Featured Post

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, September 4, 2012

INCONSUMMATE IONS AND MOLECULES

If language is born, indeed, from the profoundly symbolific character of the human mind, we may not be surprised to find that this mind operates with symbols far below the level of speech.-- Suzanne Langer, PHILOSOPHY IN A NEW KEY.
 
Susanne Langer, who believed that human beings could articulate a sort of "diffuse meaning" below the level of discursive speech, makes an  interesting gloss on Jung.  As noted in JUNG LOVE FIRST LOVE, Jung defines archetypes as being essentially "empty and purely formal," but when they are experienced through the medium of an individual human's needs, they manifest in "big dreams" that possess an "overwhelming" quality.

I used a Langerian approach when I critiqued a Jack Kirby CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN story in the essay CONSUMMATELY CHALLENGED.  However, in some ways Jung applies to the story just as well.  Repeating the relevant Jung-quote once more:



"[The archetype's] form, however ... might perhaps be compared to the axial system of a crystal, which, preforms the crystalline structure in the mother liquid, although it has no material existence of its own. This first appears according to the specific way in which ions and molecules aggregate. The archetype in itself is empty and purely formal, nothing but a facultas praeformandi, a possibility of representation which is given a priori."
 
In the Kirby-CHALLENGERS essay, I demonstrated how the story had tossed out a number of *inconsummate* motifs, by which I meant motifs that did not coalesce into meaningful content, whether of a "discursive" or "presentational" nature, within the sphere of the story.  The closest I could discern to a discursive meaning in "The Secret of the Sorcerer's Box" was a haphazard comment on codes of masculinity:


I noted earlier that the story does touch upon the nature of masculinity, and it does, in the sense of evoking pleasure in the heroic acts of the Challengers. But the story doesn't work well as far as positing Morelian as the obverse of the heroes, simply because he pays them to do a dangerous job. Is Morelian in some sense "anti-masculine" for having done so? This is a possibility, but Kirby's story (and Dave Wood's dialogue) offer little to explain why the heroes suddenly take a dislike to Morelian at the end.
 
How might one label the archetype underlying this sort of story?  One might make of it a sort of Levi-Straussian dyad: "good masculinity vs. bad masculinity."  Whether the germ of the original story came from Jack Kirby or his collaborator Dave Wood, one might understand that this sort of concern would logically occupy an artist launching a comics-feature focused on daredevil acts of courage.  But all of the specific myth-references in the story-- to Merlin, to the Christian devil, to Medusa's box-- all of these would be in the nature of what Jung called the "ions and molecules," associations suggested by the archetypal theme, which the artists attempted to bring into a coherent whole.  But in contrast to other stories by Kirby, whether by himself or in collaboration with others, "Secret" failed to cohere even on the basic level of successful formula.



Nevertheless, an inconsummate story allows the chance to see how the gears of the symbol-making machine perform when they're a little out of whack, whereas when they work in perfect synchronization, the process is harder to descry.  Then, one cannot know "the dancer from the dance" or the "axial system of the crystal" apart from the "ions and molecules" assembling around it.

No comments: