Friday, February 5, 2016

MYTHCOMICS: "THE GOD KILLER" (JUNGLE ACTION #13, 1975)

It would almost impossible to consider the question of racial myths in the comics medium without mentioning its "first black superhero," the Black Panther, a.ka. King T'Challa of Wakanda.

As I'm dealing only one specific story. I'm obliged to pass quickly over the character's genesis, except in one context. When the Panther appears in his two-part introductory story in FANTASTIC FOUR #52-53, authors Stan Lee and Jack Kirby are thoroughly upbeat about the African lord's success in importing Western technology into his kingdom of Wakanda. I would guess that Lee and Kirby envisioned Wakanda's advancement to be indicative of the potential of all human races to reach the level of attainment seen in the United States.

Don McGregor, writing his "Panther's Rage" saga" in the post-Vietnam era, took a different point of view. McGregor's initial arc began with T'Challa returning to his "Wakanda wonderland" and finding that an old enemy, calling himself Erik Killmonger, has organized a revolutionary force to usurp the Panther's kingship. For the first time the Wakandan ruler sees that during his absence from his homeland-- much of which was spent playing superhero among the Avengers-- much of his kingdom has fallen into chaos. Though Wakanda was still a wonderland of sorts, sporting prehistoric monsters and meteors that could change humans into super-menaces, McGregor and his artistic collaborators Billy Graham and Rich Buckler revealed that many of the natives were still traditional tribal Africans, ill at ease with the intrusions of Western devices and culture.

"Panther's Rage" is rambling and episodic, and though it's never boring, its myth-themes are not integrated enough to make me list the entire arc here, as I did with the Pini's ELFQUEST and Jack Kirby's NEW GODS. Instead I've chosen one story, McGregor and Graham's "The God Killer," to represent the saga at its best.



"God Killer" follows an episode in which Killmonger stranded T'Challa in a wintry wasteland, hoping that the Panther would be killed by a pack of wolves. Having overcome the wolf-pack-- and I should note here that most episodes dealt with the Panther proving his mastery over animals by reluctantly slaying a particular beast-- T'Challa trails Killmonger and his retinue. But the hero is blocked by one of the villain's bizarre henchmen-- Sombre, who wears what resembles a traditional African mask over his features, and dresses in priest's robes. Sombre is one of a handful of men whom Killmonger exposed to the aforementioned "super-power meteor," and he's been cultivating a relationship with a band of titanic white gorillas whose very existence T'Challa never suspected. Specificially, Sombre has been feeding the corpses of men who died of meteor-radiation to the gorillas, with the result that he's able to command them to go after a live victim, the Black Panther. The Panther manages to stay clear of the regular-sized gorillas, who stand a mere twelve feet tall, but is forced to fight the largest white ape, who looks to be about twenty feet in height. The Panther manages to kick the giant creature off a ledge, where it's fortuitously impaled by the sharp rib-bone of some long-dead prehistoric creature. The story ends with the Panther meditating on the consequences of his act, though by the next issue he's hot on the trail of Sombre and Killmonger once more.




This bare-bones account leaves out a couple of "B-stories"involving the Panther's support-cast, but though these also delve into the trope of "traditional ways threatened by modernity," they're largely unimportant to the "A-story." Though this was the first story in which the white gorillas were shown to be a reality, their image had appeared before in a 1969 AVENGERS story. In this tale writer Roy Thomas posited that the Black Panther's crusade to modernize Wakanda was opposed by another Wakandan, the Man-Ape, whose people worshiped the implicitly imaginary white gorilla and advocated a Wakandan version of an "anarcho-primitivist" stance. Thomas followed Lee and Kirby by unilaterally advocating progress over tradition.

In contrast, McGregor emphasizes that the cult of the white gorilla is as much of a valid religion as T'Challa's veneration of his sacred black panther totem. On one level, the white-gorilla tribe is a continuation of the 20th century boogeyman of the "carnivorous ape" that is best exemplified by the 1933 film KING KONG, and thus it's fitting that T'Challa squares off against one giant ape rather than the whole tribe, even if the king-ape isn't quite as big as Kong. However, McGregor also sees them as figurative gods, simply by virtue of having been the subject of human adulation:

It would be a terrible agony for a man to meet his gods-- especially gods that he never believed in!

