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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...

Sunday, February 28, 2010

THAT DARN ADORNO, PT. 2

Second verse, same as the first:

"Cartoons were once exponents of fantasy as opposed to rationalism. They ensured that justice was done to the creatures and objects they electrified, by giving the maimed specimens a second life. All they do today is to confirm the victory of technological reason over truth. A few years ago they had a consistent plot which only broke up in the final moments in a crazy chase, and thus resembled the old slapstick comedy. Now, however, time relations have shifted. In the very first sequence a motive is stated so that in the course of the action destruction can get to work on it: with the audience in pursuit, the protagonist becomes the worthless object of general violence. The quantity of organised amusement changes into the quality of organised cruelty. The self-elected censors of the film industry (with whom it enjoys a close relationship) watch over the unfolding of the crime, which is as drawn-out as a hunt. Fun replaces the pleasure which the sight of an embrace would allegedly afford, and postpones satisfaction till the day of the pogrom. Insofar as cartoons do any more than accustom the senses to the new tempo, they hammer into every brain the old lesson that continuous friction, the breaking down of all individual resistance, is the condition of life in this society. Donald Duck in the cartoons and the unfortunate in real life get their thrashing so that the audience can learn to take their own punishment."

After reading brain-fried paragraphs like this one, I begin to reconsider my resolve not to bother reading any more Adorno. Most of his writing in the "culture industry" chapter of the DIALECTIC is stiff and moralistic but seems essentially sane, but this goofball paragraph makes no sense whatsoever and so provides a bit more entertainment. One thing is certain from it: the author *really* didn't like Donald Duck.

It's also interesting that in this one paragraph from a 1944 book Adorno states the central theme of Gesrhon Legman's LOVE AND DEATH, the 1949 essay-collection in which Legman accuses all comic books of promulgating a "superman ideology" as a means of keeping American audiences psychologically "beaten down." In MEN OF TOMORROW Gerard Jones provides strong if circumstantial evidence for Adorno's possible influence on Fredric Wertham, but Legman and Adorno seem much closer in tone: more Kafkaesque in their evocation of Shadowy Controllers who call all the shots. By contrast Frederic Wertham directs all of his rhetoric against mere unscrupulous human beings.

Parenthetically, the fellow-traveler status of Legman and Adorno is illustrated by this 1954 Adorno essay, in which Adorno quotes one of Legman's essays.

The main reason the Adorno paragraph is such a mess is because he declined to cite any particular "exponents of fantasy" or of "rationalism," so that it's impossible to know what he's reacting against. But again, the appearance that one phase of cartoons produced by the culture industry could actually be better than another phase emphatically contradicts his stance that the products of the culture industry are always essentially the same.

It seems likely that the issue of violence is the thing that drives all three intellectuals-- Adorno, Wertham and Legman-- into states of relative incoherence. All were either Jewish or of Jewish extraction, and for all of them the rise of fascism in Europe became a spectre that they perceived to be haunting the United States as well (this despite the fact that the U.S. gave Adorno a sanctuary from fascism). However, Adorno's critique of popular culture goes much further than those of Wertham and Legman, as one sees here:

"A technological rationale is the rationale of domination itself. It is the coercive nature of society alienated from itself. Automobiles, bombs, and movies keep the whole thing together until their leveling element shows its strength in the very wrong which it furthered. It has made the technology of the culture industry no more than the achievement of standardisation and mass production, sacrificing whatever involved a distinction between the logic of the work and that of the social system."

Though Adorno is mapping out new territories of Capital's domination, territories of which Marx probably never dreamed, the Marxist paradigm remains unchanged: "the logic of the work" is perverted by those who control the social system, the masters whose only real logic is self-interest.

It's a paradigm that *can* appeal to the emotions of anyone who has been forced to knuckle under to the illogical, self-interested demands of parents, teachers, or bosses-- that is, to anyone. Thus the Frankfurt School of Adorno and his colleagues enjoyed a vogue for some time on college campuses, despite the fact that Adorno provides so few examples, or, in some cases, radically misstates the facts.

For instance, in the section I quoted in Part 1, Adorno condemns the heartless studios for having passed over "the tragic Garbo" in their ceaseless quest for the new. This misrepresents the facts in Garbo's case. Though a story did circulate for a time that Garbo had fallen out of favor due to the failure of her last film, a closer reading of the evidence suggests that (a) said film actually made five times its cost, and that (b) Garbo walked away from the business on her own, being a somewhat aloof and perhaps depressive personality who had invested her money so wisely that she didn't actually HAVE to work.

This is not to say that many workers in all industries have not been canned by cruel and capricious bosses. Because injustices of this kind exist (and may well always exist), Adornism (my term) continues to make converts. Still, it's been said that its influence on college campuses has waned in the last decade. It could be that it's lost some currency because of its tendency to see devils where none can be proved to exist.

The comics world, unfortunately, often remains behind the curve as far as new cultural developments. In the comics world Adornism does have one bastion as yet unshaken by more measured considerations of popular culture and canonical literature.

And anyone who can't guess the name of the bastion of "advocacy journalism" to which I've referred probably needs to take refresher courses in Comics Criticism 101.

More on that in an essay due out sometime in March 2010.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

THAT DARN ADORNO, PT 1

"Amusement and all the elements of the culture industry existed long before the latter came into existence. Now they are taken over from above and brought up to date... “Light” art as such, distraction, is not a decadent form. Anyone who complains that it is a betrayal of the ideal of pure expression is under an illusion about society. The purity of bourgeois art, which hypostasised itself as a world of freedom in contrast to what was happening in the material world, was from the beginning bought with the exclusion of the lower classes – with whose cause, the real universality, art keeps faith precisely by its freedom from the ends of the false universality. Serious art has been withheld from those for whom the hardship and oppression of life make a mockery of seriousness, and who must be glad if they can use time not spent at the production line just to keep going."-- Adorno and Horkheimer, DIALECTICS OF ENLIGHTENMENT.

Before proceeding to tear apart any current comics-critics as promised in my last essay, I may as well show an example of a deductive theorist who, unlike my examples of Frye and Jung, did put his foot in a whole mess o' hubris: Theodor W. Adorno. Noted Frankfurter Adorno authored DIALECT OF ENLIGHTENMENT with his colleague Max Horkheimer, but for my own convenience I will credit Adorno alone for everything I quote here, speaking as if the dark brown theory of the "culture industry" originated from Adorno's bowels alone. Certainly this essay, to which I linked earlier, gives indications that Adorno was the more vociferous opponent of what he termed "the culture industry," and so I feel justified in making him the prime devil in my scenario, much as many Journalistas focus their vilifications on Stan Lee and ignore Martin Goodman.

I will also note up front that I still have not slogged through any more of Adorno's work than the one essay I'll be quoting from. Adorno's definitive statement on the culture industry can be found on this site, which I consider a concise enough representation of the elitist cant Adorno propounded.

The work of Northrop Frye has at least one thing in common with that of Adorno: both relied heavily upon deductive arguments. Frye argues a long and involved continuity between man's early mythico-religious history and what modern people now call "art." Adorno argues that the "culture industry"-- which one may choose to view as nothing more than Marx's "Capital" as it manifests in the entertainment world-- has suborned the whole of modern culture and made it worse through its wholesale employment of soul-killing "mechanical reproduction."

Neither author privileges the inductive method to start: neither starts from a collection of raw data and weighs it until arriving at a conclusion. Once Frye has deduced the outlines of his theory, however, he brings to bear a tremendous amount of specific examples to prove the various fine points of his theory.

What examples does Adorno bring forth to prove his theory?

Given that Adorno is lamenting the tragedy of the decline of "serious art," it seems odd that he says so little about it in this essay. The above quote makes clear that he thinks it was a crime that the bourgeoise "withheld" the benefits of serious art from the oppressed classes. What the lower classes were given instead was mere "light art," i.e., "bread and circuses." This art had no identity of its own but existed in a "shadow" relationship to "autonomous art." Possibly in other essays Adorno defines this kind of art with greater resort to examples, but very few artists or their specific works are cited here. For that matter, one never knows from this essay what would constitute "light art" prior to the rise of the bourgeoise and of industrialization, with one exception:

"Whether folk-songs were rightly or wrongly called upper-class culture in decay, their elements have only acquired their popular form through a long process of repeated transmission. The spread of popular songs, on the other hand, takes place at lightning speed."

Thus folk-songs come by their "popular form" legitimately, through "repeated transmission" among actual human beings, rather than being promulgated via the mechanical means of productions controlled by the culture industry. I'm not sure why there's nothing at all mechanical in the larger sense about all this repetition of familiar ballads and such, but clearly Adorno considers the speed of mass culture's promulgation to be proof of its manipulation by Capital.

(I should note that Adorno later said that he meant "culture industry" to take the place of the earlier term "mass culture," in order to make clear how thoroughly this culture was NOT the expression of the oppressed who lived in its matrices. But I've never seen anyone but him use "culture industry" that way: "mass culture" is still generally used for the oppressed and "culture industry" for those doing the oppressing. I'll continue to use them both in this way.)

Of serious art, pre-industrial "light art," and "culture industry" art, the last category is the one of which Adorno supplies the most examples, mostly taken from popular movies. However, in keeping with his view that all of these products must be interchangeable, he cites no movie-titles, much the way his possible disciple Frederic Wertham rarely cited issue-numbers to the comic books he assailed. Adorno does name various stars, both those living and those brought to life by pen and ink, in curious passages like this one:

"As naturally as the ruled always took the morality imposed upon them more seriously than did the rulers themselves, the deceived masses are today captivated by the myth of success even more than the successful are. Immovably, they insist on the very ideology which enslaves them... [This ideology] calls for Mickey Rooney in preference to the tragic Garbo, for Donald Duck instead of Betty Boop. The industry submits to the vote which it has itself inspired."

In this comments-section I asked Charles Reece to explain what this section meant, but he declined, after having claimed that I just didn't understand Adorno's argument. I do understand that if everything that follows pre-industrial mass culture is controlled by the culture industry, then all four of these stellar figures should be equally implicated as the "rubbish" of the culture industry. I do understand that Adorno considers mere novelty to be one of the means by which the hidden controllers manipulate the masses, but his reference to "the tragic Garbo" suggests that on some level he *does not* consider her work to be the same sort of "rubbish" as that of Mickey Rooney. The parallelism of his sentence would suggest that Betty Boop also holds some slightly-higher vantage than Donald Duck, particularly since he singles Donald out for more lofty scorn in a passage I'll quote in Part II.

So against all his rhetoric, Adorno may have recognized distinctions in what he claimed was undifferentiated.

What can one say of a writer whose own chosen examples poke holes in his theory?

Find out in Part II.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

STRUCTURING DEDUCTIONS

"That Freud, Fairbairn, and Jung each reckon a different number of structures (and different structures) [of the psyche] indicates to me that they do not so much infer structures empirically as posit them theoretically... The procedure is deductive rather than inductive."-- Adams, THE FANTASY PRINCIPLE, p. 49.

"The first thing the literary critic has to do is to read literature, to make an inductive survey of his own field and let his critical principles shape themselves solely out of his knowledge of that field. Critical principles cannot be taken over ready-made from theology, philosophy, politics, science, or any combination of these."-- Northrop Frye, ANATOMY OF CRITICISM, p. 6-7.

Upon my finishing Michael Vannoy Adams' book I found some instructive, albeit rough, contrasts between the ways in which Adams and Frye use the term "inductive" as a term of approbation for their own methodologies.

