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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...

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


For some time I've tended to see a polarity between the above-named scenarios.  I mentioned in this 2010 essay, which addresses the multivalence of the genres "crime" and "horror," that in practice both were dominated by the dramatic mythos.  In various academic essays I've seen efforts to treat them, at least in their 1930s film-manifestations, as parallel genres, since both deal with the destruction of a "monster" that imperils society.  Robin Wood, speaking solely of horror, boiled the genre down to the phrase, "Normalcy is threatened by the monster."

In the first part of HERO VS. VILLAIN I aligned drama with irony in terms of what Theodor Gaster terms *kenosis,* the process that expels harmful energy from society, and adventure with comedy in terms of *plerosis,* the process that brings positive energy back into the community, in the following terms:

,,,plerosis is best conceived as the life-force engendered by the contest of hero-and-villain, taken seriously for the adventure and humorously for the comedy, while life is purged or otherwise compromised in the black-comic irony and in the drama.

Now, having meditated awhile on Schopenhauer's distinctions between the homogenous status of "serious" discourse versus the heterogenous status of "comic" discourse, the above thought requires some modification.

As noted in this essay, Schopenhauer determined his assessment of either homogeneity or heterogeneity with respect to the agreement or disageement between "perceptual representations" and "conceptual representations." In order for me to apply these principles to literature, I had to make the distinction that in a literary world the former meant the verisimilitude within a given world, while the latter meant the expectations that the audience brought to the work.

In the second part, I argued that Schopenhauer's term "objective" compared well with both the irony and the drama-- and thus with Freud's so-called "reality principle"-- and the term "subjective" could be aligned with the adventure and the comedy, and thus with the "pleasure principle."  But what's the nature of the disagreement in the heterogenous forms, "irony" and "comedy?"

The nature as I express it is summed up by the different metaphors of "hero vs. villain" (pleasure principle) and "monster vs. victim" (the reality principle).

In the adventure-tale, every internal aspect of its world is dominated by the need for the hero to win out in the end, which is made credible to the audience by the fact that the hero possesses above-average combative power/skill.  Thus both "percept" and "concept" are homogenous because both are dominated by the pleasure principle. expressed by the metaphorical phrase "hero over villain."

In the dramatic story, every internal aspect is dominated by the possibility that the hero may fail, and that even if he wins, his triumph will evince substantial *pathos.*  Thus every aspect of the world is meant to convey the possibility of failure, in keeping with the expectations of the audience, rendering the two potentialities homogenous as well.  The hero's power of action is often compromised, so that it's credible when and if he meets a dire fate-- which fate is summed up by the triumph of "monster over victim," aka the reality principle.  

Now, Northrop Frye often alludes the idea that the irony reverses many tropes of the adventure, and the comedy of the drama, and Schopenhauer *might* say that it is because the latter two express heterogeneity between "percept" and "concept."  I express the first reversal as "villain over hero." As noted many times before, the hero of the irony is even more compromised than the hero of the drama, meaning that even when he has power he has no positive power-of-action.  But because the reader's level of conviction has dropped precipitously, the reader no longer identifies strongly with the disempowered hero, but instead views the hero's reduction by the reality principle in ironic, humorous terms.  Thus the reality principle dominating the world is reversed in terms of its effect, yielding a heterogenous form of pleasure.

Finally, the world of the comedy is dominated by the reversal "victim over monster."  Thus, though the comic hero usually does not possess the heroic stature one would expect of anyone able to conquer monsters (be they real monsters, criminals, heavy fathers or whatever)-- and thus sacrifices the verisimilitude logic would demand-- the world, dominated by the pleasure principle, is oriented on giving the comic hero a "free pass" that allows him to triumph-- though in some ways the compromise makes it clear that the reader gains that pleasure by "foul means" rather than the "fair means" of the adventure-mythos.  This too is entirely congruous with Schopenhauer's remarks on the nature of this type of humor.

As far as *plerosis* and *kenosis" are concerned, however, it doesn't matter whether they are reached by fair means or foul-- or homogenous or heterogenous devices.  Thus my earlier assignment of comedy and adventure to *plerosis,* and irony and drama to *kenosis,* remains applicable.

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