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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...

Wednesday, May 1, 2013


At the conclusion of Part 3 I said:

...the further a given work ventures into the domains of the metaphenomenal, the greater its capacity for "endless combinations in living shapes that move from mind to mind."
To put it another way within my terminological terrain, the capacity for "endless combinations"-- what I call the "combinatory-sublime"-- is at its lowest ebb in all works that possess a naturalistic phenomenality. This capacity stands independent of any other standards of merit that might separate, say, some low-rent romance-melodrama from Shakespeare's HENRY IV-- which happens to be the play from which Edmund Burke derives one of his definitions of the sublime: "richness and profusion of images."

In my early writings on the subject of sublimity, I tended to try to see this image-profusion as simply one of many manifestations of a general idea of the sublime, one which depended on a quality of being "overwhelming."  As I noted earlier, since I was primarily influenced by Kant's writings on the "dynamically sublime," at times I attempted to subsume all aspects of "infinitude" under the rubric of "might," as I did in the 2012 essay SUBLIMELY SUPER. Analyzing the story "Superman's Return to Krypton" from SUPERMAN #141 (1960>

Within my then-current formulation of "the sublime," I reprinted this panel:

And in a subsequent essay, I wrote of this scene:

...the scene in which Superman and Lyla culminate their romance (in terms of Silver Age kid-comics, at least) displays a propensity for the sublime, using churning magma and a vaulting rainbow as objective correlatives for the unleashed passion. This indirect depiction of physical passion not only displays Burke's "profusion of images," but also explicitly (thanks to Siegel's caption) associates their passion with might:

"But the flames of the planet are like cold glaciers compared to the mighty love blazing between Superman of Earth and Lyla Lerrol of Krypton!"
 I don't withdraw that insight re: "might."  However, I will note that the scene could be equally sublime-- in a combinatory sense-- if it took place against any other strange Kryptonian background, such as the "Living Jewel Mountains" or "the Scarlet Jungle." 

The Krypton of the "Silver Age" period of Superman comic books is, in contrast to the barely described setting seen in Jerry Siegel's first Superman stories, portrayed as a cornucopia of wonders, many of which are pleasing re-combinations of phenomena known to us on Earth, such as J.R.R. Tolkien described in the essay "On Fairy Stories:"

Anyone inheriting the fantastic device of human language can say the green sun. Many can then imagine or picture it. But that is not enough—though it may already be a more potent thing than many a “thumbnail sketch” or “transcript of life” that receives literary praise.  To make a Secondary World inside which the green sun will be credible, commanding Secondary Belief, will probably require labour and thought, and will certainly demand a special skill, a kind of elvish craft. Few attempt such difficult tasks. But when they are attempted and in any degree accomplished then we have a rare achievement of Art: indeed narrative art, story-making in its primary and most potent mode.
Tolkien is of course not concerned with any formulations about "the sublime" here, but he does speak of an affect that he calls "enchantment."

Enchantment produces a Secondary World into which both designer and spectator can enter, to the satisfaction of their senses while they are inside; but in its purity it is artistic in desire and purpose. Magic produces, or pretends to produce, an alteration in the Primary World.
Tolkien probably would not have cared to see this quality of "enchantment" as a subspecies of what I call "strangeness," which appears not only in the sort of fantasy Tolkien means, but in all manner of "marvelous" and "uncanny" metaphenomenal works.

In Part 5 I will deal more fully with the combinatory capacity as it occurs in both phenomenalities.

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