Saturday, February 12, 2011

AGREEABLE YOU




"I find it disturbing that Lois is so incredibly hot as a villainess."-- Tony Isabella, 1000 COMICS YOU SHOULD READ.









While thumbing through 1000 COMICS for a separate project from my current Kantian considerations, I came across the above quote from Tony Isabella, and immediately thought, "Is he kidding?" I've seen a lot of "incredibly hot" drawings of sexy women in comics, but few things seem less sexy to me than a drawing of Lois Lane by Wayne Boring.

Not that Boring was incapable of drawing a sexy woman: as I'll touch on later, he had such ability. But his renderings of Lois Lane are usually pretty "boring," eyepatch or no eyepatch.

However, Isabella's statement is an ideal illustration of Kant's concept of "agreeability." If the image of a villainous Lois Lane seemed sexy to Isabella when he encountered it, then he wasn't wrong, just as I am not wrong to find it uninteresting.

Such is the domain of Kant's category of "the agreeable," which is governed entirely by one's personal response to sensations, whether those sensations are real or conjured forth by the gestures of arts and entertainment.

Kant doesn't address the question in CRITIQUE OF AESTHETIC JUDGMENT as to whether or not there exist some raconteurs better able to evoke sensations of agreeability in large audiences. For instance, since Bill Ward was much better known for sexy drawings than Wayne Boring, it should follow that Ward was better able to evoke the kinesis of sexuality than Boring was, at least on a statistical basis. Possibly Boring could have done the same things Ward did had he wished to; perhaps his DC editors encouraged him to draw Lois Lane a certain way. All critics can judge, of course, is the final result.

Now Kant states that one's opinions on the "agreeable" (as well as the "absolutely good," which I'll put aside for this essay) do not carry the same forcefulness, the same insistence that others should acquiesce to that opinion, as do opinions relating to "the beautiful" and "the sublime."

I think Kant is somewhat refuted, in practice, by any number of Internet forums where individuals do indeed propound their personal likings with the same force as any "pure judgment of taste," and do indeed want all to acquiesce. However, Kant's theory is still good as a means for judging whether or not there is a species of reflective taste-judgment that rises above the level of personal interest.

I agree with Kant that such judgments do exist, though I note that he probably wouldn't have agreed with my belief that they can apply to popular fiction. Nevertheless, as my example of such a judgment (as well as demonstrating that Wayne Boring could draw sexy women when he so wished), I present this scene from the Jerry Siegel-Boring tale "Superman's Return to Krypton" (SUPERMAN #141, Nov 1960).









Once more I'll repeat the adumbrated quote that best sums up Kant's attitude toward the beautiful and the sublime:


"The beautiful in nature concerns the form of the object, which consists in its being bounded. But the sublime can also be found in a formless object, insofar as we present unboundedness..."-- Section 245.


Now, I don't agree with Kant that the only way one can judge something beautiful in his "disinterested" state is if the judgment can be proved (via logic) "universally valid." For me, dominant patterns alone demonstrate valid, though it's unlikely they could ever be deemed "universal."

Interestingly, Douglas Wolk, in trying to demonstrate the beauty in the images from "ugly" comics, asserts their value (in part) by "the way they function as part of a narrative."

By this criterion (which may or may not correctly represent Kant's rather convoluted take on "purposiveness in that which has no real purpose"), "Superman's Return to Krypton" would be more beautiful than "Lois Lane-- Outlaw" if one could demonstrate that the audience that experienced both stories found the former more dominantly "purposive" than the latter.

Obviously one cannot ask every comics-reader of that time period which story they found more "beautiful." However, a close structural reading of the former story will reveal a greater complexity than that of the latter story. If a disinterested appraisal of beauty stems from the human animal's ability to see the semblance of purpose in aspects of nature that have none, then the story that has a greater refinement of structure-- even within the boundaries of juvenile pop-fiction-- must be viewed as the "fairest of the two."

As for the sublime, in Kant's quote above he connects it with one's experience of the presentation of "boundlessness." The 1960 SUPERMAN story is certainly not primarily about "boundlessness," and yet in the romantic scene I show above, the hero and his new (and doomed) Kryptonian girlfriend is played out against a riot of elemental forces-- rainbows, lava-surges-- which mirror not only the passion of the lovers (in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY fashion) but also the unstable forces that will destroy Krypton.

There's another sense in which pop-culture stories can be sublime, beyond their actual depiction of "boundlessness." But I'll save that for a future essay.

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