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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

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 7, 2012

THE CULLING OF CULLER

the fantastic in literature consists, when all has been said, essentially in showing the world as opaque, as inaccessible to reason on principle... Franz Rottensteiner, THE FANTASY BOOK, quoted here
But perhaps one should go a step farther than Barthes [in THE PLEASURE OF THE TEXT] and say that the facts that lead him to propose these two views [of "joissance" and "plaisir"] indicate that we are dealing not so much with a historical process in which one kind of novel replaces another as with a kind of opposition which has always existed within the novel: a tension between the intelligible and the problematic.-- Jonathan Culler, STRUCTURALIST POETICS, p. 191.

Culler's opposition-- which is to my knowledge original with him, at least in that phrasing-- is probably useless to my phenomenological project in terms of Culler's philosophical underpinnings.  As I've noted earlier, structuralism as a discipline is largely predicated on empiricism, and though Culler's book puts forth some trenchant criticisms of Roland Barthes, I see nothing in Culler's book that departs from the empiricist philosophy behind Barthes and Claude Levi-Strauss.

Culler doesn't explicitly define his two terms, "intelligible" and "problematic," but I would assume from the tenor of his remarks that he's concerned only with how intelligibility registers within a structuralist framework: in relation to how human beings regard some aspects of existence as solid and dependable: "naturalized," to borrow Barthes' term, and therefore perceived as the principal subject matter of the "classic novel."  The "problematic," then, would cover aspects of reality that are more dubious, which essentially becomes the subject matter of the "experimental novel."

Nevertheless, even though Culler's dichotomy's arises from a limited and hyper-literary classic novel/experimental novel comparion, Culler's statement is accurate in saying that his opposition originates in the textual nature of fiction itself, rather than in some historical contingency.

The Rottensteiner quote above, which relates to his restatment of another critic, emphasizes that fantasy is "inaccessible to reason on principle."  For me this statement captures much of the appeal of fantasy; not to simply recapitulate the aspects of life with which everyone is familiar, but in slightly altered form.  The central appeal of fantasy is to *actively* transgress consensual reality; to render it-- in Culler's word-- "problematic."  This applies even to works that only transgress within the "affective order," as I have argued with respect to works I label "uncanny."

Thus, to invoke once again the C.S. Lewis trinity referenced here: the "tigers of fear" belong entirely the world of Cullers "intelligible," in that they may cause one to fear for one's physical safety but nothing more.  In contrast, both the "ghosts of dread" and the "gods of awe" belong in the world of the "problematic," if one defines the problematic as the human desire to exceed the limits of the merely intelligible.

In a future essay I'll be expanding on these thoughts in what I hope will prove to be a general phenomenlogical definition of "fantasy" and "reality" in art, with particular attention to an essay by Aldous Huxley, last referenced here.

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