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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...

Saturday, December 12, 2009


"In men, testosterone rises and falls in response to winning or losing one’s place in the social order, such as losing a game or gaining a promotion. It is higher for men in high-powered leadership positions. Particularly in early childhood, boys prefer focusing their attention on toys and other objects that can move and that they can move around."-- Dario Nardi.

"...instead of being brave and fearless, Superman lives really in a continuous guilty terror, projecting outward in every direction his readers' paranoid hostility. Every city in America is in the grip of fiends... Every country is about to attack us... Only the Nazi-Nietzschean Ubermensch, in his provincial apotheosis as Superman, can save us."-- Gershon Legman, LOVE AND DEATH, p. 40.

"My ire is directed towards masculinity, not men."-- Noah Berlatsky's response to an accusation of misandry from 10-26-09.

I really don't understand anyone saner than Valerie Solanas having "ire" toward masculinity as such. I can understand an animus toward the statistically-dominant excesses of masculinity, as well as a similar animus toward those of femininity.

But disliking a gender's dominant proclivities in general strikes me as no more balanced than Melville's Ahab threatening to strike the sun if it insulted him.

I said earlier that I would address the concept of Heideggerian "thrownness" with respect to other matters, and one of those matters is referenced in my opening quote, a fairly by-the-book analysis, chosen at random off the Web, of the personality-orienting effects of testosterone on men, who generate about ten times more of the hormone than do women.

I call particular attention to the datum that testosterone produces in men as a group an ethos of competition in which the victor gets the spoils after reddening his teeth and claws on his victims and/or competitors.

This is, to be sure, not an ethos which by itself can support a complex civilization. For civilization to be viable, the male ethos must be, and indeed has been in the majority of societies, modified in order to allow for a cooperative ethos. The female of the species can probably take the lion's share of credit for promulgating this ethos-- and yes, they would deserve the lion's rather than the lioness's, since by all accounts the lion is the one who gets the most meat. It's possible that he gets the biggest share simply because he's big enough to beat down all competitors, though I wouldn't rule out another evolutionary possibility: that he gets it so that he has the energy necessary to fuck all the lionesses in the pride. Spoils, indeed.

The ethos also is not the only one that can inform the literature generated from civilization. It would be a dismal world if all we had for entertainment were stories of heroes beating villains.

However, it would also be a dismal and incomplete world if that particular type were missing, even if we still had all the others without alteration. And contrary to early elitist Gershon Legman and modern elitist Noah Berlatsky, one need not find some abberant psychology at work when men read stories of heroes beating villains, be it Legman's accusations of paranoia or Berlatsky's readings of "homosexual panic." If one must read Superman exclusively as an allegory for The Real World, the most logical and least strained allegory would be that Superman and similar adventure-stories allegorize the Competitive Ethos of Men.

I said above that a Cooperative Ethos comes in to modify said Competitive Ethos, but the latter certainly never goes away, any more than does its "objective correlative," the hormone that encourages men to compete not only for real gains like jobs and women but also for winning pointless contests with no money riding on the outcome.

(As a side-note, it can be argued that women haven't always been against the existence of this ethos. Given two primitive villages, one of which has a good crop and the other a failed one, how many women in Village Two would beg their men not to attack Village One: to let Village One keep its earned goods while the children of Village Two just starve to death?)

Legman's scatterbrained analysis is interesting, though, because he does put his finger on one fact about the adventure-genre: it exists in a continual state of crisis. But Legman fails to appreciate that this heightened state is at base a narrative trope whose purpose is to bring about for the readers' pleasure the dynamizing effects of the *agon.* Of the four Fryean "myth-nuclei" (my term), the *agon* most succinctly summarized the 'superiority dance' nature of all dynamizations because the *agon* involves a physical struggle, while the conflicts found in the other three "nuclei"--*pathos,* *sparagmos* and *cognitio*-- are more abstract in their nature and their effects.

In literature as in life, there's no getting away from the zero-sum-game of conflict, nor is there any justification for rejecting any genre for being overly fantasy-based. So I see no need for most of these reductive approaches to any genre, especially since they usually come off as simple-minded putdowns of those who patronize a given genre-- which is itself another "superiority dance" rather than a valid analysis.

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