Featured Post


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 19, 2010


In part 2 of this series I took two of the examples provided in a Grant Morrison talk, X-MEN and LITTLE MERMAID, and used them as examples of different types of fantasy-fiction. Now I'll give those types names which I've swiped from the symbolism theory of Suzanne Langer: "discursive" and "presentational."

"Discursive fantasy" is the type for which X-MEN is a fair representative. As noted before, X-MEN was indeed conceived as a fantastic fiction grounded in certain rules by which the powers and actions of the protagonists could be explained. Grant Morrison asserts that the desire to rationalize fantasy was something typical only of reality-minded adults, but Morrison overlooks that not only was the original Lee-Kirby X-MEN explicitly created to be this kind of fantasy, it was also a fantasy aimed at a certain age-range of juvenile readers, roughly extending from middle-school to (early) high-school. Of course children in a younger age-range also encounter their fair share of discursive fantasies-- as well as non-fantastic fiction in this discursive mode. But whether one is talking about X-MEN or ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS, casual impressions would suggest that "secondary school" juveniles do seem to favor rule-based discursive fictions more than do their "elementary school" kindred.

"Presentational fantasy" is the type of fantasy with which most children grow up, and this type is best represented by works akin to Disney's LITTLE MERMAID. Presentational fantasies do not draw explicit rules for their deviations from consensual reality of the audience: instead, they present every deviation as simply a *fait accompli,* something that happens because the author says it happens. As noted before there is no "rule" that establishes why fish can talk in the Little Mermaid world; they simply do. At the same time, MERMAID imposes on itself some limits on how many kinds of *fait accompli* the author can present. Disney's MICKEY MOUSE cartoons often present a world where some dogs walk on two legs and wear clothes while other dogs are cartoonized versions of real dogs. MERMAID makes a choice to give us cartoon-fish who can speak but don't otherwise emulate human beings by walking on their lower fins or wearing garments.

This form of limitation, common to both types of fiction and/or fantasy, is what I term an *expectation,* one which is created by the author and and which he expects the audience to interpret in a certain way. To simply, "expectations" can include all the "rules" conceived by discursive fictions, such as how Scott Summer's optic force-beams are generated from his eyes. However, "rules" cannot subsume the total set of expectations created by both discursive and presentational forms, for the limitation "LITTLE MERMAID fish can talk but they don't wear pants" is not expressed discursively, as a rule must be.

Now, I agree that all forms of fiction, even those that attempt to bend one's expectations, nevertheless generate expectations, if only in the sense of audience reception. Quoting narratologist Mieke Bal, Tim O'Neil calls this audience perception a "logic-line." Yet even though I have not read Bal, I suspect that she is speaking of "story logic." I see no place in Grant Morrison's Comicon speech where he advocated banishing story logic; he merely opposes the impulse to rationalize fantastic material, as per his X-MEN example. I'll be holding forth in more detail on the conflicts of logic and aesthetics in part 4.

To further complicate this introduction of "discursive" and "presentational" for types of fiction dominated by a certain approach, one can also use them for the approach itself, or, more properly, what literary criticism calls a "mode." This is an important distinction because neither X-MEN nor LITTLE MERMAID is purely discursive or presentational.

For instance, while the Lee-Kirby X-MEN may expend many discursive efforts to explain the logic of how its heroes function, there is a presentational side to X-MEN that descends from most other superhero serials. For instance, after the heroes save the day, they *must* be able to get away from the public back to lives of anonymity. This is not a logical consequence of any factor in the series proper, but it is as much a *given* as talking fish, or Morrison's desire not to worry about how old Batman and Robin are.

Similarly, LITTLE MERMAID may not expend much thought on the ways in which antagonists Triton and Ursula use magic, but there's the germ of discursive fantasy in this contest which isn't quite as "presentational" as the talking fish. One senses the potential for a "rule" in Triton being under Ursula's control once he surrenders his trident.

To be continued...

No comments: