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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...

Monday, March 5, 2012


It occurs to me that before I can write the aforementioned essay on three types of human-centered "might" (and their consequences for sublimity) I need to define more particularly what might represents in my system, as opposed to a pure Kantian framework.

First, a quick re-acquaintance with the nature of the term "dynamic" as cited in KNOWING THE DYNAMIS FROM THE DYNAMIC:

DYNAMIC (noun): An interactive system or process, especially one involving competing or conflicting forces.

It's in this context that I invariably use the Greek term "dynamis" for any energy generated by the forces within this process.  For narrative such energies are often generated between elements of plot, characterization and other aspects of narrative, though the conflicts of character interplay and plot interweavings have proven the most fundamental to my system.

That narrative is a system, albeit not a closed one, should be obvious. In this essay I cited one of the few workable concepts I've adapted from Tzvetan Todorov:
"All narrative is a movement between two equilibriums which are similar but not identical.”

-- Todorov, THE FANTASTIC.

One of the best comics-sequences that catches the bare minimum of this narrative movement appeared in an issue of AMERICAN SPLENDOR by Harvey Pekar, celebrated by Alan Moore in a recent video.

Man is hot (first equilibrium). Man makes lemonade (transition).  Man is refreshed (new equilibrium).  The transition from one status to the next generates the energy, the *dynamis,* that makes this a narrative.  Take away any section of it and the interactive system is gone.

Now, there is *dynamis* in this enacting of a mundane chore, both in the narrative world and in the real world where presumably the real Harvey Pekar did make himself a glass of lemonade on a hot day.

But is there any "might" in it?

On this philosophy blog (which, quite frankly, I found while looking for Kantian passages to copy so that I wouldn't have to expend *dynamis* typing them), one Nate Hawthorne also cited the Kant passage I did in my last post, and adds this interpretation:

Humans have might as well. The surgeon who removes a tumor exercises a certain force to lift and hold a scalpel, and presses the scalpel to pierce the patient’s skin. Those are operations of might. A person who walks through a strong wind pushes against the force, the might, of the wind using their own might.
I disagree.  The surgeon who pierces the patient's skin, the person walking against a strong wind, and the comic-book writer who makes himself a glass of lemonade are all exerting *dynamis,* but not might (German *macht*).  Since Kant defines might as "an ability that is superior to great obstacles," then the surgeon and the comic-book writer are not exerting "might."  One could argue that the wind-walker is at least competing with the wind, but since (as Hawthorne mentions) there exists the real possibility that the wind may win the contest, the walker's exertion can't be considered superior to his particular great obstacle.

Now, it's possible that "superior" should not be taken to mean unconditional superiority, for if it were, then there would seem to be no need for Kant to distinguish "might" from "dominance."

A key element of Kant's concept of sublimity is that the person experiencing the sublime emotion must be witness to a phenomenon that is "mighty" enough to awaken the subject's sense of vastness, and yet the subject must feel that he is not in immediate danger, in which the forces of self-preservation would interrupt the subject's general mood of pleasurable displeasure, of awestruck "sense of wonder" (my term of course).

Therefore a phenomenon like a storm at sea can be "mighty," but not involve "dominance," since though there are contrary forces at work in a storm there is no sense of struggle in Kant's sense:

"Might is called dominance if it is superior even to the resistance of something that itself possesses might.”
So, to recap, we have three overlapping but distinct terms:

Dynamis= any kind of energy
Might= an energy which to some degree is "superior" to some unspecified lesser forces
Dominance= a superior energy which specifically arises from conflict

The latter two, it would seem, are implicated in Kant's theory of the sublime, and in mine as well.  But since the Pekar piece only evokes energy in its most general sense, then it would not be in any way sublime. I belabor this point in order to critique (once again) the dubious logic proposed by Douglas Wolk in his book READING COMICS, where Wolk attempted to read many if not all alternative comics as possessing Kant's quality of "unboundedness," simply because the altcomics weren't "bound" by commercial restrictions.

I foresee the need of some clarification on the functioning of the sublime in Frye's four mythoi, but may put that off until finishing the aforementioned NUM examples.

LATTER-DAY NOTE: Though I generally don't go back and revise earlier essays, I'm picking this one as an example of a place where I most misused the concept of *dynamis.*  Anyone reading this in 2012 should note that the *dynamis* term as used here has now been superseded by *plot-dynamicity," which see.

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