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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...

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


"literature, as it develops from the primitive to the self-conscious, shows a gradual shift of the poet's attention from narrative to significant values, the shift of attention being the basis of Schiller's distinction between naive and sentimental poetry."-- Frye, Fables of Identity.

"Frye uses the terms 'centripetal' and 'centrifugal' to describe his critical method. Criticism, Frye explains, is essentially centripetal when it moves inwardly, towards the structure of a text; it is centrifugal when it moves outwardly, away from the text and towards society and the outer world."-- Wikipedia, "Northrop Frye."

The parallels between the dyad of terms used in the first quote, from a 1951 essay, and the dyad used in 1957's ANATOMY OF CRITICISM, should be obvious, so I won't dwell on them. But the emphasis on the physical image of movement within, or away from, the center of a circle also offers a fair parallel between Kant's opposition of "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.

The parallel is not exact, but on one level the idea of literary 'centripetal action,' which parallels 'narrative values,' suggests staying within the limits of the imagined circle, while 'centrifugal action' suggests surpassing those limits.

In terms of literary criticism, is there anything to be gained by showing an parallel of "the beautiful" with the narrative values of a story, those elements that make a story work on its own terms, and also one between "the sublime" with the significant values of a story, those elements that refer the reader to a universe of experiences, personal and transpersonal, outside the story?

Possibly so, if one can view the parallel without taking it for the assertion of identicality.

I've argued that "Superman's Return to Krypton" may be seen to have aspects of "the beautiful" and "the sublime" in it.

With respect to the first, I said:

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."

By this I mean that the story's narrative values have a "beautiful" structure. I don't claim that anyone will forget Homer in favor of Jerry Siegel, but all of the story's narrative values fall into line with a strong logical sequence that was by no means typical of Superman stories in the Mort Weisinger era.

The adventure that causes Superman to leave Earth and fall through a temporal rift that puts him back on Krypton--

The means by which he and his romantic partner Lyla Lerrol encounter one another and fall in love--

Superman's encounter with his parents, during which he must keep his identity secret once more--

And even the ending, which begs one's suspension of disbelief somewhat, even though the reader knows some far-fetched method must be used to get the hero back to Earth--

All of these are narrative values. They are "beautiful" because when joined in a proper order they confer the sense of "purposiveness" to a literary story without allowing one to see the controlling hand of the author at work.

In contrast, any "significant value" in the story would be one that escapes that orderly circumference and takes one into another world of experience. As I'm dealing with a mythopoeic story, that world will be that of the Jungian archetypes. If "SRtK" possesses mythicity to a sufficient degree, it will impress the knowledgeable reader as "sublime."

More on this analysis in Part 2.

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