Friday, November 30, 2012

STRENGTH, IN NUMBERS

In the previous essay I wrote:

To reiterate the Harvey Pekar example, clearly the vignette in which Pekar makes himself some lemonade requires no "strength" beyond this elementary level-- and neither do a variety of mundane, life-sustaining tasks-- driving a car, building a birdhouse, etc.

Admittedly, I'm more likely to use the adjectival forms I coined in the THREE-PART essay: *microdynamic,* *mesodynamic,* and *megadynamic." But the one disadvantage of these terms is that they don't lend themselves as well as do the noun-terms in some regards.
What I should have written was that the "adjectival forms" were applicable to fictional characters, and, on occasion, non-human "focal presences."  Generally speaking, only characters are microdynamic, mesodynamic, or megadynamic, and only characters are to be designated as "x-types," "y-types," or "z-types," as noted in DYNAMIS VS. DYNAMICITY.  I also used these terms to desigate the way a given character, even if he possessed "x-type/megadynamic" power as with Batman, might exert differing levels of power for different occasions, as seen at the end of THE THREE-PART HARMONY OF DYNAMICITY.

However, Kant's original use for his terms "might" and "dominance"-- from which use I extrapolated my third term, "basic strength"-- applied not to characters but to situations: generally, the manifestation of "might" in nonhuman natural phenomena.  I've repeatedly disagreed with Kant's proclivity to find sublimity only in natural forces.  Despite this disagreement, I assert that Kant's terms are elastic enough to be applied to wider use than Kant made of them-- as with respect to analyzing the *dynamis* within fictional plots.

Once again, then, I'm applying the "plot-character schism," referenced in terms of "mythoi-determination," and pressing it into the service of the "conflict and combat" distinction, if that makes things any clearer.

Patently my last few paragraphs of the previous essay applied to plots, not characters:

For instance, in my earliest discussion of "conflict and combat," I originally designated three levels of conflict. Later I simplified these to "combative" and "subcombative." Operatively, though, there is some significance to labelling some types of narrative as "noncombative." Certainly there is a mindset in some literary circles that true literary works don't deal in gauche violence. Pekar, with his kitchen-sink renditions of his own life, seems to have subscribed to this notion. In a similar vein, Northrop Frye once noted the irony that despite the popularity of Shakespeare, most later dramatists hewed more closely to the realistic example of Ben Jonson-- which means, if only in part, that this tendency eschewed the Bard's bloody-mindedness.

"Might," as situated in Kant's argument, is simply a superior force amid inferior ones. This would parallel the type of story in which there exists an anomalous force (say, the vampire Dracula) with which a group of ordinary people must contend.

"Dominance" generates a very different type of plotline, in which at least two superior forces are arrayed against one another. I'll explore this in more depth in my next essay.
I made a loose correlation between the level of "basic strength" and the overall idea of the "kitchen-sink fiction," but I don't want to imply that only modernist narratives exclude references to the sublimity-producing concepts of "might" and "dominance," though as a rule modern genre-narratives explore these concepts on a more sustained basis than do most modern would-be literary efforts.

For instance, there's no violence in the "Harvey Pekar lemonade" vignette, but it's not inconceivable that Pekar might have written of, say, some schoolyard tussle in his high school days. Had he done so, such an episode would have remained, plotwise, at the level of "basic strength," unless there were something extraordinary about the ability of one or both combatants.

Folktakes of all nations fulfilled the same basic function now assumed by genre-fiction, and many of them were, to use my earlier phrase, quite "bloody-minded."  However, there were certainly those that did not employ any sort of "might" or "dominance" in their violence, but remained at what I've called elsewhere a "functional" level.  One such tale was that of "The Bremen Town Musicians."  The story's one violent scene, occuring at the climax, is summarized on the tale's entry in Wikipedia:

Later that night, the robbers return and send one of their members in to investigate. He sees the Cat's eyes shining in the darkness and thinks he is seeing the coals of the fire. He reaches over to light his candle. Things happen in quick succession; the Cat scratches his face with her claws, the Dog bites him on the leg, the Donkey kicks him and the Rooster crows and chases him out the door, screaming. He tells his companions that he was beset by a horrible witch who scratched him with her long fingers (the Cat), an ogre with a knife (the Dog), a giant who had hit him with his club (the Donkey), and worst of all, the judge who screamed in his voice from the rooftop (the Rooster). The robbers abandon the cottage to the strange creatures who have taken it, where the animals live happily for the rest of their days.

By my lights there is nothing either "sublime" or "spectacular" about this form of violence, although there's some deliberate irony in that the robber who's been attacked by ordinary animals imagines that they were a host of powerful beings, including a witch, an ogre and a giant.

In contrast to this, we have a real witch in the Grimms' tale "Hansel and Gretel."  This tale is so well-known that I hardly need summarize its plotline, but  in it the cannibalistic witch with the candy cottage fulfills the same function of the "anomalous force" mentioned above; a force which, like Dracula, possesses such "might" that the protagonists can only overcome this antagonist through endurance and cunning.

I would generalize that most of the Grimms' folktales fall into one of these two categories, but there is at least one, semi-obscure story that qualifies as reproducing the narrative value of "dominance" in its plot, albeit with a comic touch at the end.  Again from the entry in Wikipedia for "The Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was:"


The first night, as the boy sat in his room, two voices from the corner of the room moaned into the night, complaining about the cold. The boy, unafraid, claimed that the owners of the voices were stupid to not warm themselves with the fire. Suddenly, two black cats jumped out of the corner and, seeing the calm boy, proposed a card game. The boy tricked the cats and trapped them with the cutting board and knife. Black cats and dogs emerged from every patch of darkness in the room, and the boy fought and killed each of them with his knife. Then, from the darkness, a bed appeared. He lay down on it, preparing for sleep, but it began walking all over the castle. Still unafraid, the boy urged it to go faster. The bed turned upside down on him, but the boy, unfazed, just tossed the bed aside and slept next to the fire until morning.
Most of the hero's encounters in the story are like this, where he easily bests whatever supernatural terrors attempt to strike fear in his heart.  Even at the story's comic conclusion, the protagonist still remains undefeated and never knows what it means to fear a superior power, so that the comedy of the story depends on his demonstration of Superman-like indomitability.


 Having shown how the three types of "plot-dynamicity" affect my chosen folktale-examples, I'll work my way back to current patterns of genre-fiction.


NOTE TO ANY REGULAR READERS: I revised paragraph 3 on 12-9-12 for hopefully greater clarity.

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