Saturday, June 18, 2011


The body/nonbody opposition advanced by Octavio Paz provides an elegant simplication of the many unwieldly dichotomies that have haunted Western philosophy: body/mind, body/spirit, etc. One can, if one chooses, follow Sigmund Freud in believing that in the world of common experience, “nonbody” is merely an epiphenomenon to the fundamental reality of “body.” But in literary studies one cannot say this. As Frye observed, all literary narratives have a centrifugal and a centripetal aspect.

A narrative is centrifugal in that its author cannot help but reference the world extrinsic to the narrative, the primary world of bodily experience for himself and his audience. Whether the author writes of New York or Narnia, he will reference the "body" of the corporeal world.

However, narratives also possess a centripetal aspect, for they turn inward, connecting their serries internal elements to produce a symbolic discourse, a "nonbody" that is entirely conceptual in basis, since no can prove that anything similar exists in common experience. This dual nature clearly separates literary representations from those of experience, where the degree to which mind and body interpenetrate is infinitely arguable.

In my literary theory, then, “body” represent the totality of aspects in a work that appear governed by the cognitive order of cause-and-effect, while “nonbody” represents the totality of aspects in a work that seem outside the cognitive order of cause-and-effect. In addition, some aspects are amphibian, managing to dwell in both worlds at once.

I demonstrated in my examination of Tzvetan Todorov’s THE FANTASTIC that Todorov’s theory of fantasy (for which I henceforth use my term, “the metaphenomenal”) is overly indebted to cognitively-oriented Freudian conceptions of “reality” and “fantasy.” This duality, however, resulted in a trinity of categories for Todorov, to wit:

The category of “the marvelous” concerns narratives that openly transgress the cognitive order of cause-and-effect.

The category of “the uncanny” contains narratives that seem to transgress the cognitive order but ultimately prove to be governed by cause-and-effect.

The category of “the fantastic” contains narratives in which either the reader, the viewpoint character or both aren’t sure whether or not the order has been transgressed.

Todorov is very clear that the affective aspect of fantasy is beyond the pale of his theory. This restates the Freudian position aptly. Affectivity, like Paz’s concept of “nonbody,” is essentially the tail wagged by the cognitive dog.

In contrast, my AUM theory argues that the “non-body” aspects of a narrative are as real within the narrative as those aspects that are directly derived from the physical experience of author and/or audience. My theory essentially agrees with Todorov that a given narrative presents an “equilibrium” that is meant to be transgressed in such a way that a new equilibrium is established, but my theory of transgression includes both cognitive and affective aspects equally.

I reworked Todorov’s trinity so as to include all so-called “realistic” works. In all three of my categorizations, the narrative functions by virtue of an “anomaly” that creates the above-mentioned disequilibrium.

If the anomaly takes place within a world where the cognitive order rules, and where affectivity is indeed the tail wagged by the dog, then the narrative’s phenomenality is “atypical.”

If it takes place within a world that breaks with the cognitive order, in which causs-and-effect is in some way suspended, then the phenomality is “marvelous,” and the affectivity produced is one that also strives to go beyond the cognitive order.

If the work seems to suggest that the cognitive order is violated, when in fact it is not, its phenomenality will be “uncanny” as long as the work succeeds in evoking an affectivity that symbolically exceeds the cognitive order.

“The uncanny” is my “amphibian” category. “Atypical” narratives depict worlds where cause-and-effect rules absolutely, so it would be dominantly ruled by “body,” or corporeality. “Marvelous” narratives present worlds where cognitivity and affectivity merge, signifying the dominance of “nonbody,” incorporeality. “Uncanny” narratives occupy a space between, for though cognitive cause-and-effect rules their phenomenal nature, the narratives carry associations that, so to speak, allow the tail-phenomenon to wag the dog-phenomeon. These associations manifest in the world of common experience in the form of fantasy-film guides that include “uncanny” films like PSYCHO chock-a-block with “marvelous” films like CHRONICLES OF NARNIA and 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.

My earlier repetition of the word “transgress” is not accidental, for Bataille’s theory of “literature as transgression” informs some aspects of my rewriting of Todorov. In the second part of THREE INTO TWO WILL GO, SOMETIMES, I’ll offer another tripartite schema, also informed by Bataille’s philosophy, but this time I’ll be rewriting Freud’s concept of the transgression he thought fundamental to the human psyche: that famed “vice” that was not merely “nice,” but the “best” of all.

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