Larry Marder's
Tales of the Beanworld

Deeper Issues

The Beanworld might look simple, but there's deep stuff lurking inside. Questions about philosophy and sociology are raised by simple situations.

What is art?

[It's not a real Hoi-polloi, it's a picture]

Beanish jumps right into the heart of art with this statement. He's invented the idea of representation, that is, something which recognizably stands in for something else. Beanish uses this new idea to create representations of things and events for purposes of amusement and edification.

From a philosophical position, Beanish's statement is quite provocative. In the Beanworld, representational art is a new idea. Beanish needs to distinguish between reality and image because his audience has never seen or heard of a picture.

[This is not a pipe]

Yet to the Beanworld's readers, Beanish's statement is completely false, because there is no such thing as Hoi-Polloi. If we think of Hoi-Polloi as the images from the comic, then how are we to distinguish between the pictures of Hoi-Polloi and Beanish's pictures of pictures of Hoi-Polloi? This is the sort of problem René Magritte wrestled with in his famous painting La trahison des images (The Treachery of Images), more generally known by its caption, "This is not a pipe".

Further questions: will Beanish progress beyond representational art? What would he use as his subjects?

Science = Magic?

[Memo: Beanworld art versus science]

I don't have anything to add to this enlightening memo.

What fascinates me is Professor Garbanzo's headgear. As explained in Larry Marder's Beanworld: Book One, the cap survived from when the character was known as the Wizard of Skuzz. The implication is that science and technology are the modern equivalents of magic.

[Howland Owl]

I've seen this in two other contexts. The first is the character of Howland Owl in Walt Kelly's comic strip Pogo. Howland and Proffy share a number of traits, including glasses, a short temper, something of a know-it-all attitude, and the ubiquitous wizard's cap.

The other survival of magical thinking occurs in computing. Someone who is an expert, especially with Unix, is often referred to as a wizard. There was a memorable poster of a classically white-bearded wizard surrounded by his arcana, which was covered with the names of Unix utilities. Science = Magic. Perhaps it has to do with having powers not available to the everyday person.

Geoffrey Hawley continues this thinking [edited]:

As I read the section on "Science = Magic?", I was immediately reminded of something my brother, an avid sci-fi reader, is always quoting. I called him up (waking him; it was 7am his time; whoops...) and got the exact quote and the source:

Arthur C. Clarke -- "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

Evidently this quote is so famous that it is sometimes referred to as Clarke's Law. But, if we allow ourselves to take a looser definition of "technology" and let it represent the more complicated processes in the Big·Big·Picture (e.g. New, Improved Gunkl'Dunk via the Clang Twang) anyone who isn't in on the "secret" would consider the event "magical" to a certain degree. Beanish and Proffy have no idea how the midday-sky-jump-to-Dreamishness works so it becomes a work of magic. Beanish doesn't particularly care how it works now that he's got it figured out because the end result is satisfactory (and getting more so all the time) and his mind isn't caught up in the why and how of things.

Proffy is a different story. She goes about thinking and tinkering and tinkering and thinking until she figures out what makes so-and-so tick. Once you've explained the how and why of something (like how a hologram really works) the misperception of it as magical is dispersed. Sometimes a whole new vista of magic is uncovered as a result. For example: childbirth. (This can be a prickly subject to some people so please be reminded that this is just my opinion) At one time, a man and a woman got together, had some "recreational fun", and lo and behold nine months later a new mouth to feed was on the scene. As biology progressed, many of the sub-processes that made up the larger let's-make-a-baby process were figured out. The roles of sperm and ova, gestation, the symbiotic relationship of the fetus and the mother, cervical dilation, etc. And to some the magic is gone. To me, the magic is just beginning. It is understood that sperm and ova need to be present to make that initial zygote, but how precisely that melding of two seperate cells works is still within the realm of the "magical". Other things also, like how the child is genetically half-Mom/half-Dad but then again someone completely new still are so complex, so "technologically advanced" that they take on mystical/spiritual attributes.

Howland Owl image ©1996 Selby Kelly


The introduction of Dreamishness created a potential crisis in the Beanworld: the existence of secrets. It's a paradox that Beans who spend their entire lives (so far) together could have secrets, but it's happened. Beanish keeps secret his visits to Dreamishness. Professor Garbanzo and the Boom'r Band keep the use of the Clang Twang secret from Mr. Spook.

Beanish asked one of the most important questions about secrets. When Mr. Spook remembered knowledge that had been given to Beanish in secret, Beanish wondered "What's the use of having information if you can't pass it along?".

In the meantime, Proffy has discovered Beanish's midday rendezvous. Will Beanish be able to keep his promise to Dreamishness?

The last and hardest issue is how far one is willing to go to preserve a secret. Would Beanish lie to protect Dreamishness? Would he refuse to answer a direct question? How important is the confidentiality a secret implies? Is it absolute? If not, what circumstances would cause a Bean to reveal a secret?

Intrinsic Qualities

Can an object be intrinsically good or bad? This fundamental philosophical question arose quickly in the Beanworld with the arrival of the Mystery Pods. Mr. Spook believes they are inherently dangerous. He also believes that anything that comes from Gran'Ma'Pa is good.

On the other side of the argument is Professor Garbanzo. She thinks things can be put to either good or bad use, but have no inherent nature or purpose. For example, when an unexpected visitor was defeated, she saved what she could from the battle in anticipation of its future use. She didn't ask herself whether the gunk could be dangerous; to her, it's all in how you use it.

This is an almost stereotypically scientific approach to knowledge. This issue is raised in our world today by nuclear power, recombinant gene technology, cloning, psychometric research, et cetera.

The Clang Twang exemplifies Proffy's position. This perilous music was dangerous to the beans' health, yet became a vital part of creating gunk'l'dunk. The music itself wasn't a problem; it was the misuse that was the danger.


The Beans live with their deity: Gran'Ma'Pa is visible, touchable, and provides food and help in the event of crises. They live in a theocentric world. How will they handle the culture shock of finding out that they're only a part of the Big·Big·Picture?

If the Beans' first encounter with the Goofy Service Jerks is any indication, they're going to have problems. Beanish and Heyoka will be best equipped to handle it, having traveled beyond the Beanworld. What about Mr. Spook and Professor Garbanzo? They've both had experiences beyond the bounds of the Beanworld as well, even though they were a long time ago. Being the Beans with new ideas, they should be able to help the rest of the Beans adjust to this new knowledge.

"The viewers are the ones who make the painting."
- Marcel Duchamp

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