Featured Post


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...

Thursday, October 13, 2011


At the end of the first essay in this essay-series, I said:

...I'll wind up by describing the relevance of their respective intersubjectivities for the literary analyst.

"Their" refers to the two authors I've now compared and contrasted: Joseph Conrad, who championed the "marvels and mysteries" found in isophenomenal fiction, and J.R.R. Tolkien, who defended the more "arresting" wonders of faerie and fantasy, which is at least one major aspect of the metaphenomenal expanses of humanity's ongoing narrative universe.

Now, it must be said first of all that from the standpoint of taste, or what Kant calls "the agreeable," there can be no particular logical valuation placed on either the preference for realistic or fantastic wonders.  In the realm of the agreeable, Conrad is justified in finding the former marvels fascinating, and Tolkien is equally justified in "desiring dragons," as he once put it.

However, both of these paradigms of wonder-production are not confined only to these particular authors.  Both of them, in exploring their own creative preferences, translated their particular tastes into intersubjective literary myths, and so expanded the potentials of both paradigms by instilling such wonders, be they of natural typhoons or unnatural dragons, in the hearts of their readers.  Some readers preferred only realistic wonders, as Conrad apparently did, some readers bowed down exclusively at the fane of Tolkien, and some learned to appreciate both intersubjective wonders.  Since I have written with appreciation of both writers here, obviously I'll be disposed to use myself as a representative of the last type of reader.

That said, though I respect the party of Conrad, I hold more regard for Tolkien's POV despite the fact that I disagree with a number of his specific opinions.  For Conrad, taking a naturalistic stance, tends to treat fiction as if it had to be based upon one's view of the "real world."  But for me this is the domain of nonfiction.  Fiction will always be more about the hypothetically possible than the actual: more about "becoming" than "being" as it were.

Kant also believed that qualities such the beautiful and the sublime were not purely products of pure association, which he labeled as "reproductive imagination" and which seems to deal, like Coleridge's concept of "fancy," with what Samuel Taylor called "Fixities and Definites."  Conrad's type of "marvels and mysteries" are clearly of this nature, since Conrad takes pains to tell us that all such enchantments are simply impressions made upon our minds by the "visual and tangible world."  This is the limitation of all isophenomenal fiction.  Within those limits great work can and has been done.  But often the greatness of the work comes of exploiting the tension between the limitations of the real and human expectations of illimitability.

In both its "uncanny" and "marvelous" manifestations, however, the metaphenomenal stands free to delve into the depths of what Kant calls the "productive imagination."  Kant's remarks, cited earlier in my "Finding Sigmund" essays, bear repeating:

“For the imagination… is very mighty when it creates, as it were, another nature out of the material that actual nature gives it… We may even restructure experience; and though in doing so we continue to follow analogical laws, yet we also follow principles which reside higher up, namely, in reason (and which are just as natural to us as those which the understanding follows in apprehending empirical nature. In this process we feel our freedom from the law of association…”—Kant, CRITIQUE OF JUDGMENT, Section 314, tr. Pluhar).

Cassirer, whom I troubled to introduce in the INTERSUBJECTIVITY INTERLUDE, reifies Kant in such a way as to clarify that these "principles which reside higher up" are at once grounded in human subjective responses to the world and yet possess an objective nature by virtue not just of reason, but of their function within the overall human community.  Cassirer's concept of "magical efficacy" makes clear that the particular charm of metaphenomenal fantasy resides in one's embracing of that sense of infinitude and illimitability, even if it is something we can only know through the interrelated forms of myth and literature.

And that's why, even though the fight between Metagodzilla and Isoghidrah never truly concludes, the former, by the nature of the "homeground" advantage, will always be the victor.


No comments: