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, July 12, 2012


When Schopenhauer addresses the question of "serious discourse," he does not recognize, as I do, two separate species of said discourse.  I am not surprised that WORLD AS WILL AND REPRESENTATION holds no insights as to the distinctions between what I call "adventure" and "drama."

However, it is interesting that in Chapter 8, "On the Theory of the Ludicrous," Schopenhauer does distinguish two species of ludicrous discourse, though again, he does not focus on them in terms of literature alone.  If anything, his examples stem mostly from everyday discourse between real people, rather than discourse within a literary setting.  As it happens, the philosopher does use one of the same terms Frye uses-- "irony"-- for one species, while his other species he names "humour," but describes it in terms that are recognizably those of jubilative comedy.

For Schopenhauer, irony is what is conveyed in a serious manner, but arouses the sense of ludicrous:

"...if  during heavy rain we say: "It is pleasant weather today"; or, of an ugly bride it is said: "He has found himself a treasure."

Against this species is the species of humour in which something is conveyed that seems ludicrous on the face of it, which one has to think through to conceive its absurdity compared to normal perceptual representation:

"When someone had stated that he was fond of walking alone, an Austrian said to him, 'You like to walk alone; so do I; then we can walk together."

Continuing my Gaster-comparisons here, the first examples conform to the mortificative aspect I assign to irony; it's no coincidence that his chosen examples focus on someone putting a false face upon an example of ill fortune.  This principle should even extend to those rare examples of irony that do the opposite-- make something good out to seem bad-- as in the husband who claims that his wife is "terrible" in some manner calculated that his listeners will not believe him, but will think him fortunate instead. A pleasant false face is still false, and in narrative literature there are no shortage of ironies in which the ironic circumstances seem more in line with Huxley's BRAVE NEW WORLD than with Orwell's 1984.

Schopenhauer's example of humor, in contrast, contains a jubilative mood, taking pleasure in the way logic can be twisted about to produce something utterly illogical: the myth-radical I term the *incognitio,* in that it defies cognition.

Schopenhauer maintains that both species of the ludicrous contain an incongruence between the perceived and the conceived, and explains this by resorting to the much-traveled distinction between the "objective" and the "subjective:"

"Irony is objective, and so is aimed at another; but humour is subjective, and thus exists primarily for one's own self."
The objective-subjective dichotomy is of course a familiar one in literary studies, and can be used profitably to comment upon both the "perceptual representations" within a work (the characters and their mythos-determined fates) and the "conceptual representations" outside a work (what the audience makes of the characters with whom it identifies).  For both they often take the form of Freud's famous "reality principle" (comparable to "the objective" in that it's responding to the outer world's objective demands), and his somewhat infamous "pleasure principle" (comparable to "the subjective" in that it's responding to the inner world's subjective demands).

But even though Schopenhauer may never have intuited two species of "serious discourse," do the other two Freyan mythoi conform to this dichotomy?

It would seem a slam-dunk. Back in BREAKING OPEN MOULDY TALES, I made these observations from one of Frye's essays:

Frye goes on to point out that because the more "realistic" forms of literature foreground what he terms (following Freud) "the reality principle." Thus even though tragedies like MACBETH and ironies like THE CASTLE (my examples) have a certain storytelling verve to them as well, there's a sort of proto-critical experience one generally has while experiencing them. To use a set of terms introduced in a separate Frye essay, the audience is oriented upon discovering what "significant values" are allegorized in the narrative, thereby to learn what meaning the work has for "reality." In contrast, comedy and romance, being oriented upon the "pleasure principle" (one presumes), lend themselves more to the enjoyment of "narrative values,"and of the "variety" one finds in the story's conventions.
So Schopenhauer's dichotomy for irony and "humour" can be easily applies to the other two mythoi as well, with no loss of meaning:

"Drama is objective, and so is aimed at another; but adventure is subjective, and thus exists primarily for one's own self."

In passing I'll note that Frye's MOULDY TALES essay was influential upon my conception of the principle of conviction, given Frye's observations on what I termed a "proto-critical reading experience."  But in any case, what qualities can be thus far ascribed to the four mythoi by virtue of these extensions of Schopenhauer's arguments?

ADVENTURE // "subjective" // "pleasure principle" // homogeneity of percept and concept, so "serious"
DRAMA // "objective" // "reality principle" // homogeneity of percept and concept, so "serious"
IRONY // "objective" // "reality principle" // heterogenity of percept and concept, so "humorous"
COMEDY // "subjective" // "pleasure principle" // heterogeneity of percept and concept, so "humorous"

I plan to go into more detail as to proving the postulated "homogeneity" and "heterogeneity" of these respective mythoi whenever I get around to writing my long-postponed (from May) Part 2 of the projected essay-series HERO VS. VILLAIN, MONSTER VS. VICTIM.

No comments: