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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...

Saturday, September 29, 2012

SOMETIMES THEY WIN, SOMETIMES THEY LOSE

...But ONLY when they are characters occupying an AMBIVALENT story-mythos, rather than a MONOVALENT one.

This assertions condenses much of the argument presented in STATURE REQUIREMENTS. In that essay, I generalized that two of the four Fryean mythoi allow the protagonist to win sometimes, lose sometimes.  One of the two is *drama,* a mythos which possesses a serious tone and a *kenotic* (emptying) audience-function, and *comedy,* a mythos which possesses an unserious tone and a  *plerotic* (filling) audience-function.

In contrast, as I also stated in that essay, the function of *adventure* is "to impart to the audience the "invigorating" thrill of victory, with little if any "agony of defeat," while in contrast "the heroes of ironic narratives usually don't win, but when they do, it's usually a victory in which the audience can place no conviction."  Just to keep symmetry with the above assertions, I'll reiterate that *adventure* is a mythos with a serious tone and a *plerotic* audience-function, while *irony* is a mythos with an unserious tone and a *kenotic* audience-function.

In MAGICK IN THEORY AND PRACTICE Aleister Crowley said, “Magick is the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with will.”  Since I favor a lit-crit theory based in the notion of Schopenhaurean will, I see every outcome of every story as a progress toward a change in the narrative between (in Todorov's terms) one equilibrium and another equilibrium.  The change is worked not by the will of a magician but by that of a creator, who decides how much power to effect change will appear in the *dynamis* of the central character or characters.

In this essay I put forth this formula regarding the struggles of what I deemed the "life-supporting" characters, which is to say those characters with whom the audience is most expected to identify and emphathize:

ADVENTURE= "hero vs. villain"
DRAMA= "hero vs. monster"
IRONY= "victim vs. monster"
COMEDY= "victim vs. villain"

In this formula-- in contrast to the now abandoned formula that appeared in Part 2 of that series-- I have in essence defined the "villain" as the negative, life-denying force that is in large part destined to be defeated, whether through the "serious" methods of the adventure-hero or the "unserious" methods of the comedy-hero.   With the ambivalent comedy there are more exceptions to this rule: I'm thinking here of Plautus' play Amphitryon, of which the titular character's only victory, as Wikipedia puts it, is that "Amphitryon is honored to have shared his wife with a god."  Similarly, most Laurel & Hardy comedies tend to end badly for the two hard-luck protagonists, in decided contrast to other contemporary comedy-heroes played by the Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields and so on.  These exceptions to the contrary, in these two mythoi the villain has a better than even chance of losing.

 In contrast, the "monster"-- which I have imagined as encompassing anything from a literal antagonist to the invisible Hand of Fate-- gets a is given a better than even chance of winning.  He/she/it absolutely wins out over the ironic protagonist, and has a good chance of being victorious over the drama's heroes.

I should note at this point that while I would have to change the wording in these summations were I dealing with a *focal presence*  that actually was a "villain* or "monster." Nevertheless, the changes would not affect the main point, for even though Dracula is the *focal presence* of the drama DRACULA and Wonderland of the ironic Alice books, those works still require a viewpoint character who embodies the life-affirming viewpoint.  Such characters retain the identificatory tendencies of a protagonist who is also a focal character, so in essence they remain no less incarnations of the life-impulse.  This identificatory potential is not altered by the fact that Van Helsing wins out over the evil menacing him while Alice is unable to do more than escape the ruthless dream-world of Wonderland.

I have found, though, that the term "victim" is not adequate for my purposes in future.  I drew the idea of a pairing of "monster and victim" from Rhona J. Berenstein's semiotic study of horror films, ATTACK OF THE LEADING LADIES, though I've de-emphasized the gender-specific nature of her argument.  It seemed to be that this made a good parallel to the traditional pairing of "hero and villain," and that therefore there would be some interesting cross-comparisons to be had from the association.  However, as I remarked earlier, the word "victim* too readily connotes someone who possesses no *dynamicity* whatever, and it's not my intention to suggest this.  Therefore in the next essay I will substitute another term for "victim," and all labels that pertain the carryover concept will appear in  place of "victim-concept."



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