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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, June 29, 2013


I've invoked the term "probability" with reference to its place in the critical works of Aristotle and C.S. Lewis, but I should certainly make clear what I mean when I invoke the word.

I confess that I have no interest in any philosophical studies that invoke mathematics-- not because I don't like mathematics, but because I don't think the discipline correlates adequately with the discipline of human art. Additionally, as I pointed out in this essay, no fictional narrative-- which is the only form of art with which I concern myself on this blog-- is bound by physical law in the way that reality is: hence, I formed the notion that each of my phenomenalities has its own unique, gestural relationship to causal reality.

Various online essays, one of which is this Wikipedia entry, cite two major divisions in the interpretation of probability.  One is what is called variously "physical" or "frequentist" probability

Physical probabilities... are associated with random physical systems such as roulette wheels, rolling dice and radioactive atoms. In such systems, a given type of event (such as the dice yielding a six) tends to occur at a persistent rate, or "relative frequency", in a long run of trials. Physical probabilities either explain, or are invoked to explain, these stable frequencies.
This form can in no way relate to my use of literary probability, or the uses seen in Aristotle or Lewis, because nothing within a literary continuum has real physical properties.

The other main type, "evidential probability," shows more potential for literary application.

Evidential probability... can be assigned to any statement whatsoever, even when no random process is involved, as a way to represent its subjective plausibility, or the degree to which the statement is supported by the available evidence. On most accounts, evidential probabilities are considered to be degrees of belief, defined in terms of dispositions to gamble at certain odds.

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.  I've also noted that within this context, everything is by definition "probable," and any narrative element suggestive of improbability is "incoherent."

The fictional detective Sherlock Holmes usually deals with this sort of naturalistic probability.  The majority of his prose adventures solve "atypical" mysteries by revealing new perspectives proving them to be the results of "typical" influences.  This would be characteristic of a Conan Doyle story like "The Five Orange Pips," or, to cite a non-Doyle work, the 1939 film ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES. I noted in my review of this film that one character in the film's narrative "comes very close to edging the film into the phenomenality of the uncanny."  Yet because the viewer always knows that it's merely a human assassin manipulated by Moriarty, the film must offer a purely causal explanation for the killer's method of killing.

Todorov's work THE FANTASTIC argues that much of what I can "the uncanny" also falls into the domain of "the real" if an apparent fantasy-creature is revealed to be a falsehood that is far from immune to causal reality, as with Doyle's "Hound of the Baskervilles."  In contrast, I argue that the note of "irreducible strangeness" in an uncanny work like "Hound" divorces it from the type of reality favored in "The Five Orange Pips." Thus the explanation of the Hound via the rules of ordinary causality, while it serves a valid narrative purpose, does not dismiss the affective sense of strangeness from the narrative.  This dynamic holds true even when one is dealing not with a deception but simply a strange sort of menace, like an insane serial murderer, such as one sees in another non-Doyle Sherlock film, A STUDY IN TERROR.

Finally, though Holmes did not often encounter the genuinely marvelous in the Doyle mythos, this 1923 story verges into the arena of science fiction, in that Holmes encounters a special drug that can somehow transfer the attributes of an animal to a man.  In non-Doyle films, this phenomenality would be best represented by the 2009 SHERLOCK HOLMES film.  Oddly, though this film begins by suggesting the existence of marvelous supernatural powers-- usually verboten in a Holmes story-- it can only "explain" this marvel by resorting to another marvel: an electrical projection-device.

Probability in literature, then, depends entirely upon the nature of the evidence mustered by the author.  It's my general finding that even works that attempt to vacillate between the depiction of two phenomenalities in the same narrative tend to favor one over the other, as I asserted in my review of LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013


In DYNAMICITY DUOS PART 1 I considered whether or not mere gangsters could be deemed as "megadynamic" foes for Batman even though they lacked any of the outward marks of exceptional status, such as costumes, gimmicky weapons, a penchant for bizarre crimes, etc.  My answer was affirmative:

I suggest that although these ne'er-do-wells are not in the same league with Batman's truly exceptional foes, as per my example of the Penguin here, they still fall into the range of the megadynamic by virtue of their narrative operations. For one thing, though in both examples Batman defeats the mundane malefactors, he has to work somewhat harder in the second case, suggesting that the lawbreakers here are smarter and/or more formidable.

My phrase "narrative operations" fits with my earlier definition of "dynamicity" as a "narrative value" rather than a "significant value," as seen in DYNAMIS VS. DYNAMICITY.  In DUOS I formulated the notion that though "tough gangsters" who give Batman a run for his money might not be as "exceptional" as the Penguin, but they at least qualified to be rated as "lower-level" x-types, best considered "exemplary" rather than "exceptional" types. 

Later, I wondered if this "lowest division of the highest level" rationale might also solve the conundrum I proposed at the end of MEGA, MESO, MICRO PT. 2. To what extent, I asked at the end of the essay, should one consider a character like Dream Girl-- whose future-forecasting power is essentially strategic in nature-- to be exceptional?  One might say that she, too, belongs on that "lowest division" level.

And yet, even Dream Girl and the "Academy for Gangsters" (the mundane opponents cited in DUOS) are still x-types in terms of the "narrative operations" they serve, operations which might be summed up with the idea of "spectacle."  It's only through spectacle that one can truly view two forms of might contending, and thus created the sublime experience of Kantian dominance.  In contrast, in MEGA, MESO, MICRO PT. 2 I cited the teleseries VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA as a "subcombative adventure," even though the starring characters regularly overcome marvelous, megadynamic threats:

Because of the lack of spectacular violence, I see VOYAGE as a subcombative form of adventure. The heroes are perhaps a little better at combat than the average man-on-the-street, but not by much. 
In the same essay I described the VOYAGE heroes' violence as "functional," and this is probably the most desirable way of describing how the spectacular quality of violence can be neutralized, so that Kantian dominance is not conjured forth.  In THE NECESSITY OF SPECTACLE PT. 2  I furnished another comparative example like the one I made between STAR TREK and VOYAGE, this time comparing two giant-monster flicks, and showing why REPTILICUS' violence was spectacular, and therefore in the combative mode, while that of DEADLY MANTIS was merely functional, and therefore subcombative.

What's interesting to me here are the many manifestations in which a lower-ranking form of *dynamicity* can overcome a higher-ranking form.  Peter Coogan's SUPERHERO: THE SECRET ORIGIN OF A GENRE asks the question, "If Sergeant Bullock defeats and captures the Penguin, is Bullock a superhero?"  Coogan's response is couched in his own hermeneutic, but mine would be, "No, because Bullock has only functional, non-spectacular violence at his disposal."

I've previously analyzed a similar pattern in this essay with the microdynamic hero "Mighty Max," but here's another example of a "mesodynamic" type overcoming a "megadynamic" one:

I recently reread Edwin Arnold's 1905 novel LT. GULLIVAR JONES, retitled as GULLIVER OF MARS when re-published in a 1960s Ace paperback format.  There are several similarities between Arnold's GULLIVAR and Edgar Rice Burroughs' 1912 "John Carter" novel A PRINCESS OF MARS.  In both works, the hero is translated to Mars via improbable fantasy-devices.  In both, the hero encounters Martian people who dispose of their dead by sending them down a "River of the Dead," and both encounter weird plant-life.  Gullivar even encounters human-eating plant-creatures, though they're not as memorable as the plant-men John Carter meets in his next outing, GODS OF MARS.  Finally, in both novels vicious warlords abduct the hero's potential beloved, and the hero goes in pursuit.

But whereas John Carter and all of his descendants chase down their enemies with true bloodlust, Arnold's Gullivar is a reluctant hero at best.  In Arnold's hands, Gullivar sounds like what one would expect if Oscar Wilde tried to create a spacefaring superhero.  Gullivar is reasonably tough, somewhat like the VOYAGE heroes above: when a warlord's men come to take Princess Heru in tribute, Gullivar brawls a little with them before getting knocked out.  He then spends half the novel in pursuit, mostly observing the weird sights of Mars on the way.  He does have a prolonged encounter with the warlord Ar-Hap, and he does get to slug the evildoer once during a big fracas.  But the violence is merely a disorganized mess, after which Gullivar returns to Earth.  Here, even though the warlord has the potential to be a combative menace, the hero is too functionally depicted to provide much of a challenge. 

I'll probably return to this topic in a part 2, but since I'll probably never write about GULLIVER OF MARS again, I can't resist adding in this historic panel from the Moore-O'Neill LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN:


In other words, though Moore is careful not to use full names in order to avoid the wrath of ERB's lawyers, here we have "John Carter" meeting "Gullivar Jones:"

Or, put another way, "John" meeting "Jones:"

Or maybe even-- if you give Moore enough credit for punnery:

"J'onn"-- meeting "J'onzz."

