Most stories in the popular vein also appear at a glance to sustain themselves on mere truisms: good conquers evil, etc. And there are some stories that offer little beyond truisms, as they are made up of nothing more than (so to speak) “simple variables.” But for others the apparent truisms are window-dressing for more important matters of myth and symbol, and to proving that theory I dedicate this blog.-- STATE(MENT) OF THE UNIFICATION THEORY, 2007.My initial post on this blog dealt with Northrop Frye's elegant definition of archetypes--or at least his quasi-Jungian definiton of same-- as "associative clusters" that were (or at least had the potential to become) "complex variables."
More recent posts, such as CAMPBELLIAN CONUNDRUM, have delved more deeply, theory-wise, with working out the way in which archetype-clusters, which by definition must be inchoate and variable, take on specific shape through the creator's mediations on the nature of the psyche, of society, of the cosmos in all its manifestations.
But, the skeptic may ask, why bother talking of archetypes? Why not believe simply what Northrop Frye said most people believe: that " that the critic's task is to get out of a work what the author put in?"
This is the way most American elementary students learn to write about literature. They must learn how to recount, in a coherent and discursive manner, the underlying themes of THE SCARLET LETTER or MOBY DICK or whatever, in order to prove their ability to master the appropriate level of reasoning. For elementary and even secondary-school levels, it would be too demanding to speak of the expressive depths of any sort of literature, be it high or low. Most students are better off dealing with literature only in this flat, discusive sense of chasing after the Big Themes-- which by themselves, are no better the "simple variables" of the truisms I describe above. To say that "MOBY DICK is about the struggle of man with the will of God" isn't any more profound than saying that Superman is about the struggle of ego and id.
I dealt with some of the problems in this sort of allegorical reduction of literature in THEMATIC REALISM II:
I’ve noted elsewhere that the emphasis on the privileging of “real literature’s” orientation upon thematic realism can lead to the mistake of seeking meaning in terms of allegory. LeGuin, both in this essay and others, asserts that the mythic visions she seeks are not reducible to simple allegory, which by itself is laudable, though whenever she seeks to put into words the potential meaning of a given text, her statements do take on an allegorical ring: “Tarzan is a direct descendant of the Wolfchild/Noble Savage on one side, and every child’s fantasy of the Orphan-of-High-Estate on the other.” The statement is not so much untrue as banal, and it may be that it’s impossible to state any potential meaning of a text without verging on the allegorical.No less banal are critical readings that attempt to reduce the expressive power of any given text to the ideological as expressed not conciously but subconsciously. In this department we find such gems as Noah Berlatsky's queer-ified reading of superheroes generally and Frederic Jameson's addlepated text THE POLITICAL UNCONSCIOUS.
An awareness of-- NOT, by any means, a slavish adherence to-- the plurisignative potential of the archetypes behind literature can go a long way toward preventing this sort of "lying-by-truisms."
In Part 2 I'll proceed to rip apart one such proponent of weak-brained ideological readings, which, as I've noted in a previous post, are for pussies.