Though in a diegetic sense the gorillas are just animals, not gods, the fact that they have been worshiped by human beings-- just as the original Kong was as well-- lifts them above the sphere of the mundane. The death of the king-ape is thus a tragic outcome in the eyes of both McGregor and his viewpoint character:

The Panther is consumed by a sense of his own mortality. He has killed a myth... and his life is lessened by the act. He has lost a part of his past without anything to replace it in the future. It would be a terrible agony for a man to meet his gods. It would be hell if that man had to slay those gods.
McGregor has been criticized, sometimes fairly, for his florid prose, but these lines rate as some of the most cogent sentiments written for a Marvel comic. The writer occasionally evinced a rather touchy-feely attitude toward human relationships, something that might seem at odds with the animal-slaying motif throughout "Panther's Rage." In most jungle-hero narratives-- a tiny number of which concern non-white heroes-- the hero's slaying of jungle-beasts indicates his immediate dominion over his terrain, as well as the more general dominion of humankind-- or alternately, of white humankind-- over the beasts.

In contrast, we have the Black Panther. who is not the first nonwhite jungle hero, but is ineluctably the most mythically significant one, partly but not exclusively because of his race. In the McGregor mythos of the Panther, while the slaying of animals is necessary for survival, the beasts constitute an "other" beside which all human-centered "others" are nominal by comparison. Indeed, in a later episode McGregor describes the Panther's encounter with a particular animal-- one that's not even a literal menace-- as "profoundly alien." Ergo, even though no real gods appear here, the white gorillas incarnate a true "metaphysical myth."

NOTE: I'm aware that apes can and do eat meat, but I wouldn't consider them carnivores since meat-eating is generally an occasional deviation from their vegetarian tendencies.


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

"RACIAL OTHER" MYTHCOMICS MONTH

Noticing that Black History Month has begun once more, I wondered if I had enough material to do my own very loose version thereof. The short two-part answer is (a) I have plenty of "racial myth" material to do mythcomics on this theme for this week as well as the next three, and (b) I don't think I have nearly enough corresponding material for null-myths on the same theme.

Dealing with (b) first:

There have been a lot of mediocre and/or offensive racial images throughout the history of comic strips and books, but I'm not interested in following the lead of knee-jerk ideological criticism. The mythcomics project  is focused upon studying the many ways in which comics narratives use symbolic discourse, both in consummate and inconsummate ways. I've called to mind many bad stories that use racial images of one kind or another, but they're usually bad in a way that doesn't involve any complex symbolic discourse. The one major exception is the PLASTIC MAN story analyzed here. Building on my knowledge of what little political content manifests in Jack Cole's published work, I think that the "Great Warrior" story shows Cole conflicted about the marginalization of Native Americans while seeking to validate the U.S. power structure, and that mixed message led me to classify it as inconsummate.

But most racial images in the comics are too simplistic to bear analyzing. I couldn't even find any complex racial images in my review of the SUPER GREEN BERET comics; these stories were inconsummate largely because of the creators' wacky attempt to meld the wacky whimsy of Golden Age Captain Marvel with a homage to a Green Beret who went around fighting not only modern wars but also wars in other eras. So I will either (a) not bother to analyze any null-myths this month, or (b) choose to expatiate on themes having nothing to do with racial myths.

On to (a):

There are a fair number of consummate myth-comics on this topic that would fill the four weeks. Yet I rather like the idea of being more general in my approach, by dealing with an assortment of "racial others" as they have been defined by contrast to Caucasian Americans. And no, not just Caucasian American males: the considerable quantity of women who venerated Mitchell's GONE WITH THE WIND ought to be enough to implicate white women as having participated in all manifestations of racial myth in American culture. I would say that in many cases American Jews have been subsumed within the sphere of American Christians and have responded to the "racial other" in largely covalent ways.