Tuesday, June 25, 2013


I've been wanting to keep my hand with the occasional comics-review, so I'm introducing the new feature "The Reading Rheum"-- as in, you know, the eyes get all RHEUMY from too much READING.  I have no idea if I'll try to do one a week, as I did for a time with the "1001 myths" project.  Some of the comics surveyed here may be new, but are more likely to be older stuff I happen to reread.  Some of them may be mythic comics, but I must admit that sometimes I like the old-fashioned, almost brain-dead kind as well.

First up: I finally spent a few bucks on an issue of this turkey, REPTISAURUS #3 (1962).

REPTISAURUS, a Charlton issue which ran for five more issues, started out as a two-issue adaptation of the 1961 Danish monster-movie REPTILICUS. Apparently Charlton thought there was still some money to be made with giant monsters, so once their license to adapt Reptilicus expired, they simply brought in a retitled reptillian ringer. 

It's sobering to read something this awful and recall that this was far more typical of comics-work than such better-remembered works as the Fox-Sekowsky JUSTICE LEAGUE and the Lee-Kirby FANTASTIC FOUR.   GCD credits #3 as the product of writer Joe Gill and artist Bill Molno.  I may have seen other Molno work without knowing it, but this is exceedingly primitive work, resembling something out of a fanzine of the period rather than professional art. 

Scripter Gill was known in the day as Charlton's workhouse writer.  In his last interview, published in CHARLTON SPOTLIGHT #5, Gill revealed that he had an arrangement with the publisher: he agreed to accept Charlton's low pay rates if the publisher would accept everything he wrote without requiring rewrites.

REPTISAURUS, the first story to launch the red reptile in his new ID, certainly reads like its author knew he could get away with anything.  The first section deals with the birth of Reptisaurus, a "mutant" pterodactyl, back in primitive times.  However, no sooner has Gill tossed out the term "mutant" than he contradicts it, by revealing that Reptisaurus has a mate of his own species, one with whom he'll be seen to be able to spawn.  Both Repty and his bride are frozen by some Ice Age and are later awakened by modern-day nuclear tests.

So far, so ordinary.  What makes this issue so incredibly crackbrained is that before the modern-day Earthpeople even encounter the big reptiles, the two of them happen to stave off an alien invasion.  Again, this was not particularly new in the world of comic books.  The brain-cracking stuff is the way Joe Gill handles the aliens:

*They're from Jupiter, but they're not "Jovians" or even "Jupiterians," but-- "Jupos."

*When the Jupos use names amongst themselves at all, they're called "John" and "Harold."

*When Reptisaurus is finally shot down by gamma rays (a little before the Hulk had them, I think), the alien leader exclaims, "Excellent! Dandy!"  (At first I thought I was reading Jerry Siegel in his most antic mood.)

*Finally, the aliens actually manage to defeat both big beasts, but the Jupos are sent packing when they're attacked by the pint-sized flying reptiles recently spawned from the female's eggs.

I don't know if I'll collect any more in the series.  I have a notion that Gill isn't likely to have topped himself after producing this sublime a stupidity.

Saturday, June 22, 2013


As egregious as the mixed metaphor is, that's how I can best describe my memories of Kim Thompson, editor and co-publisher with Fantagraphics Books, who passed away of lung cancer June 19. 2013. 

Though I could look up a lot of the dates involved in these ruminations, at present I don't see the point of so doing, given that my contact with Thompson, and his with me, comprise no more than a pair of blips on our respective radars.  But one site did inquire about my fandom history from that period, so I may as well sum up the content of those "blips" from my perspective.

My first published work for THE COMICS JOURNAL appeared in the June 1977 issue , though it's my recollection that the essay was accepted at least a year before printing.  In those pre-Internet days, one's only avenue of communication with fans not residing in one's own city was through snail mail, and usually it only happened if a comics-company printed a lettercol-writer's full address.

Writing to complete strangers to talk funnybooks was a big thing in that era: I got my share of people writing me from my letters, but I initiated contact with some.  In Thompson's case, I liked something he said in a CAPTAIN AMERICA lettercol.  I haven't tried to re-locate the letter, but it was a complaint about the low quality of Jack Kirby's version of the hero, so it was also probably in middle-to-late 1976 or early 1977.  I wrote Thompson, and we kept up a correspondence for a little while, probably less than a year.  The venture was a little more expensive than I'd bargained for, since at the time Thompson lived in Europe-- the Netherlands maybe?-- something I hadn't been able to distinguish from the mailing address in the lettercol.

In the course of that correspondence I learned that Thompson was, like me, a fan-writer.  It's my memory that he recommended to me a zine to which he had submitted, WOWEEKAZOWIE.  A little later, both of us appeared in WOWEEKAZOWEE #4.  I in turn recommended "my" zine, since at that time Thompson had not heard of the JOURNAL.  On the site referenced above, I joked, “I’m the guy who introduced Kim Thompson to The Comics Journal, which might earn me a spot in Harlan Ellison’s circles of hell.”  Thompson responded on the site that Frank Lovece was more worthy of the honor, since he introduced Thompson to Gary Groth, but I wasn't particularly serious in coveting that distinction.  Obviously a knowledgeable fan like Thompson would have found his way to the JOURNAL's door one way or another. 

The correspondence tailed off when Thompson moved to the U.S. sometime in 1977; at least I don't remember getting any non-European letters from him.  My submissions to the JOURNAL probably went along smoothly enough, so far as I recall.  However, as I've mentioned elsewhere, during that period I came close to arguing in the JOURNAL's lettercol with nearly every other writer-- and Thompson was no exception.

The dust-up was Frank Miller's fault.  He came out with the first issue of RONIN, and Thompson reviewed it-- I'll say in 1984.  I rebutted KT's points; he rebutted mine.  I wrote a second letter-- possibly with an inflammatory tone; I haven't looked at it in close to thirty years.  Thompson replied with a two-word epithet.  At the time I was amused at the effectiveness of the strategy.  Who could respond to that with a lot of terminological arguments, without looking like a dweeb?  So there the matter rested, and we did not communicate again until the Glory Days of the Internet.

Oddly, Thompson's epithet led me back to his cyber-door in circuitous fashion.  I'd fallen out of "love" with the JOURNAL by the early 90s, but the only place I could castigate the magazine was in the lettercols of CEREBUS.  Then, round about 1998-99, a fan with a long memory-- Robert Young, who was (or became?) the publisher of THE COMICS INTERPRETER-- alluded to the 1984 epithet in a Comicon.com conversation with Thompson.  Thompson of course defended his action.  I wasn't reading Comicon.com or any comics-forum at the time, but a comics-reading friend informed me that **MY NAME** was mentioned, so of course I tuned in.  Ironically, at first blush I was a little ticked at Young for bringing the matter up, but I changed my mind and wrote for issues of INTERPRETER (see here for ordering info). 

How long did I stay on Comicon.com, taking shots at Thompson's positions?  I couldn't care less, since I try to put Comicon.com out of my mind whenever possible.  He did leave before I did, so maybe he was smarter than me in that regard.

And thus ended the period of "butting heads" with my former correspondent.  I was at a couple of San Diego Cons he attended, but I didn't see any point in touching base with him, given our acrimonious history.  I heard about his recent diagnosis of lung cancer this year, but the announcement of his recent death was still a shock.  I won't be dishonest and say that I'd never wish lung cancer even on my worst enemy. I probably would, actually, if I thought there would be no bad karma-effect afterward.  But of course Thompson was not a real "enemy" as such.  He was just a guy I butted heads with.

I'm not going to attempt a summation of his place in comics, partly because I didn't know him, partly because I'd have to include some negatives with the positives.  I don't agree with the JOURNAL's style of "warts-and-all" obits such as they gave to Will Eisner and Julie Schwartz-- at least, I don't agree with putting out such obits immediately after an individual's passing-- so, better to say nothing.

I don't envy Gary Groth the task of making that summation. 


Whereas empirical thinking is essentially directed toward establishing an unequivocal relation between specific "causes" and specific effects, mythical thinking, even where it raises the question of origins as such, has a free selection of causes at its disposal... Mythical "metamorphosis"... is always the record of an individual event-- a change from one individual and concrete material form to another. The cosmos is fished out of the depths of the sea or molded from a tortoise; the earth is shaped from the body of a great beast or from a lotus blossom floating on the water; the sun is made from a stone, men from rocks or trees."-- Cassirer, MYTHICAL THINKING, p. 46-47.

This ability of one form to morph into another is crucial to Cassirer's understanding of "magical efficacy," which embraces, yet goes far beyond, Robert Codrington's explorations of the concept of "mana" in tribal societies.  This point is not explored in MYTHICAL THINKING nearly as well as it might have been, given that Cassirer's overall project was to determine the status of myth within the hierarchy of "forms of knowledge."  In my essay INTERSUBJECTIVITY INTERLUDE I expressed some regret that he had not been able to deal with the theme expoused by Frye: that of the interrelation and interpenetrations of myth and literature.

