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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

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, April 1, 2013

RUDOLF, MEET THEODORE

...[Rudolf Otto] explains the numinous experience in terms of the *mysterium tremendum,* the overwhelming mystery that compels fear and trembling in the viewer, and the *mysterium fascinans,* which compels the viewer to be attracted to the fascinating mystery.--  F/D/A MEETS AUM
 


...Gaster introduces two Greek terms that identify how the respective rites work. Rites of jubilation and invigoration are both characterized by *plerosis,* or "filling," because both give the sense that the ritual fills the community with new life. Rites of mortification and purgation are both characterized by *kenosis,* or "emptying," because they "empty out" the community of "noxious elements" one way or another.-- HERO VS. VILLAIN, MONSTER VS. VICTIM.
 
In the first of these essays, I made a parallel comparison between the three affects described by C.S. Lewis in THE PROBLEM OF PAIN and the three phenomenalities I deduced-- formerely called the AUM formula, revised to "NUM formula" in this essay.  Later, I sought to define the three phenomenalities in terms of my concept of "the sublime" in the essay ODDLY OR STRANGELY SUBLIME.  The terms proposed in that essay have now been superseded by this recent essay, but I have not forgotten one of the problems I associated with the Lewis essay:
Lewis' trinity of fear, dread, and awe-- which I've paralleled to my Todorov-derived trinity of the naturalistic, uncanny, and marvelous-- works quite well as long as one is considering only the *mysterium tremendum,* which seems to be the only aspect Lewis regards. But Otto's other formulation, the *mysterium fascinans,* suggests a less antipathetic attitude toward whatever-it-is that inspires the sense of something beyond ordinary experience. 
 
As an example of a *mysterium fascinans,* I chose a scene from Conrad's LORD JIM which depicted an onlooker's naturalistic "sense of wonder" on beholding a "marvelous stillness" in the world-- a scene in which natural beauty is at rest-- what basic physics terms "potential energy"-- and which scene is the exact observe of a Conrad-scene from TYPHOON, cited here. This depiction of a violent storm at sea is, as I noted, more typically with the sort of phenomena authorities like Kant have associated with "the sublime," violent, overwhelming phenomena, which can be generally likened to physics' concept of "kinetic energy."

I'm not saying that scenes of "energy at rest" inevitably correlate with the affect of the *mysterium fascinans,* or that scenes of "violent energy" inevitably correlate with the affect of the *mysterium tremendum.*  On the contrary, it's possible to conceive of being "attracted to a fascinating mystery" that happens to be sublimely violent; the Conrad storm-scene simply is not one such because the audience is likely to feel fear on behalf of the storm's victims.  Similarly, the "marvelous stillness" from the LORD JIM passage could just as easily inspire "fear and trembling" if he were describing the stillness of a desert where a human victim could not perservere. 

Just as Otto's terms can be aligned according to how a subject views a scene-- that is, whether he feels sympathy toward or antipathy against it-- the same dichotomy also applies to Gaster's terms of *plerosis/filling* and *kenosis/emptying.*  The former I have identified with forms of literature which are dominantly "life-affirming," while the latter compares with those forms which are dominantly "life-denying."  It now occurs to me that these wordings are a bit too value-laden, and that it would be more accurate to say "life-triumphing" and "life-defeating"-- the term "life" referring to those characters with whom the audience is meant to identify its interests.  (This is of course not to say that the audience does not identify with other characters, as I discussed in more detail here.)

I'll have more to say about the ways in which antipathy/*tremendum* and sympathy/*fascinans* apply to specific works in terms of sublimity, but for the purpose of this essay, it's enough to underline my conflation with Otto's dichotomy of "the Numinous" with Gaster's dichotomous division of ritual orientations.






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