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SIX KEYS TO A LITERARY GENETIC CODE

In essays on the subject of centricity, I've most often used the image of a geometrical circle, which, as I explained here,  owes someth...

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

THE LAST TOM SPURGEON DEBATE

By the title, I mean that, since the passing of the former COMICS JOURNAL editor on November 13-- a JOURNAL obituary appears here-- this post will almost certainly be the last time that I debate anything he said in life.

One-sided debates with Spurgeon on this blog were infrequent but not unprecedented. I had debated him off and on on CBR and THE BEAT, usually in the context of my finding fault with what I deemed elitist pronouncements. I summed this background up in a CLASSIC HORROR FILM BOARD post:

I never met him in the flesh, though I argued with him often on a messboard in the early 2000s. The messboard was later deleted, so all of our arguments were consigned to the ether.
I would say that this essay captures his frequent if not constant ambivalence toward the comics medium, which I think I suggested was more of an ambivalence toward pop culture in general.
Still, I would certainly say he endeavored, on THE COMICS REPORTER, to be as inclusive as a news-blog could be, covering both the perceived "highs" and the "lows" of the medium to some extent. This made the blog a good follow-up to what the magazine COMICS JOURNAL (which Spurgeon edited for a time) used to be in the seventies and eighties, IMO. Believe it or not, coming from me, that's high praise.

So, unlike his many well-wishers, I had no personal connection with him. I think I've mentioned him in various essays here from time to time, but only once did I devote a short series of responses to one of our arguments. I feel reasonably sure he never read the series (and in his place, probably I would not have bothered either). The last contact I had with the man, if one can even call it that, was that I sent COMICS REPORTER a "news item" about my starting a FANTASTIC FOUR blog. I will say that Spurgeon, despite our having had acrimonious words in the past, did carry the item and that the blog did get a bump in publicity before I decided it wasn't going anywhere and so deleted the whole thing.

Obviously I'm not going to pass any judgments on his place in the history of American comics criticism. I will say that he never struck me as being as theoretically doctrinaire as either Gary "Revenge of Theodor Adorno" Groth or Noah "Ask Me About My Marginalized Status" Berlatsky. However, if he didn't suffer from theoretical rigidity, some of his essays were a little too free-form for my taste.

The REPORTER post to which I linked earlier followed Spurgeon's undergoing a serious medical procedure and a lengthy stay in the hospital. Parts of this essay are fascinating-- and then, there's this.

Every person passionately interested in an art form thinks that passion fascinating. In other art forms, however, there's an ease and commercial context to that initial relationship that makes coming to terms with it an answer to a throwaway question on a panel, or the first response in a 10-part interview, the part most likely to be cut and something almost always laughed over. Comics is odd, a medium of heartbreak and musty smells and approximations, and it doesn't have an easy commercial element except for a lucky elite. A very small number of people take to them in that wholehearted way that seems more common to other media. Art comics has a tradition where not long ago its champions fell in love with the form when they had so little access to its history and lived in such artistically fallow times they had no choice but to believe in comics that hadn't been made yet. Like the physical items in many collections, we carry all of it with us, the comics we loved as a kid and all the barely-formed reasons why, the comics that opened our eyes, the comics that we attach to a time and place, the comics that devastated us as adult readers for their skill and insight, the comics that we helped other people enjoy. The model that dominates comics discourse is self-inventory.


This was certainly not the first time Spurgeon showed diffidence about his love affair with comics. I never doubted that he was as committed to the medium as I am, but I find myself baffled by many of the phrases he uses to put comics in some special category even as he expresses that intense connection. What does it mean to say that the afficanadoes of other art forms have "an ease and commercial context to that initial relationship?" Did the "ease" have something to do with the fact that other art-forms, like painting and novel-writing, are validated by majority culture? Or did the ease have something to do with the "commercial context," the idea that a fan-- assuming the fan does not turn pro-- can vicariously enjoy the success of his chosen art-form in majority culture? But surely the rule of the "lucky elite" among art-practitioners applies to the other art-forms as well. How many novel-writers can subsist only on their novels, and how many have to keep day-jobs? And if the "model that dominates comics discourse is self-inventory," then in what way is it different from discourse on abstract art or on commercial film?

