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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...

Monday, July 30, 2012


I may as well reprint this observation of mine from a ROBOT 6 topic:


I also don't get the use of sports analogies.  Sports-oriented entertainments have the advantage of being culturally approved by the Popular Audience, so there's no hump for them to get over.  Superhero comic books have been used as whipping-boys for dopiness outside the industry for decades-- remember Gomer Pyle and his "Shazam?"  And of course within the industry they're still frowned upon by Bloody Comic Book Elitists.

Movies might have made a bettrer comparison.  For many decades anything like a superhero movie was usually a low-budget affair aimed at kids, and often skewing toward boy kids, with a few exceptions. STAR WARS changed that by distilling the essence of the "space-opera superhero" into a visually pleasing form that adults and juveniles could share.  Thanks to that paradigm shift, male and female audiences alike regularly take pleasure in the current advances in superhero tech-- SPIDER-MAN, THE AVENGERS-- but again, superhero movies piggyback upon the high regard that Joe (or Josephine) Popular Audience has for anything for the cinema as a source of entertainment.  Comics are getting better press now than ever before, but I still see no signs that the medium has moved into a similar sphere of high regard.

As I understand it, Heidi's point was that comics publishers aren't willing to chance losing the male readers to take a chance on an influx of female readers.  Sue is correct to say that there have been changes, but they have been slow and incremental, and I don't think that's the kind of radical change for which many of the "suffragettes" are stumping.


Before delving into the complications of *dynamis* once more, I want to clarify some of my earlier pronouncements on the categorization of works in terms of both their mythoi-affiliations and their extent to which they utilize the combative mode, the latter discussed here.

Since I decided to reconstitute the idea of my combative/subcombative distinctions, I found myself returning to a question I tabled years ago: is there a subcombative form of adventure, given that its essence is symbolized by the *agon,* the very representation of combat and therefore of the quality of sublimity that Kant calls *dominance?*

I've been moving toward an affirmative answer in recent months.  In MIGHT VS. DOMINANCE, I referenced a scene in the 1940 film THIEF OF BAGDAD-- which is as a whole a combative film-- and observed of the scene in which Abu tricks the genie that 'in this sequence, we are dealing with something very like "dominance," although perhaps a qualified form.'  In the same essay I also noted that the original Arabian Nights story of Aladdin:

The original story of ALADDIN AND HIS WONDERFUL LAMP would seem to be a subcombative form of adventure, in that there is no actual combat between Aladdin and his opponent the "Chinese Magician," nor does Aladdin fight any proxy servant of the Magician. The conflict consists of either hero or villain swiping the lamp away from the other at this or that time, but never in a direct confrontation.
In a similar project, I decided to apply my idea of a "combative mode" to all of the films I'd reviewed thus far on NATURALISTIC! UNCANNY! MARVELOUS!, while also simultaneously aligning them with their dominant mythoi: adventure, drama, comedy or irony.  Since I label all the films I review in terms of their dominant mythoi, I made it implicit that if it was a comedy without the "combative" label, then it would be necessarily be subcombative.  The one exception I made was for the adventure-mythos, since I had, as noted above, a special interest in ferreting out subcombative versions thereof.  And of all those films thus far reviewed, I only found one that functioned more like an adventure than any of the other three mythoi: 1989's BRENDA STARR.  The movie deals with the standard tropes of adventure-- a heroine and her assistants attempt to foil a Nazi plot-- but neither Brenda nor her allies are especially combative.  They function more like comic heroes than adventure- heroes, often succeeding by luck more than by skill.  On a side-note, I have a loose impression that the comic strip which birthed the movie followed the same basic pattern, but I've not read the strip in sufficient doses to make that determination.

With all that in mind, I'm reversing one of my seminal mythoi-determinations, seen here.  The basic logic remains unchanged; for instance, the other example set forth in that essay, STARGATE, I still regard as being a drama/adventure; that is, essentially a drama with strong adventure-elements.  But I've changed my mind on DOCTOR WHO, of which I said:

...the Doctor fights his foes with the centuries-spanning knowledge of a Time Lord, not with martial abilities. His doctrine is *froda,* not *forza.* This puts him very close to the territory of the typical dramatic protagonist of mainstream science fiction, but in the end DOCTOR WHO is still about external peril rather than internal instabilities, and so it still falls within the category of the adventure mythos, for all that its protagonist lacks the *dynamis* of an adventure protagonist.
I didn't go quite so far as to call DOCTOR WHO a "comedy-adventure" as I did with INFERIOR FIVE, but that was my basic implication: to say that the *dynamis* of the Doctor's trippy character dominated the narrative and overwhelmed the *dynamis* of the adventure-oriented plotlines.  But I'll reverse that implication now: in essence the Doctor, like Aladdin and Brenda Starr, belongs in the adventure-mythos, but only in the subcombative compartment of that mythos.

More in the forthcoming DYNAMIS VS. DYNAMICITY.

Saturday, July 28, 2012


"And you, you nasty old man!  Have a whiff of Bat-gas!"

Batman speaks these immortal lines in the two-part second-season episode "The Devil's Fingers/Dead Ringers" just before he gasses the evil "Harry," brother to the main villain Chandell (both roles played by Liberace).  Batman's uncharacteristically strong language must be put down to the fact that both Harry and Chandell have put the moves on Bruce Wayne's kinda-but-not-really relation Aunt Harriet:

Having recently meditated somewhat on the nature of Schopenhauer's two modes of the ludicrous in this essay, modes which I subsume as identical to Frye's "comedy" and "irony," I found myself thinking back to my essay ADVENTURE-COMEDY VS. COMEDY-ADVENTURE PART 1.  In that essay I contrasted the use of humor in two works, the 1966-68 BATMAN teleseries and the 1960s superhero comedy THE INFERIOR FIVE.  While I believe that I was basically right in stating that the humorous elements trump the adventure-elements in INFERIOR FIVE while the reverse is true in the BATMAN teleseries, I've come to the conclusion that I misidentified the nature of the dominant humorous elements in the latter work.

It's true that there are many setups in the teleseries that deal with the incognitio of comedy.  I showed this one in the earlier essay:

Here's one that's even more slapsticky in nature, from the 1966 movie:

But BATMAN's stock in trade wasn't built around this sort of baggy-pants comedy.  Thanks in large part to the influence of producer William Dozier, BATMAN was popular thanks to the highly ironic artistic mode called "camp," which defined the show both in its own time and from then on.

On imdb we read that "camp means and has been from the start an ironic attitude," and further, that 'camp takes "something" (normally a social norm, object, phrase, or style), does a very acute analysis of what the "something" is, then takes the "something" and presents it humorously.'  In BATMAN'S case, the 'something" was the superhero genre, but it wasn't being simply inverted, as one might see in spoofs like the Daffy Duck short STUPOR DUCK, but rather subverted.  This distinction aligns with Schopenhauer's insight:

Irony is objective, and so is aimed at another; but humour is subjective, and thus exists primarily for one's own self.

The Chandell episode referenced above is an above-average example of the function of irony in the teleseries.  The bare plot-- the celebrated but criminal pianist Chandell attempting to marry into the Wayne fortune-- borrows strongly from the tropes of melodrama, as does the complicated backstory in which the pianist is blackmailed into a life of crime by his crooked brother Harry.  Liberace plays Chandell with his expected persona of effette elegance, while he portrays Harry as a stereotypical movie tough-guy, even emulating the diction of Edward G. Robinson's gangster-persona in one scene.

Other aspects of Chandell's crookedness don't make a lot of sense-- if he's planning to marry into money, why does he employ a trio of thieves to go around ripping people off with, of all things, a sonic bagpipe that renders its victims unconscious?

