bring out in a preparatory way the Being of this being.” Whatever you may think about Heidegger, this disruption of our habitual, everyday tendency to short-cut our understanding of our experience was his legacy. And none has taken up the mantel of Heideggerian disruption with as much verve as Bill Griffith’s Zippy the Pinhead. Like Heidegger, Zippy confuses, disrupts, redirects and returns us to our everydayness so that we might see it anew.
To appreciate Zippy, it is necessary to understand the context in which he lives. As Heidegger will insist that you can’t know the hammer without knowing the wood, the nail, the heft of the hammer’s weight as you lift it in the air, the gravity that pulls it down, so we can’t know Zippy unless we know the panel: the box in which he lives (and which he reveres); the gutter around it which places him in and out of time; the speech or thought bubbles in which his utterances reside; and the worlds of high art and pop culture, which, in juxtaposition, afford Zippy a mechanism for upending our notions about comics, and lead us to Zippy’s deep, philosophical truths.