Obviously I will never get answers to these sort of niggling questions, any more than I did when I debated Spurgeon on messboards. I can only respond, as into the void, that I never have felt that the comics medium was a thing apart. Since I'm for the most part a Jungian, I think that everything that the medium expresses stems from the same collective psychic reservoir that every other medium draws from-- so that, on an essential level, nothing from the same reservoir can be a thing apart. I might have made some argument along those lines to Spurgeon had I ever debated him on a forum of some sort, and maybe he would have given a more satisfactory answer, given that personal debate can allow for more nuanced discussions. But that's another "might have been" that one can only fling into the void, knowing that there will be no answer.

Monday, November 18, 2019

FINAGLING THE FOCAL PRESENCE PT. 5

Today I finished a review of the 1964 Hammer psycho-thriller NIGHTMARE, one of five such films written by long-time Hammer scriptwriter Jimmy Sangster.

In other essays in my FINAGLING THE FOCAL PRESENCE series, I've talked about how various films alternate between focusing either on a disruptive "monster," such as a madman or a criminal schemer, or on the person who investigates the monster's crime. In Part Four, I expatiated upon on the British horror-thriller THE BLACK TORMENT, reversing an earlier position when I decided that the accused "monster" of the story was not the star, but rather the person who uncovers the plot against the innocent man.

Of the two Sangster psycho-thrillers I've thus far reviewed, the investigator was the focal presence of 1961's SCREAM OF FEAR, while in PARANOIAC, it's an evildoer who's "paranoid" because of his guilt over a horrible act. In contrast to both films, 1964's NIGHTMARE is focused upon an innocent whom a pair of schemers seek to drive mad. Indeed, the film is roughly cut in two, first showing the travails of young Janet Freeman as she seeks to fend off her fear of maternal madness, and then focusing upon the fate of the schemers, who appear to get away with driving Janet mad but are thereafter destroyed by Janet's friends. As I point out in my examination of the film's quasi-Freudian symbolism, I said:

We don't know if Child-Janet, on the day of her eleventh birthday, nurtured any jealousy of her mother's relationship with her father. Still, the mother's murder of the father has the effect of taking away the most important man in Janet's young life. There are no suggestion that teenaged Janet has ever considered boys her own age, and, had Sangster been forced to address the issue, he could have argued that her fear about inheriting her mother's insanity would have kept her isolated from the opposite sex. The one man for whom she shows regard is Baxter, who like her late father is another older married man, though this doesn't keep her from being interested in him. Baxter and Grace apparently believe that Janet's fear of her negative maternal image is so strong that it can be transferred to another target, simply by having Grace waltz around the family abode in a mask of Mrs. Baxter.

Even though the film is structurally bifurcated, though, I'd argue that Janet is still the focal presence, even though the actress playing the character is never seen once she's consigned to the nuthouse. I pointed out that even though the schemers stage-manage Janet into committing a murder for them, the female schemer Grace becomes agitated when she's told (falsely) that Janet has escaped the asylum. She instantly fears that her male partner Baxter is seeing Janet on the side, even though there's never been any indication that Baxter holds any regard for the teenager; rather, the viewer has only seen Janet becoming slightly moony over Baxter.

Still, even though Janet does nothing explicit to save herself, the friends who "gaslight the gaslighters" are all in her service, and so in a symbolic sense they are an extension of Janet. Janet's fears of inheriting her mother's madness is the element most central to the entire story, and the villains are made to plot their plot in line with Janet's "Electra Complex" (actually a term from Jung rather than Freud). In my analysis, I even argued that in Janet's absence from the second half, Grace is stage-managed into imitating the insane husband-murder committed by Janet's mother, and thus the madness Janet feared is visited upon Grace.

 Indeed, even though Janet is entirely absent from the latter half of the film, one could view the entire denouement of NIGHTMARE as a transference of Janet's psychic fear to her victimizer Grace. Janet's helpers stage-manage things so that Grace believes Janet has escaped the asylum, and that Baxter is meeting some other woman even after having married Grace. But Grace jumps to the conclusion that Janet is the other woman, and though the conclusion makes no logical sense, it makes symbolic sense. Grace, by exploiting Janet's fear of insanity, has in essence engendered her own madness, even to the point where she, unlike Janet, duplicates the husband-killing deed of the institutionalized Mrs. Freeman.

