Sunday, August 18, 2013
REACH VS. GRASP
Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?
This famous quote from Robert Browning's ANDREA DEL SARTO applies reasonably well to the distinctions I've been elaborating with regard to DYNAMIS VS. DYNAMICITY.
In a literary world the idea of a character possessing a certain capacity to "reach" for goals and, in theory, to bring them into one's compass compares with the narrative value of *dynamicity.*
"Grasp," however, is a limitation imposed upon the capacity to reach for goals, implicitly from "outside" the subject's compass. In my critical system this aligns with the significant value of the *dynamis* applied to either a narrative's plot or its central character(s). This significant value, quantified via the term "stature," is assessed by means of determining the Fryean mythos with which the plot and characters align, while characters alone are further determined by what I called "persona-stature" in this essay.
"Reach," in contrast, I quantify in terms of the dynamicity-ratings, which I examined last in this essay. In that essay I dealt with the problem that even all characters rated as "x-types" could not be equal. Obviously "Dream Girl" is not as powerful in a physical sense as most of the other Legionnaires. Yet because her predictive power can be used strategically, to extend the "reach" of the Legion's adventures and their control over circumstances, her "reach" is equal to theirs, and so has the same narrative function.
In comic narratives, the adventures are meant to have comic stature, and so a hero's ability to display power may have the same "reach" as that of an adventure-hero, but his "grasp" will be very different. Sometimes powerful heroes win conflicts largely by luck, as is usually the case with the Inferior Five. Sometimes they win purely through superior dynamicity, even as adventure-heroes do, as we see with Popeye or Ranma Saotome. Yet in comedies the means by which the hero triumphs are less important than they are in adventure-narratives, because for comedies the essential point is to be amusing in some way, rather than to provoke excitement.
In various essays on this blog I've cited other ways in which the narrative's mythos-affiliation affects a focal character's *dynamis.* I haven't used *dynamis* as much to apply to the four personas, but as I've established that they are governed by the "outside expectations" of the audience, the term applies no less to the personas than to the nexus of plot and character described by Frye's mythoi.
In the EXPENDITURE ACCOUNTS series I devoted considerable space to outlining the ways in which various personas differed from one another in terms of the types of "will" they incarnated: first contrasting positive hero-figures with positive demihero-figures in PT. 3 and then a negative villain-figure with a negative monster-figure in PT. 4. But I didn't explore any of them in terms of dynamicity or dynamis.
The term "monster" is almost as ambiguous as "hero," since the former can applied to characters who fully incarnate the stature of the hero-persona, as with the Thing.
In this sense, the Thing "monster" status does not speak to the type of will he incarnates: only to his physical appearance. However, the Man-Thing can be deemed a monster in terms of both physical appearance and his persona. The Man-Thing acts as one generally expects a monster to act, perpetrating acts of self-preservation, leavened with bursts of unreasoning hostility. Within his own title, his combative adventures belong to the mythos of drama, while the Thing's belong to the mythos of adventure.
When the two are joined in a team-up, it is the Thing's adventure-mythos that dominates, though this is in no way an inevitable development.
Their differing mythoi determines one aspect of each character's "grasp," even though, as their clash makes clear, they share the same *reach* of their dynamicity. But their personas are a separate factor in terms of their *dynamis-statute.* Swamp Thing, for instance, might be claimed by the Man-Thing's mythos of drama as well. But despite being another species of muck-monster, he bears closer relation to the Thing in being a generally "heroic monster," rather than a monster who does good due to contingent circumstances. He has the grasp of a hero within the mythos of drama, while Man-Thing has the grasp appropriate to a monster in that same mythos-- so that the latter swamp-creature has less in common with Swamp Thing than with Doctor Frankenstein.