Since I'm writing about art rather than history here, I'm primarily interested in the way that creative minds have chosen to play with the images of race. This means that even some images may have a mythic complexity even if they are not viewed as empowering by real-world members of various ingroups. But offending people has never stopped me before.

Monday, February 1, 2016

ROYSTERING IN THE CLOISTER

I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary but slinks out of the race, where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat. Assuredly we bring not innocence into the world, we bring impurity much rather; that which purifies us is trial, and trial is by what is contrary-- John Milton, AREOPAGITICA (1644)

Back in November I wrote Noah Berlatsky that as long as he and his fellow travelers continued to be "addicted to victimage," they would continue to provide grist for my critical mill.

I was perhaps giving the HUddites too much credit, since for the past couple of months I've found whatever posts I've scanned to be both timorous and tedious. Ng Suat Tong's essay on Frazetta, which brought about my ban from the HU comment-threads, was poorly researched and badly reasoned. But at least the essay's intemperate foolishness grabbed my attention. Unlike a lot of the HU dreck, it afforded me a "trial by what is contrary."

The other week I scanned through the last two months. I had avoided two of the posts that had a lot of comments, one relating to the coming BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN movie, and one on James Bond,because I felt that I could pretty much predict all the ultraliberal, over-ideological sentiments that I would find there. The fact that the superheroes still attract the most energy at HU, as opposed to lofty noodlings about artistic perspective, speaks volumes.

So I was bored with the current cant, but I wanted to deliver on my earlier promise. I wandered through HU's topic list and checked out the "Batman TV Show" topic that has afforded me some good material ion past. Somehow this led me to a 2014 post by Chris Gavaler, TV SUPERHEROINES OF MY LOVELORN YOUTH.

The essay's trip down memory lane is unremarkable enough, and I wouldn't have called attention to it-- particularly not with the high-faluting Milton quote in mind-- had I not chanced upon a couple of remarks by Gavaler in the comment-thread. I'll preface my remarks by noting that I've no particular animus toward Gavaler as I have toward some HUddites. It's his lack of philosophical acuity I'm criticizing; not his personal life.

The first one once more sings that old familiar song of victimage. Imagine Ronstadt warbling "Poor Poor Pitiful Me" as you read:

A part of me flinches though at my own categorizing of women as sexy, non-sexy, etc. Although I experience myself as inevitably straight, I do wonder what would have happened if my culture hadn’t been through images of scantily-clad women at me as a child. 

In this song we hear the strains of the staunch Adornite. One's sexuality is not under one's own aegis; it's yet another aspect of the soul being ruled by that horrible Culture Industry (my words, obviously). By my lights this attitude is comparable to Milton's metaphor of "slinking out of the race." The implication seems to be that "TV and Hollywood," linked by Gavaler in the preceding sentence, are doing something morally culpable by playing up to male heterosexual desire. There's not even the usual demand for balance-- that it would be OK to depict hetero desire as long as there's total equity (whatever that might look like) for whatever marginalized sexual orientations the ideologue may choose to validate. Based on what Gavaler writes here, TV's portrayal of sexy women is A Bad Thing in itself.

But what amazes me about this passage is that Gavaler feels guilty about having indulged in the "categorizing of women as sexy, non-sexy, etc." This isn't just slinking out of a particular race; it's opting out of the human race.

One may argue that adolescents, flush with fresh hormones, can become consumed with sexual fantasies, which may or may not have unpleasant consequences. But there's no sentient human being who doesn't practice some form of "categorizing." For that matter, a sizable quantity of nonhuman creatures practice a form of categorization called "sexual selection." Humans cannot know if the aesthetic priorities of the female fiddler crab, and why she chooses one male crab over another. But even if nonhuman creatures *may* be thinking more about survival potential than pure sexiness-- though of course no one can know that either-- the result is the same. Crab A gets his ashes hauled and Crab B does not.





Suppose that somehow Evil Hollywood had never managed to sink its hooks into the American psyche as it did. Suppose that some Marxist regime enforced the standards that the HUddites claim to desire, so that at the very least there was equity in all representations of heterosexuality, homosexuality, and whatever else gets the inside track. This still would not mean (pause for change to shouting all caps)--

THIS STILL WOULD NOT MEAN THAT THE CATEGORIES OF "SEXY" AND "NON-SEXY" WOULD CEASE TO EXIST!