Within my persona-terminology, Janet is entirely a demihero, and she does even less to redeem herself than the character of Angela in the 1944 CLIMAX, whose demihero-persona I analyzed in this essay. Angela at least triumphs over her opponent-- an antagonist whose influence she doesn't even suspect-- through her devotion to her love of singing. Janet's protectors insure that the schemers' plot fails, but as characters the protectors are all nugatory. They are in essence a medium through which Janet's feared madness is transferred to those who deserve it-- which arguably frees Janet from the weight of her imposed Electra Complex, though Sangster is admittedly more fascinated with making all of his plot-complications seem halfway convincing. Thus, of all the Gothic innocents redeemed in thousands of books and films, Janet may be one of the few whose writer didn't even bother showing her final redemption, devoting but a single sentence to the fate of what may be Sangster's most interesting original character.


Friday, November 15, 2019

MYTHCOMICS: "THE ORIGIN OF CAPTAIN COMET" (STRANGE ADVENTURES #9-10, 1951)

(NOTE: The first appearance of Captain Comet is a two-part story, concluded by a tale entitled "The Air Bandits of Space" in STRANGE ADVENTURES #10.)

Though the fan-recognized "Silver Age" would not commence for another five years-- or three years, if you date it from the first year the Comics Code came into effect-- the first "Captain Comet" tale reads less like other SF-heroes of the time than like those of the 1960s, when the Silver Age was in full sway. I'd speculate that editor Julius Schwartz, a long-time devotee of science fiction, was hoping to come up with a successful "sci-fi superhero" for the recently debuted STRANGE ADVENTURES title. However, despite getting cover-featured for most of his 38-issue run, Comet was not especially successful, and was largely forgotten until his revival in the DC mainstream in the seventies.



Teamed with artist Carmine Infantino, writer John Broome creates what may be the first "mutant superhero." At the time of the story's publication, Broome could well have been aware of speculations that the Star of Bethlehem might've been a comet, since a brand-new comet appears in the sky on the day of the future hero's birth. Naturally, the script doesn't reference something as sacrosanct as the birth of the Judeo-Christian Messiah in a comic book. Thus when Adam Blake is born "in humble surroundings," the hero's parents-- almost humorously given the standard names of "John" and "Martha"-- discuss in general terms the folkloric belief that a comet foretells the birth of a "great man."



John and Martha then recede from the narrative, which focuses thereafter only upon Adam, who gets his name from a never-seen grandfather, though the real association is more like a deflection of "the Last Adam" (e.g. Jesus Christ) into "the First Adam" (1 CORINTHIANS 15:45) Like many "miracle heroes" before him, Adam possesses preterhuman powers from childhood, and though he experiences a brief alienation from the rest of humankind (for just one panel), the story is far more concerned with explicating Adam's status as the opposite of a "throwback," a "future man" born long before his time. He possesses great facility with almost every human skill, and develops the power of "mind over matter," to the extent that he even uses the power to defend himself from a gang of thugs. One of Adam's college professors suggests that Adam ought to adopt some "new secret identity" to deal with "evil men."



However, it's not a mundane threat that propels Adam to adopt a spacesuit-costume and to name himself after the comet that heralded his birth. Instead, Earth is suddenly besieged by an alien race, who attack the planet with a gigantic version of a child's toy (presaging Broome's use of toy-tropes in his later FLASH stories). The origin-story is then continued into the next issue, whose cover features a cute girl in a short space-skirt, though no such female appears in the story proper.



By the story's opening, the Earth is being attacked by several giant tops, which are methodically draining away the atmosphere. Atom bombs cannot harm the mechanisms, but a reporter somehow learns that the newly minted hero "Captain Comet" is on the case. Interestingly, Broome recapitulates the "comet" imagery by having the hero leave Earth in a spacecraft that bystanders compare to a comet-shape, but rising from the Earth.



Comet tracks down the source of the malefic machines, a giant spaceship parked on the dark side of the moon. Inside the ship are countless aliens in cold storage, denizens from the world of Astur (in Greek "aster" connotes "star'). One alien, name of Harun, revives from coldsleep, and explains that the purpose of the tops is to make Earth an airless one, like the one from which the Asturians hail. Thus, while Comet represents a futuristic order of evolution, the Asturians represent the inversion of the natural (a topsy-turvy order, as it were), in that they flourish in an airlessness that would kill humans.


Harun, disdaining the idea of physical combat, challenges Comet to a game of chance, but Comet's superior talents-- including the improbable ability to sense the color of an object through the skin of his fingers-- prevail. Harun tries to revive his fellow Asturians, but conveniently for the story's brief length, the alien finds that all of his fellows have died while in suspended animation. Harun, despite Comet's efforts, commits suicide, after which the "robot-mechanisms" of the Asturian space-ark propel it back into space, and Comet ends his initial adventure with a meditation on life and death.


