Monday, November 30, 2015


I've already responded, here and here, to the specific incident in which one of my comments was deleted at the Hooded Utilitarian. In the interests of full disclosure, I'll note that I was mistaken earlier this year when I expressed the belief that NB had threatened me with across-the-board deletion. However, now that he's deleted a comment w/o genuine justification, in essence the threat is now real. I give him a grudging credit-- certainly more than the Sequart scumbags-- for allowing some latitude for exchange of ideas, even diametrically opposed ones, on his site. But everyone has his limits, I suppose.

So Berlatsky probably will delete this too. I tried to think what would make a good "parting shot," and decided to expand on this disagreement, which I mentioned briefly here.


Addicted to victimage. It's like Robert Palmer's "addicted to love," but more sappy.

Maybe you'll see the opening phrase before you delete the post; maybe not. But this time, it'll see print elsewhere, if anyone who catches sight of the post chooses to check out the original.

 At times I've wondered if I was wasting my time critiquing Frederic Wertham, because the man is dead and gone and his direct influence is a thing of the past. But you, Noah, have made clear that you intend to carry on his tradition of making spurious connections between things you don't like.

I tried, Noah, to think which of your posts best sums up your philosophical attachment to the concept of victimage beyond the boundaries of commons sense. At one time I might've thought the height of your absurdity would've been your attack on an episode of AGENTS OF SHIELD-- I repeat, a single episode-- because one event in the story reminded you of the real-life shooting of Trayvon Martin. Though that essay weeps a lot of crocodile tears at the series' lack of a strong black protagonist, I wonder how long such a protagonist would have appeared on that show-- or any show-- before you performed a little "ultraliberal lynching" on the producer for some other damned thing.

But no, this one wins the prize for being most absurd.

Your tendency to characterize all "power fantasies" as fascist-- another point you hold in common with Wertham-- is simplistic in the extreme. But at least you're consistent, if only on your own terms, when you attack actual power fantasies, be it those of AGENT OF SHIELD or of FOXY BROWN.

The true height of absurdity is reached in your return comment to me here. I asserted that FOXY BROWN-- which I believe to have been an inspiration to many viewers of color, rather than somehow erasing their real history-- has been inspiring precisely because it allows a black woman to be a near-superhuman warrior. I assert also that because Foxy is behaving in the same superhuman way as any model of male superiority-- my example being Conan surviving crucifixion-- that she's achieving a level of heroism rarely given to heroines of the period.

I didn't expect you to agree, and you tried to brush off the significance of Foxy by complaining about "downplaying the effects of violence." OK, still absurd, but not the MOST absurd thing...

That comes when you do a Wertham by trying to claim that a fictional power fantasy has a direct effect on the real world:

You can see why these narratives are poisonous in the discussion of harassment in comics this week. A guy grabbed a subordinates crotch; the subordinate (a man) froze. Some people commented that he should have slugged him. There’s this heroic default idea that people shouldn’t be traumatized or even confused by sexual violence, or any violence. It tends to reduce sympathy for victims.

This is classic Werthamism, since the good doctor liked to cite, as evidence of pernicious comic-books, incidents of juvenile delinquency in which no actual link to comic book-reading had been cited. You didn't provide a link to the place as to where this real-life story was told. I assume it's here, though Heidi McDonald doesn't mention anything about anyone criticizing the assaulted fellow, and I didn't find anyone in the thread claiming the victim should have slugged his assailant. I take your word for it that someone may have said words to that effect-- but why in the hell would it be a "heroic default?" Why wouldn't it be a "self-defense default," as it would be anywhere outside the subculture of comic books? And what in the hell did any of it have to do with heroic power fantasies?