Not having been a homosexual, I cannot speak for that marginalized faction. However, I strongly suspect that they too prefer to sleep with bedmates that they find to be sexy, and that they avoid the "non-sexy" except when they're (so to speak) hard up.

But I suspect that Gavaler doesn't really want to place all sexual desire in question: only male hetero desire, as is indicated by a question he addresses to a poster who fails to respond further:

Are all these women just items of exchange in superheroes’ homosocial universe? 

So what Gavaler is really distancing himself from is not the whole of sexual selection, but from being implicated in the "homosocial universe" of Hollywood, which is just academic-speak for "the old boys' club."

Nothing I could write would alter the writer's notion that this is a virtuous stance. I can argue, though, that it is a "fugitive and cloistered virtue," Milton's essay was concerned with a somewhat different form of censorious attitude, but he keenly saw that the censor harbored the deluded idea that he might promote a beneficial "innocence," but that said censor would instead bring about "impurity." This brings to mind my earlier comment that the ideologues' dominant attitude is pre-lapsarian in nature. They look back at the abuses of history-- though always with one eye closed-- and want to wish them away, rather than considering that there is something in humankind that can only be brought out only through contention. Milton spoke of "purity," while Nietzsche, in many ways Milton's opposite, spoke of the virtue of "courage over fear."  Yet both of them were at base protesting against people who tried to opt out of struggle because of a mistaken desire for safety and innocence. In the terms I've adopted from Fukuyama, this is characteristic of the *isothymic* attitude:

*Isothymia* can manifest as Nelson Mandela going to jail for years to promote equal standards for Black Africans, but it can also manifest in "men without chests," endlessly prating about "equity" regardless of any other considerations.

Nietzsche feared the rise of the "Ultimate Men," defined by mediocrity. "Men without chests" was his metaphor. I, having been born in a more graphic era, tend to think of the Ultimate Men as being without something else-- and given the subject, I shouldn't even need to say what the "something" is.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

NULL-MYTHS: HICKSVILLE (1998)

I'm going to try really hard this time not to address anything but the mythopoeic potentiality here, but it's going to be hard because Dylan Horrocks' graphic novel HICKSVILLE is almost as bad as the work I've called "practically inconsummate in every way." It might even be worse, given that it's plain that whereas Millar has no talent beyond conceiving graphic scenarios of violence, Horrocks occasionally shows some mythopoeic capacity, particularly in respect to his idea of a perfect comics-reading community-- even if it is in his homeland of New Zealand, and thus not overly accessible to most.




It's hard to avoid the didactic potentiality, though. The basic myth-idea of Hicksville-- a town where everyone appreciates the medium of comics-- is over-determined by Horrocks' confused historical perspective of the medium. This perspective is in turn employed for the same end seen in Clowes' DAVID BORING: as a diatribe "designed to please dull-witted elitists." However, at least Clowes can draw assorted characters who can be distinguished from one another, even when they are supposed to share some similar physical qualities. Horrocks' two viewpoint characters-- New Zealand-born comics-artist Sam Zabel and Canadian-born comics critic Leonard Batts-- aren't supposed to look alike, but they and other characters look like they were copied from the same artistic template, as do the characters of "villain" Dick Burger (representative of evil commercial comics) and the principal female character of Grace, who seems to be the only resident of Hicksville who doesn't give a crap about comics.

At base, Horrocks' invention of a comics-happy town reflects the optimism of the late 1990s, during which graphic novels were beginning to get distributed by bookstore chains-- admittedly, along with a lot of stuff elitists prefer not to acknowledge. The company Image Comics-- whose success had a noteworthy impact on the mainstream acceptance of comics-- is never mentioned by name. However, when Horrocks chooses to show images from the absurdly successful superhero comics of Dick Burger, Horrocks draws them in the overheated style of Rob Liefeld, and his artist Zabel complains about their lack of anatomical accuracy-- probably the most familiar condemnation of Image's books.