Now when conceptualizing the above forms, particularly "myth," Cassirer focused almost exclusively upon the evolution of archaic mythico-religious systems. He seems to have been aware that some thinkers believed that myth survived into his contemporary times in one guise or another, but in his writings on art he did not strongly expouse myth as a principle overlapping with literature, as was the case with Northrop Frye, the best-known proponent of "myth criticism" as well as a critic strongly influenced by Cassirer in other ways. Cassirer's work explored the ways in which archaic cultures, dominated by mythico-religious systems, gave birth to the discursive theoretical forms of science and philosophy. Thus whenever Cassirer speaks of myth, as in his book MYTHICAL THOUGHT, he primarily refers to the state of myth in archaic human societies, prior to the rise of the theoretical forms.

Though I've touched in other essays on Jung's use of the word "acausal," Cassirer speaks, as I show above, of a "free selection of causes." Mythical thinking is grounded not in the physical demonstrable and repeatable effects one sees in empirical science, but in "the intuition of purposive action-- for all the forces of nature are for myth nothing other than expressions of a demonic or divine will" (p. 49).

I also touched on the concept of "purposive action" in Part I of THE POWERS THAT BIND by way of showing that every demonstration of supernatural power in archaic myth is tied to "creating a narrative effect," one whose core is the expression of an affect or affects. 

I can imagine a companion book to MYTHICAL THINKING in which Cassirer might have explored in detail many of the forms through which "magical efficacy" flowed in the myths and legends of many cultures.  He mentions in the section above many of the transmutations of creation myths, and on page 57 he mentions, in line with Codrington, how the "material substance" of magical force suffuses such "powerful personalities" as "the magician and the priest, the chieftain and the warrior."  But to these examples one could also explore the ways in which this force manifested in weapons like Excalibur, in hybrid beasts like Pegasus and the Chimera, and in entire races of quasi-humanoids-- those like trolls, faeries, and leprechauns, who may be regarded as implicit spirits of the dead come back-- and those like vampires, who are more explicitly the dead come back to life.

Further, such a companion book might have also explored how purely literary metaphenomenal works were universally obliged to resort to the same "free selection of causes" in providing context for whatever wonders they invented-- whether those wonders invoked the figures of myth and legend, as we see in Shakespeare's THE TEMPEST, or attempted to ground those wonders as well as was possible in empirical science, as with Verne's 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA.

This mutual narrative dependence on a "free selection of causes," then, is a key link between the realm of archaic myth and the realm of metaphenomenal narrative; a link that is not in the least diminished by arguments defining myth through functionalism, or even by my own distinction between religious myths and literary myths as that of "closed rituals vs. open rituals."  And when the metaphenomenal author chooses his causal agent, he is placed in the same position as the archaic myth-maker.  The rules of normal cause and effect, of regular time and space as the author knows them, must be transcended by an authorial "efficacy," as in, "It works this way because I say it does."

This is much more evident in fictions that break the known rules of causality: that is, works of "the marvelous."  However, in a future essay I will demonstrate that the same authorial efficacy applies to works of the uncanny.  I may also use this Cassirerean concept of "causal freedom" to work my way back to writing an "ethic of the combative," which I suggested that I would write back in March of this year.

Friday, June 21, 2013


Our survey of fictional modes has also shown us that the mimetic tendency itself, the tendency to verisimilitude and accuracy of description, is one of two poles of literature. At the other pole is something that seems to be connected both with Aristotle's word mythos and with the usual meaning of myth. That is, it is a tendency to tell a story which is in origin a story about characters who can do anything, and only gradually becomes attracted toward a tendency to tell a plausible or credible story.-- Northrop Frye, ANATOMY OF CRITICISM, p. 51.
Eddie Valiant: You mean you could've taken your hand out of that cuff at any time?
          Roger Rabbit: No, not at any time, only when it was funny. 

Frye's statement that the characters of myth are "characters who can do anything" might have been a little more judiciously phrased.  I understand that he's contrasting the world of the gods with that of humans in terms of the power-differential: that humans, prisoners of "reality," are limited to a small sphere of power, whereas deities can do innumerable things that men cannot do, and often would like to be able to do. 

However, it isn't really accurate to say that gods can do anything.  Whether any sort of gods exist or not, the stories that we tell about them are always informed by the human perception of limitation-- and therefore the stories about gods perforce limit their power.

For instance, if Zeus can do anything, then he cannot be overthrown, even temporarily, by Typhon.  The story of his combat with Typhon requires that he be vulnerable.  Similarly, in the story of Demeter, the wasting of the seasons during Demeter's sorrows is not something Zeus can undo by sheer will; only through compromise with the Earth-goddess can the Earth be saved.

In all of the major religions the Hindu Krishna may be the incarnate god who most seems able to do any feat he attempts.  Nevertheless, when a story was needed to illustrate the death of Krishna-- or perhaps just Krishna in that incarnation--  then Krishna succumbs to the same fatal limitation as mortals.

With an otiose divinity like the Judeo-Christian god, it's harder to determine whether or not he is as omnipotent as the texts claim.  Some authorities have argued that fragmentary mentions of conflicts with "Rahab" or with a "bent serpent" in the Old Testament are remnants of a story akin to that of Zeus and Typhon.  Even so, though it's taboo within the religion to suggest that God is anything but omnipotent, one cannot get away from the admittedly comic logic of the proposition, "Can God make a weight so heavy he can't lift it?"

In both fictional and religious narrative, then, power cannot be articulated without the storyteller imagining some form of limitation, even a self-imposed one like God's decision to let human beings choose good or evil.   Unquestionably what Frye calls the realm of "myths proper," allots a much greater diversity of powers to some-- though not all-- inhabitants of that domain than one sees in more realistic narratives, where the absence of such powers is a key aspect of being "plausible and credible."

Those powers, further, are not infinite, for they are always in the service of creating a narrative effect, as per Roger Rabbit's confessed limitation, that he can only slip out of the handcuffs when the effect is funny.  The same principle holds true even if the effect is meant to be invigorating, purgative, mortificative or whatever permutations of the above can be imagined.

In Part Two I'll explore how this determination meshes with my previous writings on Ernst Cassirer's concepts of *magical efficacy.*


Wednesday, June 19, 2013


In Part I, I said:

Lewis does not reference concepts of causality. I've interpolated these, drawing on influences ranging from Cassirer to Roger Caillois to Tolkien. Lewis is purely concerned with what is acceptable as "realistic" in social terms.
By way of substantiating this assertion, here's the definition Lewis advances for his formulation, "realism of content:" "A fiction is realistic in content when it is probable or 'true to life.'"

This bears a degree of resemblance to what I have said of narratives with a naturalistic phenomenality; that they conform to the base level of causality and that everything that would seem to strain the laws of causality is dismissed as some form of "incoherent improbability."  I'm more concerned than Lewis with the dialectics of causality because I feel it offers a more dependable criterion for "realism" than what a given generation of readers believes to be "true to life." In TWO SUBLIMITIES HAVE I-- PART 5  I said:

In all naturalistic works, both improbability and impossibility can only be sources of incoherence...
At the same time, when I was first defining the three phenomenalities I noted here:

Nonfictional narrative is always about the typical; fictional narrative is always about the atypical.
I made this pattern of the "anomaly" more explicit in this essay:

The anomaly may be any number of things within the scope of the Num Formula: a ruthless criminal (naturalistic), a bizarre psycho-killer (uncanny), or a blood-hungry vampire (marvelous). As different as these three examples are in terms of phenomenality-- with one appealing to what I've called the "odd-sublime," the other two to the "strange-sublime"-- they are identical in terms of function in terms of how the plot-dynamicity works out.
Although I came to use the term "atypicality" only for the naturalistic sphere, I find that Lewis' idea of "content" includes any sort of anomaly in any phenomenality.  As I noted in Part 1, and as Lewis himself confirms, he selects many of his examples of "realism of presentation" from "stories which are not themselves 'realistic' in the sense of being probable or even possible."  I mentioned just one of these examples, taken from BEOWULF, but there's also one taken from the entirely naturalistic HENRY V.

Throughout the essay Lewis makes clear that he also believes that fiction needs the element of what is "atypical" in order to make it more expressive and/or affecting.  Of another naturalistic work, GREAT EXPECTATIONS, Lewis writes:

It is extremely unlikely that a poor boy should be suddenly enriched by an anonymous benefactor who later turns out to be a convict.

Having admitted that many such tropes are improbable, Lewis examines the claims of those critics who feel that all fiction should be "true to life, and then rejects the idea that probability is ever uppermost in the minds of those seeking to be entertained.

For those who tell the story and those (including ourselves) who receive it are not thinking about any such generality as human life. Attention is fixed on something concrete and individual; on more than ordinary terror, splendour, wonder, pity, or absurdity of a particular case. 

