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...

Saturday, January 15, 2011


"Take but degree away, untune that string,
And hark, what discord follows! each thing meets
In mere oppugnancy."-- Shakespeare, TROILUS AND CRESSIDA.

"Opposition is true friendship."-- William Blake, THE MARRIAGE OF HEAVEN AND HELL

As noted in the NO FEUD IS AN OLD FEUD essays, online critic Tom Spurgeon was good enough to state that my criticism of his post was rooted in my trollish resentment of some monstrous wrong he did me in past encounters, not in a considered objection to his elitist views of both DC Comics and the supporters of same. I've little left to say about this weasely excuse for an argument, but may as well as well use the occasion to voice some thoughts about the differences between "opposition" and "oppugnancy."

The latter term, apparently one of many words Shakespeare coined expressly for his plays, has not entered the modern lexicon. But for me it resonates well as a description for actual trolls as I've experienced them. "Oppugnance" comes from the same Latin root as the more conventional "pugnacious," and real trolls are nothing if not pugnacious. Most trolls can be recognized by their love for starting long Internet flamewars on any topic that comes to mind, whether it derives from the "real world" of politics or the "fake world" of fictional creations.

Now one may fairly ask, "Gene, how does that differ from this self-description from FEUD PART 4:"

I once told TS during one of our long arguments that I'm naturally contentious by nature and, as proof, cited my long history of writing the lettercol of COMICS JOURNAL back when it was a magazine worth a damn. Many of my letters pick fights with various other columnists/essayists-- R. Fiore, Carter Scholz, Kim Thompson. Some led to long discussions probably no more profitable than this one; one led to a simplistic "fuck you" reply from none other than that Thompson boy.

However, what sets me apart from real trolls is the same thing that sets elitist Journalistas apart from them (at least in their better moments). This would be the concept of "degree," not so much in Shakespeare's original terms (i.e. the Great Chain of Being) as in the search for provisional truth. To attempt even provisional truth in literary studies requires one to sort out "degrees" of quality between one work and another work. Only by this comparative method can one put forth any rationale as to why one thinks one work is better than another.

Now, most trolls don't bother with degree. Their primary reason for posting on forums is to play "king of the hill," to trumpet their opinions with such overwhelming "oppugnance" that eventually everyone else gives up the game. If a troll thinks that Alan Moore's SWAMP THING kicks the ass of Harvey Kurtzman's TWO-FISTED TALES, then he will never recognize any aspect in which the latter exceeds the former, not even to the slightest degree.

In contrast, an argument between two opponents in search of the stimulation of "opposition" can be a genuine exploration as to what constitutes one's concepts of "quality." These two ideal opponents need not back down any more than the troll does. But a sustained rational argument must make use of the power of "degree."

I've stated in various forums that I believe taste to be inherently inarguable, and not simply in the dismissive sense that "Everyone has his own taste." I have no problem with anyone saying, as a simple statement of taste, that TWO-FISTED TALES is better than SWAMP THING.

I only object when this expression of individual taste is projected as an ideal that all should share, as in Spurgeon's statement about DC's Vertigo line, to the effect that it was wrong for anyone to think that Vertigo had in any way pushed the boundaries of the comics-medium past the boundaries pioneered by EC Comics. This stratagem has sometimes been called the "argument from taste," which posits that if any subject has taste, he will agree with the assertions of an authority who has in some way demonstrated that he definitely possesses taste.

As a sometime phenomenologist, I do believe in certain concepts of intersubjectivity. However, I don't believe in universal intersubjectivity and therefore I don't believe in universal taste. It's a point of honor with me that, however much I may have railed against works I personally considered poorly executed, I've never argued from universal taste. I believe that whether it's inveighing against major lapses by Marx or Barthes or puzzling over Jack Kirby's odd word-choices, I've only put forth my oppositions when informed by the appreciation of degree, never "mere oppugnancy."

Within this view of positive oppositonalism, elitists and pluralists could be joined in what Blake calls "true friendship." But as this would be a purely metaphysical "friendship," it has the advantage that the parties involved don't have to stop hating each other.

Sounds like "win-win" to me.

1 comment:

AS said...

Is there an objection, comment, discussion, argument, expression or for that matter any action or adjective describing that action, without the driving motive of an individual, which may or may not have any consequence to the adjective in its true sense? If the motive is not there, then its the indifferent observer, what ever that means.