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Saturday, November 30, 2013

TWELVE PILLARS OF WISDOM

At the risk of getting this blog associated with an economics book sporting this title, I deciced to compile a list of the authors whose nonfiction works have had the greatest impact upon my critical theory.  I wanted to keep it down to the more traditional "ten" but I felt I'd be leaving out too many important figures.

Coincidentally I also recently finished reading Gary Lachman's book JUNG THE MYSTIC.  It's a well-researched corrective to overblown ultraliberal attacks on Jung, like Richard Noll's THE JUNG CULT, but it has only one point of relevance here.  In his book Lachman critiques, fairly enough, Jung's ponderous writing-style, and the fact that it's easy to lose track of Jung's thesis because he brings in dozens of quotes and references to earlier authors. 

However, I disagree with Lachman that Jung did this because he wanted to project what Lachman calls the "Herr Doktor Professor" attitude: to drown the prospective reader in so much erudition that he would be overwhelmed enough to agree with the implied thesis.  I won't say that this isn't an aspect of Jung's character, but when I delve into a heavy-going tome like Jung's PSYCHOLOGICAL TYPES, I sense a definite pleasure in the psychologist that I find in myself: the pleasure in making connections between authors who had no real-life connections but who participate in the symbolic space created for them in the author's mind.  In my opinion no one's going to go as far as Jung did with such activity purely for a rhetorical advantage.  In my own case only such a pleasure explains why I would devote considerable time to exploring similarities between figures as diverse as Schopenhauer and Gaster.

That said, here then are the "twelve titans" who have proved to be the shaping influences on my theoretical endeavors on this blog and elsewhere:

BATAILLE, GEORGE-- This French philosopher has been particularly valuable in terms of elucidating the common ground between those phenomena we commonly call "sex" and "violence."  In addition, he offers a brilliant critique of Marxist beliefs about consumption that deserves to be far better known than it is.

CAMPBELL, JOSEPH-- commonly regarded as a"popularizer of myth," Campbell may well be flawed in the scholastic sense but his theories on the notion of "supernormal sign stimuli" and his formulation of the "four functions" have set a heuristic challenge few academics have met.

CASSIRER, ERNST-- At the beginning of his book MYTHICAL THOUGHT this German-Jewish scholar credited the philosopher Schelling with having made the idea of myth intellectually respectable after centuries of disinterest from the intellectual elite.  However, Cassirer has become the most prominent of the "critical idealists" to deal with the topic, and his concept of "symbolic forms" deserves to be better appreciated.

FRYE, NORTHROP-- I hardly need point out that Frye has been the greatest influence on my idea of a synoptic theory uniting canonical and popular forms of literature.  His concept of "mythoi" has had the greatest impact on my theory but I flatter myself that I've found some interesting new applications for his theory of the dichotomy of narrative and significant values.

GASTER, THEODOR-- Gaster was a demi-acknowledged influence upon Frye. His most important contribution to my work has been his view of ritual dramas as signifiers of either "kenosis" or "plerosis," emptying or filling.

JUNG, CARL-- Jung's concept of the archetypes remains his best known contribution to culture, though he's been influential in many other respects, particularly in his commitment to the notion of "sovereignty," which I recast somewhat as "centricity."

KANT, IMMANUEL-- I've written more about Kant's concept of "the sublime" than on any other topic, but despite my disagreements with, say, his desire for "objective taste," Kant was the first philosopher of importance to show a "middle way" between the extremes of Empiricism and Rationalism.

LANGER, SUSANNE-- Langer, a fellow traveler of the aforementioned Cassirer, formulated a concept of  an opposition between "discursive" and "presentation" symbolisms, which has been useful though perhaps not central in my theory.  Far more central are her reminders that fictional narrative is always "gestural" in nature, to say nothing of her concept of "diffuse meaning."

NIETZSCHE, FRIEDRICH-- His greatest impact in literary circles-- extending even to modern-day advocates like Camille Paglia-- would seem to be that of his Apollonian-Dionysian dichotomy.  This hasn't had a marked effect on my theory; in general Nietzsche has affected me more in terms of his gnomic pronoucements on the nature of art and human psychology.  In the same way this very non-systematic philosopher had a considerable impact on Bataille.

OTTO, RUDOLF-- Of all the influences cited here, I probably agree the least with the rhetorical position advocated by Otto, as noted here.  That said, his concept of the "fear/dread/awe" trinity, somewhat indebted to Kant but filtered through a Rationalist lens, has been more than a little helpful in my attempt to define the sympathetic and antipathetic affects common to myth and literature.

SCHOPENHAUER, ARTHUR-- Though Nietzsche is a lot more fun to read, Schopenhauer's dogged theorizing has its charms as well.  Through him I came to the concept that all literary narratives must necessarily be seen as embodiments of will in conflict, and his comparisons of the attitudes of "seriousness"and "the ludicrous" have proved stimulating as well.

TOLKIEN, J.R.R.-- Of all the twelve Tolkien is the only author better known for his fiction than his nonfiction.  However, the Oxford don's concept of the "secondary world," while admittedly designed with only "fairy stories" in mind, should have immense importance for anyone's theory of "fantasy in fiction."

Naturally, there are others who have had strong if more peripheral effects: Paglia, Fukuyama, Wheelwright-- and even some influence from those with whom I have sought to refute, such as Freud Marx and Todorov.  The fact that even one female philosopher made it into the top twelve hopefully says something favorable, though I don't know what.  In terms of cultural influence, the Germans win hands down (Kant, Schopenhauer, Otto, Nietzsche, and Cassirer), with American philosophers in a strong second place (Langer, Campbell and Gaster, though Gaster was born in Britain).  With just one apiece are the Swiss (Jung), the Canadians (Frye), the British (Tolkien), and the French (Bataille).

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