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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

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...

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

THE INTELLIGIBILITY QUOTIENT PT. 1

My reading of Bhaskar's REALIST THEORY OF SCIENCE led me to advocate a bifurcated conception of fictive causality, characterized by "regularity" and "intelligibility." However, as it happens I had encountered a less persuasive use of the latter term, referenced in this 2012 essay.


But perhaps one should go a step farther than Barthes [in THE PLEASURE OF THE TEXT] and say that the facts that lead him to propose these two views [of "joissance" and "plaisir"] indicate that we are dealing not so much with a historical process in which one kind of novel replaces another as with a kind of opposition which has always existed within the novel: a tension between the intelligible and the problematic.-- Jonathan Culler, STRUCTURALIST POETICS, p. 191.


I specified that Culler's dichotomy was "probably useless to my phenomenological project" because it arose "from a limited and hyper-literary classic novel/experimental novel comparison." But I did draw a limited parallel between Culler's terms and those of C.S. Lewis' reading of Rudolf Otto:

Thus, to invoke once again the C.S. Lewis trinity referenced here: the "tigers of fear" belong entirely the world of Cullers "intelligible," in that they may cause one to fear for one's physical safety but nothing more.  In contrast, both the "ghosts of dread" and the "gods of awe" belong in the world of the "problematic," if one defines the problematic as the human desire to exceed the limits of the merely intelligible.
Despite the provisional definition above, I didn't use "the problematic" as a literary term, since it was a little too-- problematic, and "the intelligible" wasn't much better in this context.  At one point I advocated viewing the two levels of the metaphenomenal as united by their common trait of their "strangeness," while the single level of the isophenomenal was characterized by what I called "oddity." I later moved away from this view in favor of one in which each phenomenality was characterized by the type of sublimity potentially possible in that phenomenality, detailed in this essay.

This tripartite concept of sublimity, though, was at the time dependent upon the traditional Thomist opposition of the "cognitive" and the "affective."  I tried to finesse these concepts with reference to the notions of probability derived from Aristotle and Lewis:

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.

Now, in keeping with my readings of Bhaskar, I would revise this to read that a naturalistic narrative would be "suggestive of a reality dominated by both regularity and intelligibility." Roughly four months after writing PROBABILITY SHIFTS, I determined here that my usages of "probability" were no longer viable, drawing as they did on 'the now untenable, Aristotle-derived association of "the impossible and improbable."' 

Thus I rejected the idea of a "probability factor," which would fluctuate depending on the "evidence" presented by a given author regarding the world he portrays. I then returned to Cassirer's concept of magical efficacy as a counterpart to traditional causality in the three-part AFFECTIVE FREEDOM series, here, here, and here. Basically, I sought to unify Cassirer's opposition between causality and efficacy-- the latter representing a "free selection of causes" rather than classical "cause-and-effect"-- with the "affective freedom" I found in the literary phenomenalities of the uncanny and the marvelous.  Within these phenomenalities, a reader could experience the intertwined affects of either "dread/fascination" or "awe/exaltation" without necessarily believing them to be reducible to the affects that dominate the naturalistic: i.e., "fear/admiration." 

I don't reject Cassirer's concept of magical efficacy, in that I still believe what I said here:

Eventually I discerned that the “free selection of causes” Cassirer identified in archaic mythologies was identical in mode to the “fudge factors” writers use whenever they describe all manner of marvelous beings and devices.

But Cassirer was only interested in a dichotomy between the views of "theoretical thinking," represented by traditional causality, and "mythic thinking," represented by the multicausal nature of efficacy.  Ironically this allows for a conceptual divide between the two-- a divide suggestive of Tzvetan Todorov's dichotomy between "the real" and "the unreal," which I rejected in my earliest essays on his theory:

 It is therefore the category of the real which has furnished a basis for our definition of the fantastic.-- Todorov, THE FANTASTIC.

I believe "critical realist" Cassirer sought to avoid this sort of empiricist reduction, as did rationalists Rudolf Otto and C.S. Lewis.  I might have expected a post-Kantian, more than a rationalist, to have ferreted out the need for an interstitial category between traditional causality and multicausality.  But for whatever reasons, Otto and Lewis managed to supply the rationale for this category, as well as some of the clues as to its relationship to traditional causality. 

 It's a further irony that Roy Bhaskar, concerned in REALIST THEORY with the phenomenology of scientific investigation, should suggest my current-- and hopefully permanent-- solution to the problems of causal relations in fiction.  Prior to reading Bhaskar, I would have thought it no more possible to split causality's aspects than to follow King Solomon's advice about splitting a child down the middle to satisfy both of the child's putative parents.  Now I perceive that causality is not unitary, at least not in fiction.  Therefore the splitting of fictive causality is more comparable to a separation of conjoined twins-- twins who can live either together or apart, depending on what effects a given author wants to achieve.

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