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Tuesday, December 2, 2008


In the comments section for EARTH SHATTERING CHANGES AT THE LAST MINUTE, Charles Reece brought up the question of the function of ideology in fiction. I think its function subservient to that of what Northrop Frye says about human beings and "primary concern," which I'd already brought up on a Comicon.con thread. Therefore I searched out the relevant passage on Comicon.com and have reprinted my summation of Frye's position below:

'In short, Frye asserts that "myth" and "ideology" (which he would probably interpret as a kind of allegory, or "forced metaphor") are idioms that deal respectively with "primary concerns" and "secondary concerns."

"Primary concerns" are basically what pagans call the "four F's"-- flags (housing), flax (clothing), fodder and frig (no explanation needed). Around such primary concerns myth, both in the religious and literary senses, orients itself.

"Secondary concerns" are the concerns of ideology, which is concerned with the best ways to obtain the items that make up "primary concerns." Name any ideology out there and at base it's just another way for its adherents to maximize their chances of getting those things that make life pleasurable and fulfilling. Myths in the raw are not concerned with ideology. Ideological notions derive from them, but such notions are entirely a secondary product.

And that's why it's silly to try to judge SPIDER-MAN as ideological fiction. Its concerns-- sex, money, power-- are the stuff of wish-fulfillment. As I noted in my earlier post, these are the forms that come first, and everything else builds on top of them.

Starting with an ideological approach to everything is like building a house without any knowledge of the ground on which you're building it.'

As should be evident this was written with reference to a debate on SPIDER-MAN, but it serves just as well to illustrate my point in MAKING A CLEAN BREAST. The statistically-dominant male attraction to the female breast is not defined primarily by its ideological usage in fiction but by its presence as a physical datum in the real world. The same can be said of the corresponding fetishization of the ripped-yet-often-hairless male chest on the covers of female-directed romance fiction (for the curious, I work at a library, so no, I don't seek this stuff out, but I can't help but see a lot of it). Both breast and chest are used in fiction to evoke a kinetic response on the part of the reader and any ideological interpretations of same are strictly derivative (Kant might say "contingent.")

Again, there's nothing inherently wrong with wish-fulfillment fiction. It might be dismal if that was all there was, but contrary to elitist critics, I know that that the danger never has existed and probably never will.


Charles R. said...

Sex, money and power are excluded from ideology? Ideology never serves wish-fulfillment?

Calling Spidey a reflection of our primary needs still doesn't make any more sense to me than it did here.

And you should link more; it makes easier to track stuff down that you're talking about.

Gene Phillips said...

I'm saying that ideology is like the "whip" that guides the "body" the way the brain wants it to go. (If you don't like metaphors from Mario Bava, Freud's ego/id construct is still pretty durable, at least for purposes of illustration.)

No, I didn't think simply reprinting a section from an old exchange would alter your stance from back then; I'm just recording my stance.

All the inducements you mention-- sex, money and power-- are not ideological items in and of themselves. They're all direct or indirect appeals to the body's happiness or comfort, and ideology is just one way the mind decides how to get them, or how much to get them. But wish-fulfillment stories in their purest form can bypass the realistic need for ideological concepts of what is or isn't the best way. As I think I mentioned elsewhere, the original story ALADDIN depicts nothing about the ideology of the lamp-owner's society, and literally makes his wishes come true with no need for Aladdin to make any moral choices.

While on this general subject, how do you conceive that you sense ambivalences in ideology in a composer, such as the one you mentioned in your piece (with whom I'm not familiar)? I can see sensing different changes in mood and the connotations of certain types of musical forms but unless there's an accompanying text, how can you validate your ideological reading of a composition?

I have been linking more within articles these days, but I confess I don't see how to make links within a comment as you've done here. If you happen to know a quick and dirty site that spells it out, I'd check it out, though I don't see a lot of use for linking in most ct sections.

On principle I wouldn't have linked to the Comicon discussion because it's not a resource, and I can't picture anyone not involved in the discussion giving a flip about reading the thing.

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