But the logic of the plot doesn't really matter.  What matteres is the process by which the tropes of the adventure-oriented comic-book superhero have been turned to the purpose of irony-- all of which is to exalt, in Schopenhaurean terms, the "objective," the audience's knowledge of what is credible, as opposed to the "subjective," the audience's knowledge of what is desireable.  Whereas a comedic treatment of the same tropes would simply take pleasure in their lunacy, the ironic "camp" treatment underplays the absurdity.  By playing the adventure elements in a straightforward fashion, but injecting oddball phrases and comments like Batman's "nasty man" dialogue above, Dozier and his writers were constantly subverting the narrative.

At least, that was their intention.  But though I now consider that the BATMAN teleseries uses ironic devices far more often than comedic ones, I'd still maintain that the adventure-elements predominate, so that it becomes an "adventure-irony" rather than an "irony-adventure" (an example of which might be MARSHAL LAW, examined briefly here.)

It's often been observed that the teleseries-producers pursued a two-tier approach with BATMAN.  They knew that children and some adolescents would take the adventure-elements seriously, while the adults would be entertained by the ironic distancing conveyed by the dialogue and some of the more overtly absurd situations (e.g., Batgirl almost fails to rescue Batman and Robin from a death-trap because she's careful to obey local traffic laws).  Yet, because of the two-tiered approach, Dozier and Co. couldn't avoid validating-- rather than subverting-- the most representative element of the adventure-genre: the *agon*, the fight-scene in which good wins out over evil.

Even giant comedic sound-effects don't dispel the appeal of this basic formula, as I wrote at the end of the ADVENTURE-COMEDY essay:

Because the heroes seem genuinely threatened by bizarre villains and death-traps, both plot and character validate the power of the adventure-mythos even while managing to keep the comic elements in play. This is why, even for later generations of kids not yet jaded enough to laugh at Batman, the series can still excite and fascinate them, precisely because even with the giant OOFS and WHAPS, the invigorating thrill of the agon still predominates.

It would be possible, as I've argued in STATURE REQUIREMENTS, that one might have found a way to have the heroes win their battles and still convey an undiluted ironic vision, as one arguably finds in the Mills/O'Neill comic MARSHAL LAW.  But Dozier-- whose most well-known work prior to BATMAN was the kid-TV series ROD BROWN OF THE ROCKET RANGERS (starring Cliff "Shame" Robertson)-- was probably not interested in such a vision.  And despite a mention in IMDB that he "hated comic books," I find it interesting that following the success of BATMAN, he chose to do, not another irony-laced adventure, but THE GREEN HORNET, in which every effort was made to play another "dynamic duo" as straight as possible.

Perhaps there was a part of Dozier that responded to the thrill of invigoration, the reflection of the sort of subjectivized victories which never come to mere mortals in the "real world..."

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Interestingly, given my recent response to Julian Darius on the morality of the *zero sum game* conflict between male and female interests, the phrase reoccurs in a recent BEAT piece in which Heidi *seems* to express her zero tolerance for the aforesaid concept.  I, of course, posted as follows.


So if I understand Heidi correctly, there is no "zero sum game" for publishers if they were to expouse more female-friendly books, because whatever hardcore male audience they might lose would be replaced by a hardcore female audience (re: Salkowitz's assertion that "girl nerds can outperform boy nerds.")  If one assumes for sake of argument that this transformation could take place, then logically Heidi would be right--

For the publishers, that is. They would be doing either just as well or better.

But for the hardcore male audience that wanted to read half-naked Catwoman stories, that would be a "zero sum game" indeed.

There might even be a tiny fraction of female readers who liked half-naked Catwoman, for whatever reasons, but I think males would be preponderant (heh) in that regard.

I dunno, Heidi. I've seen a lot of readers-- even some who represent themselves as liberals-- who've said things like, "Let 'em go back to straight porn."

I'm curious to know if that's your position as well.  Either way, it still seems like a "zero sum game" again, even if you cloak it under "market demand."

Anyone here live in a small town?

I've heard it's hard to buy Hustler and Playboy these days.  Wonder why.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


On a private listserve a poster guided me to this COMICS JOURNAL post, in which Gary Groth reacted to a post by Dan Nadel which concerned (in part) a short Internet film described as 'a Punisher “fan film” by Punisher actor Thomas Jane.'  Groth said in response:

It’s funny, I stumbled onto this 10-minute Punisher “trailer” yesterday —which, believe me, is somewhat uncharacteristic— on the website of an effusive blogger who was prattling on about how wonderful it was that such a film could be made for the sheer love of it and not for comnmercial reasons, as if making this brainless piece of shit was somehow made laudable because there was no profit motive behind it when I should think exactly the opposite — I was reminded of of George Santayana’s comment, “Americans love junk; it’s not the junk that bothers me, it’s the love,” more relevant today, with Comic-Con being its apotheosis and triumph, than ever.
Prior to watching the film and determining that it wasn't, in my opinion, a "brainless piece of shit," I noted that Groth's response was pretty typical, though his comparison of the short to Comic-con didn't seem to make much sense.  Another blogger condemned the "three ring circus" aspect of Comic-con, so I wrote:

[Groth's] not just impugning Comic-Con (yes, how ridiculous it is. to imagine people in search of entertainment going to a circus, three-ring or otherwise). He's slamming the "prattling" blogger for daring to imagine that this take on the Punisher could be deemed "laudable" because it wasn't informed by a profit motive. The Punisher short may or may not be any good by the standard of a critic who would not automatically condemn anything with the character. But Groth isn't such a critic. Over the years Groth has put forth dozens of quotes showing that he only loves a certain type of comics, and virulently hates other types. This is just another one.

I expanded somewhat on this later:


As I said before when responding to the original post about the Punisher short, I agree that he's perfectly entitled to like or dislike any genre or genre-production he pleases. But I also said that I disagreed with his notion that a given bad story incarnates the spirit of Comic-con, or whatever weird connection he was making between the two. A bad story is just a bad story.

BTW, I don't know if anyone else here watched the fan-made Punisher short, but I did, and did not find it a particularly bad story. It didn't reinvent the wheel or anything, but its ten minutes was more entertaining than any 10 minutes of the last 2 Punisher films.

Again-- he's free to dislike the short, as I'm free to like it. I'm not disputing his taste, I'm disputing the philosophical conclusions he makes on the basis of his personal taste.
I'll add in conclusion that the blogger who imputed a lack of profit motive to the makers of the Punisher short may have been a bit naive.  It's likely that anyone who makes such a short might like to parley its popularity into paying work.  That said, naivety is not nearly as offensive to me as unstinting arrogance.

Saturday, July 21, 2012


In Part 1 I compared the protests against oversexualized (and almost always female) images in comic books with the protests that changed widespread cultural attitudes about smoking:

Sixty years later, the discourse has reversed that position, and Party A essentially has no say in the matter any more. The objective proof of smoking's dangers have converted most people to Party B. Both in America and in many other parts of the world, people who want to smoke can only do so under the most rarefied situations.
Thus, for a societal concern in which science provides the "objective proof" that a given practice is harmful, which leads to the marginalization of the practice.

Most cultural practices, however, cannot be proven to be objectively harmful.  The Kelly Thompson essay "No, It's Not Equal" attempts to frame its objections in objective terms:

I think media is a powerful thing in our society and that there’s a trickle down effect in seeing these portrayals reinforced over and over again. These portrayals shape how we view and value women and contributes to everything from sexism in the work place to eating disorders. I don’t think comics are the only media to blame, but it does happen to be the medium I write about, so here we are.
Thompson offers no proof of this influence in this essay, but even if she had-- or had linked to citations that sufficed as objective proof for her-- this sort of influence is impossibe to prove to most people in the manner that the harmfulness of smoking was proved to the public at large.