*Maybe* the alleged persons who doled out unasked-for advice were insensitive-- but your distortion is worse than anything they said.  The real-life victim is to you just a club with which to pound on heroic fantasies, though what happened to him certainly happens in subcultures that aren't built around fantasy-concepts. Your rhetoric collapses if you can't show your readers a never-ending stream of victimage, and when you can't find enough to attack in the present, you resort to harrowing up dead guys like Lovecraft and Frazetta, with the balmy notion that you're somehow speaking to modern-day abuses.

You're doing marginalized peoples no favors by depicting them as perpetual victims. But by all means continue. You won't actually change anything, but you'll give me lots of grist for my own critical mill.

Sunday, November 29, 2015


From a CBR thread this time:

Well, I'd automatically put aside comparisons between entertainment and addictive substances. You can put alcohol and tobacco through the proper chemical analyses, and indicate pretty much what makes human beings want them. Thus far, no one's managed to do that with fiction,

The comparison between entertainment and domestic violence is wrong in a different way, Say that it's been statistically demonstrated that nine-tenths of all kids who witness domestic violence grow up to perpetrate domestic violence. But the kids of abusive families are not CHOOSING to see their parents batter one another; it's utterly outside their control. In contrast, patronizing violent entertainment is a CHOICE. The patrons may or may not be messed up by their personal circumstances, and they may or may not be employing what Adler called "negative compensation" to escape his problems. But we don't yet have proof that nine-tenths of, say, all horror-gorehounds become serial killers, perpetrators of road rage, or whatever.

I tend to think that entertainment has been violent since the dawn of humankind-- albeit with oscillations in tune with cultural priorities-- because fictional violence does serve as a stopgap. The contrasting view-- that violence ought to be rigidly controlled-- was once the province of pundits like Frederic Wertham and his fellow-traveler Gershon Legman. Given the effects of wild anti-comics claims, I might have thought that modern comics critics would shun that sort of extremism. Instead, I've seen both Wertham and Legman being represented as sober scholars rather than extremist cranks-- and I guess that too has much to do with current antipathies toward the very idea of representing violence, no matter how unreal it may be.


Friday, November 27, 2015


In Part 1,  I observed that as far as the "dynamic-sublime" was concerned, the domains they generate were strictly separated from one another:.

The dynamicities of the marvelous and the uncanny cannot manifest within the sphere of the naturalistic at all, because they depend on the alteration of one or both of the rules of causation, and anything that even resembles the tropes of the uncanny or marvelous is subsumed into the naturalistic.

By this general rule, both of the examples cited in the earlier essay-- the totality of serial adventures of both Atlas' RINGO KID and Marvel's RAWHIDE KID-- would be metaphenomenal. Even if the Ringo Kid only has one measly adventure with metaphenomenal content, it means that his universe obeys some if not all of the fictional rules common to other fantasy-worlds-- for instance, the greater "Marvel Universe" into which the Kid was officially inducted in the 1970s.

And yet, it seems counter-intuitive to place Ringo in the exact same type of marvelous world as a literal superhuman like Captain America, or a "sub-world" that seems dominantly uncanny, like that of Marvel's masekd western hero the Two-Gun Kid. Even if both of these heroes had never encountered anything but purely naturalistic opponents, their attire would conform to the uncanny trope of "outre outfits." Such a trope is a major signifier of metaphemonal content.

In the case of the combinatory-sublime, however, tropes of the metaphenomenal do not automatically overrule those of the isopheomenal, at least not within the realm of a serial concept. In a serial, if the focal presence does not itself reproduce significant tropes of the metaphenomenal, then one must examine the phenomenality of all ancillary presences in the totality of the stories.

Both RINGO KID and RAWHIDE KID concern isophenomenal cowpokes who dominantly battle against isophenomenal opponents. Both, using the "shareholder" metaphor I introduced, "majority shareholders" in the isophenomenal and "minority shareholders" in the metaphenomenal.  Being a "minority shareholder" means a dimunition of the serial's overall potential for symbolic combinations. But Rawhide has a more extensive history of metaphenomenal encounters, so while he's still not in the same kind of fictional world as Captain America and the Two-Gun Kid, he is closer to their combinatory potential.

