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Monday, December 21, 2009

STALKING THE PERFECT TERM: AGONISTIC AND OTHERS

Since starting this blog I've devoted few posts purely to the logic I used in forming a new literary term,as I did here. I've also introduced any number of terms in passing and will probably formulate a glossary of such specialized terms at some point or other.

But this post will be both a creation and a destruction of same. I introduced the terms "combative" and "conflictive" when I wondered how one might classify fictions in terms of the element of combat, which (a) is the most extroverted form of literary conflict, in that it connotes some physical contest, and (b) is alluded to by Northrop Frye as the "radical" of the adventure/romance genre in his ANATOMY OF CRITICISM. However, to complicate matters further, combat-considered-as-a-story-element isn't by any means confined to the adventure genre, but also occurs in the other three genres/*mythoi* which Frye categorizes, the other three being tragedy (which I call, more broadly, "drama,"), comedy and irony/satire. In order to denote the degree of prominence of this element in any of the four *mythoi,* I formulated three terms: the combative, the subcombative and the noncombative.

As examples of the first two degrees I wrote AGON IN SIXTY SECONDS, in which I contrasted Rider Haggard's KING SOLOMON'S MINES as "combative" and Haggard's SHE as "subcombative."

But I'm revising those earlier terms now.

My first reason for so doing is because I want to use the term "combative" in another context, while keeping "conflictive" in the same place it was: denoting any form of conflict no matter how extroverted or introverted. This other use of the first term will be critical to the development of another set of neologisms intended to directly address categorizations designed for what I've sometimes called the Idiom of the Superhero.

My second reason for revising the name of The Category Formerly Known as Combative is that I felt a need to bestow neologisms on all of the "radicals" (one of Frye's terms for the predominant aspects of his four *mythoi*) so that they could be used as adjectives when necessary.

Those aspects (which Frye also calls "stages," confusing things all to heck) are, for anyone who doesn't recall, are the agon (combat), the pathos (emotional turmoil), the sparagmos (ironic detachment), and what Frye calls the anagnorisis (comic turnabout) and which I renamed the *cognitio* because of my problems with Frye's definition of comedy, detailed here.

As it happens, I'm still not entirely satisfied with that term either, but I'll get to that.

Of the four, two already have adjectival forms: the *pathetic* (which unfortunately has other associations than the purely literary, but one does find it still used in a literary context) and the *agonistic,* which yields the same essential meaning I cited for "combative."

Thus, from now on in my mind, *agonistic* substitutes for all previous usages of the term *combative.*

Oddly enough, when I considered making an adjectival form for *sparagmos,* I made a form out of whole-cloth, probably the same way Francis Fukuyama took *thymos* and got "thymotic." Then I checked out "sparagmotic" on the Web and found that a few people had already used the term, though I'd bet it's in no one's dictionary. Plainly category-obsessed minds think alike.

And then, that left me with "cognitio," for which the only possible adjectival form would be "cognitive."

Not an option. Comedy in my view is about incongruity, not congruity-- about "not knowing" rather than "knowing"-- about the "happy accident" rather than the well-wrought plan.

So from now in my system the radical for the mythos of comedy I do christen the *incognitio* (which is also on the Web, but not as a quasi-literary term). *Incognitive,* also on the Web from other minds than mind, is thus the adjectival form, but means nothing but the root-aspect of the comedy-mythos.

One more time for the road:

AGON= agonistic
PATHOS= pathetic
SPARAGMOS= sparagmotic
INCOGNITIO= incognitive

These will almost certainly come up again, somehow.

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