Dick Burger is, in essence, a fictional re-creation of the trope "the comics-artist-as-movie-star," another phenomenon seen for the first time in that decade, thanks to the media-presence of Liefeld and Todd McFarlane. But Burger is also a man with a secret, for his success is the result of violating one of the taboos of Hicksville, his former home. Horrocks attempted satire of the media-star is thoroughly derivative and lacking in nuance. Burger is simply everything about modern superhero comics that Horrocks dislikes, and not even as much a character as the other three-- though their claim to three-dimensional status isn't much better.

There is a sort of simple wonder to be found in Horrocks' idea of a community where all of the residents know Tintin and Popeye as well as they know modern superheroes like Batgirl. But Horrocks goes further, positing that Hicksville's library is a haven to which comics-artists all over the globe send their dream-projects for posterity.




Obviously in the real world, where professional artists have to use their skills to put food on the table, the idea of Wally Wood devoting countless hours to a never-to-be-published fantasy-epic is a pipe dream at best. But I can forgive deviations from reality when they serve an artistic purpose. At the same time, willful distortions to serve an pretentious theme are another matter. For instance, Horrocks tries to assert that his comics-critic Batts is an authority on comics. It's not exactly clear when Batts grew up, but he references having read both Spider-Man and the X-Men as a kid, so he's obviously from the sixties or later. And yet, Horrocks has Batts claim that the superheroes he loved as a child "spoke in preschool vocabularies." Since on the contrary both the Marvel and DC books were known for their heavy textual qualities-- not least Stan Lee's sesquipedalian floridness-- this comes down to Horrocks telling a lie to please his indie-loving readers. It's made more objectionable in that HICKSVILLE itself isn't particularly well-written, much less being exceptional in terms of the artist's vocabulary.

One of the leitmotifs of HICKSVILLE is that Sam Zabel keeps encountering isolated segments of an uncredited comics-story, as if the God of Comics were sending them to him to make sure that Horrocks can express his admiration for Moore's "Tales of the Black Freighter." These segments come closest to the true mythopoeic, for they deal with the encounter between New Zealand's early Maori occupants and two representatives of English colonialism, Captain James Cook, who first circumnavigated the island and Charles Henphy, a cartographer who charted what he saw. Here's a segment in which the Englishmen explain their motives to a Maori guide, who understandably suspects that their advent won't bode well for the Maori people.




I won't go so far as to say that Horrocks precisely exculpates these historical figures from their part in the colonization of New Zealand, but at least his view is not determined by a narrow ideological outlook; it recognizes that people may do things, even bad things, for complex reasons. Yet though Horrocks can extend this broad-mindedness to his colonial ancestors, he can't do the same to the American comic book industry. I'm not saying that he should gloss over its real abuses, but by creating Burger, a flat representative of acquisitiveness, Horrocks betrays his own theme. In addition, Horrocks's imitations of the Image style show no understanding of what made the books popular, even through the lens of parody. Worse, the story that supposedly vaults Burger to international fame is atrocious even by the standards of superhero comics. It may be that Horrocks views even the most venerated story-lines of commercial comics-- say, the Galactus trilogy-- to be as awful as any Image comic. But that would be beside the point. Horrocks, like many indie-comics artists trumpeting their superior creativity, often relies on straw-men opponents. His example thus shows that there may be sound creative reasons why a lot of these artists do not win wide acclaim.




Friday, January 29, 2016

MYTHCOMICS: "QUACK-UP!" (HOWARD THE DUCK #11, 1976)

Since in this post  I devoted some space to asserting how poorly Bill Mantlo did with a particular HOWARD THE DUCK story, it seems only fair to address the question of mythicity in Steve Gerber's original run on the franchise he co-created.