Heroes whose adventures almost always have elements of the metaphenomenal-- whether marvelous like Captain America, or uncanny like Two-Gun-- would subsume the other two phenomenalities within the dominant one. So the geometrical model would look much like the one used for the DSD, except with the stipulation that the whole is solid, rather than having each circle isolated from the other:

Rawhide's serial adventures don't comprise a unitary sphere of activity, so the phenomenal domains are connected but distinct. One may regard the whole left circle as Rawhide's adventures, with the isophenomenal taking up the majority of the sphere, while the minority "share" within the circle is all of his metaphenomenal activity-- the other circle being simply a set of metaphenomenal tropes possible for a Western comic-book character.

The next figure, however, better describes that of the Ringo Kid, if only because the metaphenomenal portion of the left circle is much smaller than it is in the first example.

More on these convolutions later.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


In my previous essay I visualized the "geometrical approximations of the two sublimities" as a series of "fields of force,." or "domains." In both cases the sublimity-affects were determined by what sort of phenomenal universe they took place in. However, the domains relating to dynamicity did not interpenetrate. For the time being I will designate these domains as DSDs, "dynamic-sublime domains."

The dynamicities of the marvelous and the uncanny cannot manifest within the sphere of the naturalistic at all, because they depend on the alteration of one or both of the rules of causation, and anything that even resembles the tropes of the uncanny or marvelous is subsumed into the naturalistic. An example of this process is cited in this essay, where the uncanny character of PSYCHO'S Norman Bates is recast into naturalistic terms for the teleseries BATES MOTEL.

 In the sphere of the uncanny, marvelous dynamicity cannot manifest, and though naturalistic dynamicity does exist in this sphere, the dynamicity of the uncanny, given the special name "potency," overrules all naturalistic dynamicity. An example of this process is cited in this essay, wherein the only source of the uncanny is the masked vigilante the Durango Kid, whose presence dominates storylines that are in all other respects identical to those of more naturalistic "horse operas."

Finally, tropes of the uncanny and the naturalistic can manifest within the sphere of the marvelous, as I showed here with regard to the serial ACE DRUMMOND, where the science-fictional nature of the villain's ray-gun defines the entire narrative as science-fictional in nature, overruling the potency of the same villain's uncanny death-trap as well as the naturalistic prowess of the titular hero.

In contrast, the domains relating to the combinatory-sublime-- the CSDs-- interpenetrate quite a bit, because their form of the sublime is not physical, but symbolic. It was because of this symbolic interpenetration of the three phenomenalities that I evolved my 51 percent rule:

I term my solution to this problem the "51 Per Cent Solution."  In business dealings we're accustomed to hearing that a stockholder with 51% of a company's stocks has the greatest advantage, though not an unqualified dominion.

From the beginnings of this blog, I've frequently dealt with the problems of how narratives contain diverse elements that may conflict with one another-- not just elements of phenomenality, but also elements relating to Frye's four mythoi, genre-elements, and so on. It's impossible-- and not really desirable-- to come up with a formula that would faultlessly determine what element held "sovereignty," as Jung called it. The "51 percent rule" was my only attempt to imagine what a statistically determined rule might look like, and I applied it in only a few essays, here, here, and here.  The second essay brings up the example of the Atlas Comics character the Ringo Kid, whom I decided not to deem a metaphenomenal protagonist, given that he only had one encounter with a metaphenomenal protagonist. a "Doctor Saturn."

  The cinematic version of Ace Drummond also had only one metaphenomenal protagonist, but this version of Drummond-- whom I don't consider identical with the one from the 1936 comic strip-- only had one installment. Thus Ace Drummond satisfies the "51 percent rule," and the Ringo Kid doesn't.

Yet as I played around with the rule in the provisional "super-idiom list" that I mentioned in the first "51 percent" essay, I realized that even some characters who didn't satisfy the "51 percent rule" seemed important to the list. I mentioned in one essay that the protagonists of the comic strips LI'L ABNER and DICK TRACY encountered a substantial number of marvelous or uncanny presences, but that it wasn't feasible to make a statistical breakdown for strips that ran for many years.

But 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.

And yet, it's evident that for a time, the Kid's creators Lee and Kirby were making a significant attempt to place their combative cowpoke into superhero situations.

Sometimes he encountered crooks who simply wore uncanny outfits, like the Bat from RH #25:

In #35, he encountered a costumed crook with a literally marvelous power.

Like a fair number of Western heroes, he also encountered at least one lost civilization:

And few Marvel-readers can forget Rawhide's momentous "first contact" with an alien resembling an Indian totem pole.

The sum total of these adventures pale in comparison to Rawhide's more mundane adventures-- and yet, something's going on here that isn't going on in the RINGO KID feature. The creators-- not always Lee and Kirby, BTW-- are making substantial use of metaphenomenal elements, so they make up an important, if subordinate, part of Rawhide's fictional mythos.  The "51 percent rule," while helpful as a guiding principle, is too rigid to deal with this loosey-goosey approach to phenomenal integrity.

So, by dint of reading a few posts on shareholder rules, I've happily come across a definition that solves my cowboy conundrum, on this site:

The minority investment can be either minority passive interest or minority active interest. Passive means that the company does not have material influence on the company in which it has this minority interest. Active means that the company is in a position to influence the company in which it has minority interest.

Thus, from the strict view of the "51 percent rule," both Ringo and Rawhide are "minority shareholders" in the realm of the metaphenomenal. However, to extend the above distinction into the realm of literature, Ringo Kid's adventures display only a "minority passive interest" in matters metaphenomenal, while Rawhide Kid's display a "minority active interest"-- that is, Rawhide's encounters with metaphenomenal presences remain a vital part of his mythos, even if they're not numerically superior to all the naturalistic exploits.

This metaphor also solves my above-referenced problem as to how I should rate long-running strips like LI'L ABNER. It have enough fantastic content to satisfy the 51 percent rule, or it may not-- but certainly a strip that produces such weird entities as "Evil-Eye Fleegle" and "the Schmoos" has at least a "minority active interest" in matters metaphenomenal.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


As one of my intermittent attempts to better illustrate the complexity of my theory of the two sublimities, I decided to explore some visual comparisons.

In the March essay WITH ENFOLDED HANDS, I compared the three phenomenalities to the three distinct parts of a seed. Though I still like this image, I have to admit that it doesn't capture the way all of these abstractions interact in the world of finished artworks. I noted in that essay that even in a work as devoted to loopy fantasy as Carroll's ALICE'S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND, some references to coherence still had to exist for the story to make sense. Thus the Cheshire Cat may take his leave of Alice in a fantastic manner, but when the feline fades out, it still serves the same narrative purpose as if he simply got up and walked away.

Thus I turn to the pleasures of geometry, and find more satisfaction in describing the three phenomenalities as three interlocking circles.

Each of the circles should be seen as representing not a distinct section of physical matter, as is the case with the seed, but rather a non-physical "field of force." Because there are no true physical boundaries between the three phenomenal domains, it may be easier to imagine each of them having limited influences over the other than would be the case with my earlier seed-metaphor.

In this 2014 essay I described the workings of the combinatory-sublime according to the two principles of causality, "intelligibility" and "regularity" (later superseded by a better term, "coherence," which I've edited into this passage):

...the combinatory-sublime arises rather from the transgression upon the reader's expectations in terms of intelligibility and causal coherence. DIRTY HARRY, a naturalistic work which conforms to general expectations regarding intelligibility and coherence, has its own proper level of mythicity but is not likely to inspire a high level of the combinatory-sublime because of said conformity. ENTER THE DRAGON conforms to expectations regarding coherence but not intelligibility; being "anti-intelligible," it has a higher potential to arouse the combinatory-sublime. And STAR WARS, which violates both intelligibility and coherence, has the greatest mythicity of the three in reality, as well as the greatest potential for symbolic combinations and thus for the combinatory-sublime.
This geometrical arrangement approximates the way the phenomenalities evolve from one another. Had I found on the Net an image of three rings that were both interlocked and surmounting one another, that would have hewed closer to my conceptual premise. But this one works tolerably well. The red ring is the naturalistic phenomenality, representing adherence to both coherence and intelligibility. The blue ring, only indirectly tied to the Region of the Red, flouts both coherence and intelligibility. The interceding green ring takes one principle from each of its neighbors: abiding by the principle of causal coherence like Region Red, but transgressing the principle of intelligibility like Region Blue. (If I cared about exact parallels, Region Red ought to be Region Yellow, and the parallel would be stronger-- but it doesn't exactly weigh heavily in my scales.)

Thus, for the sublimity of the combinatory. But what about the dynamic-sublime, to which I've devoted much more space on this blog?

Here's the geometrical visual on the sublimity of power:

My reason for choosing concentric circles is because each "field of force," and the sublimity it represents, registers as independent of the other two, perhaps more like three planetary orbits rather than interlocked rings. I established this principle in SUBLIMITY VS. MYTHICITY PT. 3:

As far as the film DIRTY HARRY is concerned, there is no being more powerful than Harry Callahan, though some of his foes, particularly Scorpio, are capable of challenging the hero.  The same holds true for Lee and his foe Han in ENTER THE DRAGON, and for Luke Skywalker and his opponent Darth Vader in the first three STAR WARS films. 

To pursue the orbit-simile, Dirty Harry's "planet" is one that obeys all the laws of a naturalistic cosmos, so that's why his type of power elicits the *admiration* of the audience.

The "planet" of DRAGON's Lee, however, allows for a transgression of the law of intelligibility. This doesn't precisely give Lee more physical power than Dirty Harry, but the flouting of intelligibility means that Lee *seems like* he possesses a greater *potency,* as defined here in a three-part essay series beginning here. This quality of anti-intelligible potency gives rise to the audience's *fascination.*

And finally, Luke Skywalker exists on a "planet" that allows for the transgressive of both intelligibility and causal coherence. This doesn't necessary mean that every protagonist in a marvelous phenomenality necessarily has powers that transgress coherence, just because Skywalker does: obviously Indiana Jones does not have such powers. But he too exists in phenomenal worlds wherein such powers are possible. Thus, when a non-powered hero like Indiana Jones triumphs over, say, a Thuggee priest who can rip peoples' hearts out of their chests, Jones acquires roughly the same aspect of the "dynamic-sublime" as Luke Skywalker-- and both characters elicit the audience's *wonder* (also sometimes called *exaltation* in various essays here).

However, this aspect is only "real" on the "planets" of the marvelous phenomenality, because it is a narrative, rather than a significant, value. Both Indiana Jones and Luke Skywalker have no power, or even potency, within the narrative worlds of Lee and Harry Callahan, because these are worlds where causal coherence cannot be transgressed.

I'm strongly considering adding yet another specialized term to my already overburdened lit-crit continuum: "domains." The word would connote all of the above-described fields of force, whether they pertain to combinatory values or dynamicity values. In the near future I'll probably experiment with it in a planned follow-up to UNCANNY CITY.  But what will be the use of it, at least over the long haul, is more than I can say.


In contrast to my previous post, there's no complications about this story-- whose art and story are both credited to Al Feldstein-- having been derived from an earlier model. However, "The Flying Saucer Invasion"-- published in what was technically the *second* issue of WEIRD SCIENCE, not the thirteenth-- might have been vastly improved had it swiped from another author.

The cover-- showing a military fellow dismissing the rumors of flying saucers as "poppycock" while overhead a real saucer zooms in for the kill-- gives away the whole game. Gaines and Feldstein are reputed to have had a strong interest in the "flying saucer craze" that took America by storm in 1947. Yet "Invasion" reads like nothing more than a recitation of a few basic UFOlogy cliches-- for example, that the saucers only show up in rural settings, never urban--and that the government's sole response was to try to cover up the whole business. Most of the story's eight pages are devoted to rather static head-shots of people's stereotypical reactions. Page six is easily the high point of the story. Here the reader gets to witness a comic-book character dissing the disreputable aspects of the comic book medium, when a psychologist deems the saucer-sightings "a pathological illusion aggravated by continuous publicity given it by press, radio, and comic books."

The big twist ending-- that the saucers are real-- comes as no surprise at all, and the story doesn't even hint at the more captivating myths of UFOlogy. Feldstein's real focus is the government cover-up, which rates as a sociological myth, but of a very low mythicity. Perhaps this sequence's only interesting myth-motif is that after the saucer-debunking Secretary of Defense gets finished undermining the testimonies of the rural citizens--one of whom speaks with a comic Southern accent-- he also plows over the testimony of an Air Force lieutenant. The fact that the lieutenant is depicted with a stock "leading man" handsomeness suggests that he incarnates an American heroic archetype, and that the Secretary, by dismissing him, has metaphorically undermined American fighting-capacity, anticipating a similar motif later found in the RAMBO films. However, that one motif doesn't make up for a generally lackluster narrative.


My first choice for a "mythcomic" from the House of Entertaining Comics creates some problems. Though I didn't say so when I began this series, it's generally been my intention not to count anything that was a direct adaptation of a story published in another medium. For instance, I consider Robert E. Howard's short Conan story "The Tower of the Elephant" to be one of the great myth-stories of popular fiction. But I would never cite the Thomas-Smith adaptation of the story, published in Marvel's CONAN THE BARBARIAN #4. It's arguable that Thomas and Smith may have added their own mythopeic elements to the mix, but nevertheless, the source of the mythic structure is a prose story, not a comics-story.

Similarly, I would never include any of EC's famous adaptations of Ray Bradbury's work. Yet what about "swipes?" As this Wikipedia entry makes abundantly clear, publisher William Gaines had the habit of delving through published SF-stories and "lifting" ideas, which were then redone as "new" stories by raconteurs like Al Feldstein. The story goes that Gaines lifted one of Bradbury's stories, and that Bradbury wrote him, politely asking for payment for said adaptation-- a bit of indirect dickering that led to several fully approved Bradbury adaptations by E.C.

Yet a swipe doesn't have to be an exact reproduction of the original story. I have not to my recollection read the 1936 Henry Haase prose tale "He Who Shrank," but this blog-summation of the story suggests to me that writer Feldstein and artist Kurtzman only swiped the basic idea of a protagonist who is (a) exposed to a element that causes him to shrink endlessly, and (b) because of this, finds himself plummeting through a host of recursive micro-universes.

The dominant Campbellian function evoked here is the *cosmological,* in that Feldstein's protagonist Karl is constantly witness to all the wonders of the microscopic world, seen for the first time on an equal footing. I can't prove it, but when he shrinks into the "sweat ducts" of his mentor and learns that the older man has tuberculosis, that sounds a bit more like Kurtzman's wry sense of humor than Feldstein's-- though for all I know it might appear in the Haase story.

In addition, the story is particularly accomplished in the psychological arena, in that Karl is constantly shifting from being a godlike giant, able to cause havoc to lesser beings with no more than a sneeze, to dwindling into relative nothingness-- which is perhaps a little further than even Jonathan Swift went with the basic "relative size" trope.

Interestingly, the story's conclusion holds out some meager hope that someday Karl may shrink into some super-advanced cosmos where he can be cured of his affliction-- though the dominant effect of the story is to remind the story's interlocutor (who listens to Karl's story) that even Earth's advancements may pale before "what exists in the infinite cosmos."