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In essays on the subject of centricity, I've most often used the image of a geometrical circle, which, as I explained here,  owes someth...

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


I'll be addressing more theoretical speculations about the conclusion of ABC'S LOST in part 2 of LOST IN TRANSCENDENCE. But because these speculations involve a compare-and-contrast with a significant horror-film of the 2000s, I'm taking the opportunity to explore some long-unexplored thoughts about how well certain problematic genres conform to Northrop Frye's schema of the four principal narrative mythoi.

The two genres I have in mind are "horror" and "the crime story." For some time these genres have caused me almost as much aggravation as they did Gershon Legman and Frederic Wertham, those long-dead ideologues whose spectres still haunt modern elitist comics-criticism. However, my frustrations, unlike those of Mssrs. Legman and Wertham, have nothing to do with considering either genre as "bad to think." Rather, they're simply "tough to categorize."

Of the two, the crime genre eventually proved the less difficult task. I showed in this essay that Frederic Wertham was wrong to use the term "crime comics" as a rubric for all comics that had any hint of violence in them. I demonstrated that the crime story, even within the humble medium of the comic book, had an approach to violence very different from what one sees in the multifarous adventure-genres. However, in that essay I wasn't concerned with exploring the crime genre in terms of Aristotelian power-of-action. In my system power-of-action is the factor that shows best how a given genre stacks up with respect to the overruling mythoi.

With some genres it's easy to see that they're essentially monovalent, as with the "sword-and-sorcery" genre. This genre is so devoted to all-out adventure that it may not even have any manifestations in the ironic and dramatic mythoi, while the genre's comedic renderings are few, with pride of place going to GROO THE WANDERER. Other genres are clearly multivalent. So-called "science fiction" embraces a wealth of adventurous, dramatic, comedic and ironic works. Thus in science fiction no single mythos defines the genre in the minds of its audience so much as to thoroughly marginalize other mythoi.

After some consideration I decided that the crime story-genre was also essentially monovalent. Whereas a science-fiction story with a larger-than-life heroic protagonist can belong to the adventure-mythos without its audience thinking that all science fiction is normatively adventurous in nature, the crime story seems to lose its identity when it takes on aspects of any of the four mythoi but that of the drama. When a crime-oriented serial work takes on a strong heroic presence, as one sees in Chester Gould's DICK TRACY, it ceases to follow the generic expectations associated with the crime genre. Said work becomes less focused on crime as such and more focused on the hero, arguably birthing a separate genre: that of the "cop-action" narrative. Comedic and ironic takes on the crime genre do appear without generating offshoot genres, but the crime story remains dominated by the dramatic mythos seen in most of the famous Hollywood gangster-films, one of which I critiqued in this essay.

I played around with the notion that the entire genre (or supergenre?) of horror might be dominated by irony's myth-radical; that of *sparagmos* or destruction. Here I categorized various CDMs (comics-derived movies) according to their adherence to one mythos or another, electing to view 1972's TALES FROM THE CRYPT film as sharing narrative company with artier ironies like 2001's GHOST WORLD. I did so because they both shared the tendency to render power-of-action as a nullity in an arbitrary and perhaps deterministic universe.

In most of the tales from that EC crypt, power-of-action exists in an ultimately futile state, for it resides in the talons of living corpses that can kill mortals but can't undo their own deceased status. But not all horror tales present power as so compromised. Bram Stoker's DRACULA is a classic horror text if any work is, but though its protagonists are not quite dynamic enough to be adventure-heroes, they are resourceful and they do succeed in vanquishing their foe. Still, agonic conflict takes a back seat to the radical of *pathos* in DRACULA, which I would say is also characteristic of those horror-stories where the heroes strive but fail pathetically (but not ignobly), like Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN. Thus I theorize that the majority of classic horror-texts, whether they have somewhat-happy endings like DRACULA (and its rough Aristotelian parallel IPHIGENIA AMONG THE TAUREANS) or unhappy ones like FRANKENSTEIN (and OEDIPUS REX), follow the dramatic pattern, even if some classics may be exceptions (Stevenson's JEKYLL AND HYDE, possibly).

The horror-genre is perhaps less strong in terms of the adventure and comedy mythoi, but these two have their own identity within the generic parameters. The Van Helsing crew aren't dynamic enough for me to deem them adventure-heroes, but I would hardly say the same of their powerful epigoni, BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER. I said earlier that DICK TRACY, by choosing to emphasize the cop over the crime, essentially stepped away from the narrative mythos that defined the monovalent crime-genre: the drama whose radical is *pathos.* But because the horror genre is multivalent BUFFY can keep a kickass foot firmly planted in the adventure-mythos without being divorced from any aspect of the horror-genre. Indeed, though I disagree with many of Peter Coogan's contentions about superheroes in this book, it's significant that he disallows Buffy's status as a superhero due to her ties to what he considers a distinct genre, that of the fighter against supernatural horrors.

Lastly, comedy-horrors are as much a part of the overall genre as the other three mythoi. Whereas one may have to think hard to come up with a significant crime-comedy once one puts aside everything by Damon Runyon, the genre of horror has nurtured any number of humorous horrors who are icons in their own right, and are sometimes improvements on the originals. I certainly consider Charles Addams' Morticia a more significant figure (in more ways than one) than her likely model, "Luna" of Tod Browning's 1935 MARK OF THE VAMPIRE.

Now, LOST does not belong to the horror genre, but despite its own multivalence it does line up fairly well with a genre that has related narrative concerns: the genre of the suspense-drama. Most of the time LOST does not seek to scare, but to startle and disorient, as do most of the classic suspense-texts. Thus I feel comfortable in speculating that the outcome of LOST may take a form not unlike that of a prominent but not-well-liked film of the 2000s--

--which I'll talk about in my next installment.

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