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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...

Friday, December 7, 2012


In the previous essay I wrote:

At base, the two have in common a particular kind of "pride": a pride in one's own ability to discern what aspects of literature are best-- aspects which are almost always oriented upon some intellect-based comprehension of some given subject matter. It could be argued that in so doing those guilty of this form of "pride" are guilty of Kant's pronouncement upon Leibniz, that of "intellectualizing phenomena."
I want to make clear, however, that this species of "pride" is not a mere personal quality in the persons so characterized.  This attitude of ratiocentrism in the attitudes of particular critics is merely a proximate cause.  The real cause transcends any single person, having been passed down throughout so many cultures and era that it might well labeled "intersubjective" as defined here.

One of the two manifestations of this ratiocentrism, at least in the United States, can be attributed to the exigencies of the educational system, as I observed in TRUISM LIES PT 1.

[Students] 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.

This manifestation takes in the type of ratiocentrism I observed in both Gary Groth and Synsidar in the previous section.

Also in the essay cited, I quoted Northrop Frye  as having demonstrated, in his ANATOMY OF CRITICISM, the naivete of this idea of getting out of literature just what the author put there for readers to find.  In the same chapter where he makes this observation, he also excoriates a critical tendency that I deem a different species of ratiocentrism, and which Frye terms "determinism:"

The notion that the poet necessarily is or could be the definitive interpreter of himself or of the theory of literature belongs to the conception of the critic as a parasite or jackal. Once we admit that the critic has his own field of activity, and that he has autonomy within that field, we have to concede that criticism deals with literature in terms of a specific conceptual framework. The framework is not that of literature itself, for this is the parasite theory again, but neither is it something outside literature, for in that case the autonomy of criticism would again disappear, and the whole subject would be assimilated to something else.

This latter gives us, in criticism, the fallacy of what in history is called determinism, where a scholar with a special interest in geography or economics expresses that interest by the rhetorical device of putting his favorite study into a causal relationship with whatever interests him less. Such a method gives one the illusion of explaining one's subject while studying it, thus wasting no time. It would be easy to compile a long list of such determinisms in criticism, all of them, whether Marxist, Thomist, liberal-humanist, neo-Classical, Freudian, Jungian, or existentialist, substituting a critical attitude for criticism, all proposing, not to find a conceptual framework for criticism within literature, but to attach criticism to one of a miscellany of frameworks outside it. The axioms and postulates of criticism, however, have to grow out of the art it deals with. The first thing the literary critic has to do is to read literature, to make an inductive survey of his own field and let his critical principles shape themselves solely out of his knowledge of that field. Critical principles cannot be taken over ready-made from theology, philosophy, politics, science, or any combination of these.

It might be easiest to think of one species as "underthinking" (regarding as significant only what an artist has stated in outright, near-allegorical terms) and the other as "overthinking" (superimposing some cognitive framework over the outlines of the poetic work).  I've devoted four essays to refuting the species of "deterministic ratiocentricism" in the OVERTHINKING THE UNDERTHOUGHT series, beginning here.  In the essays so refuted, author Charles Reece seeks to fit WONDER WOMAN comics to a Procrustean bed by-way-of-Karl-Marx.  This is a different approach than that of Synsidar, who has said that superhero comics could be good (or at least better) if they were infused with greater maturity, thus gaining appeal for adults.  Though Reece is no less addicted to the Pedagogical Paradigm than Synsidar, in that Reece refers to his subject matter as "these crappy children's comics" here, Reece takes an inductive approach: juvenile comics can be useful as examples of his chosen cognitive framework as in, say, Marxist ideas on the etiology of fascism.

I believe that both types of ratiocentrism take different routes but arrive at the same place: the calcification of plurisignative meaning into dead fossils of rational exegesis.  Said calcification I alluded to at the end of UNDERTHOUGHT series:

Everything I've written about the potential mythic content that arises from sense-experience depends on this idea of "diffuse meaning," which later becomes concentrated (or calcified) into ideological forms. To me the power of myth is the true expression of free will, while ideology always threatens to trap and bind even the people who most think they have control of its intricacies.

If I've not made it clear, I feel that all the protests against "the superhero as a juvenile construct"-- whether from Synsidar or Groth or Reece or Dirk Deppey-- signigy little more than a blind.  What is resented is not the aspect of juvenility, but the aspect of sensationalism which is for many characterizes children's entertainment (see Synsidar in particular), a sensationalism away from which adults supposedly mature.

(Except that they really don't; hence my assorted writings on adult pulp, which see.)

Sensationalism, with its ability to grab the audience by the lapels and make them want to see "the Parliament of Monsters" (to invoke old Wordsworth again), remains the chief foe of anyone attempting to sell something that is allegedly more elevated, more incisive, more devoted to telling the real truth (whatever that truth-framework may be).  The hunger for the Big Important Themes is a genuine intersubjective experience, true enough.  But it does not define the boundaries of art.

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