Here I noted that Frye's ANATOMY was not ideal for sussing out the fine points of a genre/mythos like "adventure" because Frye's main concepts in AOC partake of the deductive method: of beginning with a generalization-- such as Aristotle's "power-of-action" concept-- and then applying that generalization to specific examples within a putative category. But in the passage from the introductory essay cited, Frye speaks of the critic's need to conduct an "inductive survey." I do not think that Frye is saying that the only logic in the ANATOMY is inductive, which it clearly is not. The word "inductive" is set up to oppose the tendency of critics then and now to deduce the meaning of a given literary work through reference to some extra-literary discipline, but is not a description of Frye's own methodology.

Immediately this reminds me of Adams' caution-- supported by copious citations from Jung's writings-- to the effect that one should not invoke such a "referential fallacy" in order to explain the individual psyche's fantasies, as (to take the obvious example) Freud does in explaining fantasies as repressed wish-dreams. So in this respect Frye and Adams are the same page: examine the phenomenon, be it a dream or a book, in terms of what it is, not what it looks like through an extrinsic lens.

Despite this common ground, however, Adams is clearly much more a one-sided champion of the inductive than Frye is, as one notices by his bracketing of "the inductive" with "the empirical" and "the deductive" with "the theoretical." Throughout THE FANTASY PRINCIPLE Adams shows himself an anti-doctrinaire Jungian, who quotes Jung in respect to Jung's valuation of fantasy but is conspicuously less approving of Jung's theoretical deductions about the general nature of the psyche. At the beginning of the chapter from which the quote is taken, Adams asks:

"Does Jungian analysis need a structural theory? Or can it do very well without one?"

I won't dwell on the reasons Adams gives for answering the questions "no" and "yes," respectively. It's clear that as a practicing psychotherapist, Adams is concerned with patients who require individualized psychological treatment, not a general theory of the psyche. Still, I believe that he is wrong to discount Jung's theoretical deductions, just as a practical engineer would be wrong to discount the disciplines of the theoretical physicist, even if the latter's theories could not be proven to have utilitarian benefit to humankind.

But although the adherents of psychology can argue that their discipline is more science than art-- whether it is or not-- literary criticism is in Frye's view both:

'The word "inductive" suggests some sort of scientific procedure. What if criticism is a science as well as an art? Not a "pure" or "exact" science, of course, but these phrases belong to a nineteenth-century cosmology which is no longer with us.'-- Frye, AOC, p. 7.

If one can assume from this that Frye would roughly agree with the associative logic of Adams' aforementioned bracketing, then Frye would probably assert that the good critic needs both inductive and deductive skills to do his job, whether the psychologist also does or not.

Adams surprises me in that he valorizes the function of fantasy as necessary to the maintenance of human life but adopts a stance that largely stops that function at the gates of the individual psyche, with only occasional references to its function with the symbolic universe that we call culture. Patently Jung hypothesized his "structures" to account for repeated patterns in culture as a whole, just as Frye calls for greater attention to repeated patterns in that part of culture we call literature. Naturally with such deductions there is always the possibility that the individual theorist may fall victim to hubris, of going beyond the bounds of what his theory may encompass. But in litcrit territory it's worth asking whether too great a concentration upon inductive methodologies amount to the critic's doing "too little" rather than "too much."

The latter state is pretty much where the formal criticism of the comics-medium resides at this historical moment, which I'll demonstrate further in another essay.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

THE QUICK LOST POST JUMPED OVER THE LAZY BLOG

So. Unlocke's last line to Sawyer in "The Substitute" is something about their just leaving the Island, like Lenny and George perhaps. But we can be sure that they won't just "leave." (And Sawyer is one of the least inclined to just leave, anyway.) Clearly Unlocke has some scheme in mind that makes it possible for him to leave, possibly getting a replacement like unto the one he claims Jacob wanted from among the "candidates."

Here's a possible scenario that might turn up:

In "What Kate Does" Sawyer gets a gun and forces his way out of the Temple. Dogen appeals to Sawyer to stay, and when that doesn't work, sends people to bring him back. One assumes that Dogen's figured out that Sawyer's a valuable candidate even though his name may or may not have been on Hurley's guitar-ankh list.

In addition, we know that if there's someone that the Temple-ars DON'T want in their Temple, it's Smokey, as witness their barricades on the doors and their spreading of ash.

So the Temple-ars don't want Smokey--

But they do want Sawyer--

Can you say, "Trojan Horse?"

(It just seems fair that the Iliad should get a little mention after all the Odyssey-stuff from Season 5.)

Friday, February 19, 2010

DOMINANCE, SUBMISSION (RADIOS APPEAR)

Here's a little history on how I came to perceive the need for "submissive" versions of the "dominant" significant values derived from the four narrative myth-radicals.

Though Frye's ANATOMY OF CRITICISM proves vital to one's understanding of literature's mythic radicals, the ANATOMY usually defines a given mythos by the process of deduction. That is, Frye reasons from general principles as to how a mythos works (or is said to work) as a whole, and then applying it to particular examples within the mythos. I consider this a perfectly valid choice, but some might view the ANATOMY as deficient in that it rarely follows the inductive path. The approach of genre-studies academician John Cawelti takes just such an opposing course. When Cawelti tries to determine the parameters of a mythos (though he only uses the narrower term "genre") he begins with particular examples commonly held to belong to the same genre-category and susses out their likenesses as a way to define the genre. Most of the structuralists use largely inductive methods as well. Perhaps significantly, in Cawelti's ADVENTURE, MYSTERY AND ROMANCE, the author pointedly disavows any attempt to address Frye's theories of genre, though Cawelti certainly doesn't attack Frye. It may be that he simply realized that their methodologies were too far apart to make fruitful contact. I do not know if the late Professor Frye had any opinion on Cawelti, but one of Frye's early essays (which I do not have to hand) displays little enthusiasm for the structuralist approach and places emphasis on the critic's purpose to ferret out the "total vision" of literature.

