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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

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...

Friday, May 7, 2010

INCEST WE TRUST, PART 3

The dream is a little hidden door in the innermost and most secret recesses of the soul, opening into that cosmic night which was psyche long before there was any ego consciousness, and which will remain psyche no matter how far our ego-consciousness extends. For all ego-consciousness is isolated; because it separates and discriminates, it knows only particulars, and it sees only those that can be related to the ego. Its essence is limitation, even though it reach to the farthest nebulae among the stars. All consciousness separates; but in dreams we put on the likeness of that more universal, truer, more eternal man dwelling in the darkness of primordial night. There he is still the whole, and the whole is in him, indistinguishable from nature and bare of all egohood. It is from these all-uniting depths that the dream arises, be it never so childish, grotesque, and immoral.

"The Meaning of Psychology for Modern Man" (1933). In CW 10: Civilization in Transition. pg. 304


It's significant that even in the midst of Jung's highflown praise of the "all-uniting depths" one finds in dreams-- a propensity clearly related to what Jung calls elsewhere "fantasy thinking"-- he makes no bones about the fact that the dream in its raw state may be "childish, grotesque and immoral." For the pluralist critic this means that the grotesqueries he observes in popular fiction, whether personally attractive to him or not, must be understood as the products of "fantasy thinking" that realizes no boundaries of taste or intellectual purposiveness. The practice of railing against these products as being produced by secondary factors-- the racism or sexism of a given culture (Legman, Berlatsky) or even a given subculture (Groth, Deppey)-- is clearly the province of uncritical elitists.

On a related note, I said of the first significant pluralist comics-critic, Jules Feiffer:

He certainly did not argue that [junk] had no relevance, as does the "content elitist," for he asserted that its very value was being able to "say or do anything" and to be "the least middle-class of all the mass media."


In a way, though as an artist Feiffer seems much more influenced by Freud than by Jung, in his comics-criticism Feiffer seems to partake somewhat of Jung's more freewheeling appreciation for fantasy in all its forms, and a distaste for the demands of the opposing form of thought that Jung called "reality thinking."

"Reality thinking" is particularly on display in the two quotes of Sigmund Freud and Claude Levi-Strauss that I cited in Part 1 of this series. The two scholars have radically-opposed ways of seeing the way that the phenomenon of incest impacts on human beings, for one emphasizes individual development while the other focuses on societal development. But despite this divergence the two scholars are alike in their attempt to fit humankind into a monocausal straitjacket, based on a Johnny-One-Note conception of empirical evaluation.

In Part I I demonstrated the superiority of Georges Bataille's approach to the questions of sexual transgression in culture. Bataille, like Feiffer, is probably more influenced by Freud than by Jung: I don't see Bataille being all that interested in Jung's ideal of the "eternal man dwelling in the darkness of primordial night." And yet Bataille comes closer to Jung than Freud too, in that Bataille can invest himself more fully than Freud in pure "fantasy thinking" in order to arrive at how any transgressive phenomenon-- incest, violence, war, man's relationship to the animals-- might have impacted upon the emotions of the primitives who originated most of humanity's concepts of transgression and of the resultant taboos.

A pluralist critic must practice this kind of "fantasy thinking" as well. It does not imply that one ignores empirical information where such is available, but it does require one to be constantly aware of the egoistic basis of the dreams from which we render art. This does not mean, contrary to Freud's school, that egoism is all there is to any form of art, even popular art. Feiffer sees pop culture as the "drunk" who can "get away with saying or doing anything," but Northrop Frye is probably more correct in saying that popular art "affords an unobstructed view of the archetypes" through which man expresses both personal egoism and the desire to transcend ego.

It was with this kind of devotion to the rigor of "fantasy thinking" that I made a partial defense in the essay TORTURE GUARDIN' of the idea of heroic protagonists using what I called "inquisitorial torture." I didn't say torture and sadism were necessarily good elements in all kinds of narrative, for I found their use in Brad Meltzer's IDENTITY CRISIS to be stupid and artless. In contrast, their appearance in Frank Miller's DARK KNIGHT RETURNS proved far more artful, resonating as they did with what I called the Batman's "Gothic world."

So too with the transgressive concept of incest. In Part I I went to some pains to explain why Georges Bataille was right to say that no particular transgressive form of sexuality was any more important to human development than any other (in contradistinction to Freud and Levi-Strauss). That distinction made, I will note that the phenomenon of incest is probably the best possible metaphor FOR transgressive sexuality as a whole. Unlike homosexuality and bestiality (for two), incest in its most popular conception-- that is, its heterosexual form-- can give rise to living progeny whose proper relationships will thus be confused after the fashion of the riddle in PERICLES:

I am no viper, yet I feed
On mother's flesh which did me breed.
I sought a husband, in which labour
I found that kindness in a father:
He's father, son, and husband mild;
I mother, wife, and yet his child.
How they may be, and yet in two,
As you will live, resolve it you.

There's clearly more than simple egoism in the riddle of Antiochus' daughter: there's also a pleasure in breaking the boundaries of social categories and even of one's own physical nature ("I feed on mother's flesh which did me breed.") This transgressiveness is the essence of fantasy thinking, without which any kind of art, "high" or "low," is impossible.

Next: What else but--

Incest in the Comics.

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