Nevertheless, objective proof isn't necessary to get a given cultural practice converted into its opposite, a taboo that almost everyone in society openly abjures.

In my essay CARICATURE ANALYSIS I commented at length on the characterization of  the Will Eisner character "Ebony" as racist.  In my conclusion I declined to agree with this characterization but didn't entirely let the late Mr. Eisner off the hook.

It goes without saying that Ebony is much more offensive today than he was in "his" time, though one imagines that if THE SPIRIT's contemporaneous black readers weren't especially offended by Ebony, it would be because other negative stereotypes, particularly those of the movies, were far more pervasive.

But-- is Ebony White "racist" as such?

I would answer "Yes" only with qualifications. Clearly Eisner did not realize, or chose not to realize, that the minstrel-show visual devices he perpetuated "capitalized" on the "presumed characteristics" of black people, where big eyes and big lips conveyed such characteristics as stupidity and childishness, just as Fagin embodied supposed Jewish traits of criminality and miserliness. Eisner probably only saw that he had given Ebony a lot more wit and personality than one saw in many black characters in the pop culture of the time, and that would be true as far as it went.

Yet, having admitted that Eisner used a racist visual trope, I am still uncomfortable with unreservedly calling Ebony a racist creation. Eisner's case is certainly weakened by his inability to consider how the "negative stereotype" of blacks was used as an indirect rhetorical tool by which real people were consigned to second-class citizenship. And yet, his point about caricature cannot be so easily dismissed.

The visual tropes of the "Sambo" and the "Mammy" were once common in all American media and even traveled to certain other countries, notably Japan.  But over time, numerous protests from activist groups-- notably the NAACP-- effectively exiled such images from popular media.  From reading Thompson's fulminations against hypersexualized imagery, I don't think it's reaching to imagine that Thompson would like to see some similar cultural transformation take place.  I must qualify this, however, by saying that she doesn't object to particular characters, like X-MEN's White Queen, being decked out in Victoria's Secret garments if that fits their characters; she principally objects to seeing all female characters so attired as a default to male preferences. 

So could some cultural shift cause the practitioners of comic books to renounce hyper-sexy visuals, the way popular entertainers have largely renounced the Sambo image (Howard Stern notwithstanding)?  The circumstances that brought forth what David Hadju calls "the Great Comic-Book Scare" might never be duplicated, but it's not hard to imagine that a very different set of circumstances might call forth the same basic results.  It should be noted that if it did happen, we wouldn't see sexy costumes displayed only in terms of character appropriateness.  It would be an all-or-nothing conversion, wherein White Queen would start strutting her stuff in a sexy white burka.

However, the trope of Hypersexualized Women is functionally different than the trope of the Sambo.  When activists protested the latter trope, they might not have been able to prove objectively that "real people were consigned to second-class citizenship" through the effects of the Sambo image.  But they could certainly say, "Black people don't look like that."  Thus the offensive images of blacks could be anathematized on the basis that they were both offensive and inaccurate.

In addition to Thompson's particular angle-- that of protesting hypersexualization as a default for all female characters-- many fan-critics have attempted to argue that they're not opposed to sexy art but to bad sexy art.  However, it's hard to believe that all protest would die out if every hypersexual female character were drawn with the talent of a Dave Stevens or talents of similar stripe-- much less if the White Queen were the only one showing off her "secrets."   

At base, while the Sambo image was entirely a modern cultural construct, and could be rejected as such, the hypersexual female cannot be reduced to such a simplistic formula.  No matter how much one may dislike the particular modern manifestations of sexism, they have their roots in patterns that are as old as humankind.

More on these patterns in a future essay.

Friday, July 20, 2012


In the course of reviewing two 1960s superspy-films on my movie-blog, I've mounted an argument as to how *mythicity* can be discerned in works that may or may not be "politically correct" by a given social consensus.  I'm excerpting here just the section dealing with my chosen examples of mythicity: the representations of the character Pussy Galore in both the original 1959 novel by Ian Fleming and in the 1964 movie (scripted by Richard Maibaum and Paul Dehn).  I wanted to transport this section here in case I decide to build on it in future.


The symbolic discourse of the [Matt] Helm films, though, is more dubious. Though I’ve said the films embody the “swinger” cultural fantasy, saying that doesn’t give one any means by which to judge the *mythicity* of these spy-fantasies. As mentioned elsewhere, a narrative has high mythicity in relation to the complexity of its symbolic discourse, quite apart from its value as pure entertainment.

So what if the entertainment is politically incorrect? The Helm films, like many superspy narratives— particularly the James Bond novels of Ian Fleming, the main source of the subgenre—constantly put hot women on display, though not as explicitly as the infamous PLAYBOY spreads. At the same time, the superspy genre wasn’t entirely devoted to the humiliation of women, and it spawned not a few characters—Emma Peel, Modesty Blaise—who became icons of feminine (and sometimes feminist) rebellion.

As it happens, one of Ian Fleming’s characters, Pussy Galore of the 1959 Bond novel GOLDFINGER, has become one of the mythic touchstones of both the novel series and the film adaptations of the Fleming books. And this mythicity remains strong despite the fact that her creator depicts her in rather demeaning terms, while her film-adapters depict her in more empowering (and for this time, more politically correct) terms. The coyly-named Miss Galore, then, offers a paradigm for showing mythicity in spite of the creator or adapter’s political orientation.

In Fleming’s book, Galore—a lesbian henchwoman of the titular villain Goldfinger-- symbolizes all of Fleming’s conservative—even primitive—opinions on the nature of lesbianism. By the book’s conclusion Bond wins Pussy over for Team Hetero, though there's some intimation that she joins him against Goldfinger as a way of reducing her sentence. That said, in her prose appearance Pussy’s mythicity rates as “fair” given that Fleming makes her the vehicle of his sociological beliefs in a relatively thoughtful manner, no matter what one thinks of said beliefs.

In contrast, the Pussy Galore of the 1963 film GOLDFINGER barely references the lesbian nature of the book-version, though there are a few lines to indicate that Pussy resists Bond’s suavity because she plays for another team. This Pussy is portrayed on screen by actress Honor Blackman, who prior to the 1964 film had essayed a heroic female spy-type on the AVENGERS teleseries. Possibly in deference to fans who expected Blackman to play another such character, film-Pussy defends herself against Bond’s advances with judo-skills. Bond still manages to convert her to his team, this time with a forceful persuasion that some would consider rape. In the end she still joins him against Goldfinger, however, with a little less implication that she did it to save herself some years in prison.
Therefore, when I evaluate the way the Matt Helm films stack in comparison in terms of either demeaning or empowering archetypes of femininity, they stand or fail not in terms of political correctness, but according to the “Pussy test.”

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


The following is a partial rebuttal to Julian Darius' ON BODY TYPING Sequart essay, also rebutted here:

Julian, you say:

"And we’re so damned determined to sound distant and intellectual in their points, as if we were talking about the stock market, when the underlying issues aren’t distant or intellectual at all."

And you finish by saying:

"we can’t understand such matters without also feeling them.

And that means empathizing with the other’s position, as well as our own."

This empathy, plus an avoidance of abstract intellectual posturing, will then make possible an "honest discourse."

I suppose that this is within the bounds of possibility.  Nevertheless, when the problem is defined by a "zero sum game" situation-- in which Party A wants something and Party B doesn't want A to have that thing-- the only function of "honest discourse" usually comes down to converting enough persons to Party B's side that Party A's wishes are negated.

There is, to take an example more manifestly harmful than Body Typing,the evolution of American consciousness of the Dangers of Smoking.  In the 1950s warnings against the practice-- stemming from whatever incarnation of "Party B" you may prefer-- were few and far between.  Party A was numerically superior in insisting upon its right to smoke in public at all times, with no regard for one's own health or that of others. 

