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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, December 9, 2010


Long and winding road, but at last I'm back to talking about the "50% of the 90% that's still pretty good."

I've stated that it's possible that what I'll now call the "naive reader" may not have enough acquaintance with "good work" to understand precisely why (to use one of the earlier examples) X-MEN is said to be "crap." For this reader, if X-MEN has a good beat and he can dance to it (so to speak), then X-MEN has a good style.

At the same time if the naive reader was raised in the U.S., then there's a strong chance that by middle school he was exposed to the *idea* that "good work" had certain associations that X-MEN does not. Thus the reader may be aware of the dichotomy, as presented to him through his cultural matrix, even if he can't put into words the literary qualities that Henry James is said to offer and that X-MEN presumably lacks. So in many cases the naive reader's problem is not one of complete ignorance, but of not being able to internalize the dichotomy. More, the reader usually cannot explain just what it is he likes about X-MEN, beyond the obvious things: identifying with the characters, enjoying displays of sex and/or violence, etc.

I've described this reader as "seeking something in the reading-experience that transcends the flaws" that were summarized by Curt Purcell in his essay. Thus the reader may or may not be able to cognitively perceive a flaw like a poor writing style, but what remains constant in both cases is this "something" that I labelled "mythopoesis." Admittedly I was vague just what kind of myth-making I was addressing.

Essentially, what I meant by "mythopoesis" is the reader's formation of a "personal myth" in the Jungian sense of the word. This is more than just a summary of the reader's likes and dislikes: it is the "narrative" of his own life's nature. The naive reader's philosophical counterpart, "the sophisticated reader," will possess a personal narrative as well. However, in line with what I wrote of this type of reader in my last essay, this type of reader probably will have invested a certain "proto-critical" effort into consciously crafting his personal myth. His conscious personal myth probably will not be identical with his subconscious one, but the latter persona must logically be affected by the subject's attempt to "impersonalize" the persona with regard to conscious tastes and philosophical outlook.

Now, in the last essay I wrote:

A discerning appreciation for the ways in which the human mind constructs myths-- even while buttressing them with logical assertions and scientific evidence-- does not *have* to equate all myths as having the same content, or even the same form.

What is important to ask in all cases is what *dynamis* the artist expects to arouse in his reader...

The elitist view of the "Henry James/X-MEN" dichotomy assumes that the contrast between the two ALWAYS comes down to "substantive content" versus "divertissement." I don't oppose the notion that a lot of pop literature is consumed by its intended audience and quickly forgotten, but I don't think it's because all such works are inherently forgettable. And I think this even of works whose own authors may have conceived of doing no more than was necessary to keep food on their tables.

I suggest, rather, the naive reader remembers, however subconsciously, those elements of popular fiction that appeal to his personal myth, and forgets those that do not so appeal. The naive reader may not analyze why he thinks one type of pop-creation is better than the other, beyond simple platitudes: "Mike Hammer is better than a superhero comic because superheroes are for kids and Hammer is for adults." I presume this kind of judgment would hold sway even if the superhero comic were one written *by* Hammer's creator Mickey Spillane.

I suggest further that the sophisticated reader has the same subconscious reactions as the naive one. Once again, though, there is an attempt to construct a "conscioous smart filter" that explains to the conscious persona all the good reasons why the reader does like Henry James but doesn't like the Hernandez Brothers.

And here's where the elitist dichotomy breaks down. Though both the naive reader nor the sophisticated reader will have subconscious reasons, reasons pertaining to one's personal myth, for preferring Work A to Work B, they will also follow the same pattern of conscious justification. Thus the Hernandez-booster may downgrade Henry James for his reticence about sex, and the X-booster may downgrade Mike Hammer for being a fascist and/or racist sunnuvabitch. Elitist proponents can *claim* that the reasoned propositions of the sophisticated reader are different in kind from the less abstruse justifications of the naive one. But this too can be demolished as another "appeal to taste" rather than as a clear description of the mental processes involved in both scenarios.

In summation I think the difference between my explanation of human "crap-tolerance", focusing on the care and feeding of "personal myths," differs from Curt Purcell's concept of a "smart filter" in the following manner.

I *believe* Purcell is positing that the more complex functions of literary cognition evolve in linear fashion from the simpler ones.

I agree that the two are inextricably *related,* but not that the complex is simply an articulation of the simple.

As a post-Kantian myth-critic, I'm pretty much committed to the philosophy that the relation of the two is more like that of a hologram superimposed over a flat drawing.

What the hologram's made of and how it got that way would be food for more essays than I plan to write in future. But I will say this--

It ain't made outta Platonic Forms.

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