All that said, I do think both methods of reasoning can play off one another in rewarding fashion, which will be my goal in sussing out some of the dimensions of the mythos of adventure. I choose it for this essay because, as I've noted before, so little of value has been written about this mythos.

By continuing to use the work "mythos," of course, I continue to subscribe to Frye's deductive vision. "Adventure" (which Frye called the "romance") is not to me a genre, or even a "supergenre" like horror or science fiction. "Adventure considered as a mythos" implies that all the works under its rubric share the fundamental aspect Frye imputes to the mythos: that the protagonists dominantly have a power-of-action greater than that of the average man.

And yet, worthwhile though this insight is, one must admit that Frye never quite defines parameters for the adventure-mythos, which he calls the "romance." His meaning as to what works belong in the category have to be reached more or less inductively from his deductively-arrived-at statements about the mythos.

In the first of the three analytical essays that make up the bulk of the ANATOMY, Frye starts with his "theory of modes." "Modes" in this chapter describes the power-of-action used by a given author of a given type of work, whereas the four *mythoi* that he describes later in the "theory of myths" essay are the categories to which the works themselves belong. Moving right along to the topic of the romance, here's what Frye first writes on the subject:

"If [the hero's power of action is] superior in degree to other men and to his environment, the hero is the typical hero of romance, whose actions are marvellous but who is himself identified as a human being. The hero of romance moves in a world in which the ordinary laws of nature are slightly suspended: prodigies of courage and endurance, unnatural to us, are natural to him, and enchanted weapons, talking animals, terrifying ogres and witches, and talismans of miraculous power violate no rule of probability once the postulates of romance have been established. Here we have moved from myth, properly so called, into legend, folk tale, marchen, and their literary affiliates and derivatives."-- AOC, p. 33

After elaborating his list of modes (which I won't touch on here), he comments that "fictions of romance" dominated literature until Renaissance times, after which other modes began to emphasize protagonists of increasingly diminished power-of-action. Frye does not trace the extent to which romance/adventure continued to appear in literature in more realistic forms, such as those propagated by Stevenson and Walter Scott, or for that matter the "lower" forms of literature that flourished as the lower classes gained a degree of literacy. Frye's main concern is to show how literature in general is informed by principles of art derived from myth and ritual, which have common ground with canonical literature in its emotional/expressive spectrum. Additionally, he wishes to show that these modes (which naturally inform his *mythoi*) are not means by which one isolates one category from another in an absolute manner:

"Once we have learned to distinguish the modes, however, we must then learn to recombine them. For while one mode constitutes the underlying tonality of a work of fiction, any or all of the other four may be simultaneously present. Much of our sense of the subtlety of great literature comes from this modal counterpoint."-- AOC, p. 50.

This statement, more than any other made by Frye, justifies the concept of Literary Genetics I've mentioned in earlier essays, but on which I haven't yet expounded. But back to Frye and the qualities of his romance-category:

From the first quote it would seem beyond dispute that Frye's romantic protagonist is superior to the average man in terms of power-of-action. A few pages after the opening of this essay, he goes on to describe this hero as "still half a god," but does not give many more specifics about romances in this essay because he's principally concerned with describing modal action rather than particular works.

In the "theory of myths" essay, Frye does become somewhat more detailed about the structure of the romance-category (though obviously not after the fashion of the structuralists). The first mythos he surveys is that of comedy, and then follows romance, though oddly enough, it's in the latter of these two sections that Frye warms to his topic enough to describe the four mythoi and their principal aspects in detail. His comments on the romance privilege its agonistic nature:

"The essential element of plot in romance is adventure, which means that romance is naturally a sequential and processional form, hence we know it better from fiction than from drama. At its most naive it is an endless form in which a central character who never develops or ages goes through one adventure after an other until the author himself collapses. We see this form in comic strips, where the central characters persist for years in a state of refrigerated deathlessness."-- AOC, p. 186.

"The complete form of the romance is clearly the successful quest, and such a completed form has three main stages: the stage of the perilous journey and the preliminary minor adventures; the crucial struggle, usually some kind of battle in which either the hero or his foe, or both, must die; and the exaltation of the hero."-- AOC, p. 187.

"A quest involving conflict assumes two main characters, a protagonist or hero, and an antagonist or enemy."-- AOC, p. 187.

I share Frye's belief that the category of the romance/adventure is certainly dominated by martial conflict, and that this is the reason to emphasize the radical of the *agon.* But perhaps in keeping with his Spengleresque view that romance as such has passed out of its historical moment, most of Frye's examples of romances hail from either medieval or Renaissance periods, and when he does make comparisons between aspects of the romance and more modern works, it tends to be works that are not actual romances, such as Melville's PIERRE and James' SENSE OF THE PAST. Frye's reasons for so doing is to show that the expressive power of romance's archetypes does not vanish simply because the culture turns toward more realistic fare. In a felicitous combination of terminologies drawn from both Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, Frye asserts that the archetypes (Jung) have simply been displaced (Freud) into more realistic forms or motifs. Perhaps a close examination of the romance's survival in Stevenson and Scott might have weakened Frye's schema of historical/cultural succession. Interestingly, Frye does make a tangential allusion to THE SUNDERING FLOOD, one of the Victorian-era works of William Morris, usually credited as the first English writer to revive the form of the medieval romance as a means for telling new stories. This breakthrough led to later generations deeming Morris as the progenitor of the modern "high fantasy," though admittedly fantasies like SUNDERING FLOOD were probably not as popular with Victorians as the most well-known exemplars of fantasy (LORD OF THE RINGS, HARRY POTTER) are with modern audiences.

So Frye never really gives one much of a definition of "adventure" save that it is primarily about "some kind of battle." However, as I noted here, it's possible that even two works by the same author, about roughly the same subject matter, could have very different approaches to the centrality of the *agon.* Haggard's KING SOLOMON'S MINES places such a battle at the center of the plot-action, and so I view KSM as a work thoroughly dominated by the agonistic radical.

However, Haggard's SHE, though indubitably an "adventure" story due to its emphasis on peril-filled journeys and armed conflict, does not center around a final battle between a hero and his (or her) antagonist. Ayesha, the immortal "She Who Must Be Obeyed," certainly functions as an antagonist, albeit an ambivalent one to the viewpoint-protagonist Holly and his surrogate son Leo. But when Ayesha is defeated, it is certainly not by anyone's forceful action: she simply steps into the Flame of Life that first bestowed on her immortality, and finds that it has as much power to take as to give. Haggard suggests some ancient emnity between Ayesha and a long-deceased female rival, and intimates that it may have something to do with Ayesha's ill fortune, but this motif never becomes a literal conflict. Thus, I come to the conclusion that the agonistic radical in SHE has become relatively submissive compared to its manifestation in KING SOLOMON'S MINES-- though of course the agon-radical of SHE is more pronounced than it is in a work dominated by another radical. In this essay I described examples of a drama, a comedy and an irony that all had adventure-elements but were not primarily of the adventure-mythos. SHE is not any of these simply because its agon is "submissive," but it does require some special attention.

I plan to discuss another form of mode-dominance when I deal with the question of works in a serial mode. For all Frye's awareness of the "refrigerated deathlessness" of comic strips and similar pop-cultural media, I suspect he would have found challenging the question as to how a given serial could vary its significant values from story to story, and sometimes mutate from one mythos to another right before one's eyes.

Monday, February 15, 2010

SUBCATEGORIAL IMPERATIVES

In STALKING THE PERFECT TERM: AGONISTIC AND OTHERS I refined the terms I use for the significant values of the narrative myth-radicals: "agonistic" for the *agon,* "sparagmotic" for the *sparagmos,* "pathetic" for the *pathos,* and "incognitive" for my not-classically-approved *incognitio."

In AGON IN 60 SECONDS I attempted to sort out two famous narratives by Rider Haggard-- SHE and KING SOLOMON'S MINES-- with respect to how they measured in terms of their nature of conflict, using the terms "combative" for one and "subcombative" for the other. These terms have been largely superseded by the terms for the above-cited significant values, with "agonistic" taking the place of "combative."

In CONFLICT VS. COMBAT I observed that one might make place different narratives into typological perspective according to the element of combat. I showed how the element functioned in different narratives, using three examples: MEASURE FOR MEASURE for the "noncombative" (where combat either does not exist or is only implied), ROMEO AND JULIET for the "subcombative" (where combat is seen but is not the central aspect of the story) and MACBETH for the "combative," in which the element of combat is central to the story, even though the story itself may be not belong to the *mythoi* of combat, the adventure-tale.

But in a quest for greater simplicity (rare for me, at least), I've decided that some of the terminology can be elided in light of a full myth-radical system. One can certainly say that, even if MEASURE BY MEASURE has no scenes of combat, they might be implied by Shylock's use of the law to kill a hated Christian, and so "noncombative"-- or a revised verison, like "nonagonistic"--is a bit of a misnomer. The difficulty is more or less solved by simply saying that any significant value can exist in one of two configurations: a "full set," which would describe (say) MACBETH's centralized use of an agonistic value, and an "empty" or "null set," to describe those in which the use of a given value-- like the usages of the agonistic value in both MEASURE and ROMEO-- is anything less than central to the action of the plot.

Thus I find two configurations for each of the four significant values:

Agonistic/sub-agonistic
Pathetic/sub-pathetic
Sparagmotic/sub-sparagmotic
Incognitive/sub-incognitive

I'll probably never go into excrutiating detail about specific works that fall into each category. By way of general example I can see how certain melodramas might be *sub-pathetic* developments away from a "high drama" model; how certain simplistic satires might fall short of a total sparagmotic vision and thus would be merely sub-sparagmotic; how certain comedies, etc.

But since one of my theoretical projects is to better define the *mythos* of adventure, about which so little of critical value has been written, I'll be frank in saying that my main reason for forming the subcategories has been to suss out how one adventure fiction, such as Haggard's SHE, can display a less agonistic value in its narrative than another narrative, KING SOLOMON'S MINES, despite the facts that both works share the same author and many narrative plot-devices, and both works belong to a lit-mythic category I call "adventure"-- which is the way many more casual readers label them as well.

I may address some of these categories in a forthcoming essay relating to a Paradigm of Literary Genetics.

Friday, February 12, 2010

LOST IN TRANSCENDENCE PART 2

"We either live together or we die alone."-- Jack Shepherd, LOST

"Hell is other people."-- Sartre, NO EXIT.

There have been any number of literary attempts, from Sartre to Norman Spinrad, to construct fictive worlds where the ethos of determinism holds court, essentially abolishing the illusion of Judeo-Christian free will. Yet Sartre avers that an individual can still possess a sort of heroic will insofar as he can make his peace with the Sisyphean rock of a pitiless reality, and become reconciled, even "happy," on those terms.

I recognize the intellectual conviction behind these fictional worlds, but in the end they are no less the symbolic projections of what the authors wanted to believe than the Christian triumphalism of C.S. Lewis. Lewis would probably make Charles Reece's shit-list in that Lewis molded a fantasy-world where all conflicts are sorted out in a concluding "Manichean battle," from which the final book in the series, THE LAST BATTLE, takes its title. In Lewis "free will" *is* paramount, though it's the kind of will described in the old canard: "Perfect freedom is perfect service," e.g., do what's right in the first place and you and God will get along.

I bring in Lewis' orthodox-Christian vision of free will as a contrast to the one I theorize that the LOST producers will give their fans when the series ends. I haven't a clue as to what shape that vision will take: I only assert that I think that the show's constant iterations of determinism-- "Whatever happened, happened"-- are a setup for some sort of turnaround that will transcend doleful determinism.

