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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, June 19, 2013


In Part I, I said:

Lewis does not reference concepts of causality. I've interpolated these, drawing on influences ranging from Cassirer to Roger Caillois to Tolkien. Lewis is purely concerned with what is acceptable as "realistic" in social terms.
By way of substantiating this assertion, here's the definition Lewis advances for his formulation, "realism of content:" "A fiction is realistic in content when it is probable or 'true to life.'"

This bears a degree of resemblance to what I have said of narratives with a naturalistic phenomenality; that they conform to the base level of causality and that everything that would seem to strain the laws of causality is dismissed as some form of "incoherent improbability."  I'm more concerned than Lewis with the dialectics of causality because I feel it offers a more dependable criterion for "realism" than what a given generation of readers believes to be "true to life." In TWO SUBLIMITIES HAVE I-- PART 5  I said:

In all naturalistic works, both improbability and impossibility can only be sources of incoherence...
At the same time, when I was first defining the three phenomenalities I noted here:

Nonfictional narrative is always about the typical; fictional narrative is always about the atypical.
I made this pattern of the "anomaly" more explicit in this essay:

The anomaly may be any number of things within the scope of the Num Formula: a ruthless criminal (naturalistic), a bizarre psycho-killer (uncanny), or a blood-hungry vampire (marvelous). As different as these three examples are in terms of phenomenality-- with one appealing to what I've called the "odd-sublime," the other two to the "strange-sublime"-- they are identical in terms of function in terms of how the plot-dynamicity works out.
Although I came to use the term "atypicality" only for the naturalistic sphere, I find that Lewis' idea of "content" includes any sort of anomaly in any phenomenality.  As I noted in Part 1, and as Lewis himself confirms, he selects many of his examples of "realism of presentation" from "stories which are not themselves 'realistic' in the sense of being probable or even possible."  I mentioned just one of these examples, taken from BEOWULF, but there's also one taken from the entirely naturalistic HENRY V.

Throughout the essay Lewis makes clear that he also believes that fiction needs the element of what is "atypical" in order to make it more expressive and/or affecting.  Of another naturalistic work, GREAT EXPECTATIONS, Lewis writes:

It is extremely unlikely that a poor boy should be suddenly enriched by an anonymous benefactor who later turns out to be a convict.

Having admitted that many such tropes are improbable, Lewis examines the claims of those critics who feel that all fiction should be "true to life, and then rejects the idea that probability is ever uppermost in the minds of those seeking to be entertained.

For those who tell the story and those (including ourselves) who receive it are not thinking about any such generality as human life. Attention is fixed on something concrete and individual; on more than ordinary terror, splendour, wonder, pity, or absurdity of a particular case. 

Shortly after this passage, Lewis puts forth the centrality of "hypothetical probability":
The hypothetical probability is brought in to make the strange events more fully imaginable.
And though the essay goes on longer on the topic of "escapism," Lewis essentially finishes up his discussion of the two realisms by concluding that, "The demand that all literature should have realism of content cannot be maintained... But there is a quite different demand which we can properly make; not that all books should be realistic in content, but that every book should have as much of this realism as it pretends to have."

I find it interesting that in this essay Lewis lumps together all forms of improbability and impossibilty-- ranging from the main plot of GREAT EXPECTATIONS (naturalistic) to Homer's claim that his heroes can lift huge stones that "no two modern men" could move (uncanny) to "the bad luck of Oedipus" (marvelous, in that it invokes god-given prophecies and at least one literal monster).  Yet in his essay from THE PROBLEM OF PAIN, first referenced here, Lewis systematized the affects of 'fear, dread, and awe" that are somewhat intermingled in the Rudolf Otto work from which Lewis derives those terms.  In this essay I described three positive affects to complement the three negative affects supplied by Otto and Lewis, and I anticipate that I will be able to invoke these in my further explorations of the nature of "improbability" in the three phenomenalities.

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