Sixty years later, the discourse has reversed that position, and Party A essentially has no say in the matter any more.  The objective proof of smoking's dangers have converted most people to Party B.  Both in America and in many other parts of the world, people who want to smoke can only do so under the most rarefied situations.

Am I arguing against the specific marginalization of the practice of smoking?  Not at all.

But I am saying that it's a perfect example of the "zero sum game" in action, even if there are minimal concessions to Party A in the form of "smoking areas" in restaurants.

So for me the question becomes, though the "Party B" that dislikes Body Typing in comic books is in the minority now, will we see "honest discourse" between A and B? Or will it just be a situation where B insists on having its way until A is reduced to whatever B will concede?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


For some time I've tended to see a polarity between the above-named scenarios.  I mentioned in this 2010 essay, which addresses the multivalence of the genres "crime" and "horror," that in practice both were dominated by the dramatic mythos.  In various academic essays I've seen efforts to treat them, at least in their 1930s film-manifestations, as parallel genres, since both deal with the destruction of a "monster" that imperils society.  Robin Wood, speaking solely of horror, boiled the genre down to the phrase, "Normalcy is threatened by the monster."

In the first part of HERO VS. VILLAIN I aligned drama with irony in terms of what Theodor Gaster terms *kenosis,* the process that expels harmful energy from society, and adventure with comedy in terms of *plerosis,* the process that brings positive energy back into the community, in the following terms:

,,,plerosis is best conceived as the life-force engendered by the contest of hero-and-villain, taken seriously for the adventure and humorously for the comedy, while life is purged or otherwise compromised in the black-comic irony and in the drama.

Now, having meditated awhile on Schopenhauer's distinctions between the homogenous status of "serious" discourse versus the heterogenous status of "comic" discourse, the above thought requires some modification.

As noted in this essay, Schopenhauer determined his assessment of either homogeneity or heterogeneity with respect to the agreement or disageement between "perceptual representations" and "conceptual representations." In order for me to apply these principles to literature, I had to make the distinction that in a literary world the former meant the verisimilitude within a given world, while the latter meant the expectations that the audience brought to the work.

In the second part, I argued that Schopenhauer's term "objective" compared well with both the irony and the drama-- and thus with Freud's so-called "reality principle"-- and the term "subjective" could be aligned with the adventure and the comedy, and thus with the "pleasure principle."  But what's the nature of the disagreement in the heterogenous forms, "irony" and "comedy?"

The nature as I express it is summed up by the different metaphors of "hero vs. villain" (pleasure principle) and "monster vs. victim" (the reality principle).

In the adventure-tale, every internal aspect of its world is dominated by the need for the hero to win out in the end, which is made credible to the audience by the fact that the hero possesses above-average combative power/skill.  Thus both "percept" and "concept" are homogenous because both are dominated by the pleasure principle. expressed by the metaphorical phrase "hero over villain."

In the dramatic story, every internal aspect is dominated by the possibility that the hero may fail, and that even if he wins, his triumph will evince substantial *pathos.*  Thus every aspect of the world is meant to convey the possibility of failure, in keeping with the expectations of the audience, rendering the two potentialities homogenous as well.  The hero's power of action is often compromised, so that it's credible when and if he meets a dire fate-- which fate is summed up by the triumph of "monster over victim," aka the reality principle.  

Now, Northrop Frye often alludes the idea that the irony reverses many tropes of the adventure, and the comedy of the drama, and Schopenhauer *might* say that it is because the latter two express heterogeneity between "percept" and "concept."  I express the first reversal as "villain over hero." As noted many times before, the hero of the irony is even more compromised than the hero of the drama, meaning that even when he has power he has no positive power-of-action.  But because the reader's level of conviction has dropped precipitously, the reader no longer identifies strongly with the disempowered hero, but instead views the hero's reduction by the reality principle in ironic, humorous terms.  Thus the reality principle dominating the world is reversed in terms of its effect, yielding a heterogenous form of pleasure.

Finally, the world of the comedy is dominated by the reversal "victim over monster."  Thus, though the comic hero usually does not possess the heroic stature one would expect of anyone able to conquer monsters (be they real monsters, criminals, heavy fathers or whatever)-- and thus sacrifices the verisimilitude logic would demand-- the world, dominated by the pleasure principle, is oriented on giving the comic hero a "free pass" that allows him to triumph-- though in some ways the compromise makes it clear that the reader gains that pleasure by "foul means" rather than the "fair means" of the adventure-mythos.  This too is entirely congruous with Schopenhauer's remarks on the nature of this type of humor.

As far as *plerosis* and *kenosis" are concerned, however, it doesn't matter whether they are reached by fair means or foul-- or homogenous or heterogenous devices.  Thus my earlier assignment of comedy and adventure to *plerosis,* and irony and drama to *kenosis,* remains applicable.

Monday, July 16, 2012


Just a quick preface to the promised sequel to HERO AND VILLAIN, MONSTER AND VICTIM:

At the end of Part 2 of WHEN TITANS GET CROSS-COMPARED I assigned to each Fryean mythos a trinity of Schopenhauer-derived qualities:

ADVENTURE // "subjective" // "pleasure principle" // homogeneity of percept and concept, so "serious"
DRAMA // "objective" // "reality principle" // homogeneity of percept and concept, so "serious"
IRONY // "objective" // "reality principle" // heterogenity of percept and concept, so "humorous"
COMEDY // "subjective" // "pleasure principle" // heterogeneity of percept and concept, so "humorous"

In Part 2 I'll be exploring how comedy is heterogenous to its dominant pleasure principle whereas adventure is homogenous toward the same principle, as well as irony in comparison with drama in the same constellation.

But given the fact that Freud's famous two principles include a reference to "reality," I first want to make clear that when I say that "reality" dominates the drama and the irony, I'm talking about a principle that overarcs two other principles introduced earlier: those of "thematic realism" and "thematic escapism."  I explored these two concepts with some attention to their effects in BACK TO BATAILLE 2:

... my "works of thematic realism" are characterized by a greater degree of *assertorial gravity* than the opposing kind, while "works of thematic escapism" are characterized by a greater degree of *assertorial levity.* 
Keeping that in mind, I want to specify that this applies to thematic concerns only, and not to their opppsite, the *narrative* concerns, the question as to how the narrative itself works.

It should be clear that even though popular fiction's thematic values are closer to escapism, in a narrative sense they still follow the same patterns as works of thematic realism. 

Thus, when I say that HARRY POTTER, being a drama, is dominated by the reality principle, this means in terms of its narrative values.  One might decide that another drama involving magical characters-- let us say Shakespeare's TEMPEST-- is more devoted to thematic concerns of the realistic, rather than the escapist, variety.

*Even saying that,* it's quite possible that in a *narrative* sense, POTTER and TEMPEST can be equals no matter how they diverge in thematic terms. Narratively both Potter and Prospero follow the purgative processes of the drama, in which they survive peril but are somewhat compromised by their efforts. 

Naturally, the same principles apply across the board to the other mythoi; my other earlier examples-- BUFFY, MARSHAL LAW, and RANMA 1/2-- belong like POTTER to the world of thematic escapism.  I emphasize that narrative concerns and thematic concerns are not identical because so many critics over the last century have misunderstood this basic facet of literature.

Thursday, July 12, 2012


When Schopenhauer addresses the question of "serious discourse," he does not recognize, as I do, two separate species of said discourse.  I am not surprised that WORLD AS WILL AND REPRESENTATION holds no insights as to the distinctions between what I call "adventure" and "drama."

However, it is interesting that in Chapter 8, "On the Theory of the Ludicrous," Schopenhauer does distinguish two species of ludicrous discourse, though again, he does not focus on them in terms of literature alone.  If anything, his examples stem mostly from everyday discourse between real people, rather than discourse within a literary setting.  As it happens, the philosopher does use one of the same terms Frye uses-- "irony"-- for one species, while his other species he names "humour," but describes it in terms that are recognizably those of jubilative comedy.