But how to do that, without the kind of "cheat" that Reece and others started to suspect as soon as LOST's Season 5 revealed that the Island is inhabited by at least two superhuman beings? Given the existence of these "demigods" it's natural enough to suspect the old deus ex machina, though I'm guessing that the LOST producers aren't going to try anything as obvious as Lewis' Aslan.

So I suspect that if indeed free will transcends determinism in LOST, it will be a transcendence more figurative than literal-- or perhaps, to pilfer the terminology of Immaneul Kant, one of the few philosophers not (to my knowledge) referenced on the show-- more "a priori" than "a posteriori."

Kantian terms aside, how can transcendence, even a figurative one, be made to have a validity that does not cheat on or otherwise annul LOST's own ample testimony as to "pitiless reality?" The deaths of Boone, Shannon, Ana Lucia, Juliet and many others seem to this watcher as arbitrary and meaningless as anything in Sartre, for all that these cruel fates also reflect behind-the-scenes exigencies of plotting or even actor-availability.

So how might the LOST-makers do it? Could it be that some horror-film, released in 2008 and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, might suggest an example of such narrative transcendence?

*****

Even when films are designed to be viewed first on the movie-theatre screens, I'm not sure that all of them are best seen that way, in contradiction to being viewed on the (relatively) small screen in one's home entertainment console.

I did see Shyamalan's first two major films, THE SIXTH SENSE and UNBREAKABLE, on bigscreen. I liked both, though I had some problems with the latter, but both worked well on the large movie-screen.

I didn't see THE VILLAGE or LADY IN THE WATER on the large screen, and didn't like either, so my opinion of Shyamalan in recent years has not been high. I've still never seen SIGNS and only in the last few months did I check out a DVD of 2008's THE HAPPENING out of mild curiosity. I had and have no memory of any favorable reviews and had the general impression that most audiences hated it.

I thought HAPPENING was Shyamalan's best film yet (except for that awful title). Possibly my seeing it at home freed me of the thrillseeking expectations shared by many theater-audiences, most of whom justifiably want a thrill-ride for their ten-dollar tickets. In any case, I enjoyed the fact that it treated a major catastrophe, full of action and human suffering (i.e., *pathos*) in a cerebral and philosophically provocative manner-- not unlike the teleseries LOST.

To be sure, there are ample differences between LOST and THE HAPPENING, apart from that of medium. LOST's "island survivors" catastrophe happens to an ensemble comprised of over a dozen central characters. In HAPPENING,a catastrophe befalls a vast section of the U.S.'s Northeastern Seaboard, not unlike the scenario in Spielberg's WAR OF THE WORLDS, but with something like human beings involved. However, HAPPENING focused only on two viewpoint characters, Elliot and Alma Moore, a young married couple played by Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel. Their status as the two central characters informs the film's outcome, which is the main point of my comparison.

Because I'm concerned here with the ending, I'll merely sketch the bulk of the film.

In brief, Shyamalan's movie gives viewers a world where Hobbes trumps Rousseau. The social contract that enables human beings to live peaceably in a society breaks down when a mysterious malady sweeps over the northeastern states, and those infected become exemplars of Hobbes' "war of all against all." Indeed, not only do the victims become aggressive enough to attack others flagrantly, they even "war" against themselves, committing suicide by leaping from buildings, crashing cars, and so on. The Moores are among the many people who flee the cities for the countryside, only to suspect that the source of the malady is Earth's plant-life, some of which has started to manufacture and spread toxins able to break down human volitional controls.

In some ways, HAPPENING shares elements of both horror and suspense films. The idea of city-dwellers thrown into a mammoth catastrophe evokes the suspense-oriented narrative of the disaster film, with a side-dish of terrorist-fantasy flavoring. However, the theory about the source of the malady is presented in so oblique a way that it partakes less of the well-defined threats of a suspense-film and becomes more of a *mysterium,* as seen in HAPPENING's nearest horrific genre-neighbor, George Romero's 1968 NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. There, too, humanity doesn't know what force has caused the dead to walk, and though the protagonists of HAPPENING make some correct conclusions about the airborne toxin, Shyamalan never allows the threat to become easily predictable.

Now, the 1968 NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is in essence an ironic horror-film, as is demonstrated by its black-humor conclusion. HAPPENING, however, is a dramatic horror. To build upon Sartre's aphorism, the constant breakdown of the social contract evinces just how hellish other people are to one another in the raw-- even in the case of some individuals not affected by the toxin! But in Shyamalan's film, other people are a hell one needs.

There's probably no way to describe the film's salvative turning-point (which is not precisely the ending, thanks to a coda) without it sounding sappy. Film has for over a century exploited the mythic image of reunited lovers as the image of transcendence, and countless bad "clinches" have given the essential archetype a bad rep.

Again, in brief: the turning-point comes when the Moores take refuge on an isolated farm. The owner of the farm is one of the latest victims of the spreading toxin, so Elliot and Alma, having become separated, each barricade themselves in separate buildings. However, this is clearly not a plan for long-term survival, and so, in a Sartreian embrace of their potential fate, the Moore both leave their hiding-places and embrace, ready to live and die together rather than living and dying alone.

But-- in a moment of figurative transcendence-- the Moores are spared, as the toxin abruptly ceases to have any further effects.

Understand: at no time does Shyamalan step outside the Cartesian box to suggest that the expression of love caused the plague to end. Within the diegetic narrative of the film proper, it's merely a coincidence, and Shyamalan makes this clear in the coda, where it's suggested that the toxin has stepped up for another whack at humanity. But in the extra-diegetic symbolism of the film, humanity is temporarily spared because the Moores come "un-moored" from their desire to protect their personal selves and to join as one, despite any fatal consequences.

To my mind, this figurative transcendence is not a "cheat" to anyone of the determinist party. It makes clear that the protagonists would seem to have "no exit" by any rational criteria, and yet the film gives them an exit through an exercise of free will that isn't indebted to the stoicism of Sisyphus and his rock.

