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Monday, April 20, 2009


Or, Statement of the Unification Theory, Part 2.

Here's a seven-point, quick-and-dirty explanation as to how Schopenhauer's conception of the Universal Will is the only worthwhile foundation for a pluralist poetics.

(1) Philosopher Immanuel Kant put forth an argument often cited as a "Copernican revolution" in philosophy. The argument in brief: that there is a disconnect between the world as interpreted by human senses-- what Kant calls “phenomenon”-- and the world as it is beyond our senses, the “noumenon.” According to Kant, we can never know reality, only our senses’ version of it.

(2) Philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer disagreed, feeling that we could infer one thing about “reality:” that it was the creation of a sort of Universal Will. He inferred this from the presence of “will” in all living things (and possibly inanimate things as well.)

(3) Was Schopenhauer was right about “Will” inhering in every aspect of our reality? We do not know. However, we CAN be sure that “Will” inheres in every aspect of the various LITERARY realities we as humans create, for we KNOW for a fact that they are all “willed” into existence by their creators (and sometimes, however indirectly, by audiences as well).

(4) The notion of “Will” inhering in all literature has interesting applications for the commonplace notion that all literary productions revolve around “conflict” of some kind. for all conflict is in essence the conflict of opposing wills. This remains the case even in the type of story termed "man vs. nature," and even when the nature evoked is a man's struggle with a nonsentient adversary, such as a protagonist struggling to survive in a barren desert. It is still a conflict of wills not because either the writer or any of his readers believes that brute nature has a will, but but because the story cannot help but represent nature as an opponent whose rigors the protagonist must outlast.

(5) By emphasizing “Will” as the radical root of all literary activity, rather than supposing it to be some intellectual message which the author or authors seek to communicate, one is in a better position to understand the many different modes by which authors express both thought and emotion. Many of these modes are what we call “genres,” because they utilize elements of character-types, emotional tone, time-period or setting. Some genres depend heavily on rational thought, others on flights of subjective fancy.

(6) The tendency of most literary criticism, as traced back to Aristotle and classic Greece, generally values literature according to its ability to convey reasoned ideas; what Aristotle calls dianoia. But though Schopenhauer's philosophy offers no counter to this tendency, the work of another Kantian scholar, Ernst Cassirer, does. Cassirer emphasized that all human reason is inseparable from what he called the “expressive” faculty, which grows out of the way human beings emotionally interpret their universe. (I view this action as an act of “will,” whether Cassirer did or not). This expressivity is more than the emotional reactions of any particular person or culture, for it has a consistent aesthetic appeal over centuries. In THE PHENOMENOLOGY OF KNOWLEDGE Cassirer notes: “The symbolic process is like a single stream of life and thought which flows through consciousness, and which by this flowing movement produces the diversity and cohesion, the richness, the continuity and constancy, of consciousness.”

(7) Finally, by using expressiveness rather than reasoned thought as the foundation for literary study, one can more adequately understand the sometimes conflict-heavy interrelationships of emotion and reasoned thought as both occur in literature of all types, canonical and popular. In most popular works, such as SUPERMAN, the point of the work is to be broadly expressive. Reasoned thoughts may appear as a side-dish, but the expressive function holds the high card. In some of the more arid literary or would-be literary works, such as Daniel Clowes' DAVID BORING, the point is to subvert the expressiveness of certain images to the benefit of the author's intellectual theme, thus putting dianoia in the catbird seat. Both of these pursuits have their own validity though one may be tempted to prefer those works where the expressive and the rational play off one another in an ongoing struggle/dialogue. Alan Moore's BLACK DOSSIER at least makes the attempt to do something like this, though to see the struggle of authorial functions at their best, one can't do too much better than Herman Melville's MOBY DICK.


Charles R. said...

how Schopenhauer's conception of the Universal Will is the only worthwhile foundation for a pluralist poeticsGood one.

Gene Phillips said...