A quick scan of the first 27 issues of the HTD comic book suggests that Gerber's stories-- and they seem to be principally his creation, with only minimal creative input from artists like Gene Colan and Val Mayerik-- are not generally intended to evoke the mythopoeic potentiality. While Gerber's preoccupations on the Man-Thing-- one story analyzed here-- tend toward the kinetic and the mythopoeic, most of the HOWARD stories focus on elements of the dramatic and the didactic. This seems to have been a logical development, given that Gerber's protagonist was a classic misanthrope, his animus toward society accentuated by the fact that, as a talking duck, he wasn't even an "anthrope." Gerber sometimes wrote HOWARD into situations that required him to play the part of a "hero," in keeping with 1970s Marvel's emphasis upon having a fight-scene in every issue. However, Howard was what I've termed a *demihero,* more concerned with survival than with the glories of the heroic life. It's arguable that the HOWARD series is the first mainstream Marvel series that seriously called into question the glory-seeking ethic of the Marvel superhero line.

The story in question here is actually one segment on an arc concerning Howard's inability to tolerare the heroic ethic. At the end of issue #9, Howard refused to meet the challenge of a villain called "Le Beaver," even though said villain was threatening Howard's quasi-romantic "hairless ape" companion, Beverly Switzler. By sheer dumb luck, Le Beaver is killed and Beverly's life is preserved. However, the duck is tormented by his psychological conflicts. Even during his dreams, he reflects that "There's really nothin' glamorous or honorable about gettin' killed to perpetuate [other people's] masculine stereotype." Yet the refusal of heroic action generates enough mental stress that Howard experiences something akin to a nervous breakdown, leading to a surrealistic dream-sequence that lasts throughout issue #10. Issues #11 through #14 deal with Howard being sentenced to a mental health ward for observation-- but overall the arc is still largely concerned with the dramatic and didactic sides of Howard's conflict, not the mythopoeic. In the end Howard receives help from a Marvel guest-star whose adventures Gerber had been writing the previous year-- Daimon Hellstrom, the Son of Satan-- but at best the arc of Howard's "quack-up" was a mixed bag.

The story of HOWARD #11, though, is strong enough that it can read without much reference to the other issues, particularly because Gerber conceived a means to place his protagonist in a situation absurd enough to generate its own ironic mythos. Howard awakens from his dream-- literally a bedeviling nightmare, since it ends with him being tormented in hell by a comic-looking devil-- yet the duck remains haunted by quasi-schizophrenic voices that only he hears. He happens to see Beverly apparently making up to a handsome "hairless ape," and his jealousy provokes him to seek out the local bus-station and take the first bus out of town. The duck is so aggravated that he doesn't even notice that the bus is going to Cleveland, a hairless-ape city Howard has encountered before and for which he has no pleasant associations.

The idea of being stuck on a long bus-ride with a bunch of strangers would ordinarily connote only mundane experience. However, Gerber makes Howard's experience in the consensual world almost as surrealistic as anything in his dreams. Gerber's probable inspiration here is the Firesign Theater's 1971 comedy album I THINK WE'RE ALL BOZOS ON THIS BUS, but Howard's bus is overrun not with clowns but with religious frauds.

The duck, who styles himself a "pragmatist," would be among the last to ever seek religious counseling for his mental difficulties. So of course in an ironic universe he boards a bus replete with wackos who seem to sense his psychic upheaval and try to sell him their wares-- a book on "Gnosticology" (a spoof on Scientology), a neo-Christian text called "Martyrdom for the Millions" (hawked by a guy dressed up like Jesus), and others. Howard does make one marginal ally-- a cheerful, lisp-voiced innocent named "Winda," who will continue as a supporting character for the rest of Gerber's run.




However, the inevitable fight-scene occurs when Howard encounters an old nemesis from his part: the Kidney Lady (seen from behind on the cover), who is convinced that Howard is part of an "international kidney-poisoning conspiracy."




A fracas ensures, in which the Kidney Lady demonstrates her religious tolerance.





Gerber's at the top of his form here. He delivers a lot of silly puns that read better in a comic than they would if I put them in a blogpost. Many writers (*koff* Mantlo) would not be able to think of Howard as anything but a repository of MAD-like puns and simplistically moral storylines, Gerber's strength, in contrast, lies in his ability to merge the banal and the surrealistic in a manner that goes beyond mere frivolity. And while none of the religious goofballs on the bus are, properly speaking, representatives of genuine religions (even within the context of the Marvel Universe), it's surely not coincidence that Howard, though greatly in need of counseling, can only find religious elements intermixed with crass commercialism and verbal malapropisms ("You should love thy neighbor and be true to thy school.")