In the conclusion of LOST, will there be a redeeming act of free will on the part of one or more LOST protagonists? I think that we have already seen a few. In Season 3 Desmond is tempted to a Faustian bargain by his psychic flashes. He comes to believe that if he lets Charlie die as seen in his vision, Desmond's beloved Penny will come to the island. Desmond comes very close to letting Charlie perish, but does save Charlie (just barely). Diegetically, it's seen that the figure Desmond thought would come to the island is not Penny, is someone else entirely-- but extra-diegetically, it's as if Desmond's breaking of the bargain cost him the chance to be with Penny again. Admittedly, since Desmond is reunited with Penny at the end of Season 4, it's something less than a supreme sacrifice, but Desmond doesn't know that in Season 3.

I'll close by clarifying that I'm no way implying that anything the LOST-makers do will be directly influenced by the works of Shyamalan. But I do think like-minded creators seek narrative answers in parallel ways, and that's what keeps me hoping that the conclusion of LOST will be at least as moving and satisfying as that of the Shyamalan film.

P.S. For some reason I can't remember if the Moore's little daughter is with them when they do the big climactic clinch. But whether she is or not, that detail doesn't change my interpretation of the figurative transcendence.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A CRIMINALLY HORRIBLE SEGUE

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.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

LOST IN TRANSCENDENCE

Where will viewers be left once they reach the center of the teleliterary labyrinth that is LOST?

Back in this comments-thread Charles Reece said, "I don't see how anything but a determinist outcome would be more than a cheat for the show," and went on to aver in this essay that he hoped that the producers were not setting viewers up for "some simplistic Manichaean battle" between godlike manipulators Jacob and "Nemesis."

I would agree to some extent that a "Manichean" good-vs.-evil conclusion would not be in tune with previous themes expressed on the TV show, and I also agree that I don't think it's likely that the producers will go in that direction. I don't agree that such a conflict is inherently "simplistic," though: just that such a conflict is not suited for the *mythos* to which LOST belongs, as it is for, say, C.S. Lewis' NARNIA series.

Of the four Fryean *mythoi*, LOST is in essence a drama with elements of irony, comedy, and adventure, just as in this essay I described BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER as an adventure-serial with aspects of the other three mythoi mixed in. This judgment as to LOST's narrative mythos-category means that its myth-radical is the *pathos,* which emphasizes all forms of suffering, whether they take the form (to use two of Aristotle's examples for tragedy) of the outright tragic death of OEDIPUS REX, or that of an intense suffering that is overcome through some reversal, as seen in the conclusion of IPHIGENIA AMONG THE TAUREANS.

Based on Aristotle's parameters for what he called "tragedy," and what I choose to call "drama," it's evident that a drama can go either way in the spectrum of happy or unhappy endings for the dramatis personae. It should be said that in Western culture there is a marked critical preference for the "unhappy ending," which many feel to be more realistic and "bracing." Drama's opposite number, the comedy, is associated more strongly with the happy ending, though one can certainly find any number of comedies that end unhappily for this or that protagonist, albeit in a humorous way that takes away much of the sting one gets from the "unhappy drama." In contrast, irony almost always emphasizes an unhappy ending (even if the principal characters are vaguely content with their lot, as at the end of CANDIDE), while adventure-stories almost always end happily for their protagonists.

Further, as if to highlight the ambivalence of their chosen narrative mythos, the producers of LOST have situated their drama to be a mammoth debate about the function of "free will" vs. "determinism." As seen in the quote above, Reece feels that "anything but a determinist outcome would be more than a cheat for the show," which is a valid emotional response to the way in which the producers would seem to have tipped the scales more in one direction than the other.

I have a notion, however, that the LOST-men have a more subtle goal in mind than the mere validation of determinism, and that this goal will be fulfilled in presenting, if not a "happy ending" as such, a sort of "happy medium" between the two extremes.

More on these speculations anon.

Monday, February 8, 2010

LOST UP A TREE

So why at the beginning of LAX PART 1 does Kate Austen (who was on the ground with everyone else at the end of Season 5) materialize in the branches of a tree near the Swan site?

The most functional reason was that her initial sense of dislocation and her danger of falling are much more engaging to viewers than simply seeing her wake up on the ground.

Another possibility is that the producers wanted to remind everyone of Kate's affinity for climbing things (trees, cages, bad boys), because it's going to be important to some story in future.

But maybe they also had in mind an earlier film's use of similar dislocation-- a film which just happened to be made by the company that now owns ABC.





Think about it.

DUMBO copyright Disney of course.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

AS YOU LIKE THINGS

Why do some members of an audience like a thing, while others do not?

In pre-industrial times, it was assumed that great literary works contained a certain virtue. People who were either born attuned to that virtue or worked to become so attuned were people who had "good taste." Aristotle, father of literary criticism, opined that a "complex" play was inherently superior to a "simple" play, but the main difference was structural: the former had two storytelling features that the latter did not: peripeteia or reversal, and anagnorisis, or recognition. Aristotle's argument for preferring one type of play to another on the basis of plot-content gave way in many post-industrial societies to criteria based on superior style. And yet,even those in the highbrow cadres could have severe differences over what sort of style should be followed by superior artists, as seen in this essay by James Miller, in which he contrasts the approaches of George Orwell and Theodor Adorno:

...when it came to assessing the need for clear language in social criticism, they parted ways dramatically. In "Politics and the English Language," Orwell asserts that to write and think "clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration." In his 1956 essay "Punctuation Marks," Adorno asserts, just as boldly, that "lucidity, objectivity, and concise precision" are merely "ideologies" that have been "invented" by "editors and then writers" for "their own accommodation."


Mr. Miller cites a number of biographical reasons as to why the two writers might have had such disparate responses to style, and I don't dismiss those reasons, especially in relation to the picture given of Adorno:

Although Southern California in the 1940s was teeming with illustrious European exiles, including Arnold Schoenberg, Thomas Mann, Bertolt Brecht, and Igor Stravinsky, Adorno disappeared into his writing and research, repelled by the vainglory and vulgarity of the people he was expected to get along with amiably, in the American style. Outside the émigré community, Adorno's painstakingly acquired storehouse of knowledge--about modern opera, German philosophy, and the evils of the cash nexus and the commodity form--impressed no one.


However, while my personal tastes are closer to Orwell's party than to Adorno's, I would note that I don't think purely biographical factors, particularly regarding events that occured late in an author's life, could ever be determining factors in one's tastes. I have no interest in exploring the childhoods of either author, but I feel sure that it is there that one would see in both future authors the incipiency of their later tastes: Orwell's for plain talk and Adorno's for hermeticism. Had they both been born in the backwoods of Tennessee I think it feasible that these authors' disparate tastes would have manifested in some fashion, however much environment would have altered the expression of those tastes.

For all the supposed breakthroughs of cognitive science and its fellow travelers, the reasons why one person likes a thing and another does not remain as mysterious as when Socrates discoursed on the passions of the "soul" in the PHILEBUS.

With respect to comics-criticism, of course, this comes into play with the notorious (in my view) concept of the Pedagogical Paradigm. Bloody comic book elitists, unable to analyze taste as a complex matter, generally resort to this paradigm when faced with comics-fans who do not like what they like. They assume that a genre-fan (not necessarily a superhero fan only, though typical invective is always careful to apply this label) must be clinging to what he liked as a child out of either simple nostalgia or, in the Adornite mold, subservience to a conservative ideology.

In fairness I will note that the populist defense of popular genres is no more well-informed regarding the motivations of the elitists, as the populist usually assumes that the elitist doesn't really like what he likes for its own sake, but for whatever perceived status those tastes may seem to confer on the elitist.

In both cases these accusations, whatever partial truths they may incarnate, should not be used as a substitute for understanding the root-causes of disparate taste, which for me come down to differing perceptions of resonance and concomitant dynamization.

In his book THE FANTASY PRINCIPLE Michael Vannoy Adams argues that Jung's analysis of dream-images was superior to that of Freud and Klein because Jung avoided the "referential fallacy" of assuming that a dream automatically signifies something other than itself. This would be a desireable hermeneutic for budding pluralists to follow: that there exists no formula of "standards" (Gary Groth) or its populist parallels (Tony Isabella, perhaps) that signifies one's possession of "good taste" of any kind.

One likes what one likes. The reasons why are no more separable from one's embodied life than Yeats' dancer is separable from his dance.

Monday, February 1, 2010

FANTASY IN THE RAW

"Whereas directed thinking is an altogether conscious phenomenon, the same cannot be said of fantasy-thinking. Much of it belongs to the conscious sphere, but at least as much goes on in the half-shadow, or entirely in the unconscious, and can therefore be inferred only indirectly. Through fantasy-thinking, directed thinking is brought into contact with the oldest layers of the human mind, long buried beneath the threshold of consciousness."-- Carl Jung, SYMBOLS OF TRANSFORMATION,p. 29

"[the Frankfurt School scholars] poo-pooed the type of industries that make some stuff that's related to things you like."-- Charles Reece's take on my objections to the Frankfurt School, seen in more detail in this comments-section.

Though I debated Charles' statement in the comments-section to some extent, I want to draw particular attention here to his incorrect statement that the Frankfurters were objecting only to the "industries" that made and still make popular fiction, which organizations were subsumed by Mssrs. Adorno and Horkheimer into one satanic majesty designated as "the culture industry." The elitist Frankfurters were opposed not just to the culture industry but to popular culture as such, by invoking the fallacy that it was all controlled "from above" and thus in no way represented the true culture of the people.

From THE DIALECTICS OF ENLIGHTMENT:

"Not only are the hit songs, stars, and soap operas cyclically recurrent and rigidly invariable types, but the specific content of the entertainment itself is derived from them and only appears to change. The details are interchangeable. The short interval sequence which was effective in a hit song, the hero’s momentary fall from grace (which he accepts as good sport), the rough treatment which the beloved gets from the male star, the latter’s rugged defiance of the spoilt heiress, are, like all the other details, ready-made clichés to be slotted in anywhere; they never do anything more than fulfil the purpose allotted them in the overall plan. Their whole raison d’être is to confirm it by being its constituent parts."

I've devoted no small effort to demonstrating the untruth of this statement: of showing how some popular works are indeed purely functional and represent little more than an assemblage of cliches, while others are clearly "superfunctional" in terms of not only how they function under the critic's microscope but in their public reception. That Adorno and Horkeimer could actually believe that the "cliches" could be "slotted in anywhere" speaks to their inability to grapple with the question as to why one popular work, be it song or soap opera, should be more popular than another one.

I think part of the reason is that these Frankfurters had no real idea of the creative process: they simply worshipped a concept of "art" that was so wonderfully hermetic that it could be easily divorced from the sort of "cliches" that pleased the hoi polloi. I'd be surprised if either Adorno or Horkeimer, steeped in their doctrinaire Marxism, showed any cognizance of the human faculty that Jung calls "fantasy-thinking:" the faculty which accounts for the capacity of both storytellers and their audiences to enjoy stories for their own sake, apart from their status as "art"-- even though, in the inclusive sense of the word, Donald Duck is ever bit as much "art" as Adorno's beloved Kafka.

It's significant that Jung, who was not a literary critic but who probably shared much the same highbrow education of the Frankfurters, was able to "step outside the box" of High Culture to such good effect. Jung wrote very little on popular culture but his intuitions about how creativity takes place, whether in high art or low, have stood the test of time through the explorations of lit-critics like Leslie Fiedler and Raymond Durgnat. In contrast, Marxist critics today, appropriately enough, are the ones who are ceaselessly repeating a "rigidly invariable" form of criticism.

I'll have more to say in a future post about the silliness of the "things you like" part of Charles Reece's rhetoric.