Wednesday, March 25, 2015

EVERYTHING YOU WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT WONDER WOMAN, EXCEPT FOR WONDER WOMAN

This week I finally got around to reading Jill Lepore's 2014 book THE SECRET HISTORY OF WONDER WOMAN. Prior to reading it, I'd heard only a few vague comments to the effect that the author had used the story of Wonder Woman's genesis as an excuse for tub-thumbing the history of American feminism.




This is essentially true. But this need not have been a strike against Lepore's book. Gerald Jones' 2005 MEN OF TOMORROW manages to talk to address the greater culture of America within which Superman and some of his Golden Age contemporaries were created, and at the same time, he manages to show how the character's mythos grew within the published comics: the evolution of Superman's powers, his relationship with Lois Lane, the utilization of kryptonite, and so on.

Unfortunately, the only facets of Wonder Woman's stories that interest Lepore are those that mirror items from the biography of creator William Moulton Marston, his collaborators ("co-wives" Sadie Holloway Marston and Olive Byrne), or from the feminist literature that had arisen in the early 20th century. If one knew nothing about Wonder Woman's mythos upon starting the book, one's knowledge would be only minimally augmented.

That's not to say that I don't respect the huge amount of research Lepore devoted to the cultural matrices within which Marston conceived his famous character. The author devoted considerable time to the "First Wave" of American feminism and to conservative resistance to this agenda, which included Marson's alma mater Harvard University. Although Lepore could have become bogged down in pointless detail, in my view she keeps just the right amount of minutiae on the people who influenced Marston's intellectual and academic development-- though I suppose some might find fault with the name-dropping of figures only tangentially associated with that development. For instance, William James is mentioned simply because he headed Harvard's nascent psychology department, not because he directly influenced Marston.

Most often, the trivia Lepore rescues is interesting, as when she mentions that Marston briefly worked for Carl Laemmle right at the point when Universal Studios began converting from silent to sound films. True, Marston's involvement in classic Universal horror films was probably confined to making psychological analyses of test-audiences, but Marston's involvement in these early forms of film-fantasy may have contributed to his use of the grotesque in WONDER WOMAN comics.

A much heftier "big name drop" is that of Margaret Sanger, lifelong advocate of birth control and aunt of Olive Byrne, who both lived with Marston and his wife Sadie and bore two of his children, though the public fiction was that they were the offspring of Marston and his legal wife. Sanger admittedly has little influence on the creation of Wonder Woman, even as a philosophical influence on Marston and his family of collaborators. Still, since I've often heard her name linked with an American eugenics movement, I was intrigued to read Lepore's take on it: that Sanger only courted these hardcore conservatives as a means of legalizing contraception. Still, her success there was limited, since she founded an organization called the American Birth Control League, yet ended up being forced to resign from it since the conservative members didn't care for her feminist priorities. I can't help remarking that this would not be the first time a liberal feminist would ally herself to a strangely conservative bedfellow, as per Andrea Dworkin's praise of Jerry Falwell's stance on pornography.

It's perhaps inevitable that it takes Lepore a long time to get around to saying anything much about
Wonder Woman, because Marston wasn't precisely devoted to the profession of creating superhero-like fantasies. Marston had a very peripatetic career, bouncing around from academia to book-writing to seeking practical applications for his most famed invention prior to Princess Diana: the lie-detector. Still, Lepore, despite having had access to many of Marston's personal papers, never gets close to the emotional core of her main biographical subject. Perhaps that's because Marston, as much as his famous character, is secondary in Lepore's mind to her exegesis of American feminism. The one thing that emerges is the sense that if Marston had been successful in any of his earlier endeavors, he probably would not have ended up getting involved with the world of comic books. Lepore sedulously cites the ways in which Marston's bondage fantasies may have grown out of his observation of collegiate hazing, and how he fought to keep those fantasies in the adventures of Wonder Woman, despite the protestations of DC editor Sheldon Mayer.  Yet one never gets any speculation as to why such fantasies were so important to Marston, though Lepore isn't averse to psychologizing him on other matters-- nor whether or not Marston was right or wrong to place such fantasies within the context of juvenile entertainment.

My biggest criticism of Lepore, however, isn't her omission of the Amazon Princess' mythology. It's that she doesn't dole out her criticism of historical figures with an even hand.