For Schopenhauer, irony is what is conveyed in a serious manner, but arouses the sense of ludicrous:

"...if  during heavy rain we say: "It is pleasant weather today"; or, of an ugly bride it is said: "He has found himself a treasure."

Against this species is the species of humour in which something is conveyed that seems ludicrous on the face of it, which one has to think through to conceive its absurdity compared to normal perceptual representation:

"When someone had stated that he was fond of walking alone, an Austrian said to him, 'You like to walk alone; so do I; then we can walk together."

Continuing my Gaster-comparisons here, the first examples conform to the mortificative aspect I assign to irony; it's no coincidence that his chosen examples focus on someone putting a false face upon an example of ill fortune.  This principle should even extend to those rare examples of irony that do the opposite-- make something good out to seem bad-- as in the husband who claims that his wife is "terrible" in some manner calculated that his listeners will not believe him, but will think him fortunate instead. A pleasant false face is still false, and in narrative literature there are no shortage of ironies in which the ironic circumstances seem more in line with Huxley's BRAVE NEW WORLD than with Orwell's 1984.

Schopenhauer's example of humor, in contrast, contains a jubilative mood, taking pleasure in the way logic can be twisted about to produce something utterly illogical: the myth-radical I term the *incognitio,* in that it defies cognition.

Schopenhauer maintains that both species of the ludicrous contain an incongruence between the perceived and the conceived, and explains this by resorting to the much-traveled distinction between the "objective" and the "subjective:"

"Irony is objective, and so is aimed at another; but humour is subjective, and thus exists primarily for one's own self."
The objective-subjective dichotomy is of course a familiar one in literary studies, and can be used profitably to comment upon both the "perceptual representations" within a work (the characters and their mythos-determined fates) and the "conceptual representations" outside a work (what the audience makes of the characters with whom it identifies).  For both they often take the form of Freud's famous "reality principle" (comparable to "the objective" in that it's responding to the outer world's objective demands), and his somewhat infamous "pleasure principle" (comparable to "the subjective" in that it's responding to the inner world's subjective demands).

But even though Schopenhauer may never have intuited two species of "serious discourse," do the other two Freyan mythoi conform to this dichotomy?

It would seem a slam-dunk. Back in BREAKING OPEN MOULDY TALES, I made these observations from one of Frye's essays:

Frye goes on to point out that because the more "realistic" forms of literature foreground what he terms (following Freud) "the reality principle." Thus even though tragedies like MACBETH and ironies like THE CASTLE (my examples) have a certain storytelling verve to them as well, there's a sort of proto-critical experience one generally has while experiencing them. To use a set of terms introduced in a separate Frye essay, the audience is oriented upon discovering what "significant values" are allegorized in the narrative, thereby to learn what meaning the work has for "reality." In contrast, comedy and romance, being oriented upon the "pleasure principle" (one presumes), lend themselves more to the enjoyment of "narrative values,"and of the "variety" one finds in the story's conventions.
So Schopenhauer's dichotomy for irony and "humour" can be easily applies to the other two mythoi as well, with no loss of meaning:

"Drama is objective, and so is aimed at another; but adventure is subjective, and thus exists primarily for one's own self."

In passing I'll note that Frye's MOULDY TALES essay was influential upon my conception of the principle of conviction, given Frye's observations on what I termed a "proto-critical reading experience."  But in any case, what qualities can be thus far ascribed to the four mythoi by virtue of these extensions of Schopenhauer's arguments?

ADVENTURE // "subjective" // "pleasure principle" // homogeneity of percept and concept, so "serious"
DRAMA // "objective" // "reality principle" // homogeneity of percept and concept, so "serious"
IRONY // "objective" // "reality principle" // heterogenity of percept and concept, so "humorous"
COMEDY // "subjective" // "pleasure principle" // heterogeneity of percept and concept, so "humorous"

I plan to go into more detail as to proving the postulated "homogeneity" and "heterogeneity" of these respective mythoi whenever I get around to writing my long-postponed (from May) Part 2 of the projected essay-series HERO VS. VILLAIN, MONSTER VS. VICTIM.


Finding common ground between two scholars one admires-- as I've noted I planned to do with Arthur Schopenhauer and Theodor Gaster-- offers a certain challenge.  On one hand, one certainly doesn't want to paper over all the differences between the scholars just for the sake of some (hopefully) artful theoretical cross-comparisons.  On the other, if one can demonstrate parallel developments of thought between scholars whose concerns would not seem to overlap, this might attest to the existence of an intersubjective ethos that surpasses direct influence.  For instance, Theodor Gaster, having lived long after Schopenhauer, could have read the philosopher, but I for one don't find that Gaster's work reflects any of the earlier author's particular concerns.  So any patterns they would share are either (1) part of that ethos, brought about by the nature of the human mind attempting to order perceived existence, or (2) totally within the mind of the person making the argument.

The gross similarity between the two scholars is that both tried to make sense, albeit from very different perspectives, of the human capacity for seriousness and for humor.  Theodor Gaster confines his analysis to the way this capacity had appeared in archaic myths and rituals, at least according to the evidence remaining to contemporary times.  Schopenhauer cast a much wider net in his investigations of human nature, though his mammoth WORLD AS WILL AND REPRESENTATION says very little of myth. Building on the old saw that all philosophy comes down to the quarrels between Plato and Aristotle,  I'd opine that where Aristotle might have cared, roughly like Gaster, about his literature's indebtedness to archaic "goat-songs" and the like, Plato cared more about art's relation to the infinite, and that Schopenhauer followed Plato in this regard.   In addition, as I've noted elsewhere, Schopenhauer was definitely an elitist with little or no interest in "lower" forms of art, as he considered that only "genius" could generate the quality of sublimity.

Another similarity is that neither scholar sought to deal with the aforesaid capacity in terms of literary concerns.  Schopenhauer's theory of art is just one aspect of his overall philosophy, while Gaster is careful to assert that the mythology he surveys does not belong to "the department of literature or art; the latter are merely [mythology's] vehicles or instruments."

In other essays I've noted how Northrop Frye most likely derived some aspects of his quaternary theory of the literary mythoi from Gaster's quaternary theory of seasonal rituals. In still other essays, especially the GRAVITY'S  CROSSBOW series, I cross-compared the Fryean mythoi with certain Schopenhauer concepts, thus leading to my formulation of the notion of "conviction."  But though I no longer use that concept in quite the same way that I did earlier, I want to set down just what aspects of the theory are similar to or different from Schopenhauer's writings.

I've quoted a few times Schopenhauer's remarks on his distinctions between "seriousness" and "laughter and joking," which come from Chapter 8 in Part Two of THE WORLD AS WILL AND REPRESENTATION.  Chapter 8 builds on previous assertions, particularly in Chapter 7, regarding the interdependence of two types of human representations: "representations of perception and abstract representations."  He does not address humorous discourse in Chapter 7, but gives various examples of serious discourse wherein perception and abstract principle agree.  The easier of these examples is probably the one from Cervantes, where the author wishes to illustrate the abstract mood Schopenhauer calls "profound contemplation" with an accurate perceptual representation:

"...like a draped statue, for the wind moved his garments"

But though Schopenhauer uses literature for some of his illustrations, he doesn't distinguish between serious discourse of the sort he's doing, where he's expounding directly on his personal philosophy, and the serious discourse in literature itself, which is founded more on indirect propositions conveyed through the audience's identification with the characters.  This doesn't hurt Schopenhauer's argument, but it makes it a little harder to apply in a one-on-one manner with literature.