The entire story can be found at ReadComicOnline.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

THE PERVASIVENESS OF THE AMAZON ARCHETYPE

Action-heroines, however, work their own will.  They align themselves with a reverse-archetype that describes not real experience but a gesture toward desired experience.  That implies a greater level of conflict in this reverse-archetype in that it contravenes (albeit in fiction, where nothing is impossible) both physical law and cultural experience.-- WHAT WOMEN WILL PT. 3


At least three or four times I've had personal encounters with persons of the feminine gender who've complained about the supposed dearth of empowered female heroines in mass media. The fact that I've encountered only a few does not signify that this is a rare opinion, given how often I've responded to similar comments on this blog from such sites as THE BEAT, THE MARY SUE, and HOODED UTILITIES.

In one of these personal encounters, I partly refuted the claim by mentioning a couple of "empowered heroine" films that my opponent hadn't even heard of, one being the 2005 AEON FLUX.

That particular contretemps didn't go any farther, but I can well imagine how it might have continued were I speaking to, say, a proponent of the toxic feminism from THE MARY SUE. For example, such a proponent might've said that even though AEON FLUX was a major Hollywood release, budgeted at $62 million, it flopped at the box office and thus could be seen as an indicator of the audience's refusal to accept strong women in their entertainment. (It's probably a lot more likely that the film, after enjoying a strong opening, got a certain amount of negative response from moviegoers who discouraged others from seeing it.)

This conversation and others like it usually evoke the spirit I termed THE RESSENTIMENT OF THE NERDS in 2009. To persons infused with the spirit, nothing matters but success, the ceaseless striving to obtain a state of perfect equity (in this case, equity of status between male and female protagonists in fictional entertainment). For instance, here's a quote from a positive review of CAPTAIN MARVEL on THE MARY SUE:

In the end, Captain Marvel was on the same level as the first Thor for me: a solid re-watchable-when-it-comes-on-cable movie for me. It didn’t solve the problems of female representation in the MCU, because the problem is larger than just finally giving one female character a leading role in a movie. It’s about them creating dynamic and complex heroines across their films. I am glad she got this movie on her own to shine, and while it didn’t make me wish she had a bigger role in Endgame, it did make me long for a time when we don’t have to keep having these conversations about female-led movies.

If a financially successful flick like CAPTAIN MARVEL gets such a lukewarm reception-- the writer also complains that the film didn't have enough "queer representation" to suit her-- then what would the author of the essay make of unsuccessful female-led movies like AEON FLUX, CUTTHROAT ISLAND, or, perhaps more appropriately, that toxically political femfest known as "2016 GHOSTBUSTERS?" I would speculate that if a successful MCU film doesn't "solve the problems of female representation in the MCU," then a female-led flop would be even less contributory toward the Final Solution of equity for female characters in films everywhere. Thus, even though I've frequently written about the topic of heroines in fiction, I find that I'm on a totally different page from those who want to behold a total equity on the silver screen, presumably with the notion that it will somehow enhance total equity between men and women in the real world. (The possibility that some might want the formerly disenfranchised gender to be "more equal than the other gender" has also occurred to me.)

In comparison to this politically utilitarian viewpoint, I suppose I'm a formalist by comparison. I gave CAPTAIN MARVEL a better review than I did AEON FLUX. Despite my being aware of how much the later film was infused with the philosophy of ressentiment, and how many flaws the film had apart from its political stance, CAPTAIN MARVEL was better made than AEON FLUX.

On the other hand, were I compiling a formalist's list of the hundred best-made female-led action-films of all time, CAPTAIN MARVEL's success at the box office would give it no more chance to make my list than AEON FLUX would have. Yet, though CUTTHROAT ISLAND, that 1995 paean to old-time pirate films, probably flopped harder than AEON FLUX, that one might make it. CUTTHROAT has perhaps just as many narrative problems as CAPTAIN MARVEL, but Geena Davis's pirate adventure possesses a visceral charm to it nowhere evident in the 2019 film. And CUTTHROAT's feminism, while no less real than that of CAPTAIN MARVEL, is far more grounded in the film's simple but persuasive portrait of its larger-than-life heroine.