For instance, Lepore informs us that DC's psychological consultant Josette Frank allegedly quit the company because she couldn't stand Marston's bondage fantasies. Yet another contemporaneous consultant, Lauretta Bender, had no problem with said fantasies. Lepore makes no judgment of either woman's tastes.

Yet Lepore DOES find time to assail the reputations of two DC comics creators. She can't find time to actally say much about Wonder Woman's origins, or powers, or villains, but she can roundly condemn the way the character was relegated to the role of secretary in the Justice Society. With no proof whatever, Lepore attributes this development solely to longtime comics-scribe Gardner F. Fox, apparently with the belief that Fox was free to treat DC's characters however he pleased, rather than being under the aegis of his editors. This was a straw-man attack on Fox, as proved by the research of fan-essays like this one, indicating that the minimization of the heroine's role in the Justice Society probably came about because Marston demanded control of all WW stories. As a fan of the work of Gardner Fox, I would say that on the whole most of his work supports the cause of empowered heroines, and that whatever he did with Wonder Woman in the JSA title is most likely the result of editorial priorities.

Lepore is on somewhat stronger ground in painting Robert Kanigher-- the man who eventually took over writing and editing the WONDER WOMAN franchise after Marston's demise-- as being less than passionate about the character. While I can't claim to have read all of his stories with the character, in general  I would certainly agree that WONDER WOMAN was nothing but a paycheck to Kanigher. Yet, Lepore oversells the idea that Kanigher was an unregenerate anti-feminist, conveniently overlooking that he has some strong credits in creating comic-book heroines, ranging from 1947's BLACK CANARY to 1970's ROSE AND THE THORN. Both Kanigher and Fox deserve the role of "anti-feminist reactionary" far less than Frederic Wertham, who viciously berated the Wonder Woman character as "anti-feminine." Lepore might have drawn comparisons between Wertham and many of the other anti-feminists she discusses in the early part of the book, given that Wertham also wanted images of women to reflect domesticity. But Wertham, like Frank and Bender, gets a pass for some reason.

Given that Lepore devotes so little attention to Wonder Woman's mythology, save where it illustrates some point of real-world history, I suppose a better title might have been "The Secret BACKSTORY of Wonder Woman"-- because a "history" it ain't.












Tuesday, March 24, 2015

MYTHOS AND MODE PT. 4

“To burn always with this hard gemlike flame, to maintain this ecstasy, is success in life.” 
― Walter PaterThe Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry

In Part 3 I invoked the model of Shakespeare's TITUS ANDRONICUS to illustrate, among other things, why not every narrative that ends in violence falls into the "combative mode." I did not address the potential question, "why is it important, whether or not a given scene of fictional violence fulfills a particular set of literary values?"

The Walter Pater quote above speaks to the reason: what I've called the "combative mode" is an academic way of speaking about an archetypal construct, one that, in my view, is capable of stirring from at least some readers the response of a "hard, gemlike flame" of ecstasy. Myth-analyst Joseph Fontenrose termed this construct "the combat myth" with regard to archaic myths only. I imagine that Fontenrose might not care for having his name bandied about with that of the archetypal psychologist Jung, but I invoke the name "combat myth" only for convenience, not to make any such conflations.

The combat myth is one of many archetypal constructs identified by Jung and other thinkers. A short list might include such storytelling favorites as "the long-separated siblings" and "the destruction of the scapegoat," and under the right circumstances these too have an equal ability to inflame the human heart with the stirrings of the sublime. But the combat myth is arguably harder to mark off from other forms of fictive violence, which is one reason I've devoted so much space here to delving into "conflict and combat."

In Part 3 I gave copious examples of merely conflictive-- a.k.a. "subcombative"-- forms of violence. I used certain Shakespeare plays as illustrations of those patterns, though of course the patterns long precede Shakespeare and his time. I might just as easily have used HENRY IV Part 1 as an example of Shakespeare's fairly rare use of the combative mode, since that play does build to the martial conflict of two high-dynamicity figures, Prince Hal and Hotspur, and concludes with the victory of the former over the latter. 