Shortly after this passage, Lewis puts forth the centrality of "hypothetical probability":
The hypothetical probability is brought in to make the strange events more fully imaginable.
And though the essay goes on longer on the topic of "escapism," Lewis essentially finishes up his discussion of the two realisms by concluding that, "The demand that all literature should have realism of content cannot be maintained... But there is a quite different demand which we can properly make; not that all books should be realistic in content, but that every book should have as much of this realism as it pretends to have."

I find it interesting that in this essay Lewis lumps together all forms of improbability and impossibilty-- ranging from the main plot of GREAT EXPECTATIONS (naturalistic) to Homer's claim that his heroes can lift huge stones that "no two modern men" could move (uncanny) to "the bad luck of Oedipus" (marvelous, in that it invokes god-given prophecies and at least one literal monster).  Yet in his essay from THE PROBLEM OF PAIN, first referenced here, Lewis systematized the affects of 'fear, dread, and awe" that are somewhat intermingled in the Rudolf Otto work from which Lewis derives those terms.  In this essay I described three positive affects to complement the three negative affects supplied by Otto and Lewis, and I anticipate that I will be able to invoke these in my further explorations of the nature of "improbability" in the three phenomenalities.

Sunday, June 16, 2013


I promised an essay on "the two verisimilitudes" at the end of AFFECTIVE EFFECTS, but I had already touched on the topic in the April 2013 essay AN INCOHERENCE TRUTH:

What Frye calls "verisimilitude" overlaps with Langer's discursive symbolism. The author seeking verisimilitude seeks to make his work consistent with his culture's ideals with regard to proper mimesis and consistency, which can only be arrived at through discursive thought.  The quality of verisimilitude is certainly not limited to realistic fiction, though.  Zola's desire to write kitchen-sink novels of observed life displays one form of verisimilitude.  Nevertheless, when a science-fiction writer like Isaac Asimov seeks to ground his fantasy of super-intelligent robots in an aura of believability, he too resorts to a form of verisimilitude, by invoking the discursive symbolism found in current scientific theory, from which he then extrapolates in order to buttress his fantasy.
And long before that, I had seen one of the best distinctions of "the two verisimilitudes"-- better IMO than anything I've found in Northrop Frye as yet-- in the essay "On Realisms" in C.S. Lewis' AN EXPERIMENT IN CRITICISM.

As a book, EXPERIMENT is a milestone work in pluralistic literary criticism, in that Lewis-- who was not quite in step with the dominant literary trends of his lifetime-- attempts to analyze such questions as why some people enjoy "bad books," and how even the sophisticated reader "must make sure that his contempt [for bad books] had in it no admixture of merely social snobbery or intellectual priggery."

In the essay "On Realisms," Lewis seeks to suss out the difference connotations of the word "realism," by distinguishing a "realism of content" and a "realism of presentation."  In my Asimov example above, the author's use of discursive symbolism to make robots seem "real" aligns with Lewis' "realism of presentation."  However, no matter how expertly Asimov articulates the fictional rules by which his robots function, they will always be unacceptable to the "realism of content." From this positivistic orientation, both well-described Asimovian robots and weakly described tin-can automatons out of BUCK ROGERS are beyond the pale of this realistic standard.  Only one type of robot might be acceptable to this standard: one that has already been constructed for use in current scientific laboratories, like the ones seen in the essay FIVE REAL ROBOTS THAT OUTPERFORM HUMANITY.   

Once such robots have been created, they are entirely within the sphere of casuality; one need not appeal to some hypothetical concept like Asimov's "positronic brains" to rationalize the robots' functions.  In similar fashion, no matter how learnedly Jules Verne referenced the science of his time to explain the operation of the Nautilus, his submarine was outside the bounds of causality in that it was depended upon "fudge factors" created by authorial imagination.  With real robots and submarines, as Lewis says, "there is no disbelief to be suspended."

Now, I add a caution: Lewis does not reference concepts of causality.  I've interpolated these, drawing on influences ranging from Cassirer to Roger Caillois to Tolkien.  Lewis is purely concerned with what is acceptable as "realistic" in social terms.  For this reason his take on "realism of presentation" is somewhat different from mine.  He's not overly concerned here with how a given author provides verisimilitude to explain a given wonder-- though of course he pursued such narrative strategies in his own fantasy and science fiction novels.  In this essay he's concerned with gestures that connote a continuity of realistic action, even when they appear in fantastic narratives. Thus one of his chief examples-- which are, as he himself says, mostly drawn from fantastic fiction-- includes "the dragon 'sniffing along the stone' in BEOWULF."  This action makes the dragon seem more like a real creature, in that he guides himself by scent, but it does nothing to explain the nature of his dragon-ness.

I had not read EXPERIMENT IN CRITICISM in several years, and mainly remembered the opposition of the two realisms.  I reread it about a month after I finished the "Two Sublimities Have I" essay-series, where I proposed that narrative works in the uncanny phenomenality, even if they are governed by causality in the final analysis, possess a greater combinatory-sublimity than naturalistic works, and that they did so by articulating "coherent improbabilities."

Once a work partakes of  the uncanny phenomenality, that work is dealing with far more than mere "freshness of vision."  Such works are "coherent improbabilities," in which the source of the "strangeness"-- be it a weird house or a weird society, a wildly improbable hero or criminal-- circumvents the causal reality in which that element exists. 
Now, even though Lewis is not concerned with matters of causality, he is, as much as Cassirer, concerned with fulfilling the potential of literature:
The raison d'etre of the story is that we shall weep, or shudder, or wonder, or laugh as we follow it.
This strikes closely to Cassirer's conviction that *expressivity* is the bedrock of the arts, as opposed to Emile Zola's conviction that fiction should follow a "scientific methodology" as to what was or was not real-- which had the effect of privileging a *cognitive* view of the arts.  A paragraph or so down, Lewis grants special dispensation to improbabilities simply because they are entertaining:

The effort to force such stories into a radically realistic theory of literature seems to me perverse.  They are not, in any sense that matters, representations of life as we know it, and were never valued for being so.  The strange events are not clothed with hypothetical probability in order to increase our knowledge of real life by showing how it would react to this improbable test. It is the other way round.  The hypothetical probability is brought in to make the strange events more fully imaginable.

Though I doubt that Lewis would agree with my formulation of "coherent improbabilities" as they appear in "uncanny fiction," I think that at base we are talking about the literary use of "probability" in a very similar manner.  At the very least, we agree that the test of "the knowledge of real life" to which Zola would evaluate fiction is not an accurate test.

Just for symmetry's sake, since in this essay I invoked both naturalistic and marvelous conceptions of "the robot," I might as well throw in one of the few that belongs to the uncanny phenomenality-- sort of a "killer wind-up toy" from the serial SHADOW OF CHINATOWN.



"The word realism has one meaning in logic, where its opposite is nominalism, and another in metaphysics, where its opposite is idealism."-- C.S. Lewis, AN EXPERIMENT IN CRITICISM, "On Realisms."
 I speculate that Jung simply mentions this interesting formula because his concern in PSYCHOLOGICAL TYPES is with finding a "middle ground" between the extremes of what he terms "nominalism" and "realism," which he uses as exemplars of his concepts of the "extravert" and the "introvert" respectively.-- AFFECTIVE EFFECTS.

Though I was satisfied with the answer I gave Charles Reece regarding his overly limited definition of the term "realism," Lewis' quote is the sort of thing I would have liked to have pulled out as a quick rebuttal.  On the whole when I've used the term "realism" in terms like "thematic realism," or the related term "verisimilitude," my usage generally relates more to what Lewis calls "metaphysics" rather than to the realm of propositional logic to which Lewis refers, and to which Reece may have been referring.

In PSYCHOLOGICAL TYPES Jung also uses "realism" in both senses, though in the above quote his "realism" belongs to the domain of logic, and is meant to signify the domain of the introvert, for whom:

"the idea of the ego is the continuous and dominant note of consciousness, and its antithesis for him is relatedness or proneness to affect." (p. 90)

The extravert, in contrast, lines up with the logical schema of nominalism:

"For the extravert, on the contrary, the accent lies more on the continuity of his relation to the object and less on the idea of the ego."

A page later Jung formulates this difference in "accent" into a figurative religious attitude:

"[The introvert's] god, his highest value, is the abstraction and conservation of the ego.  For the extravert, on the contrary, the god is the experience of the object, complete immersion in reality..."

Jung's well-known distinction between his formulation of the "introvert/extrovert" dynamic interests me in that it also applies well to the structure of literary "focal presences," even though Jung's only application of the theory to literature in this book is to cross-compare the psychological outlooks of famous authors like Goethe and Schiller.  I suggest that the distinction between a psyche being "ego-oriented" or "affect-oriented" also applies to narratives.


