Lethem and the Quest for Ubiquity

I’m not deep enough into The Fortress of Solitude to review or even pass judgment on it, but I do have a specific itch that needs to be scratched immediately. Any assistance would be greatly appreciated.

I really wish I hadn’t misplaced my copy of Eco’s The Role of the Reader: Explorations in the Semiotics of Texts. I seem to remember an essay (perhaps titled “The Myth of Superman”?) that discussed the comic-book episode in which Superman replicates himself into numerous simulacra. Though I forget its thesis, the essay posited that Superman copies himself in an attempt to achieve ubiquity (perhaps the greatest super power a hero could possess, but one of the few powers Superman actually lacks).

Lethem’s title The Fortress of Solitude obviously refers to Superman’s frozen retreat, where he goes to get away from it all–to be alone–which could be read as the antithesis of his desire for ubiquity–to be everywhere at once. As I say, I’m not deep enough in the book to understand the full significance of the title, but Lethem has already explicitly referred to Dylan’s and Mingus’s tagging of Brooklyn as a quest for ubiquity. In fact, Dylan doesn’t even use his own tag; by replicating Mingus’s tag, Dylan creates simulara to become a part of Mingus’s quest. Dylan himself acts as a simulacrum of Mingus, a replication that creates further replication.

Complicating matters, Dylan is critical of Superman as a comic-book hero. As part of the DC Comics stable of characters, Superman is one-dimensional and boring, in stark contrast to the gritty, troubled heroes found in Marvel Comics. I’m only now at the point in the book where Dylan has been instructed to “fight evil.” He has yet to take on the responsibility of becoming a true super hero. Perhaps all will be revealed.

Still, my observation seems far too obvious for it to be unintentional on Lethem’s part. Moreover, it seems far too obvious to pass as an original analysis. Surely, this connection has been discussed elsewhere? If you know of any review that has tackled this theme, please let me know where to find it. I would greatly appreciate scratching this particular itch. Till then, I’m back to Lethem and hoping that my beloved Eco volume turns up soon.

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