Further complicating the identification of the combative mode is the 19th century's evolution of the commercial franchise. In earlier eras, a popular story in the combative mode usually remained in that mode in further retellings, and the same usually held true for a work in the subcombative mode. But once a given franchise demonstrated popularity, other authors might adapt that franchise, or even simply "riff" on it, in ways not congruent with the original work.  In many of the reviews on my film-blog, I've devoted scrupulous attention as to whether a given adaptation or concept-riff remains in this vein.

Here's a list of works that started out as COMBATIVE but had SUBCOMBATIVE follow-ups:


The "Fu Mancu" novel series begat THE MYSTERIOUS DR. FU MANCHU and THE RETURN OF DR. FU MANCHU


Conan Doyle's novel THE LOST WORLD begat the 1925 film  and the 1960 film.

Bram Stoker's DRACULA begat the slower paced 1931 film.

Marvel's Man-Thing comic begat this dull monster-movie take on the theme.

And, most strangely, Tolkien's lively book THE HOBBIT begat this 1977 animated film, which managed to purge most of the book's violent content despite following the plot fairly closely.


And as for works that start out as SUBCOMBATIVE and go the other way, we have:


Fritz Lang's original DR MABUSE and its 1960 follow-up-- the latter of which bred a whole series of combative serials.

Matheson's I AM LEGEND novel begat THE OMEGA MAN.

The 1922 SHERLOCK HOLMES, based on a similarly stodgy play, was transformed into the most combative Holmes film of the classic Hollywood period.


Almost identically, Dick's short story PAYCHECK became this hyperkinetic movie.


Lewis Carroll's Alice books begat Tim Burton's 2010 effort.

The folktale "Sleeping Beauty" begat the prince-centered narrative of Disney.

The generally subcombative Sherlock Holmes stories of Doyle begat A STUDY IN TERROR and the much later Robert Downey Jr. series.


I must emphasize that a given work's tendency to emphasize the "combat myth" over other possible myths does not make it superior, nor does the reverse hold true-- though one can certainly find critics who will immediately prefer "intellectualized" myths to visceral ones, as I examined here.  But as a pluralist I look for excellence in any kind of myth. Philip Dick's ANDROIDS is not superior to BLADE RUNNER because the original de-emphasizes the combat myth, and Doyle's LOST WORLD is not superior to the 1925 film because the novel glories in violent strife.  

I'll be descanting on further subjects of an archetypal nature in my next essay-series, though from a less academic angle.

Monday, March 23, 2015

MYTHOS AND MODE PT. 3

Over two years have passed since I created two essays in this series, PART 1 here and PART 2 here. I'm reviving this line of thought because even though I'm very probably the only writer trying to delve into the nature of "the combative mode," I choose to rework the schema I presented in Part 2, as to the ways in which certain narratives with the potential for that mode fail to realize it.

In Part 2 I chose to focus on the plays of William Shakespeare, partly because he is seen today as the epitome of "high culture," but only because most high-culture critics manage to ignore his thoroughgoing bloody-mindedness. I do not say that Shakespeare didn't possess the subtler qualities that have made him famous, but many critics don't appreciate how completely "the subtle" intertwines with "the gross" in the works of the Bard of Avon.

So, in part because Shakespeare is such an elitist icon, I focused on certain of his plays to illustrate my frequently made point that the potential for the combative mode is often undercut by some omission of the necessary elements, usually within the realm of "plot" or "character." The same omissions occur in many other narratives of lesser fame, many of which I've reviewed on my movie-blog, and to which reviews I'll link when applicable.

Repeating my view on Shakespeare's penchant for violence, in Part 2 I said:

Though there’s a great deal of violence and vengeance in Shakespeare, most of it does not pursue the combative mode with respect to either narrative or subjective values. 

CORIOLANUS was my choice for a play that had the potential for the significant combative value, in that its opposed characters Coriolanus and Aufidius were both portrayed as exceptional warriors seen lusting to kill each other at the play's outset.  However, because the play's plot does not end with a combat between these two well-matched characters, CORIOLANUS is not combative in the narrative sense.

Among some of the works I've reviewed on my blogs, those that lack the narrative, plot-based combative value, even though they do have the significant, character-based combative value include Rider Haggard's SHE, both H.G. Wells' novel THE WAR OF THE WORLDS and its 1953 adaptation, the 2002 adaptation of Philip Dick's MINORITY REPORT, and SON OF KONG, the sequel to the very combative 1933 film.


