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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...

Saturday, April 30, 2011


After I finished part one of this rumination, I realized that I hadn't answered one of the questions I myself raised in response to AT-ST Pilot's post:

Is there a unifying thread that unites all the complex corridors of this labyrinth, THE ARCHETYPAL ARCHIVE?

After thinking it over it comes down to my rephrasing of this famous question by Heidegger:

"Why is there something rather than nothing?"

Now, some quickie web-research suggests that Heidegger didn't precisely say this: that it was someone's paraphrase from a passage from WHAT IS METAPHYSICS?

The same web-research shows me that whereas religious people seem to think the question profound, empiricists find the question foolish and/or irrelevant.

However, I'm borrowing nothing from the quasi-Heideggerian quote but the basic structure, so that I can unspool my own query thusly:

"Why is there complexity where there doesn't need to be any?"

Though not all canonical prose literature is informed by symbolic complexity, much of it is, in part because such literature is directed at a well-educated audience. Herman Melville knows that his ideal reader will intuit that Something Deep is Signified when he Melville makes reference to "Parsee" fire-worship in MOBY DICK. William Faulkner knows that the moment his ideal reader picks up LIGHT IN AUGUST, the initials of main character Joe Christmas will instantly presage some sort of conjuration of Christian mythology.

But most purveyors of popular narrative aren't shooting for this audience. They aim at what used to be called "the lowest common denominator" (though Raymond Durgnat argued that "highest common factor" would be more accurate). Images and icons of myth are used, but often in a blatant and obvious manner that isn't meant to signify Deep Thoughts.

And yet, complexity occurs, even within apparently shallow waters.

A couple of years back I interrogated Icy Harris in order to learn why the character's demi-creator Oscar Bensol gave him a name that references the Greek overreacher Icarus.

Of course I got no answer from Harris or the SUPERMAN cartoon in which he appeared, nor from the Jim Shooter comics-story on which the cartoon-script was based.

There's a slight possibility that Bensol used the "Icarus" reference accidentally, though if that were true the fact wouldn't reduce its symbolic resonance. But I tend to think that the renaming of the Parasite character was intentional.

But why bother? Probably none of the kids at whom the 1960s SUPERMAN cartoon was directed paid much attention to character names. I may have had a little more propensity to notice such things in my kidhood, but I didn't pick up on this myth-reference until re-watching the cartoon forty years later. It's probable that even if one interrogated Oscar Bensol today-- assuming he's still around-- that he wouldn't remember the mythic in-joke.

The only possible answer I can see is that Bensol recognized, however loosely, than Jim Shooter's Parasite resembled the "overreacher" figures from Greek myth, and chose to point that resemblance out simply because--

It was fun to do so.

It is, however, fun of a different quality than, say, referencing the names of personal friends or relatives for one's fictional creations. But that's another essay.

There are, to be sure, popular narratives which *want* their mythic references to be recognized, or which invoke the qualities of mythic narrative without references to specific myths.

Nevertheless, those usages of myth-material share a certain communicative functionalism with those of Melville and Faulkner above.

With "The Pernicious Parasite," we're dealing with an author communicating a notion he had without any expectation that his audience will discern it-- again, just for the pure fun of it.

I've been accused once or twice of being a "formalist" critic. But it seems evident to me that the "formalism" is present in human nature as a whole, that it goes beyond the merely functional to something that takes pure pleasure in the abstractedness of a fictional gesture (see essays on Suzanne Langer for this reference).

In closing I'll correct one supposition I tossed out in the 2009 essay.

I said, "I do not know anything about Oscar Bensol except that he wrote a lot of Superman and Aquaman cartoons for Filmation in the 1960s. The name could be a nom de plume for practically anyone: it could be a pen-name for Jim Shooter himself, for all I know."

However, I recently a Shooter interview in TwoMorrows' KRYPTON COMPANION, in which the interviewer asks if Shooter is aware that the Parasite story was adapted to a cartoon, and Shooter says that he wasn't aware the adaptation ever took place.

However often fans have critiqued Shooter's reputation for truthfulness-- the dominant opinion best described when Roy Thomas' Beast tells Havok, "Your reputation for veracity is not exactly Washingtonesque!"-- I believe Shooter is not, nor ever has been, Oscar Bensol.

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