In literature (and I'm concentrating on narrative literature here, though I think the same principles may apply to much if not all forms of art), all of the "representations of perception" within a given narrative are constructs; something I expounded upon in HERE COMES DAREDEVIL THE MAN WITHOUT IDENTITY. All such representations remain constructs, no matter how much or how little fidelity they may show to our world of real-life perceptions.

This fidelity is what we usually call "verisimilitude" in literature, and covers everything from Upton Sinclair's reproduction of Chicago  in THE JUNGLE to  J.R.R. Tolkein's involved history of the Elves and their relations in LORD OF THE RINGS.  It also includes the logic by which all characters within a given work-- with special focus on the viewpoint characters-- pursue their own interests and their own fates, in line with what I wrote in GRAVITY'S CROSSBOW PART 1:

Works in which the reader's identificatory investment seems entirely congruous with the "interests" that the fictional characters have in their own fictional lives, are governed by the principle of *tonal gravity,* in that the reader feels himself "drawn down" into the characters' interests.

Works in which the reader's identificatory investment becomes at odds with the "interests" of the fictional characters are governed by the principle of *tonal levity,* in that the reader "floats free" of that investment and is moved away from "concern and sympathy" and toward a humorous or at least distanced response.
I've subsumed the terms of "tonal levity" and "tonal gravity" under the concept of "conviction."  In Schopenhauerean terms conviction is the "abstract representation" that arises from the "perceptual representation," as well as being comparable, in my much-used Fryean terms, to the dyad of "narrative values" and "significant values"-- though I'll try not to bring this latter comparison in any more than necessary.

Further, the conviction that the audience places upon the narrative situations of the identificatory characters is determined by sets of literary expectations that Frye calls "mythoi." Assuming that one is able to identify both with an adventure-heroine like Buffy Summers and with a drama-hero like Harry Potter, one cannot help but have different expectations of them.  Both suffer, and both triumph, but for Harry Potter, the possibility for failure within his dramatic mythos is somewhat stronger, and causes (I assert) a degree of pulling-back from the character on the part of the audience.  To insert Gaster's terms once again, Buffy's struggles are meant to invoke invigorating emotions, while Potter's are meant to invoke those of purgation, even if Potter's pathos comes with a reprieve.

Similarly, it is because of culturally learned expectations that if the audience does have a "humorous or at least distanced response" to both Marshal Law, representative of irony, and to Ranma Saotome, representative of comedy, then the distinctions within this spectrum of responses is determined by what the audience expects of them.  Only in a spoof could one imagine a jubilative character like Ranma freighted with the heavy satirical content of MARSHAL LAW, or a mortificative character like Law having happy-go-lucky sitcom-style exploits.

Having established at least that the rules for literature are in some ways not like those of the real world Schopenhauer was describing, Part 2 will pursue in more depth the comparisons I've already made between the gloomy philosopher's theory and the functions of literary mythoi.

Saturday, July 7, 2012


In the second paragraph of the Poetics Aristotle speaks of the differences in works of fiction which are caused by the different elevations of the characters in them. In some fictions, he says, the characters are better than we are, in others worse, in still others on the same level. This passage has not received much attention from modern critics, as the importance Aristotle assigns to goodness and badness seems to indicate a somewhat narrowly moralistic view of literature. Aristotle's words for good and bad, however, are spouddos and phaulos, which have a figurative sense of weighty and light. In literary fictions the plot consists of somebody doing something. The somebody, if an individual, is the hero, and the something he does or fails to do is what he can do, or could have done, on the level of the postulates made about him by the author and the consequent expectations of the audience. Fictions, there fore, may be classified, not morally, but by the hero's power of action, which may be greater than ours, less, or roughly the same. -- opening paragraph of Frye's "Theory of Modes" in ANATOMY OF CRITICISM.

 Definitions of "stature":
1 : natural height (as of a person) in an upright position
2 : quality or status gained by growth, development, or achievement--
Merriam-Webster online.
It now seems to me that although the significant value of "conviction" provides an ancillary function in terms of how readers apportion value to different characters in different mythoi, the central value is best covered by the word "stature."  I note that in Frye's paragraph he speaks of the "different elevations" of the characters, which may be fairly considered an assignment of their "stature," whether it's within the quasi-aristocratic schema of Aristotle or within Frye's Spenglerian conception.

Further, "stature." unlike "conviction," has a more direct connection with the concept of *dynamis.*  As the dictionary says, stature is a positive quality resulting from "growth, development, or achievement"-- an abstract quality based upon the physical nature of human growth-patterns. One may consider the aforesaid achievement as the result of exercising one's energies-- or *dynamis*-- to their fullest as per Nietzsche's dictum on the "will-to-power." 

Yet, within the vagaries of literature, great power doesn't always convey great stature (or contrary to Stan Lee, "great responsibility").  Or, to be more precise, the four mythoi each bestow a different type of *stature* upon their focal presences.  Given my pluralistic stance, it would be incorrect to assume that a comic hero has *less* stature than a serious hero.  The comic hero fulfills the stature appropriate to an unserious character, just as the serious hero does for his endeavors.

At the end of PARADIGM SHIFTING I chose four series-characters who were similar in that all four possessed a high level of *dynamis* within a *marvelous* metaphenomenality-- meaning that all can do fantastic things like breaking brick walls, casting magic spells, etc. I broke down their affinites with the Fryean mythoi as follows:


I should note that the scheme I propose does not depend on focal presences who possess marvelous powers.  It could be illustrated just as easily with protagonists who fell into either the "uncanny" or "naturalistic" phenomenalities that I've described in great detail elsewhere.  I did wish, however, to choose only characters with a high level of *dynamis* appropriate to a particular phenomenality, as well as characters who all tended to win their serial victories, since that uniformity helps me illustrate the different *stature* that accrues to each character, despite the similarities in terms of narrative values.

"I always win," Buffy Summers says as she squares off against a demonic Ubervamp in the seventh-season episode "Showtime."  To be sure, the super-vampire has beaten her on a previous occasion, but like most if not all adventure-heroes, Buffy's ultimate triumph is guaranteed by her mythos.  Adventure-heroes are meant to overcome the forces of evil, and in general the worst they can do is to die with their opponents, as the medieval Beowulf does while slaying a fearsome dragon at the same time.  To reference the terminology of myth-ritualist Theodor Gaster, the entire point of this mythos is to impart to the audience the "invigorating" thrill of victory, with little if any "agony of defeat."

In contrast, the heroes of the dramatic mythos don't necessarily always win, although it's significant that when Aristotle speaks of tragedy he includes an example of a "happy-ending tragedy," Euripides' IPHIGENIA AT TAURIS.  J.K. Rowlings' Harry Potter series  is a series which focuses far less on the thrill of victory than on what Frye calls the heroic "pathos" and what Gaster deems the "purgative" quality of ritual myth.  The presence of pathos implies the strong possibility that the hero may, like Orestes in the aforementioned Euripides play, become a sacrifice rather than a victor.  Throughout the Potter book-series, the central character wins most of his significant battles either singly or with the help of his retinue, but he's constantly stalked by the threat of the evil Voldemort and by prophecies that suggest, however ambivalently, that Voldemort will eventually kill him.  Harry Potter survives his trip to Calvary, but the series' emotional tone focuses upon the all-too-human pathos of its teenaged characters, and their need to control and/or purge their emotions in order to win out.