The exact opposite to this formulation is one in which there is potential in the plot but not in the characters. In MYTHOS AND MODE PART 2 I used MACBETH as an example of this situation. While I still believe my logic regarding that play holds, I think HAMLET makes a better illustration, in part because I've more recently examined that play in this essay, responding to a critic's observation that Hamlet's negativity almost made him "infectious" in his evil-thinking manner. Further, HAMLET, unlike many Bard-plays, is derived from a folklore-like story of a prince named Amlethus whose quest for vengeance is considerably less complicated than that of the melancholy Dane.

I realize that to elitist ears, even a mere reminder that HAMLET has its origin in a murderous spectacle-tale will sound like a betrayal of the play's high-minded themes. But of course, HAMLET is no less bloody for all its philosophy, and it does end with a sword-fight, even though the duel is supposed to be no more than a formal, non-fatal combat. When Hamlet agrees to duel Laertes as a mere courtly diversion, he does not know that his nemesis Claudius has conspired with Laertes to poison the latter's sword, as well as keeping a cup of poisoned wine on hand as a backup plan.

So, from a narrative, plot-based standpoint, HAMLET fulfills the combative mode. However, as I've repeatedly said, the combative mode applies only to two or more figures that possess exceptional dynamicity. Coriolanus and Aufidius certainly possess this dynamicity. But do Hamlet and Laertes? I see nothing definite to indicate that either nobleman is exceptional in his sword-fighting skills. In Act IV, scene VII, Claudius flatters Laertes by telling him that a sword-trainer named "Lamond" esteemed Laertes as a great bladesman, but the King may be shining Laertes on, trying to convince him that he's such a good fighter that it makes no difference whether or not they use poison on him. Later, in Act V Scene II, the duel has progressed to a point that Hamlet's mother Gertrude remarks of Hamlet that "he's fat [sweaty] and scant of breath." This suggess that even if Laertes might be exceptional, Hamlet may not be, and indeed he ends up killing both Claudius and Laertes through the use of Claudius' poison, not through sword-skill as such.

This lack of the significant, character-based combative value is also presented in such films as 1986's MANHUNTER, 1991's THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, 2005's THE BROTHERS GRIMM, 1987's JANE AND THE LOST CITY, 1959's THE ANGRY RED PLANET, and 1961's THE WONDERS OF ALADDIN.


Finally, I've sometimes observed that even a given narrative posseeses two or more characters of exceptional dynamicity, and seems to bring them into a conflict that *might* assume a combative form, the author chooses to diffuse the confrontation in some way. My Bard-example here is TITUS ANDRONICUS. This play, a little like CORIOLANUS, deals with a conflict between a Roman nobleman, the titular Titus, and a tribal leader whose forces he has vanquished, Tamora Queen of the Goths. However, after Titus brings the captive queen back to Rome, the emperor Saturninus takes a fancy to her and makes her his queen. This gives Tamora the chance to execute a revenge-plot against Titus by having her sons rape Titus's daughter. Titus later tops her revenge-plot with his own, by killing her sons, cooking them into a pie and luring Tamora into eating it.

Now, I should add here that I'm aware that Tamora and Titus could never have dueled one another as Aufidius and Coriolanus could have. Nevertheless, had Shakespeare cared to provide such a duel, he might have arranged for a flat-out duel, say, between Titus and Saturninus. Instead, the playwright eschews combat for slaughter: after Titus reveals his one-upmanship, he stabs Tamora, Saturninus stabs Titus, and Titus's son stabs the emperor. This is more "conflictive" than the rather anti-climactic ending of CORIOLANUS, where Aufidius simply orders the Roman general to be executed. In both plays, the rejections of "combative potential" is based in plot rather than character; however, TITUS serves to illustrate the type of plot in which violence does erupt between the high-dynamicity characters at the climax, but it is violence that still does not enhance the combative value.

Examples of narratives in this subcombative mode include Philip Dick's DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP, the less than bracing "battle" of Dracula and the Wolf Man in ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, and such giant monster-flicks as KONGA and THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS.

More on these matters in Part 4.

Friday, March 20, 2015

FREEDOM VS. FREEDOM PT. 4

Though in Part 3 I was basically in agreement with the 3-19-15 broadcast of Jon Stewart's DAILY SHOW, my opinion of the same-day airing of Larry Wilmore's show (found here) is like-- well, daily and nightly.

