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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, August 6, 2011


So we have one critic-- let's call him "Psuedo-Tom"-- who states without demur that on the whole the output of EC Comics was better than that of DC's Vertigo imprint.

Then we have another critic, "Pseudo-Gene," who takes the opposite position.

Obviously nothing can be proven with such generalities. The two Pseudos must choose one representative work from each corpus and produce a critique that proves one work superior to the other. This doesn't actually prove that one output is superior to another but each critic can claim that he can duplicate this operation over and over, and that it will, usually if not always, show one corpus in the ascendant.

What to choose? This Wiki quote suggests a link between the two:

Moore's Swamp Thing had a profound effect on mainstream comic books, being the first horror comic to approach the genre from a literary point of view since the EC horror comics of the 1950s

So perhaps Pseudo-Tom chooses a classic EC horror story, like "Foul Play," recapitulated here, and chooses to prove its superority to the Alan Moore SWAMP THING story "The Anatomy Lesson."

Psuedo-Gene accepts the challenge to prove, to the contrary, that "Anatomy" can school anything that EC's horror-hosts might dole out.

Aside from the fact that both stories feature horror-motifs, though, they have little in common. Thus it's likely that whenever either of the Pseudos attempts to champion one company's narrative orientation above the other, he will claim that one has more relevance to a greater number of people: that is, that the subjective elements of the story go beyond the average and approach the level of the intersubjective: of a significance beyond personal taste.

The specific arguments don't matter here. Perhaps Pseudo-Tom conceives that since "Foul Play" deals with a nasty baseball player's attempt to get ahead at the cost of anyone in his way, the villain's fate has sociological significance in that it critiques the "anything-for-money" ideal of American capitalism. Perhaps Pseudo-Gene considers that "Lesson" is superior in that it establishes a new concept for the Swamp Thing character: not only defining the muck-encrusted hero as a vegetable entity (rather than a transformed human) but also giving readers a chance to identify and empathize a being who is not, strictly speaking, a human.

Both interpretations would fit what I would call "the rule of intersubjective significance," which phrase I derive almost completely from Jonathan Culler in his 1975 STRUCTURALIST POETICS, except for my interpolation of "intersubjective." Both positions could be enjoyably argued although to little effect, for the comparison of the two stories, despite some similar features, would still hinge on each critic finding an intersubjective meaning that the other did not have-- which returns to the well-seasoned argument about "apples and oranges."

Nevertheless, the exercise remains worth the candle within a pluralist conception of literary hermeneutics. Each story resonates with some though not all readers precisely because each evokes a "significance" in those readers; a significance founded in the conventions of storytelling and in the expectations of readers looking to have those conventions both confirmed and denied.

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