Currently on my FEMMES FORMIDABLES blog-- where I've been inactive for some months-- I've started putzing around with an idea not unlike the "SUPERHEROES ARE DAMN-NEAR EVERYWHERE" posts I've been putting on OUROBOROS DREAMS-- both of which owe something to the "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" celebrity-matching game. Without question it's important to me to see how such archetypes-- that of the "superhero idiom" figure and that of the amazon's "reverse-archetype"-- pervade popular literature, whether a given iteration of an archetype is financially or artistically successful. The first such post about the "amazon archetype" appears here, and initially I didn't think I'd do more than one outing of the game. I don't want to take too much time from other projects for this bagatelle, and though I thought about devoting a little time to describing my standard for citing "starring femmes formidables," I probably ought to keep that concern to myself for now.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

THE READING RHEUM: THE DEVIL RIDES OUT (1934)

One of the few things I'll do to celebrate Halloween is to review the first of Dennis Wheatley's books about a group of occult detectives, sometimes called "the four musketeers."




At the time Wheatley began his series of novels featuring this group of crusaders, a lot of the occult detectives in both America and Europe tended to be rather low-wattage in their adventures-- some examples being Algernon Blackwood's "John Silence" and Sax Rohmer's "Moris Klaw." One of the few rip-roaring occult adventurers, Seabury Quinn's Jules de Grandin, enjoyed almost twenty years of adventures starting in 1925. But De Grandin's violent little Frenchman was crafted with the pulp-readers of WEIRD TALES in mind, and so the stories I've read are all characterized by sex and sensation without much subtlety.

British writer Dennis Wheatley, like many other English writers renowned for supernatural stories, didn't deal exclusively with occult subject matter. The first novel to feature the four heroes-- American Rex Van Rijn, Britishers Simon Aron and Richard Eaton, and the French aristocrat Duc de Richleau (unquestionably named for the Dumas character)-- is a realistic suspense novel, published in 1933. However, the very next novel in the series, THE DEVIL RIDES OUT, introduces the idea that the Duc-- an older man who serves as mentor to the others-- is an expert in the occult. When Simon is suborned by a devil-cult headed by an evildoer named Mocata, only the Duc recognizes the reality of the threat. Along with his staunch American ally, the two of them seek to free Simon from spiritual bondage. In addition, young Rex takes a fancy to one of the prettier cultists, a woman named Tanith, and romance blooms, though she is even more important to Mocata's devilish rituals than Simon is. A little later in the story, Richard Eaton, his wife and his innocent child also become embroiled in the supernatural battle between good and evil.

Wheatley's novel has just as many pulp-elements as anything in Seabury Quinn, but Wheatley devotes considerable effort to building up a consistent mystic cosmos, clearly derived from the more ambitious ideas of occultists in the 19th and 20th centuries. Unlike Bram Stoker, Wheatley doesn't propound a strict dichotomy between Christian miracles and Satanic perversities: the Duc often mentions the beneficent aspects of pagan religions that he can use against Mocata's evil. Given that one of the later novels, STRANGE CONFLICT, shows a streak of racist sentiment, THE DEVIL RIDES OUT seems thoroughly cosmopolitan about other cultures. Simon Aron is Jewish, Eaton's wife is Russian, and though there are Satanists of other races, there's no intimation that they're bad because of their race. Wheatley clearly based Mocata on the scandalous magician Aleister Crowley, but Wheatley actually propounds a theory of how Magick works, even quoting Crowley at one point. This is certainly one of the strongest "occult detective" novels in existence, as well as a good rousing adventure-tale as well.

The Duc and his friends appeared in eleven books in all, though only three of them focused on occult topics. As I mentioned, I don't remember the second book, STRANGE CONFLICT, to be nearly as good as DEVIL RIDES OUT, but I may give CONFLICT a re-read before delving into the third and last one, GATEWAY TO HELL.

MYTHCOMICS: DEVIL BY THE DEED (1984)




The title DEVIL BY THE DEED suggests that even though creator Matt Wagner has given his protagonist the name of a famous literary monster, this Grendel should be judged not by his lineage (the original Grendel was the offspring of the Biblical Cain), but by the totality of his deeds, both good and bad. In the history of pop culture, a fair number of features in pulps, movie serials, and comic books focused upon villains. Yet Grendel has less in common with “the Secret Society of Super-Villains” than with the recherch√© charms of Fantomas, at least in terms of showing the attractions of criminality.

