Featured Post


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...

Tuesday, April 2, 2013


As noted in the previous essay, I've stated that I accept the deduction of C.S. Lewis as to the tripartite nature of antipathetic reactions to the powerful and/or the unknown, which he describes as "fear," "dread," and "awe."  In this essay I wrote:

The idea of a tiger provokes fear in the subject. The idea of a ghost provokes dread, which lies upon "the fringes of the Numinous." And the idea of a "mighty spirit" provokes awe, awe of "the Numinous."

However, antipathy is only half the story. Rudolf Otto, on whom Lewis depended for his notion of "the Numinous" in the essay cited, also cited the idea of the *mysterium fascinans,* which by its nature implies not the subject's antipathy for the unknown force or entity, but a state of comparative sympathy.

It could be argued that the last affect named by Lewis, "awe," implies more sympathy than its companion terms of "fear" and "dread."  However, Lewis was a doctrinaire Christian, whose idea of a "mighty spirit" would by defintion be covalent with the transcendent God of the Fathers.  Thus I would suggest that in this particular essay his concept of "awe" still reveals a tonality of antipathy before an omnipotent and omniscient creator-deity.  One gets a strong sense of this sort of fear-inspired awe in Francis Thompson's magisterial poem "The Hound of Heaven," which ends with a soul-annihilating confrontation with a supreme power:

'Strange, piteous, futile thing!
Wherefore should any set thee love apart?
Seeing none but I makes much of naught' (He said),
'And human love needs human meriting:
How hast thou meritedOf all man's clotted clay the dingiest clot?
Alack, thou knowest not
How little worthy of any love thou art!
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,
Save Me, save only Me?
Since I've also used Lewis' terms to gloss the affective tonalities of my three phenomenalities-- at least with respect to the antipathetic affects-- it follows that I should also have a tripartite division with regard to the sympathetic affects.  I could use any number of forces or entities in order to illustrate the sympathetic affects for each phenomenality.  But I may as well use the three heroic film-characters I've already employed in both this essay and my more recent meditation on THE THREE PART HARMONY OF SUBLIMITY.

In my naturalistic example of film-heroism, Diry Harry is intended to arouse a level of sympathetic identification with his martial competence.  Since he is entirely a naturalistic hero, defined by the laws of causality in all respects, Dirty Harry inspires ADMIRATION in terms of his physical and strategic abilities, in approximately the same way that the tiger inspires only physical FEAR.

Bruce Lee's character of "Lee" from ENTER THE DRAGON is cognitively defined by causality, but affectively by non-causal associations.  I've mentioned the fact that Lee's villainous opponent is "pushed toward the domain of the supervillain proper," which alone would be enough to place Lee in the proximate role of the superhero.  But in addition, Lee goes beyond the limits of even more naturalistic types of kung fu fighters, since in the course of DRAGON he trounces such a quantity of guardsmen that he no longer seems like an ordinary skilled man, but like a god walking among men.  He is not diegetically a god, but extra-diegetically, he excites more than mere admiration.  For this level of "uncanny hero," the affect most approximates the word conjured by Otto: FASCINATION.  This parallels the effect of DREAD, in that dread does not delve into "the Numinous" but still indirectly conjures its "fringes."

Finally, in place of AWE as a fearful response before a Numinous figure-- perhaps best captured in prose fiction by the abasement of H.P. Lovecraft's narrators before the hideous truths of the Universe-- I suggest that a sympathetic response to a Marvelous Universe such as that of STAR WARS is best described as ECSTASIS.  Ecstasis means the feeling of "standing outside" one's own body, as if one's spirit/soul were in communion with things outside itself.  In contrast with "awe," ecstasis is almost always constituted as a positive emotion, as is the dominant use of the word "marvelous."  In effect I am identifying the "anti-real" nature of marvelous works as one which breaks down all borders, creating a fearful awe in the antipathetic circumstances of a Lovecraft text, but ecstatic sympathy in the case of a more benign setting like that of STAR WARS.  Though Luke Skywalker is but one of an ensemble of heroes in the first three films, he best symbolizes the affect of "ectasis" in that the story describes his progress from spiritual ignorance to martial illumination.  It is this affect, rather than fear-informed awe, that best characterizes the SF-fan's idea of "the sense of wonder," as recounted by David Hartnell:

Any child who has looked up at the stars at night and thought about how far away they are, how there is no end or outer edge to this place, this universe – any child who has felt the thrill of fear and excitement at such thoughts stands a very good chance of becoming a science fiction reader. To say that science fiction is in essence a religious literature is an overstatement, but one that contains truth. SF is a uniquely modern incarnation of an ancient tradition: the tale of wonder. Tales of miracles, tales of great powers and consequences beyond the experience of people in your neighborhood, tales of the gods who inhabit other worlds and sometimes descend to visit ours, tales of humans traveling to the abode of the gods, tales of the uncanny: all exist now as science fiction. Science fiction’s appeal lies in combination of the rational, the believable, with the miraculous. It is an appeal to the sense of wonder.
I will note that Hartnell does define his "wonder" as a combination of "fear and excitement," but this merely shows that such affects are not easily separable.


No comments: