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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


This essay is a segue from the theme pursued last in "Pop Goes the Psychology." Since my current theme involves in part those narrative elements called "sex and violence," I find myself searching around in the corpus of literary terms in order to express what I want to say, and not finding what I want.

In other words, I feel a neologism coming on.

The closest extant term to what I want is "gratification." The word comes from a Latin root meaning to "oblige" or "please," and in litcrit is usually coupled with the word "instant" as a derogatory comment of commenting upon simple entertainments that offer only quick but short-lived pleasures. In WHAT WAS LITERATURE Leslie Fiedler contrasted "unearned instant gratification" with the kind that the schools teach one to appreciate-- i.e., the "earned" kind, the type that takes some cognitive or affective noodling to assimilate. He did not, like many critics, make this contrast as a means of privileging the latter over the former, and seemed to regard both as significant to the criticism of literature, even if the two modes (my term) were not covalent.

I do believe that no one reads/views any work of art without some notion of a rewarding experience down the road, even if that experience is one as arid and rigorous as the "alienation" preferred by Theodor Adorno (whose aesthetics I hope to touch upon in a future essay). Yet the word "gratification" does have strong associations with the sex-negative attitudes of Judeo-Christian ethics. The word also carries the association of "deferred gratification," the notion that if one puts off immediate satisfaction of desires, there will be some more fulfilling or at least more prudent outcome as a result. In this essay I've rejected the notion that those forms of literature deemed to represent "unearned gratification" should be curtailed to make way for more prudent or even more mature forms of literature, so for all of these reasons "gratification" does not quite work.

"Dynamization," however, does work as a term for what the reader of a given work perceives to be happening within him, whether he seeks for unearned or earned gratification. The word, not to my knowledge used in literary studies as yet, describes an intensification of potential, as seen by the Wikipedia definition of the term in the realm of computer science:

"In computer science, Dynamization is the process of transforming a static data structure into a dynamic one"

To relate this somewhat indirectly to my essays on sadism, for the reader who wants thrills out of a superhero comic-- whether those thrills can be deemed sadistic or not by an outsider-- he searches not just for gratification but dynamization. The fact that not all gratificatory fictions suit all readers, even among those commonly thought to be undiscriminating, should be easy to demonstrate from a casual perusal of any comic-book messageboard. The same is true for readers seeking sexual thrills through a fictional medium; one size does not fit all, and the reader will obviously seek out the experience that most gives him the thrill of arousal, not just anything that is meant to gratify.

Similarly, artcomics readers, though tending to view what the mainstream-reader likes as uniformly static, seek their own dynamization through whatever experiences they find intriguing or engrossing. A given reader of this type may find a given artcomic to be basically static in its structure-- say, a bad imitation of a Harvey Pekar "confessional" comic-- and therefore his lack of dynamization would be covalent with that of the disappointed thrillseeker.

"Dynamization," by the way, comes from a Greek word for "energy," and thus seems appropriate for talking both about the *energia* through which authors create their works and with which readers come to appreciate those works.

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