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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...

Saturday, August 17, 2013


At the end of the previous essay in this series I said:

In Part 2 I'll examine the demonization of the popular arts in more general terms, and the reasons why the elitists' vision of a heaven of artistic angels is just hell under another name.
First off I should qualify this by saying that their heaven would be a hell to me, and I suspect to many others.  This speaks to the nature of intersubjective realities, discussed here.  Thus my saying of Harvey Pekar's vision of "comics potential" would be a hell of suckitude does not in itself make his vision a hell of suckitude.  However, no relativism comes into play when discussing the bad logic of Pekar, or more recent examples of elitism like Berlatsky and Darius.

Of course, a hostile reader could always dismiss my logic because it contradicts some icon that he holds dear.  In PRIDE OF PREJUDICE 2 I pointed out that elitists' overvaluing of heavy thematics stemmed from their pride in their ability to discern such organizing patterns.

At base, the two have in common a particular kind of "pride": a pride in one's own ability to discern what aspects of literature are best-- aspects which are almost always oriented upon some intellect-based comprehension of some given subject matter. It could be argued that in so doing those guilty of this form of "pride" are guilty of Kant's pronouncement upon Leibniz, that of "intellectualizing phenomena."

Now, even though I find my own theory to be a perfect "marriage of heaven and hell"-- that is, an appreciation of the "angels" of thematic realism and the "demons" of thematic escapism-- it's quite possible that an opponent could turn my armchair analysis against me.  Indeed, somewhere or other Charles Reece asserted that the only reason one could have to equate myth with popular fiction would be to elevate the latter beyond its station; to make it more significant than it really is-- which one could interpret (though Reece did not say so) as another species of "pride."

I would not dispute this.  Everyone takes pride in his or her accomplishments, and everyone becomes defensive if the importance of said accomplishments are questioned.  At base, though, I'm not asserting that there's no value in seeking what I called earlier "the Big Important Themes."  In this recent essay I devoted a little time to specifying why I thought that filmmaker John Huston screwed the pooch on adapting the deeper themes of a Tennessee Williams play.  But I am asserting that escapist fictions, even when they lack the Big Important Themes, are a valid part of art.

Searching for mythic tropes in escapist fiction like SUPERMAN or THE SHE CREATURE, however, is a little more involved than just asserting, as Julius Darius does, that the hot new graphic novel has Deep Literary Themes.  If I'm dealing with a work whose creators were never substantially interviewed, then everything I assert about the symbolic discourse within the work must be framed in propositional terms, as with my examination of the aforementioned "creature feature:"

SHE CREATURE bears a perhaps coincidental resemblance to the legend of Simon Magus and Helen, as I recounted in my review of THE SILVER CHALICE. Lombardi is, like Simon Magus, a figure who combines aspects of the bonafide magician and the charlatan. In CHALICE as in some versions of the Simon legend, the magician travels with Helen, a “holy prostitute,” and Andrea’s presence at the carnival is explained early on when the barker says she was a “carnival-follower”— which is certainly just a new take on the traditional “camp-follower,” meaning a prostitute who followed army camps. Yet if Andrea was a prostitute, she’s still capable of falling in love and rebelling against the influence of Lombardi, and of using the violence of the “She Creature” to vanquish her personal demon.

Here I was dealing with a mythic trope that began in early folkloric stories of Simon Magus, which stories in turn begat both literal translations into fiction (the bestseller novel SILVER CHALICE) and hypothetical transformations into works having nothing to do with literally recounting the story of the archaic characters.

Does it imbue me with any degree of pride, if I feel that I've correctly identified a parricular archetypal trope?  Probably, but I feel that my approach is tempered by intellectual inquiry, as opposed to beating the drum for highbrow artistic respectability.  I know that even if I convinced a sizeable number of readers that SHE CREATURE possesses the mythicity I find in it, this would not lead anyone to regard the film as something other an escapist horror-story-- which, of course, it is.  This is, I believe, very different from Harvey Pekar trying to claim Jack Cole for the Angels of Art, when in fact, only Cole's level of skill separates him from a fellow practitioner of escapist fiction like, say, Joe Shuster.

Pride, whether intellectual or not, is fundamental to human experience, being, as William Blake says, "the glory of God."  But those full of intellectual pride ought to remember the next phrase in Blake's aphorism:

The lust of the goat is the bounty of God.

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