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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...

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

APES AND ANGELS

"Two souls, alas, are housed within my breast,
And each will wrestle for the mastery there,
The one has passion's craving crude for love,
And hugs a world where sweet the senses rage;
The other longs for pastures fair above,
Leaving the murk for lofty heritage."-- Goethe, FAUST.


In Part 2 of RETURN OF THE MASTERY MASTER I meditated on the utility of the terms I'd derived from Schopenhauer, "the intellectual will," derived from what he called "abstract representations," and "the instinctive will," derived from what he called "intuitive representations."  These representations, said Schopenhauer, stemmed from humankind's dual tendency to build representations from both "percepts"-- which humans share with animals-- and "concepts," which only humans possess due to the faculty of reason.

Now, when I read the above Goethe quote, I thought it implicit that Goethe was not writing about only his character of Faust having "two souls."  Clearly he was implying that all humans possessed this two-souled nature, though instead of speaking of reason and intuition, Goethe speaks of "lofty heritage" and "passion's craving crude for love."  These concepts, however poeticized, may come a lot closer to describing the "two souls" that struggle within the "breasts" of fictional characters.

By the third part of the MASTERY MASTER essay-series, I debated the possibility of using Frank Fukuyama's Hegel-derived terms "megalothymia" and "isothymia" as a theoretical foundation for the dichotomy of "goal-affects," the concrete affect "persistence" and the abstract affect "glory."  However, Fukuyama's terms are still not that useful in describing specific ways in which fictional characters mirror the affects of their creators and their audiences.  The idea of determining these affects as having been produced by two variant forms of "will" still holds appeal for me.

The failing of my first set of Schopenhauer terms is that they rely too directly on the philosopher's formulations rather than extrapolating them into the necessary literary continuum.  Since Goethe is clearly translating philosophical concepts into emotive qualities, he suggests a possible avenue for identifying the types of "will" that truly impact on the ways human beings imagine fictional personas.

Obviously the "world where sweet the senses rage" is the world of Schopenhauer's "intuitive representations," not to mention the elements that Jung, in refuting Freud, calls "physiological concepts."  Yet to call such elements "physiological," "intuitional," or "instinctive" are all overly specific in a literary context.  However, they all connote the subject's will to "hug" the world of sensual reality, the will to remain so attached as against any contravening will. 

This will I'll term the "existential will," because it is a will to remain attached to all the affects that call up everyday sensory existence; our feeling of being inextricably a part of the physical world.
In my argument here defining the quality of "persistence" in the demihero and monster personas, I stressed that the good demihero Jimmy Olsen was defined more by his life in the workaday world than by his forays in heroism, and that sort-of-bad monster  King Kong was defined by his "craving crude" for a blonde charmer.


Now, though Schopenhauer speaks of "concepts" in an affect-free manner, it's patently true that human beings do derive emotional validation by attaching themselves to abstact conceptions, or what Jung calls "superordinate ideas."  Such ideational states allow one to imagine "leaving the murk for lofty heritage."  Whatever the psychological truth of such devotions-- and there are any number of ways to deconstruct a real human's ideas and/or ideals-- fictional characters can be constructs patterned on such ideals, and are in their own context "real." 

This will I'll term the "idealizing will," because it seems obvious to me that any "idea" to which a subject becomes emotionally attached becomes an "ideal."  When I spoke of "intellectual will" with respect to heroes and villains, I favored the notion that they made conscious decisions to defend good or to champion evil, as per my oft-cited Milton quote: "sufficient to stand, but free to fall."  But of course fictional characters do not make conscious decisions; they incarnate the ideals of authors who make conscious decisions based on their perceptions of good and evil.  In this essay I defined the parallel striving of both heroes and villains after the abstact goal-affect of "glory:"

Heroes and villains are more focused on “grand gestures,”made in defiance of consequences. Not all villains are larger-than-life like the Joker: Batman often fights criminals who are no more than *mesodynamic*...  Even the mundane crooks as portrayed in these stories want more than simple survivial. Typically they desire wealth, which may be seen as establishing a form of willed control over their environment. This will to control often manifests in the crooks forming their own society counter to that of honest citizens. Unlike monsters, who are most often seen as forces gone out of control, villains seek to exercise total control, be it of city-neighborhoods or the entire world. The hero responds in turn with his own counter-efforts to control the pernicious counter-society of crime. Those efforts—whether they stem from a vigilante like Batman or a constituted legal authority like Judge Dredd—also go beyond the criteria of simple survival, emphasizing the power of the law to curtail the will of the lawbreakers.       

In conclusion, I believe that these new portmanteau terms also line up well with the Fukuyama terminology: the "idealizing will" with "megalothymia," and the "existential will" with "isothymia." 
Thus, if I were to rewrite the relevant sections of this essay, I could omit the mental gymnastics necessary to state why Fu Manchu incarnated "intellectual will" as a villain while Baron Frankenstein incarnated "instinctive will."  The two characters are not adequately separable, even in a metaphorical sense, in terms of an "intellect vs. instincts" dichotomy.  But one can demonstrate from the corpus of the film CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN that Baron Frankenstein, despite his intellectual attainments, has no real "ideal" in mind when he starts piecing together dead bodies, even though he might use such idealism as a rationale. Rather, this Frankenstein is like a big child who wants to do something because it's been forbidden.  In contrast, Fu Manchu possesses both intellectual attainments and a demonstrable ideal: to restore the glory of his people.

A side-point: I don't want to give the impression from the quoted paragraph above that I think all "mundane crooks" are necessarily worshippers at the Fane of Evil; some of them may commit crimes out of frustration or petty pique, as well, which would make them closer to the persona of the "monster." But many mundane crooks have ideals by which they justify their depredations, and when they demonstrate these, they fit in every way the persona of the true villain.

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