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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...

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


The wonders of Google allow me to quickly search out the places where I used the term "coherent improbabilities," here, here, here, and here.  All of these terminological usages are now, though not entirely irrelevant, have been superseded, as are any mentions of "incoherent improbabilities."

The linked ideas of coherence and incoherence, which I introduced here in my essays on Susanne Langer, now strike me as immaterial to the subject of probability in fiction.  I've mentioned that the degree of personal conviction that an audience-member brings to a work is highly personal, and so the matters of coherence and incoherence properly belong to the domain of the intersubjective. I have not used them in any organized way to apply to the phenomenalities of the NUM formula, though I'm aware of having tossed a few indications in that direction, which, had I elaborated them, would have come out to something like:

NATURALISTIC-- "incoherent improbability"
UNCANNY-- "coherent improbability"
MARVELOUS-- "impossibility"

This was a mistake, for manifestations of coherence and incoherence appear in all three phenomenalities.  For instance, I've mentioned that many comedy films toss out "impossible" occurences for the sake of humor, but that they are not "marvelous" because the impossible elements are not meant to be taken seriously.  An easy example of an unserious impossibility is the "automatic pilot" joke in AIRPLANE, who comes to life and smiles for a moment or two for the sake of a joke anyone reading this blog ought to know.

However, I do continue to believe, as stated in PROBABILITY SHIFTS, that each phenomenality is determined by the nature of probability:

All three phenomenalities-- naturalistic, uncanny, and marvelous-- are established by the ways in which the authors of works in each division choose to present "evidence" for the nature of their worlds.  For a critic like Tzvetan Todorov, this means establishing whether or not a "fantastic" event is "real" or "unreal."  But as I've demonstrated in my formulation of the NUM theory, even the most 'realistic' narrative merely reproduces gestures suggestive of a reality dominated by causality.

My very next sentence, however, privileges an association of the naturalistic with probability itself:

I've also noted that within this context, everything is by definition "probable," and any narrative element suggestive of improbability is "incoherent."
Were I writing this now, I would eliminate the second half of the sentence and would specify that everything in a naturalistic continuum is by definition "probable in respect to a rigid cognitive/affective causality."  The breakdowns I've mentioned in respect to the cognitive'affective spheres in the three phenomenalities, cited here, remain unaltered.

However, in that essay, I attempted for the first time to schematize the nature of the sublime in each phenomenality with terms "devised...to reflect the causality-relationship of each phenomenality."  Thus:

In NATURALISTIC works the affect of sublimity was ISO-REAL.

In UNCANNY works the affect of sublimity was SUPRA-REAL.

In MARVELOUS works the affect of sublimity was ANTI-REAL.

I believe that I was following C.S. Lewis' lead, attempting to see "probability" as something determined by its socially determined degree within a given context.  Yet, as I noted in Part II of THE TWO VERISIMILITUDES, Lewis is not especially concerned with defining probability in terms of causal reality, while I am, drawing in part on Cassirer, Caillois, and Tolkien.

Since I have clearly stated that the affect of sublimity is different in each phenomenality because of "the causality-relationship of each phenomenality," it now seems obvious to me that the nature of probability is also affected by the relationship of the causal boundaries and the sublimities by which those boundaries are broken.

Therefore, probability too breaks down the same way as the sublime: "ISO-REAL" for the naturalistic, "SUPRA-REAL" for the uncanny, and "ANTI-REAL" for the marvelous. 

Some specific examples of the different intersections of probability and sublimity seems called for.  I'll be drawing on my examples from TEN DYNAMIC DEMONS, since that's one of the essays in which I invoked the now untenable, Aristotle-derived association of "the impossible and improbable."

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