On this show, Larry Wilmore chose to examine the protests of nerds against supposed racial diversity. Both he and his panel-- made up, in part, of comics-pros Sana Amanat and Phil Jimenez-- chose to view the syndrome under one narrative: "Nerds Hate Change."

I wouldn't deny that this may be one reason for protests against diversity, and of course, the ultraliberal fallback, institutionalized racism, may also be a factor. But some of the things mentioned on the show fall more in line with "playing the game by established rules."

That sounds like a paean to conservatism, but it's not. It's the nature of all games that they function by somewhat arbitrary rules, which only have a nodding resemblance to reality. The game LIFE is not about life; it's about creating situations that approximate real-life scenarios.

One of the minor firestorms of the previous year was fannish opposition to the idea of a "black stormtrooper" when Disney previewed a clip showing what appeared to be such a character. Wilmore said:

“Nerds don’t have a problem with women; they have a problem with change. I’ll give you an example: Nerds are upset at black stormtroopers in the new Star Wars movie. Do they have a problem with stormtroopers being black? No. They have a problem with you changing their definition of a stormtrooper. I’ll be a little clearer: If the first time you introduce oatmeal to a nerd it has maple syrup in it, it better have maple syrup every fucking time, or it’s not oatmeal.”

This was at best an oversimplification. The basis of the fans' objection was not purely that every stormtrooper had to be white because other past stormtroopers had been coded as white. The objection was grounded in a misapprehension, to the effect that all stormtroopers were clones of one persona, who at least appeared to be white-- and that therefore it should have been impossible for any viable clones to suddenly look like black people.

Happily, there have been some good reasoned responses online as to why it's entirely feasible to have black stormtroopers in STAR WARS, as explained in part by a quote from this site:


It's only in the prequels that all the Stormtroopers (called Clonetroopers) are clones. It was established in the Expanded Universe that the Emperor started replacing clones with regular people through recruiting and conscription. This is pretty obvious when you watch the original trilogy. Stormtroopers are all different sizes, shapes and have different voices. So, no, the Stormtroopers in Star Wars Episode VII aren't clones. 

Wilmore, had he possessed any genuine interest in the topic, might have at least have referenced the notion, however false, that black stormtroopers created a continuity issue.  He chose, sadly, to focus only on the narrative of "resistance to change." If one views STAR WARS as a game which its audience agrees to play on its own terms, then Wilmore is the equivalent of the fellow who tells all the players that the game is stupid and he refuses to play it.

Of course, this would be unobjectionable, if the declaration was made as a matter of personal taste, rather than in terms of political advantage. In Wilmore's world, "black stormtrooper" is good in the same way that "black Spider-Man" is, because both promote visions of purported diversity. This causes him to overlook that there may be scenarios in which "black fill-in-the-blank character" may not be always be the ideal concept.



Take for example the 1999 WILD WILD WEST film, in which Will Smith essayed the part of Old West secret agent James West, a part originated by Robert Conrad in the 1965-69 teleseries. I objected to this film not simply because a black actor played a part associated with a white one, but because Smith was playing a part that created extreme "continuity issues" due to the social mores of that time and place.

Do my reservations mean that it was impossible for such a role to be attempted? Not necessarily. With a little intelligent tinkering, the scriptwriters might have come up with an alternate-world scenario in which it would have been more probable for a black secret agent to exist. Maybe the world of this WILD WILD WEST could have been one in which Lincoln was never assassinated; where he was somehow able to succeed in a partial reform of Southern social priorities. But given that the WILD WILD WEST we got showed no interest in political subtleties-- being, after all, nothing more than a Big Dumb Summer Movie-- I would have to say that the concept was at best difficult to pull off credibly, though not intrinsically impossible.

The ideological mind, though, only sees that not enough black actors have had starring roles, be it as superheroes, superspies or anything else, and so any work that promotes "more starring black actors"is perforce "good." And this ideology is just as simplistic as the message Wilmore promotes in his comedic admonitions against nerds.






FREEDOM VS. FREEDOM PT. 3

I hadn't planned to write any follow-ups to my first blogpost in this series. In that post I put forth my opinion that Dorian Johnson's testimony was a lie, based on the facts that he changed his story and that the DOJ report did not corroborate his version of events. I further added that although Johnson did lie-- irregardless of whether or not he came to believe his own story-- his fabrication served a virtuous purpose in focusing national attention upon the racist practices of the Ferguson Police Department.