For [Dwight V] Swain, the "focal character" is the character through which the reader perceives these reactions, and initially Swain seems to be talking about the commonplace notion of what is called variously the "protagonist," the "main character," or the "viewpoint character." However, Swain soon departs from this identification:

"Does this mean that the term 'focal character' is a synonym for 'hero?' Not unless Sammy Glick is a hero in Budd Schulberg's WHAT MAKES SAMMY RUN. Or Macbeth. Or Dracula. Or Elmer Gantry." Swain then adds that though readers are accustomed to focusing upon heroes who have "positive" aspects, "a focal character may prove the opposite, yet still intrigue us even as we loathe him."

Since my idea of narratological analysis rests heavily on the notion of the analyst being able to determine the nature of any narrative's *centricity"-- which on occasion becomes relatively complicated-- Jung's distinction may prove useful.

This 2009 essay contains one of my earliest's formulations of the "combative" and "subcombative" modes of conflict, but these modes do not in any way correlate with the prospective "ego/affect" formula.  I revisit Rider Haggard's two classics, KING SOLOMON'S MINES and SHE because they contain many nearly identical plot-elements-- European explorers finding a lost land and dealing with the hostile rulers thereof-- and were written within roughly a year of one another.  Even the viewpoint characters of the two novels, Allan Quatermain and L. Horace Holly, have similar physical descriptions and misanthropic outlooks.

Of the two terms I've extrapolated from Jung, KSM would be "ego-oriented." Though the novel goes into great detail describing the isolated country of Kikuanaland-- a land so remote that the black Africans can be tricked into thinking the white explorers to be star-gods-- the narrative focus is not upon the Kikuanas, or even on the return of the exiled king Ignosi, who successfully regains his throne.  The emphasis is always upon Quatermain's fortunes and activities, with a lesser emphasis upon the other explorers.

In contrast, SHE is an "affect-oriented" novel.  Although the reader may well worry about the fate of narrator L. Horace Holly, the imaginative center of the novel is the titular SHE. (I should mention that a work's title should be any kind of indicator of centricity, especially given the counter-example of KING SOLOMON'S MINES.)  Once Haggard has sketched the backstory of Holly and his relationship to his surrogate son Leo Vincey, they develop no further, and once they reach the lost city of Kor, they become no more than satellites to the complicated mystery of She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed.  I should note that in KSM Haggard tosses off the idea that the villainess Gagool may be a deathless immortal as well, or that she may just be a descendant of a heritage passed down through generations, like Lee Falk's Phantom.  But Gagool is meant to be a flat character, less explored than Kikuanaland or King Ignosi.  In SHE the character of Ayesha is the "affect," the "reality," about which all of the main characters orbit.

Of  course it should be taken for granted that despite Jung's privileged use of the term "reality," he is manifestly not claiming that the "extravert" orientation is more "realistic" than that of the "introvert."  He's merely showing two forms of validation, without claiming the superiority of one to the other, which once again demonstrates his pluralistic philosophical nature.

Saturday, June 15, 2013


Here's a quick quote, courtesy of a BEAT poster, that exemplifies one form of the sexual-superiority rhetoric to which I alluded here. I have read SUPERGODS but have not yet checked the quote for context.

Grant Morrison wrote in “Supergods” that he’s met many bright women who read the better superhero comics as part of their regular pop culture diet. But he admitted that the people who are OBSESSED with superheroes, and who amass huge collections of superhero comic books, tend to be male.

In my response, I pointed out that there was no objective means by which one could prove any group of comics, superhero or otherwise, to be universally "better."  The only objective fact is that if many people like a thing, that liking is objective purely in an *intersubjective* sense, as an agreement of tastes between discrete individuals.  Putting that aside, the more important aspect of the Grant Morrison observation is that it throws some light on the different ways men and women respond to the same fictional entertainments.  I said:

 My takeaway from this admitted generalization is not necessarily that women have better taste than men (not that such a thing can be definitively proven or disproven anyway), but that the former are less concerned with getting “the Big Picture.” Guys will tolerate a lot of crappy MARVEL TEAM-UPS just to keep track of how many times Spidey fought the Sandman in all his appearances. In comparison with this perhaps-obsessive habit, women might fairly be viewed as “more discriminating.”

Though neither Morrison nor the BEAT poster is complaining about "fanboys" after the fashion of the bloody comic book elitists, there's no shortage of such complaints on various forums.  One of the most common complaints speaks to the notion of being "discriminating," in that the elitists cavil against the "fanboy" for continuing to buy comics-titles which he does not even enjoy.

Now, one logical response to the apparent perversity of the diehard fan is to say that the elitists may take his bitching about this or that grievance too seriously.   I deem it impossible to imagine that even the most diehard fan gets no pleasure out of collecting whatever he collects.  Even if he consciously loathes a given run of stories, he's at least getting a degree of validation from "being in the know," from being able to say, "Wow, Frank Miller's new project really bit big-time!" 

Another response is that because the elitist is stumping for the joys of being "discriminating," the elitist cannot possibly understand this desire to know the "Big Picture" with regard to a given feature or features.  Yet often the elitist has his own share of obsessions.  I can far better understand a devotion to MARVEL TEAM-UP, despite all of its faults, over a devotion to the dire, faux-literary works of Daniel Clowes.  But that's just my intersubjective response.

Now, even if there's some statistical truth in Morrison's statement, it should be noted that one reason female readers might be more discriminating is if the idiom is not one which their gender tends to favor.  In THE GENRE-GENDER WARS I noted:

... it isn't that women are incapable of going "yeah!" when they see some nasty bastard (or bitch) blown away by hero or heroine. But their reaction to such purgative scenarios is generally less immediate than a male's, and has to be justified more by appeals to character and situation than a man's does.
And the converse is true: I've certainly heard stories of female readers who devoured romance-paperbacks obsessively, which may have a great deal to do with these statistics from the Romance Writers of America site:

  • Romance fiction generated $1.438 billion in sales in 2012.
  • Romance was the top-performing category on the best-seller lists in 2012 (across the NYT, USA Today, and PW best-seller lists).
  • Romance fiction sales are estimated at $1.350 billion for 2013.
  • 74.8 million people read at least one romance novel in 2008. (source: RWA Reader Survey)

  •  Call me crazy, but somehow I don't think that, where we're dealing with a genre that conforms to gender expectations, you're likely to see nearly as much "discrimination."


    While there are ways in which sexual partners can attempt to "assault" one another-- ways which include, but are not confined to, rape-- sex is dominantly isothymic, in that sex usually requires some modicum of cooperation. Violence, then, dominantly conforms to Fukuyma's megalothymic mode insofar as it usually involves a struggle of at least two opponents in which one will prove superior to the other, though in rare cases fighters may simply spar with no intent of proving thymotic superiority.-- VIOLENCE *AIN'T* NUTHIN' BUT SEX MISSPELLED, PART 2.

     "Movies were shown to eight- and nine-year-old boys and girls. At moments of tension, when terrible things were about to happen on screen, the little boys jumped up in agitation and thrust their arms out as if to fend off the disaster.  The little girls sank quietly back into their chairs, grew very still, and waited.  From the beginning, the female, being of the base-line genetic structuring of life, is able to flow with, bide her time, and survive.  From the beginning, the male is anxious, tries to fight against, dominate, fight against the odds. He seems born functionally separated from the life force that somehow underlies the female in unbroken flow.   As such, he cannot survive, at least not well, without the female."-- Joseph Chilton Pearce, MAGICAL CHILD, 1977, P. 256.

    For sake of argument I'm going to assume that Pearce's recounting of the above experiment is accurate in all respects; that it correctly describes the responses of male and female children along the lines one would stereotypically expect of the respective genders.  The boys seek to fight, to prevail, so that their dominant response is active, and thus characteristic of competition and *megalothymia.*  The girls seek to accommodate, to endure, so that their dominant response is passive,  and thus characteristic of cooperation and *isothymia.*

    Should one then assume that since I've said that the kinetic phenomena of sex and violence also line up with *isothymia* and *megalothymia* respectively, that women are all about "sex" and men are all about "violence?"

    Not quite.  One should remember this incisive quote from that little old "19th-century syphilitic" Friedrich Nietzsche:

    The same emotions in man and woman are, however, different in tempo: therefore man and woman never cease to misunderstand one another.-- Friedrich Nietzsche, BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL, Aphorism 85.

    In contrast Joseph Chilton Pearce really does incline toward the essentialist distinction of the sexes, declaring that men are "separated from the life force" while women are in touch with that force in an "unbroken flow."  Pearce devotes several pages to anecdotes which demonstrate the superiority of "endurance/persistence" as against "prevalence/glory." For instance, in Chapter 23 he relates a tale of an unnamed woman who managed to talk herself out of being raped and killed by two assailants.  She did so by showing no resistance and empathizing with the assailants' private torments, with the result that they did not injure her and even loaned her money to go home via the subway!

    I am not denying that exceptional events like the above story may have happened, and that there may well be many other circumstances where women-- or men, for that matter-- can avoid violence by a show of passive endurance.

