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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...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

REDUCTION DERBY

In my last post I said:

...there remains a tendency for many critics to ignore the contributions of the unconscious/"primary concern" functions to art, in favor of those that seem to be conscious/"secondary concern" (and therefore ideological) functions. It's even more important in the criticism of the comics medium insofar as most critics of the medium are unable to think outside the ideological box.

Ideological critics, by their nature, must depend on the narrow reductionism of Marxist aesthetics or of so-called "cognitive science." These tools are not without proper use within the total sphere of literary criticism, but they are useful only in limited sociohistorical circumstances, and are useless for understanding what Jung called the constructive or amplificative abilities of the human mind.


I decided that I should cite at least one example from the myriad of critics whom I consider too reductively smart for comics' own good. Appropriately enough, I remembered the winsomely-titled "Let's Pretend This Makes Sense," by longtime COMICS JOURNAL contributor R. Fiore. The essay itself,a broad dismissal of the Chris Claremont/Milo Manara one-shot comic X-WOMEN, is nothing exceptional for Fiore, who's been writing pretty much the same sort of review for Thoth knows how many years now. Two things went through my mind as I skimmed it:

(1) That if Fiore didn't like it, there was a chance I ought to support it. I didn't end up doing so, though, because I glanced over X-WOMEN and didn't find it interesting enough to support, largely because I've never cared much for Manara.

(2) The reductionism of the following Fiore quote appealed to me as summarizing everything that's wrong with the majority of comics criticism today:

Not that contact with a Manara woman is a possibility, even in your dreams. The Manara woman is out of your league, that league being the human race.


So, as the rest of the "review" makes clear, the only reason that one might buy the comic is because it features naked or near-naked women. But these aren't just representations of glamorous human women. They're-- outside "the human race." One wonders, then, how Milo Manara ever got garnered a lucrative career, if his drawings of women lack all humanity. To the best of my knowledge, the only audience Manara has for said drawings are, well, humans.

What a conundrum! How can humans be attracted to a depiction of that which is non-human? Does that not fly in the face of the rational principles behind evolution? Or perhaps attraction to things outside the norm is confined only to those sad freaks of nature called "superhero comics fans?"

No doubt that's a tempting proposition for a Journalista to make.

Here's another take on the idea of attraction to things outside the norm of the species, if not the "race:"

"A suggestive analogy is to be seen in the case of the grayling moth, which prefers darker mates to those actually offered by its present species. For if human art can offer to a moth the supernormal sign stimulus to which it responds more eagerly than to the normal offerings of life, it can surely supply supernormal stimuli, also to the IRMs [Innate Releasing Mechanisms] of man..."-- Joseph Campbell, PRIMITIVE MYTHOLOGY.


I've discussed the concept of Campbell's ethologically-derived "supernormal signs" in an earlier essay. The concept makes a useful tool not in the purely scientific sense (science itself being only broadly relevant to the project of pluralistic literary criticism), but in the phenomenological sense of understanding what emotional cathexes are aroused by things that seem to exceed a particular form in nature, as with the male grayling moth's preference for phony "dark meat" moth-babes
contrived by human experimenters. Within this phenomenological concept it becomes possible to address why artifice has such a substantial appeal to real (or mostly real) human beings; to come to grips with what I call above the constructive powers of the human mind.

To be sure, X-WOMEN (which I did not read) is not likely to be the best example of those powers. For that, I'm mulling over another example of said constructive powers, which are perhaps seen to best effect when they appear in low-grade popular entertainment, where the pop-culture raconteur has no vested interest in going beyond a proven formula-- and yet, he does. That will wait for a future essay.

In closing, I can't help but wonder why any reductivist who desires "sense" would be reading any sort of literature, whether good or bad. Wouldn't the fellow who wants pure representationalism be better off poring over something like a pie chart?

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