I can't resist some follow-up, though, since on 3-19-15 Jon Stewart himself has more or less followed the same logic I expressed in validating what he called the "Hands Up, Don't Shoot narrative." His end was certainly more far-reaching, in that he was admirably castigating Fox News for wanting an apology regarding the disproved "HUDS narrative" Stewart pointed out that Fox News had yet to make any apologies for perpetuating an overblown "tsunami of misinformation" regarding the Benghazi controversy.

I have no more liking for Fox News than Stewart does, and it does him credit that he's found another fresh way to mock their portentous, one-sided journalism.  However, I have a little problem with speaking of the false testimony against Wilson as nothing more than a "narrative."

It's true that though Johnson seems to have been the first to bear false witness against Darren Wilson, he wasn't the only witness to provide an accusatory account of the shooting, though the DOJ report tacitly disproves these anti-Wilson witnesses as well. Yet merely calling these acts of bearing false witness a "narrative" dilutes the fact that if you accept the DOJ's exculpation of Wilson-- which seems to be Stewart's position-- then you must admit that, for whatever reasons, lies were told.

I've frequently termed myself a liberal here, but have expressed mostly contempt for ultraliberals, who cannot think outside their conceptual boxes any more than can ultraconservatives.  I don't consider Stewart-- or rather, the performing-persona through which I "know" him-- to be an ultraliberal. Yet, even though we have employed the same basic logic, in that we both regard the case of the Michael Brown shooting as a "flashpoint" for deeper issues, I think Stewart soft-balled his treatment of the false testimony for rhetorical purposes. In order to make his salient point about Fox News, whose Benghazi coverage was entirely politicized and served no purpose, Stewart had to pass over the fact that Johnson and similarly minded witnesses were willing to falsely incriminate an innocent man in order to get even with a corrupt law enforcement hierarchy. This too is politicized thinking, in that it shows no interest in truth, only in whose side wins.  Michael Brown's family has announced that it will pursue Wilson in a civil court case, claiming that they believe that Wilson could have found "other options" than shooting their son dead. Given that the DOJ has ruled that Brown tried to charge Wilson, this strikes me as extreme wishful thinking on their part, showing an inability to admit that their son committed a crime, if not a desire to profit from the controversy, as Dorian Johnson has, albeit in a small way.

Will Jon Stewart mock them, for continuing to pursue a man who has been exonerated by the Department of Justice, the same department that validated the Ferguson Protests?

As the saying goes, don't hold your breath waiting for it.


Monday, March 16, 2015

WITH ENFOLDED HANDS

This essay's title is derived from that of a SF novelette from 1947, "With Folded Hands," by Jack Williamson.  "Enfolding," it seems to me, is a better word to describe the interaction of the three phenomenalities than "underlie," as used here:

...I'll be dealing in more detail with the ways in which the naturalistic inevitably underlies the other two phenomenalites, albeit without defining them.

Where "underlie" implies stratification and hence an arbitrary separation, "enfolding" has a more organic connotation. Aristotle famously illustrated his notions of teleology with the image of an acorn, within which the pattern of an oak tree is "enfolded," even though said pattern cannot be seen from the seed itself.

Continuing the seed metaphor, here's a cutaway I found online, this time of a wheat kernel:




I like this image just because it has three distinct parts to it-- germ, bran, and endosperm-- all of which are interdependent in the sense that you take one of them away, and you have no seed.

Now, as I've noted in my essays on Todorov, like this one, that his theory of metaphenomenal literature implies that "the Real" not so much "underlies" as "undermines" other phenomenalities, which are seen as examples of Freudian disavowal.

It's true that what I call the naturalistic cannot be avoided. Even the most marvelous constructs in literature depend on some form of causality. We as readers don't know how or why the Cheshire Cat disappears, but even though his smile lingers for a very long time, eventually it does go away, thus duplicating in essence what would happen if a real cat simply got up and left. All of our literary explorations must be grounded in the principle of causal coherence.