    However, I believe Pearce is wrong to suggest that fighting back is an aberrational response, a manifestation of masculine *yang* that should always be avoided.  Consider as a corrective to Pearce the story of Corazon Amurao and Richard Speck.

    Monday-morning quarterbacking remains a fatuous pursuit, so I am in no way critiquing the decision of the nine nurses-- eight of whom Speck killed, while Amurao escaped only by good fortune-- not to fight an armed man.  However, I suggest that Speck might not have been capable of reacting as charitably as the two assailants in Pearce's story.  Given knowledge of the ghastly crimes Speck committed when he received no resistance, it's fair to say that *in that instance,* the nine women would have been better off if they had attacked Speck en masse.  One cannot be sure that some of the nurses would have been able to "man up" (sorry) and successfully overpower the murderer even if one or two of them were shot.  But in that otherwise untenable situation, a response of *yang* might have worked better than all the *yin* in the world.

    Pearce also overlooks the internal response of the females in the above experiment.  I can hypothetically believe that the girls responded to the fictive dangers in a culturally stereotypical manner: if you can't fight the danger, endure and wait for it to pass.  But did the girls involved actually *like* being put in that position? Culture, biology, or both together may have predisposed them to that response.  But does anyone of either gender really enjoy being helpless?

    Even masochists want to be abused according to their own desires, not someone else's.

    Clearly men and women are capable of a range of both *isothymic* and *megalothymic* responses, and, as both genders lack omniscience, no one can ever be sure which responses are appropriate to a given situation. 

    Further, as I've consistently argued on this blog, *isothymia*/persistence is not in any sense more "natural" than *megalothymia*/glory, as Pearce suggests.  In real life, both responses are attempts to manage one's environment, and to the extent that they succeed, they engender thymotic validation.  In fiction it should be even clearer that "feminine persistence" is not more attuned to reality than "male glory;" that both are just vehicles for validation.  However, judging by the frequency one can find pinheads on comics forums complaining about "dumb male superheroes," I gather that the virtues of *yin* have won the battle in comics fandom-- and in a manner one might consider stereotypically feminine: by bitching about how much awful shit these poor elitists must endure.


    Friday, June 14, 2013


    I find that I did work a reference to Gaster's "plerosis/kenosis" dyad into HERO VS. VILLAIN PT. 3:

    In "plerotic" narratives, it's a basic given that the forces of life will win the most significant struggles, whether they do so through *agonic* effort or through *incognitive* good fortune.

    In "kenotic" narratives, it's a given that the forces of life will lose the most significant struggles, whether they do so under the sway of *pathetic* or *sparagmotic* forces.
    I would probably rephrase this differently today, thanks to having articulated more of the *ambivalent* nature of the life-supporting forces and the life-denying forces as they apply to all four of the personas. The general gist of the argument was twofold.  First, the process of *plerosis,* of "filling," was a parallel to Milton's idea that "free will" hinged upon being "sufficient to stand, but free to fall," and this then connected to the quasi-Schopenhaurean concept of "intellectual will."  Second, the process of *kenosis,* of "emptying," connoted an insufficiency to stand, which would apply to creatures without "free will," who would, one expects, be dominated by the quasi-Schopenhauerean concept of "instinctive will."

    Later, in this essay I introduced the terms "concrete goal-affects" as a parallel to "instinctive will," and "abstract goal-affects" to "intellectual will."  But during this period I also started working in references to Fukuyama's *megalothymia* and "isothymia* once again, this time in unison with Thomas Hobbes' "causes of quarrel."

    So what if I had bypassed Schopenhauer and drawn my comparisons between Gaster-ritual and Milton-will to Fukuyama-*thymos?*

    I might begin, perhaps, by contemplating the ways in which *megalothymia* and *isothymia* are reputed to work. Then I would probably note that the "filling" of plerosis roughly parallels the "excess" of *thymos* implied by the very coinage of the Fukuyama term, while the idea of *isothymia,* of seeing or making oneself equal to all others in society, implies the expulsion, or emptying, of any potential excessive *thymos.*

    From this reasoning, my revised formulation of the four personas through the Gaster lens would look like this:

    The HERO's "positive glory" comes about because he "fills" himself with "positive will," defined as the will that supports the furtherance of life.

    The VILLAIN's "negative glory" comes about because he "fills" himself with "negative will," defined as the will that denies the furtherance of life.

    The DEMIHERO's "positive persistence" comes about because he "empties" himself of "negative will," the will that denies the furtherance of life.

    The MONSTER's "negative persistence" comes about because he "empties" himself of "positive will," the will that supports the furtherance of life.

    In Fukuyama-esque terms, then:

     *Isothymia* depends on emptying out elements of will that seem excessive to one's society or environment, in order to seek homeostasis.  The demihero empties himself of negative will in order to live with society, so that both he and society can "persist."  The monster empties himself of positive will.  He often attempts to living a life on the borders of a society or environment yet maintains a dominant negative will toward all other forms of "persistence" but his own.

    *Megalothymia* depends on filling oneself with elements of will excessive to normal functioning.  The hero is filled with a positive, altruistic will to protect society, one that often goes beyond the dictates of society's normal functions.  Like the monster the villain is filled with a negative will toward society or the environment, but he is the mirror-image of the hero in that he glories in his independence from society, rather than yearning after a lost "normalcy" as the monster does.
    However, though I still align the mythoi of drama and irony to "kenosis," and the mythoi of comedy and adventure to "plerosis," I do not claim that any of the four mythoi are aligned with either form of *thymotic* validation.  Other factors, not least the combative and subcombative modes, can also affect the nature of such validations.


    HERO VS. VILLAIN, MONSTER VS. VICTIM PART 3 was one of my ongoing attempts to weave together the post-Kantian insights of Schopenhauer regarding literature with the ritual-school analyses of myth-and-literature of Northrop Frye and Theodor Gaster.  I might describe these schemas as "neo-Aristotelian" due to the emphasis on categorizing mythic and literary forms in a taxonomic manner.  In contrast, Schopenhauer seems only mildly interested in making fine distinctions; broad distinctions, more after the fashion of Plato than of that arch-categorizer Kant, were his speed, as one can see with constructions like "percepts/concepts" and the two different forms of the will thus far explored.

    Though as I said in Part 1 I don't disown my Schopenhaurean observations, but I'm becoming convinced that the terms I extrapolated from Arthur S. don't work well enough for my purposes.  Rather than describing forms of the will in Schopenhauer's lofty Platonic terms, I find that it may be simpler to speak of the ways that fictional characters, through the exercise of their fictional "wills," make possible the many validations of *thymos.*

    I started off HERO VS. VILLAIN 3 with this quote from Milton:

    "Sufficient to have stood, though free to fall."-- Milton, PARADISE LOST, Book 3.
    I used this notion of being "sufficient to stand" to examine the divergent personas I was beginning to firm up:

    I've also long thought, in line with my Milton quote above, that there is an element of choice one associates with villains: that they are "sufficient to stand" but that they "choose to fall," much like Milton's own uber-villain Satan. Many monsters do not seem "sufficient to stand." As Butler argues, they have no more choice about being monsters than a force of nature.
    I didn't go on to draw a parallel comparison between heroes and what I'd later call "demiheroes," but consider it stated now.  Demiheroes, even on the occasions where they triumph against their opponents, don't really choose to stand or fall, because they are governed, just like their monstrous counterparts, by a different form of will than one sees in the heroes and their villainous counterparts.

    One paragraph down I made the comparison of this will with two Schopenhaurean categories:

    Rather than the element of "choice" suggested by both Milton and Butler, I will suggest the key element is actually that of "will"-- or, to be more specific, two types of will, whose designations I borrow from Schopenhauer even though they aren't derived from him as actual categories.

    In WORLD AS WILL AND REPRESENTATION, Schopenhauer distinguishes between "intuitive" and "abstract" representations: humans share "intuitive representations" with other animals, in that they are based in the body's "percepts." But humans alone have the power to conceive "abstract representations," for humans alone can base representations in "concepts." I will use this basic opposition here, though I'll substitute "intellectual" for "abstract" purely for euphony.
    But what if, in approved time-travel fashion, my future self came back and told me to invoke Fukuyama's post-Hegelianism instead of Schopenhauer? 

    The answer should appear in Part 3.

    Thursday, June 13, 2013


    My last post to THE BEAT hasn't saved yet, so I'm putting it here. Possibly I'll build something on the gender issues implied at a later date.  In response to Kurt Busiek:

    'I've never seen anyone claim that the form of comics overall is alien to the Y-chromosome-challenged.  All I've ever seen, ad nauseam, is the complaint that girls shouldn't be expected to like superheroes and that the comic-BOOK industry cuts itself off from female buyers by focusing on superheroes.

    Perhaps you have a source of such comments in mind?