I didn’t follow Grendel when he debuted in the early 1980s, when he seemed to be one of many characters inspired by the vogue for ninjas. I was aware of the character’s strong appeal for fans, but those who followed the character’s first appearances in 1982 were doomed to disappointment when his magazine was cancelled before Grendel’s first story-arc was finished. However, Wagner both recapitulated and completed the original arc in DEVIL BY THE DEED, but with a difference. This time Grendel’s story was distanced through the device of being narrated by a chronicler, albeit one whose identity is not revealed until the tale’s conclusion.






In the BEOWULF poem Grendel is an inhuman monster slain by the titular strongman hero, but Wagner reverses the human-inhuman dynamic. His Grendel is a normal-looking human who alternates between two identities: that of social butterfly Hunter Rose and of his alter ego, Grendel, a  sword-wielding assassin who controls all criminal activity in the unnamed city where Hunter dwells. His one significant opponent is Argent, who rather than having the name of a “wulf”  looks like one, being a near-immortal being cursed to take wolf-man shape. His name, a synonym for silver, is clearly a reference to the association of werewolves and the moon-colored metal, even though Argent does not transform, and is entirely on the side of the angels against this “devil.” Yet despite these tacit references to the BEOWULF mythos, the story that most glosses DEVIL BY THE DEED is the tragedy of Oedipus.



The chronicler of the story, later revealed to be female, starts the story by relating that she meant to write the story of Grendel in order “to clear my mother’s name,” but that she ends by becoming “as enraptured as [my mother] was with the man whose given name was Eddie but who eventually engaged the world as GRENDEL.” The name “Eddie” is never again mentioned, nor does the story reveal any details about Eddie’s parents, aside from the intimation that they had wealth and thus gave Eddie the freedom to develop his “almost limitless brain capacities.” However, the significance of the young man’s name is seen when it’s revealed that “Eddie” became a man by knowing a woman twenty years his senior, a woman with the possibly assumed name of “Jocasta Rose.” The lady with the Sophoclean name allegedly perishes without leaving any records of her presence, save in Grendel’s diaries, as conveyed through the agency of the narrator. By this choice of names, Wagner signals the strong possibility that Grendel’s first sin is that of sleeping not with his literal mother but with a mother-substitute. The young polymath then assumes the name “Hunter Rose” for the rest of his life/fictional existence, at least as far as DEVIL is concerned.  The invented cognomen could mean any number of things, though it may significant that both the name Rose and the flower are most commonly associated with femininity.



Sophocles’ tragedy of the original Oedipus alludes to, but does not emphasize, the fact that the hero has conceived children, now grown, from the bed of incest. Neither Hunter Rose nor his lupine adversary father children, and yet, both of them become paternally protective of a nine-year-old girl, Stacy Palumbo. (Her surname is Italian for a type of dove.) Stacy, an orphan like Hunter, is not aware of the greater conflict going on between Grendel and Argent, but comes to know both of them because at one time or another both law-keeper and law-breaker attempt to leverage information from her adoptive uncle Barry Palumbo. Uncle Barry is then poisoned and his girlfriend goes down for the murder, but some time after Hunter Rose adopts the twice-orphaned girl, she eventually finds out the truth about Grendel, and uses her “inside knowledge” to bring about the destruction of both Grendel and Argent. However, as the narrator—Stacy Palumbo’s own grown daughter—reveals, the wages of sin are still destruction, as Stacy herself succumbs to insanity as the result of her actions.




I won’t discuss the specifics of Stacy’s retaliatory plan here, save to state that, as in many tragedies, it depends on being able to take advantage of familial loyalties. The climactic, mutually-injurious battle of Grendel and Argent is distanced through the agency of the narration, though Wagner is careful to build up the final combat with at least one other Classical reference, in that one of Grendel’s diaries refers to Argent as “my Hector.” I have not followed all of the later iterations of Grendel, so I’m not sure how final his “final fate” actually was. But Wagner does succeed here not just in giving the fate of his supercriminal an elegiac tone, but also giving him a larger significance, ending the chronicle by stating that Grendel “is the demon of society’s mediocrity.” The creators of Fantomas probably would have empathized.
 

Monday, October 28, 2019

NARRATIVE AND SIGNIFICANT AMPLITUDE PT. 3

In the first two sections of this intermittent essay-series, I argued with myself that the "significant values" of a given work, or set of works, could affect the "narrative values" of the item under discussion.  However, only recently did I consider this effect could be metaphorically illustrated in mathematical terms.