However, causal coherence and the naturalistic phenomenality it begets in literature may not be the *actual" ground of all experience, at least not in literature. The late physicist David Bohm proposed the idea that physical existence, which he called "the Explicate Order," might be "enfolded" within a greater "Implicate Order:"

Bohm's theory of the Implicate Order stresses that the cosmos is in a state of process. Bohm's cosmos is a "feedback" universe that continuously recycles forward into a greater mode of being and consciousness.
Bohm believes in a special cosmic interiority. It *is* the Implicate Order, and it implies enfoldment into everything. Everything that is and will be in this cosmos is enfolded within the Implicate Order. There is a special cosmic movement that carries forth the process of enfoldment and unfoldment (into the explicate order). This process of cosmic movement, in endless feedback cycles, creates an infinite variety of manifest forms and mentality. -- THE COSMIC PLENUM, on the site Stoa del Sol.

In literature, of course, the Implicate Order would be the totality of what a given author's will seeks to express. Some authors might be entirely satisfied with depicting only the naturalistic aspects of phenomena. Others might hew closely to the naturalistic but would allow for just enough ambivalence about the intelligibility of that phenomenality to give birth to "the uncanny.* And finally, a third type of author would be invested in things that are marvelous enough to defy both the causal principles of coherence and intelligibility-- though, as I say, it's not only impossible to create a fantasy pure enough to defy all the "rules," it would also be impossible for anyone to read or view it.

More on this theme as examples of enfoldment occur to me.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

OUTRE OUTFITS OVERVIEW PT. 2


In Part 1 I mentioned the example of Flash Gordon. As most fans will know, he's an Earthman with no special physical powers, but he sometimes makes lists of "superheroes" because he becomes so thoroughly a "man of Mongo." Gordon makes intermittent use of Mongo's marvelous high-tech, but he's not as tied to his ray-gun as is, say, his predecessor Buck Rogers. Indeed, the earliest FLASH GORDON strips emphasize Gordon as a monster-slaying he-man, probably in emulation of the popular TARZAN comic strip by Hal Foster. Thus the most consistent indicator of his metaphenomenality is his otherworldly costume-- usually some variation on the image above, though Gordon probably changes his clothes more than most of his SF-competitors.

But Gordon is only partially a man in a science-fiction universe. From the aspect of the NUM theory, how should one regard the attire of characters fully born within such marvelous environments?



The denizens of the STAR TREK universe aren't wearing attire that would seem in any way strange to the sentients of their cosmos, while any aliens who meet them for the first time certainly wouldn't have any expectations about what sort of clothes they ought to be wearing. Unlike many latter-day science-fiction teleserials, TREK is consistent in showing that  everyone in its future is wearing some outre-looking fashion. Clearly the costume department was instructed to make even simple jumpsuits seem subtly "alien," and not by referencing European Renaissance garb, as FLASH GORDON often did.

But in most regards, the NUM theory is based not in the reactions of characters within their fictive universes, but on the response of the reader. The simple, vaguely-naval velour shirts of Classic Trek don't participate in the opulence of FLASH GORDON's fashions, or even of many of the other characters in their own universe.




Nevertheless, the uniforms of both the original TREK and its serial descendants successfully convey the aura of the uncanny: they convey "strangeness" on their own terms even apart from their association with high-tech marvelous items, like the "phasers" that duplicate the function of Flash's "ray-gun."


Here's a contrasting example, from the short-lived 1990s teleseries SPACE RANGERS:



SPACE RANGERS is less in TREK's mode of intellectualized space opera and more in that of FLASH GORDON's unapologetic science-fantasy adventure, but like TREK it takes place in a distant future wherein multiple alien worlds have been colonized by the descendants of contemporary humans, as is made clear by character names like "John" and "Daniel."

Yet, even though RANGERS takes place within a marvelous setting, the producers did not make an attempt to give their heroes' attire any strangeness. All of them wear suits that resemble a bulky form of military fatigues. To me they resemble contemporary outfits, though I can't place just where I've seen such outfits utilized. Regardless, the costuming department clearly patterned the costumes on modern dress, and so gives them all a functional "naturalistic" aura, despite the otherworldly settings of the stories.

In Part 3 I'll be dealing in more detail with the ways in which the naturalistic inevitably underlies the other two phenomenalites, albeit without defining them.

ADDENDA: Changed my mind and decided to explore the above matters in an essay with a different title, and so not confined to one particular trope.