    Since comic strips have not focused on male-oriented genres-- indeed, the genres associated with adventure have almost vanished from newspaper strips-- the standard complaint about "too many superheroes" wouldn't apply to comic strips.  Given that most newspaper strips are humorous in nature, there's no reason to think that they don't appeal equally to men and women.   There still may be gender breakdowns; male readers probably like LIBERTY MEADOWS in greater quantity than female ones.  But there's still plenty of strips which are targeted to female readers.

    My point in bringing up the presence of humor in anthologies is that it may account for the breadth of appeal across the genders during the Golden Age.  Since comic books in those days were so cheap, it was easy for them to load an anthology-book with a tough soldier of fortune, a girl-humor strip, a teen humor strip, a detective, and a western.  The strategy was the same as in vaudeville: give everyone in the audience a little bit of something and they'll pay the price for the whole performance.  I'd be interested to see if anyone could "bring back vaudeville" for a modern audience-- although it would have to compensate for the current pricey-ness of the medium.'

    Wednesday, June 12, 2013


    The title refers back to my October 2011 essay-series THE MYSTERY OF MASTERY, beginning here.  I'll be drawing on my quotes of Frank Fukuyama from those essays.

    In this essay I pointed out how Gore Vidal used the terms "prevail" and "endure" to describe two separate, though implicitly overlapping, actions.  This schema recalls a similar approach by Frank Fukuyama, who devises the term *megalothymia* to describe a given subject's "desire for recognition" through proving himself superior to others, and *isothymia* to describe a given subject's "desire for recognition" through proving himself "the equal of other people."  In Part 4 of MYSTERY OF MASTERY I asserted that that when compared through Fukuyama's Hegelian lens, sex and violence-- humanity's predominant means of achieving recognition in the eyes of others-- lined up as respectively *isothymic* and *megalothymic,* a point to which I'll return in Part 2.

    Though I don't disown the Schopenhaurean remarks that led to my analysis of goal-affects, both abstract and concrete, I must admit that it can be difficult to demonstrate the many ways in which a given character's goal-affect inclines more to the "intellectual will" or to the "instinctive will." It's one thing for Schopenhauer to generalize as to the separability of "percepts" and "concepts" in the human psyche, but fictional characters have neither.  All fictional characters are rather *gestural* constructs that reproduce those qualities that human beings align more with percepts or with concepts-- or to invoke other pairings seen on this blog, Jung's "sensation" and "intuition," or archaic Greece's "moira" and "themis."

    The question may be fairly asked: if I must jump any number of hurdles to prove that in a comparison of two characters, both of whom have high intellectual qualities, only one is really dominated by the "intellectual will"-- then are the Schopenhaurean terms particularly useful?  In addition, since I began writing of goal-affects I've also invoked *thymos,* which I see as the affective correlative of will.  Though in general I prefer Schopenhauer to Hegel, it may be that in this case Hegel-- or what followers like Kojeve and Fukuyama read into him-- is more on target. 

    This minor privileging of one set of terms over another does not contradict anything written earlier.  In EXPENDITURE ACCOUNTS PT. 4, I wrote:

    Whereas Frankenstein’s senseless ambition merely stems from the “negative persistence” of his own ego, Fu Manchu’s mad science is informed by “negative glory.” 

     It's a good deal easier to show that these two fictional film-characters-- both similar to and different from their prose originals-- behave in ways that parallel Fukuyama's "goal-affects" than to prove the nature of the "will" each one expresses.  That Fu Manchu desires the "negative glory" of being a world conqueror should be a clear instance of *megalothymia.*  Baron Frankenstein's "negative persistence," in contrast, is shown as a negative form of *isothymia.*  Although the ideal of "being the equal of other people" sounds a great deal less sinister than the ambition of the great tyrant, Fukuyama is careful to note that the downside of *isothymia* is that the desire for utter equality may lead to the phenomenon Nietzsche called "democratic man:"

    For Nietzsche, democratic man was composed entirely of desire and reason, clever at finding new ways to satisfy a host of petty wants through the calculation of long-term self-interest.  But he was completely lacking in any megalothymia, content with his happiness and unable to feel any sense of shame in himself for being unable to rise above those wants."-- Fukuyama, THE END OF HISTORY AND THE LAST MAN, Chapter 28.

     But of course one need not be as one-sided toward democratic man as was Nietzsche, any more than one must believe the official Christian contumely toward mighty kings and princes.  In EXPENDITURE ACCOUNTS PT 3 I used two teleseries ensembles-- the Space Family Robinson of LOST IN SPACE and the Challenger Expedition of THE LOST WORLD-- to indicate the "positive persistence" of the demihero and the "positive glory" of the hero.  Here too it would seem that the everyday connotations of "intellectual" and "instinctive" clash with my specialized usages of them.  However, in a structural sense the Robinsons are also a group as governed by their "petty wants" as is Baron Frankenstein, but the diegesis of their program justifies that all-American family interdependence, whereas in CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN the Baron's pettiness and childish desires can only lead to destruction. 

    And though the heroes of the Challenger Expedition are not particularly "intellectual" in the everyday sense-- even Professor Challenger is better known for his pugnacity than his soaring intellect-- their determination to carve out their own brand of justice within a raucous primitive world provides a positive correlation to Fu Manchu's form of negative glory. (Note how the professor has been given an "Indiana Jones" look in the still below.)

    In other words... sorry Arthur S., but it looks like George H. wins this one.

    Sunday, June 9, 2013


    I've recently started reading the "Caprona trilogy" of Edgar Rice Burroughs, two of which-- THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT and THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT-- became dinosaur-adventure films in the 1970s.  But it's not the novels proper that relate to my Hobbes-derived definition of narrative goal-affects-- i.e, "glory" and "persistence"-- but the introduction to Modern Library's 2002 collection of the three novels.  This unattributed introduction quotes Gore Vidal, talking about his childhood love of Burroughs' books.  At the conclusion of his reminiscence, Vidal said:

    In its naive way, the Tarzan legend returns us to that Eden where, free of clothes and the inhibitions of an oppressive society, a man can achieve in reverie his continuing need... to prevail as well as endure.
    Clearly, Vidal's idea of "prevailing" links with the value of "glory," which I have linked to the Bataillean concept of "expenditure," of going beyond what one needs just to survive, while "enduring" is characteristic of the concept of "acquisition," of maintaining the existential status quo.  I find it interesting that Vidal should make this mental leap, given that most figures from the world of canonical literature don't show any ability to think in such abstract terms.

    I have some thoughts as to how these categories of goal-affect might relate to Frank Fukuyama's categories of "thymos:" *megalothymia* and *isothymia.*  But these will be elaborated in a separate essay.

    Wednesday, June 5, 2013


    In this essay I compared the spectrum of affectivities that appear within all three phenomenalities of literary narrative to Ernst Cassirer's concept of "efficacy." Since I support a pluralistic phenomenology-- that is, one in which each literary phenomenality has its own valuable modus operandi-- I relate this to Cassirer's appreciation for "the world of subjective emotions" and their ability to form "a sensuous, objective existence." Cassirer compares his concept of objective affectivity with that of "magical efficacy" as he conceives it from anthropological reports on primitive concepts of magic and "mana," or "spiritual energy."

    It should go without saying, though, that Cassirer's comparison was purely metaphorical. He wanted to demonstrate that archaic primitives had an appreciation for the sensous, objective side of emotions, as against the tendency of the empircists and positivists to regard emotional states as epiphenomenal.  He was not drawing a comparison between "the world of subjective emotions" and the literal belief in magic, even the sort of passive magic associated, say, with the notion that sacred kings of old could not touch the ground with their feet in order to prevent the loss of kingly "mana."

    Of course, there may be no point in making such nice distinctions, since I have also advocated Jung's archetypes as a valid way of analyzing the many permutations of the intersubjective world of shared, often highly structured emotions.  Comics-fans of my acquaintance have often proven astoundingly ignorant of Jung's phenomenology, choosing to believe that if he approached religious subjets with anything but a hard-nosed empirical bias, he could be nothing more than a dreamy-eyed mystic.  Presumably the same ignorant reaction would pertain with regard to Cassirer.

    Jung did, to be sure, theorize about synchronicity as an "acausal" principle, and I summarized some aspects of his argument here. Interestingly, Jung does draw upon the psychic experiments of J.B. Rhine to suggest that "under certain conditions space and time can be reduced almost to zero, causality disappears along with them, because causality is bound up with the existence of space and time and physical changes, and consists essentially in the succession of cause and effect."  Thus Jung did suggest the possibility-- though not an outright conviction-- that the mind's possible capacity for psychic phenomena could be connected to the acausal principle of synchronicity, in which the human mind more or less "synchonized" its affectivity with whatever elements mirrored its nature.  Jung's famous story of the scarab is axiomatic:

    A young woman I was treating had, at a critical moment, a dream in which she was given a golden scarab. While she was telling me this dream, I sat with my back to the closed window. Suddenly I heard a noise behind me, like a gentle tapping. I turned round and saw a flying insect knocking against the window-pane from the outside. I opened the window and caught the creature in the air as it flew in. It was the nearest analogy to a golden scarab one finds in our latitudes, a scarabaeid beetle, the common rose-chafer (Cetonia aurata), which, contrary to its usual habits had evidently felt the urge to get into a dark room at this particular moment. I must admit that nothing like it ever happened to me before or since.