There are assorted myth-motifs throughout the "breakdown-arc," but only in "Quack-Up" do they assume a high level of mythicity.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

OUT WITH THE BAD WILL, IN WITH THE GOOD PT. 2

A few refinements to what I wrote in Part 1:

I stated that "...no matter what sort of viewpoint character the author may choose, he may focus as easily upon the "will" within the viewpoint character (or on some figure allied to him, or an ensemble of such characters), OR upon things, people, or phenomena that are perceived as "the other" to the viewpoint character's will." I should have noted, however, that the will of the viewpoint character is a construction of the author, since no fictional character is a willing entity. Thus the viewpoint character's will-construct may subsume even things that seem opposed to that character's personal interests.

In CREATOR AND CREATOR ENSEMBLED HE THEM, I stated that I considered that both Victor Frankenstein and his monster constituted an "ensemble," in that both characters were central to the concerns of Shelley's novel. Some iterations of the Frankenstein concept have chosen to center upon just one of the two. The 1931 FRANKENSTEIN film is *exothelic,* in that it emphasizes the monstrous "other" of the Monster, but the 1957 CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN centers upon the megalomaniacal monster-maker, and is thus *endothelic.*

The novel FRANKENSTEIN is told from the POV of Victor Frankenstein, but this in itself does not make it *endothelic,* given that the 1931 film also follows Frankenstein's POV. But unlike either of the films, the Shelley novel explores the psyche of Frankenstein as a divided will. I'm far from the first to suggest that Shelley's work owes something to the German folklore of the doppelganger. The Monster is certainly not Victor's physical double in accordance to most folklore and literature about doppelgangers (notably Poe's WILLIAM WILSON). However, the Monster stalks Victor relentlessly after the former's unfortunate creation, and, more importantly, the creature arguably acts on Victor's suppressed desires and hostilities, visiting horrible deaths upon people Victor supposedly cares about. Thus, even though Victor and the Monster are opposed on the literal, "lateral" level of the novel's action, in terms of the story's *underthought* the two are one.

However, it's not impossible for characters linked via some sort of shared psyche to become distinct. In the ENSEMBLED essay, I argued that even though Robert Louis Stevenson's Jekyll and Hyde were literally two sides of the same man, Stevenson devotes far more attention to Hyde than to Jekyll, so that Hyde is the focal presence of the story-- as he is in most adaptations-- while Jekyll is reduced to something of a "supporting character" to Hyde, much as the beast-men of Wells' DOCTOR MOREAU are subsidiary to the titular scientist. Of course, both the Stevenson and Wells novels are told from the POV of a largely uninteresting narrator, so there's no question that both of these are *exothelic.* The matter becomes a little more complicated in that most Jekyll-and-Hyde film adaptations take Jekyll's POV, but these tend to be *exothelic* as well, like the 1931 FRANKENSTEIN film. In many respects "Jekyll the support guy" conjures forth a more dynamic "alter ego" a la both Clark Kent and Billy Batson-- and so all three would be examples of the theory of exteriorization discussed here, though the latter two examples are *endothelic* in that the alter ego is not an "other" to the viewpoint "support-character."

In (temporary) conclusion, I'm meditating on also devising adjectivial forms for "the idealizing will" and "the existential will." The appropriate Greek words would seem to yield *ideothelic* and *physithelic,* but I'm not precisely in love with these terms as yet.


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

OUT WITH THE BAD WILL, IN WITH THE GOOD

On this blog I've written a good deal about the theories of "will" expoused by Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, and have formulated a literary "theory of two wills," influenced by Schopenhauer, in which literary characters are dominated either by the "idealizing will" or the "existential will." However, the English word "will" doesn't adapt well to the adjectival form, which is what I need in reconsidering the arguments stated in 2014's EGO, MEET OBJECT.

