Saturday, January 5, 2013

TWICE THE MIGHT BUT LESS FILLING

Returning once more to the formulation of Kant from CRITIQUE OF JUDGMENT:

 Might is called dominance if it is superior even to the resistance of something that itself possesses might.

I've touched slightly on a few manifestations of might and dominance in canonical literature and in folktales, but where dominance is concerned, it occurs most frequently in certain types of genre literature. I noted in STRENGTH, IN NUMBERS:

... as a rule modern genre-narratives explore these concepts on a more sustained basis than do most modern would-be literary efforts.
Genre literature can excel in this regard because it allows, as Northrop Frye said, an "unobstructed view of the archetypes"-- including, in this case, the archetype of the narrative pattern Joseph Fontenrose terms "the combat myth."

However, not every narrative that contains two opposed sources of "might" necessarily evokes the combative mode.  It's for that reason that I've distinguished the presence of both narrative and significant values within the combative mode.  The lack of one value or the other can cancel the narrative's potential for combative sublimity.

As my first examples, regard these two classic Universal horror-films:




WEREWOLF OF LONDON (1935)






FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943)

Both of the films, like the majority of horror films, conform to the kenotic mythos of the drama.  Both contain two characters who possess supernormal might: two werewolves in LONDON (seen above, played by Warner Oland and Henry Hull), the Frankenstein Monster (Bela Lugosi) and the Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr.) in the 1943 film. Both films end with rather short battles between the supernormal figures, so both satisfy the significant value of the combative, which engenders a particular sublime effect through contending might.

However, WEREWOLF OF LONDON is primarily about the tormented sufferings of the Henry Hull werewolf.  His conflict with the Oland character is distinctly secondary to his agonies over the loss of his wife to another man. The mere contention of two powerful figures in a narrative cannot engender the narrative value of the combative, as I showed here with respect to Shakespeare's CORIOLANUS.  

In contrast, though some have argued that FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN places more emphasis on the Wolf Man than on Frankenstein's creation, the essential thrust of the plot focuses on arranging the "meeting" of the two monsters-- cultivating an alliance between the principal characters, bringing them together with the late Doctor Frankenstein's research as a means of ending their respective maladies, and then culminating in a "heroic" Wolf Man taking on a "villainous" Frankenstein Monster.  Here, the narrative value is satisfied in that the entire narrative is built around a culminative combat, while the formidability of the characters satisfies the significant value.

It should go without saying that a narrative lacking either combative value-- one which has several "mighty" figures within the narrative who are engaged only in preying on "basic strength" victims rather than fighting against each other or against another "mighty" threat-- such a narrative displays only "might" and never dominance, as exemplified by 1944's HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN.




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