In the original ACTIVE SHARES, PASSIVE SHARES argument, I surveyed the Silver Age Marvel comic-series, of which I said:

I could and did do a statistical survey on another Old West hero: the Rawhide Kid of Marvel Comics, the company descended from the publisher who did "Ringo Kid" in the 1950s. When I counted the number of Rawhide's purely isophenomenal adventures, and compared them with those in which he'd enjoyed encounters with metaphenomenal entities, the latter worked out to about eight percent of the total stories. So, by the "51 percent rule," Rawhide could not belong to "the superhero idiom" any more than could the Ringo Kid.
But this presumes that every metaphenomenal story in the series has exactly the same value as every isophenomenal story; that one story equals a value of "one." Yet in EXCESSIVE COMBINATORY FORCE, I said:

So I have at least made the essential statement that for the combinatory mode as for the dynamicity-mode, "excess of strength is proof of strength," as Nietzsche aptly said.
By this paradigm, a story with metaphenomenal elements is "stronger" than one without them, if only in the degree to which the former type forces the reader to utilize his imagination. Given that strength even in the non-imaginary world carries more value than comparative weakness, then it's arguable that every metaphenomenal RAWHIDE KID story ought to have a value of more than one.

To be sure, I fudged the original percentages by allowing a value of "one" simply to each issue of RAWHIDE KID, even though some of the earlier issues contain more than one story with the starring character. Since I felt that the feature progressed away from multiple stories fairly soon, I decided I didn't want to count out every story, with the result that I regarded the whole run of the KID as comprising 113 "points" (at least two issues featured reprints before the title went all-reprint).  Of those 113, I considered that 15 of the stories had metaphenomenal content, though I'll note here, as I did not in the earlier essay, that only two of them are "marvelous" and all of the others are "uncanny."

Now, whatever calculator gave me eight percent I evidently misused, because when I tried the operation today, it came out as a little over 14 percent. The error makes no difference to the 51 percent rule: eight and fourteen are equally unable to enjoy a "controlling interest."

So, if I posit that each isophenomenal story, because it makes no great appeal to the imagination, is only worth one point, then that gives 98 points for the roughly 98 isophenomenal stories in the Kid's original run.

Now suppose that I say that a marvelous-metaphenomenal story is worth not one, but five points. Only two stories in the run are unquestionably marvelous in nature, the "Red Raven" story and the "Living Totem" tale, so with those added we have 10 points for the stories themselves, 108 points for the grand total.



Then there are thirteen "uncanny" stories, so I'll arbitrarily assign them three points to each of these. So the subtotal of metaphenomenal stories becomes 10 + 39, equaling 49, and the total points overall are 147. Out of 147, 49 is roughly 33 percent. It's still not 51 percent or more, but it begins to look more like the sort of "passive share" I argued about earlier.

Now, I could continue to jigger the ratings of the metaphenomenal stories until they did raise above fifty-one percent, but if I set that standard in stone, then it would be totally arbitrary. By asserting greater values for the metaphenomenal stories in a merely theoretical manner, this adjusted paradigm adequately illustrates the principle of the passive share I sought to explore.

A contrasting example, brought up in NARRATIVE AND SIGNIFICANT AMPLITUDE PT. 2. was that of the 1960s TV serial LOST IN SPACE. I wasn't concerned with sussing out phenomenology here, but the appearance of the combative mode, and as with RAWHIDE I assigned every story (including parts of continued stories) just one point. Eighty-three stories meant eighty-three total points, Nineteen of the episodes were combative, which registers as 23 percent of the whole.



But to be consistent with my assertions in EXCESSIVE COMBINATORY FORCE, the higher dynamicities of a combative work should be valued higher than those that lack this dynamicity. So the total number of points for the subcombative episodes, assigning each one point, is 64.

Since combative dynamicity doesn't make quite the same appeal to the imagination as does metaphenomenality, I'll conservatively assign the value of three to the nineteen episodes. So the subtotal for the combative episodes is 57 and the overall total is 121. The subtotal is about 44 percent of the total, so it too does not meet the 51 percent criteria, though it too is closer to being a "passive share." However, because combative adventure does not seem to have been as important to LOST IN SPACE as metaphenomenal content was to RAWHIDE KID, it's possible that the significant value of the former might have a negativizing effect upon the whole of the teleseries. More on that later, if I get suitably inspired.