In that essay, I meditated on Jung's distinctions between "extrovert and introvert" in his book PSYCHOLOGICAL TYPES, also classified as "object-oriented" and "ego-oriented." I've sometimes considered applying the former set of terms to the two different ways focal presences resolve themselves in fiction. However, the informal meanings of "extrovert and introvert" are far too limiting, while the terms "ego-oriented" and "object-oriented," while closer to my needs, are cumbersome.

Now, in 2009's SEVEN WAYS FROM SCHOPENHAUER, I defined the philosopher's idea of "Will" as "the radical root of all literary activity." This means that, no matter what sort of viewpoint character the author may choose, he may focus as easily upon the "will" within the viewpoint character (or on some figure allied to him, or an ensemble of such characters), OR upon things, people, or phenomena that are perceived as "the other" to the viewpoint character's will.

The Greek word for will is (more or less) *thel.* Thanks to the wonders of search-engines, I've discovered that one author has coined the term "thelic" as an adjective for will, and also that he's using that term for a purpose quite unlike my own. Therefore I will appropriate the term for fiction only, and apply it only to the orientation of the focal presence in narrative.

In place of "ego-oriented," I'll speak of the *endothelic,* meaning that the narrative is focused upon the will of the viewpoint character or of someone or something that shares that character's interests.

In place of "object-oriented," I'll speak of the *exothelic,* meaning that the narrative is focused upon the will of "the other," something outside the interests of the viewpoint character, though not necessarily opposed to them.

This adjectival terminology solves the clumsiness I mentioned in EGO, MEET OBJECT in that a term like "exothelic" applies as well to a place like Wonderland or a character like Dracula. In addition, since I allow for the association between the ego of the viewpoint character and any representative affiliated figure within the same "endothelic" constellation, that not only subsumes narratives like Doyle's "Sherlock Holmes" prose tales-- where the star of the show only rarely becomes the viewpoint character-- but also for examples of *exteriorization,* as seen in the essay DJINN WITH SUMMONER. By this logic, the non-sentient Gigantor-- the star of the teleseries and of (presumably) the manga series as well-- is *endothelic* even though he has no diegetic "will" of his own, because Gigantor is associated with a sentient will through his controller Jimmy Sparks. In contrast, a cognate robot-hero like Astro Boy displays sentience, and therefore does not actually need an interaction with humans to be his "summoners," although the associations don't hurt the robot-boy's claims to human sympathy.

I mentioned Wonderland above, which is clearly the focus of Lewis Carroll's books, which would be *exothelic,* as are most film-adaptations, with the exception of the 2010 Tim Burton film, which becomes *endothelic* by virtue of emphasizing the will of Alice rather than of Wonderland.

Keeping to the context of environments, in OBJECTS GIVEN LUSTER. I used the example of the 1950 WEIRD SCIENCE story "The Destruction of the Earth" in order to demonstrate that the narrative's focus was not upon any of the niggling human characters, but upon the Destroyed Earth itself, whose death-throes are given the most attention. I called it "object-oriented" before, but now it is *exothelic.*

In contrast, there are hundreds of stories dealing with the world's destruction that focus upon the aggrieved reactions of the viewpoint characters, all of which would be *endothelic.* Yet aggrieved reactions are not necessary, as I noted in my examinations of Ray Bradbury's short story "The Last Night of the World." In my first consideration of the story, I averred that the viewpoint characters' sanguinity about the world's end might be viewed as a form of negative will, akin to Nietzsche's "will to nothingness." But in my revised outlook here, I decided that even though the nameless viewpoint characters do nothing to bring about the cataclysm, they are stand-ins for the author's POV.

Thus Bradbury's strategy for giving "new life and force" to the overly familiar threat of nuclear war was to undercut its power by invoking a greater power, one that simply chooses to end the story of mankind in the manner of "the closing of a book"-- an apt metaphor for a writer frustrated with the follies of mankind.
Therefore in this case, although the narrative still concerns the world's end, the focal presences are the two nearly anonymous "husband and wife" who calmly observe that ending with a dignity that the author finds appropriate-- while the nature of the world's end is at best a subsidiary phenomenon.