    I would not rule out a possible correlation between psychic phenomenon and the objective phenomenology of emotional unity. But one does not necessarily depend upon the other. 

    Saturday, June 1, 2013


    Since I want to redefine my usage of the terms "cognitivity" and "affectivity" so as to get them as far as way as possble from an empiricist like Todorov, there seems no better corrective than Ernst Cassirer.  In this passage from MYTHICAL THOUGHT he opposes the law-following nature of theoretical formations of causality to the extra-legal, non-theoretical nature of cultural myth.

    Physical space is in general characterized as a space relevant to forces: but in its purely mathematical formulation the concept of force goes back to the concept of law, hence of the function.  In the structural space of myth, however, we see an entirely different line of thought. Here the universal is not distinguished from the particular and the accidental, the constant from the variable, through the basic concept of law; here we find the one mythical value accent expressed in the opposition between the sacred and profane.  Here there are no purely geometrical or purely geographical, no purely ideal or merely empirical distinctions; all thought and all sensuous intuition and perception rest on an original foundation of feeling.-- Cassirer, MYTHICAL THOUGHT, p. 95.

    In my discussions of my NUM formula of phenomenality, I've often stressed the "rational order" or "the causal order" as the domain of "the cognitive," which utterly dominates works of "the naturalistic" phenomenality.  In works of "the marvelous," this borders of this orderly domain are completely breached by the non-rational intrusion of elves, aliens, crazy rays and all the rest.  In works of "the uncanny," the borders are not so much broken as stretched like a membrane by such figures as men raised by wolves, psychos, hunchbacks, and the rest of that lot. 

    In contrast, I've stated that affectivity in the naturalistic domain is entirely subjected to the causal order.  However, I didn't formulate just how affectivity took on new levels of sublimity in the metaphenomenal works, though I did make some suggestions to that effect in this essay.

    In MYTHICAL THOUGHT Cassirer defines causality as "the general concept of force" (p. 14). Cassirer knew that primitive peoples were as aware of causal forces as was Isaac Newton; otherwise, they could hardly have constructed those objects that take advantage of Newtonian forces, such as clubs and boats and pyramids. However, in addition to their awareness of such forces, Cassirer asserts that primitives also believed in what I would term an "acausal force," though Cassirer's term is "magical efficacy."

    And later:

    Given that myth "appears closely bound up with the world of efficacy," the two of them together comprise "a translation and transposition of the world of subjective emotions and drives into a sensuous, objective existence."
    Now, thanks to my investigations into the concept of the combinatory-sublime-- wherein I've reversed some earlier statements, and taken the position that such sublimity is stronger in works of the metaphenomenal-- I would say that the "strangeness" of the metaphenomenal assumes qualities covalent with those of Cassirer's "magical efficacy."  In one of the "combinatory" essays I wrote:

    This "challenge [to reason]" is the foremost element which gives rise to the affect of "strangeness" in a fictional work, irrespective of whether or not the work abides by the rules of causality (at least on the "cognitive" level) or thwarts those rules.

    In the first Cassirer quote the philosopher makes clear that all aspects of thought, intuition and perception proceed from an "original foundation of feeling," which is to say, an affective order, though one that cannot be reduced down to associations produced by mundane experience. 

    Things that are strange-- that is, that are either impossible or extremely improbable within a naturalistic phenomenality-- are incoherent within that phenomenality, and so have no status, no "efficacy," of their own.  But in the uncanny and marvelous phenomenalities, they do possess such efficacy, and in that sense they challenge the cognitive order, whether with an outright breach or an elastic stretching of the boundaries.

    Within my phenomenological system the emotions that exist in "the space of myth" are as real as the physical objects within "the space relevant to forces."  For that reason I have some qualms about the terms I devised for the three types of phenomenality sublimity in this essay. The terms "iso-real," "supra-real," and "anti-real" would all seem to privilege the idea of "reality" as one dependent on physical objects.  However, I probably won't modify them, given that I've also defined the three phenomenalities in terms of their challenging, or not challenging, the rules of reason.  That is certainly not the sole appeal of each phenomenality, but it's signficant enough that it should remain a touchstone nevertheless.  And in any case I will defining the questions of "reality" in fictional narrative more narrowly in a forthcoming essay, "The Two Verisimilitudes."


    Thomas Aquinas calls that which is in the soul "res" (quod est in anima), as also that which is outside the soul (quod est extra animam). This noteworthy juxtaposition stilt enables us to discern the primitive objectivity of the idea in the thought of that time. From this mental attitude the psychology of the ontological proof becomes easily intelligible.-- Jung, PSYCHOLOGICAL TYPES, p. 42.

    Jung doesn't spend much time on Aquinas in this section of this book, which for me is just as well, since I've nearly no familiarity with the father of Thomism.  I speculate that Jung simply mentions this interesting formula because his concern in PSYCHOLOGICAL TYPES is with finding a "middle ground" between the extremes of what he terms "nominalism" and "realism," which he uses as exemplars of his concepts of the "extravert" and the "introvert" respectively.

    Jung's summation of Aquinas' position, to whatever extent it is accurate, bears some interesting comparisons with Ernst Cassirer's position, quoted here:

    "Whatever we call existence or reality, is given to us at the outset in forms of pure expression. Thus even here we are beyond the abstraction of sheer sensation, which dogmatic sensationalism takes as its starting point. For the content which the subject experiences as confronting him is no merely outward one, resembling Spinoza's 'mute picture on a slate.' It has a kind of transparency; an inner life shines through its very existence and facticity. The formation effected in language, art and myth starts from this original phenomenon of expression; indeed, both art and myth remain so close to it that one might be tempted to restrict them wholly to this sphere."-- Cassirer, THE PHENOMENOLOGY OF KNOWLEDGE, p. 449.

    What I find in both of these quotes is the same thing that attracts me about the concept of phenomenology proper, defined thusly by the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

    Literally, phenomenology is the study of “phenomena”: appearances of things, or things as they appear in our experience, or the ways we experience things, thus the meanings things have in our experience.
    As noted in this essay Cassirer confessed some influence from Husserl's phenomenology. and I've already noted in this review how Jung called himself a "phenomenologist," whatever his influences may have been.  However different the projects of Husserl, Heidegger and other phenomenological scholars, Jung and Cassirer have in common the desire to examine the "forms of pure expression," and to reify them as being no less "real phenomena" than the objects of physical nature.  Za Hranice in the linked essay above notes that for all the differences between Cassirer and Husserl, the two are linked by their rejection of knowing phenomena only through positivistic (or what Cassirer calls "theoretical") sources of knowledge:

    Therefore Cassirer’s

    phenomenology is, like Husserl’s, no historiography or factual investigation of reality, as

    it might seem at first glance. Husserl’s and Cassirer’s philosophy are doing transcendental

    philosophy in their own respective ways, taking distance from Kant, however. Thereby,

    unlike Kant, they try to cope with all possible subject-matters of investigation, namely

    ‘phenomena,’ and pivotally ground them in a modulated transcendental-philosophical


    I myself have no doubt been influenced by simple "theoretical" models of cognition,
    by Kant's "reproductive imagination," which reduces any imaginative construct to "random associations, or to cognitively-reasoned associations (i.e., allegory), or any combinations thereof."  I've recently looked back at my original statements of the NUM formula.  I don't think any of them are fundamentally mistaken regarding the sussing out of phenomenal natures in art and literature, but I don't think that I was aggressive enough in defining the distinction between what I termed "the cognitive" and "the affective," as in this passage.

    If the anomaly takes place within a world where the cognitive order rules, and where affectivity is indeed the tail wagged by the dog, then the narrative’s phenomenality is “atypical.”

    If it takes place within a world that breaks with the cognitive order, in which causs-and-effect is in some way suspended, then the phenomality is “marvelous,” and the affectivity produced is one that also strives to go beyond the cognitive order.

    If the work seems to suggest that the cognitive order is violated, when in fact it is not, its phenomenality will be “uncanny” as long as the work succeeds in evoking an affectivity that symbolically exceeds the cognitive order.
    Though I find the logic of these statements solid, I can find some fault with my tendency just to use the psychological terms "cognitive" and "affective" without bringing them as it were, into my phenomenological system.  For instance, this joint usage of the two familiar terms places an emphasis on defining "the affective" as something confined to the individual subject, and thus in a larger sense epiphenomenal:
    Cognitive-affective theorists argue that behavior is not the result of some global personality trait; instead, it arises from individual's perceptions of herself in a particular situation.
    Patently this is an empirical-theoretical formulation, so I need to put some distance between my phenomenology and this empirical reading of affectivity. 

    More in Part 2.