Now, I've noted in other essays that 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, as I noted in respect to Paul Verhoeven's ironic SF-film STARSHIP TROOPERS.  The Mills/O'Neill character Marshal Law conforms to this pattern, as shown by this Wikipedia entry:

 The title character, Marshal Law, is the government-sanctioned "super hero hunter" (aka law enforcement officer, or “cape killer”) with superpowers in the city of San Futuro, the near-future metropolis built from the ruins of San Francisco following a massive earthquake. Law's job is to take down other superheroes who have gone rogue, which he does with maximum force and great pleasure. Aided by the wheelchair-using “Danny” and his physically imposing (but extremely polite) partner “Kiloton”, the Marshal operates from a secret police precinct hidden below the city, dispensing just enough brutal justice to keep the city’s many super-powered gangs in a balanced d├ętente while safeguarding the ordinary citizenry.
Although Marshal Law wins all of his battles against the superheroes-- who are seen as being stupid and venal even when they are not lawbreakers-- he generally exists in a world to which no redemption is possible.  Whereas it matters a great deal whether or not Buffy Summers triumphs over the monsters menacing her world, the Marshal's victories merely illustrate that he shares the venality of his enemies in no small part.  Thus the stature that accrues to Marshal Law is "mortificative" in Gaster's terms: the hero takes pleasure in scoring satiric points off the creators' targets, the superheroes, but the world he exists in has no positive aspects worth speaking of.

Adventure-heroes always win, or at least lose so rarely that most audiences take no account of the losses.  Ironic heroes rarely win, and when they do, the victories mean nothing.  Dramatic heroes occasionally win but they go through such pathos-inducing straits that they don't get much of a thrill out of it.  What's left for the comic heroes?

Comic heroes, whether they are as powerful as Ranma Saotome or as bumbling as Johnny Thunder, tend to win out, though they tend to do so less by superlative skill than by dumb luck.  Ranma usually displays superlative fighting-skills, and he does win most of his assorted battles with other comedic kung-fu opponents, but the emphasis is clearly upon finding ways to amuse the audience by undercutting the hero's triumph with silly pratfalls, comic embarassments and the like.  Thus his stature within his mythos exists to be a vehicle not for thrills but for the jubilative mood of the *incognitio,* the comic incongruity-- which, in Ranma's series, often takes the form of his transforming from a young guy to a big-breasted young girl.

I have not yet decided on a means of labelling the respective types of mythos-stature.  This will probably appear in a forthcoming essay, however.


At the beginning of the final section of GRAVITY'S CROSSBOW, I said that I had "discerned only two (though there may be more) universally applicable significant values" within the sphere of literature-- "signficant values" that in theory should apply to any characters in any literary genre thus far conceived.  As in Frye's formulation, "significant values" go hand-in-glove with the "narrative values" that determine what elements function within the narrative to erect the framework of that narrative, as opposed to the way they work to create a sense of extrinsic meaning.

One of the values I cited was *centricity.*  This functions as both values: a narrative must center around some "focal presence," or a group of presences-- usually characters who are human or have human-like responses, though on some occasions this function can be filled by simple "viewpoint characters" who react to a focal presence that is nothing more than a discrete phenomenon-- for instance, a bizarre environment like Lewis Carroll's Wonderland, within which viewpoint-character Alice can only stand as flummoxed witness.  This value does not require modification.

The other value was *dynamis.*  In NOTES ON NORTHROP FRYE AND THE NUM-THEORY I summed up the way Frye had assigned characters in terms of their "power of action" based on the schema from Aristotle's POETICS:

Whereas Aristotle’s division of *dynamis* has the fixed arrangement of an aristocratic pecking-order—noble / less noble / ignoble—Frye’s reformulation suggests a more Spenglerian vision of *dynamis*, in which human power of action becomes less and less efficacious as each mythos in its turn becomes less “romantic” and more “realistic.” 
Later in that essay I critiqued Frye's Spenglerian vision in terms of its applicability:

The most problematic aspect of Frye’s *dynamis* schema is that in its attempt to cohere with Aristotle’s pattern, it implies that “the marvelous” is located purely within the mythoi of myth and romance. I’m sure that, even staying within the confines of the canonical “high” literature with which Frye concerns himself, the scholar was quite cognizant that there exist many literary works which have marvelous content but which are not adventure-romances as Frye himself defines that mythos.
I concluded by saying, in part:

The real strength of Frye’s schema is to be found not in the implied “narrative values”— how each *dynamis* manifests in physical terms—but in terms of one “significant value” that more neatly characterizes each mythos, irrespective of whether its phenomenality is marvelous, uncanny, or naturalistic...

I went on to expatiate in GRAVITY'S CROSSBOW PART 4 that I felt that whenever *dynamis* was expressed through a particular mythos, it took on a characteristic "significant value" I called *conviction,* meaning that the narrative value of a focal *dynamis* took on significance in terms of the dominant mythos with which it was associated. 

To be as forthright as one can be in this sort of philosophical exploration, I've determined that "conviction" does not sufficiently serve to differentiate the signficance of a given focal presence within a given mythos.   I don't repudiate what I wrote on the subject, but now it seems to be that "conviction" must serve as an ancillary term, not a central one. By itself the term doesn't serve well enough to describe the significant tonality that separates, say, an adventure-comedy from a comedy-adventure. 

My revised term for the significant value corresponding to the narrative value "dynamis" will be covered in the next essay, which will describe more fully the philosophical underpinnings of this concept.

To illustrate the value across the four mythoi, I'll make use of *almost* the same four examples that I used early on in my mythos-investigations, in the essay BUFFY THE MYTHOS SLAYER.  In that essay I contrasted four serial conceptions in terms of their mythos-alignments.  Of those four, three concern single protagonists (Buffy Summers, Harry Potter, and Ranma Saotome), while the fourth concerned a team (the "masks" of the Moore/Gibbons WATCHMEN).  I've decided that this time around I'd prefer to compare single-protagonist conceptions straight across, so in place of WATCHMEN as my example of the irony-mythos, I'll substitute the Pat Mills/Kevin O'Neill comic book MARSHAL LAW.

Friday, July 6, 2012


The title of this 2-part essay, obviously indebted to the Conrad novel, should put a particular complexion on the word "outcast."  In common usage the word implies a person who has been cast out by others.  But Conrad's outcasts-- Lord Jim, Kurtz, Nostromo-- effectively cast themselves from the mainstream of life.  In the world of America comics fans are more used to the image of protagonists being outcasts through no fault of their own, as with most of the X-Men. 

So to the extent "outcast" applies to me, I'm of the Conradian type, having veered off the well-beaten path followed by most of the comics-intelligentsia.  I'm currently planning a series of essays which "crosses over" the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer with the academic analyses of myth-ritualist Theodor Gaster.  In contrast, most of the intelligentsia stick with those well-traveled titans of tedium, Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx. 

This is rather ironic for those critics who have gathered a reputation for telling superhero fans to be more venturesome; to read other things than superheroes.  I can't object to the advice, but one wonders how seriously one should take it, when a writer like Chicken Colin browbeats readers to read an allegedly subversive LGBT superhero title, but in another essay sneers at Friedrich Nietzsche as a "19th century syphilitic sexist."  With the possible exception of Kenneth Smith, known for rambling at great length on an assortment of philosophers, most critics stick close to the "intellectual comfort zone" provided by Little Karl and Big Sigmund.

Many critics don't invoke Marx or Freud outright.  Nevertheless, one can usually discern some indebtedness to the tedium-twins wherever one finds an attempt to marginalize a given reading-preference with some form of "negative compensation," as formulated by onetime Freud-acolyte Alfred Adler.  Wiki says in part:

Compensation can cover up either real or imagined deficiencies and personal or physical inferiority. The compensation strategy, however does not truly address the source of this inferiority. Positive compensations may help one to overcome one’s difficulties. On the other hand, negative compensations do not, which results in a reinforced feeling of inferiority.

Because I'm working on the aforementioned series I'll try to keep my criticism of one such essay to a minimum, addressing for the time being just one section of Julian Darius's ON BODY TYPING IN COMICS.  The section entitled "What Male Readers Aren't Saying" begins with this assertion:

This cultural failing to address gender difference is part of what I hear, when a man says he faces body typing too and doesn’t whine about it. His statement translates roughly as, Hey, you wanted equality. How is it fair for you to complain about this but not me? But underneath even that is the deeper, underlying truth: I’m aroused by these pictures, and you’re saying they’re wrong.

This assertion would be stronger had it been built upon some fan's literal comment, but let's assume that such opinions have been expressed, possibly even in the comments-sections of Kelly Thompson essays.  I'm suspicious of the claim to boil down a "deeper, underlying truth," particularly when it takes the form of "methinks the fanboy protests too much" (a favorite Freud-strategy, by the way).  But at least there's a chain of logic here: if it doesn't apply to all, surely it applies to some.

The next decisive statement is more dubious:

I can’t recall a single man who’s dared to make the simple and obvious confession that these images make me horny.

Since Darius quotes from Thompson's essay, I wondered if he had read any of the comments on the essay as a resource.  It would seem not, as the very first post reads:

I like a certain amount of sexiness in comics, but the industry has taken that to an untenable point.

This is, to be sure, not a general defense of sexiness in comics, and the same is true in the ninth post:
 Very much agree. As a ten year old my Vampirella comic was kept hidden from my folks, and I thought it was great. But it was really one step away from action porn. Since I’m all “grown up” that shit just seems gratuitous and is laughable. Sexiest shot of a woman I have seen recently, is in the recent Batwoman, a super tight shot where she grins after realizing she is bullet proof. It was both bad ass, and hot.
I'll concede that Darius may've only been saying that people making unalloyed defenses of "sexism in comics" don't admit that the "images make them horny." I imagine that some defender somewhere has probably made the admission, though, and possibly along the same lines I have: that art should have the capacity to bring to life any fantasies whatever.  If it helps, I'll be happy to say that some comics-images make me horny.  However, I'm not a regular patron of comics these days, so I'm not precisely the best defender of the modern stuff, my liking for the Winick-March CATWOMAN notwithstanding.

 However, the following Darius quote allows for no equivocation about particular defenders:
 True, men might say that a woman (or a representation thereof) is “hot,” or even that they’d “do her.” But that’s an evaluation of a body, or a statement of what one would be willing to do to it, not a statement about the internal experience of the male in question. Despite these words’ aggression, they are a defensive way of speaking about a primal experience so strong that it alters even the way our brains process information. “I’d fuck her” usually really means “I want to fuck her but know I can’t.”
Now we're in the heart of the Negative Compensation Thicket.  Darius makes a major mistake by applying the same theory of defensiveness to the male gazer's target, irrespective as to whether it's a real "woman" or a "representation thereof."  Everything Darius then says about the male gazer's reasons for not believing that he can succeed at fucking said target-- that the gazer has pent-up doubts about his own manliness, because he's not wealthy or successful enough-- all of this is Pure Unalloyed Compensation Theory.

I'll pass quickly over the confusion between real and represented women, making the obvious jab that "I know I can't" means something very different with representations of women, simply because they aren't real.  Comics-drawings, photographs, movies on big or small screens-- not one of them has a vagina, penis, or any other sexual organ.  With that out of the way, the question becomes: does compensation theory apply if one is talking only about a flesh-and-blood object of desire?

I doubt it, particularly in terms of "wealth" and "success."  In my belief most men who fantasize about sex with (say) hot movie stars aren't compensating for anything in so doing.  Given that Darius admits that "male brains are visually aroused at much higher rates than women," why is it even necessary to posit some secondary reason behind the primary one of creating the aroused state?  If the real thing is not available for whatever reason, is there any reason not to take pleasure in the fantasy of arousal?

I presume that the real target here is not just the casual male gazer macking on some strange woman he sees on the street, but comics-buyers who validate so-called "objectification" by buying comics with lots of sexy imagery.  In contrast to Darius, I would jump to no conclusions about their motives in a universal sense, though yes, it's likely a lot of male readers buy them to masturbate.  I suppose it's possible that the upper 1% has access to hot and cold running vaginas, so that the wealthy and successful-- those that the rank-and-file male gazer supposedly envies-- never never never never bother with simple fantasies.  I suppose it's possible-- but I don't think it's likely.

 More on these matters when I have more time.

Monday, July 2, 2012


In previous essays I've applied the concept of "socialization" to some of the critics with whom I disagree, using the following definition:

a continuing process whereby an individual acquires a personal identity and learns the norms, values, behavior, and social skills appropriate to his or her social position.

Now, because I've applied that concept to those I consider bad critics, does that mean that it's inapplicable to good critics? Or even to my favorite critic, who is (inevitably) myself?

Of course, it's entirely applicable. Socialization values stem from ideology, and as Northrop Frye (among others) has noted, ideology arises from any nexus of needs and priorities. In my recent arguments with Charles Reece I called his position "ideological" and he returned the designation.  Naturally each of us will consider that our personal ideologies are as a mote in our respective eyes, while the opponent's walking around with the proverbial beam sticking out.

The distinction I have made between us (with which I also don't expect Reece to agree) is that it makes a difference as to whether one considers ideology a primary orientation in itself, or whether it is secondary to the aforesaid nexus, which may be regarded as coterminous with "myth," or at least "mythicity." I've addressed this distinction at length elsewhere and won't explore it further here.

So, yes, when I advocate Camille Paglia's ethical cleavage between art and reality, it's a given that I would like to "socialize" others into accepting as significant some of the conclusions I've made, or have extrapolated from those of other writers.  It's probable that even if this took place, I would not be aware of the extent of any effect I had.  In any case, nothing separates me from bad critics Kelly Thompson and Chicken Colin in terms of the *desire* to have such an effect.  They do have, however, somewhat more of a "network" than I do, though in fairness quite a few respondents to Thompson's "No, It's Not Equal" essay disagreed with her assertions.

One of the cardinal aspects of my critical work is the assertion, based roughly on Jungian hermeneutics, that the experience of life begins with the infant's first sensations in the womb, and that everything else is built upon that bedrock-- though not after the fashion that the empiricists would argue.  Similarly, art is built upon a sensational foundation, though with the caveat that everything in art is a "gesture" in the Langerian sense-- an attempt to capture experience which is necessarily less immediate than experience.

To that end, I devoted a good many essays on Sequart to the topic of "adult pulp." I did so because I considered that much of the online comics-criticism still tended to regard the sensational elements of the medium as the opposite of what was considered "good art." Thanks to this demonstrably false belief, most "artcomics" rhetoric has been devoted to assailing the DM-dominant genre of the superhero, though it's axiomatic that if horror or westerns were dominant, those genres would be assailed in the same manner.

To say the least, the "network" of Sequart readers didn't get the significance of the "adult pulp" conception.This could be put down to my expression of the concept, though I saw no indications of any willingness to deal with these matters in anything but the ideological terms of the ultraliberal mindset. Chicken Colin remains the reductio ad absurdum of this lack of understanding, as in the section of his essay where he complains that I have not used the socially-approved terms like "gender" and "obectification" in my discussion of the Thompson essay:

instead of “sexism”, we appear to have “sensationalism”, and so on.
Whatever my failings as a writer, its clear to me that no one-- not Leslie Feidler, not Georges Bataille-- could have penetrated this sort of thick fog of know-nothingness  "Duh, a'course 'sexism' don't got nuthin' to do with sensations, George.  Now tell me about dah bourgeoise rabbits, George."

I confess that it's indulgent of me to keep attacking the Chicken. Gary Groth once complained that he hated to think that Harlan Ellison had become his "arch-enemy" (I paraphrase), since Groth did not consider Ellison worthy of that honor.  To each his own, but I'd love to have Ellison for an enemy.  Whatever his faults as an arch-enemy, at least he wouldn't be chickenshit.

More to come in part 2.