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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, March 29, 2014


In April 2013, I formulated the concept of the "combinatory-sublime," defined here as a sense of wonder born from the "endless combinations" one may find in fiction, a phrase I derived from a statement in Tolkien's ON FAIRY STORIES.  Unfortunately, though Professor Tolkien has remained a true guide in these matters, I was not as well guided by his colleague Professor Lewis.  All of the TWO SUBLIMITIES HAVE I essays, as well as the follow-up SUBLIMITY VS. MYTHICITY PT. 3, were written when I was attempting to explain the distinctions between the three phenomenalities in terms of comments made by Lewis-- and by Aristotle-- on the nature of "probability" and "possibility." I have rejected these terms now, for reasons I won't repeat, but I find it necessary to re-examine certain of those essays with the new concept of "intelligibility" in mind.

For instance, I observed in the last-cited essay that the "combinatory-sublime" was a "significant value" corresponding to the "narrative value" of a given work's mythicity.  The narrative value of mythicity denotes the density and complexity of the mythic symbols in the work; the significant value of the combinatory-sublime speaks to the reader's reaction to this density and complexity.

Parts of the SUBLIMITY essay are still unblemished by my later formulations, as when I examined the mythicity present in three franchises of each respective phenomenality:

DIRTY HARRY-- symbolizes the psychology of the (fictional) Old West, reborn in a modern urban environment
ENTER THE DRAGON-- symbolizes the psychology of the peerless martial artist, whose power lies not only in physical strength but also in his ability to "see" the weaknesses of his enemies
STAR WARS-- symbolizes the psychology of the archetypal orphan-hero, seeking to prove himself in a cruel world and finding his strength in opposition to a father (and a grandfather) archetype

But the next paragraph unfortunately tries to define the effects of the combinatory-sublime in terms of what the reader may think to be probable and/or possible:

 On the level of the narrative value, all of these myth-functions are equal.  HOWEVER-- the potential of myth-combination is inevitably limited in Dirty Harry's world, since a naturalistic world always values verisimilitude over myth's improbabilities.  Works in an uncanny world have more leeway to be improbable, and thus greater combinatory power-- while marvelous works, able to present various levels of "the impossible," can present more combinations of elements than either.  Thus it seems demonstrable that because mythic/symbolic aspects are so highly referential in nature, this principle skews more toward the significant value of the "combinatory sublime," toward calling attention to the difference between the dancers and the dance.
Now I would rephrase this to say that the combinatory-sublime arises rather from the transgression upon the reader's expectations in terms of intelligibility and regularity. DIRTY HARRY, a naturalistic work which conforms to general expectations regarding intelligibility and regularity, has its own proper level of mythicity but is not likely to inspire a high level of the combinatory-sublime because of said conformity. ENTER THE DRAGON conforms to expectations regarding regularity but not intelligibility; being "anti-intelligible," it has a higher potential to arouse the combinatory-sublime. And STAR WARS, which violates both intelligibility and regularity, has the greatest mythicity of the three in reality, as well as the greatest potential for symbolic combinations and thus for the combinatory-sublime.

Now, I add "potential" because one can only assert abstract matters such as mythicity in purely logical terms, not in terms of statistical analysis. Suppose that in place of three 1970s action-films by different authors, I substitute three plays with the same separate phenomenalities from the same author:

HAMLET (1599-1601)= "uncanny"
KING LEAR (1605-06)= "naturalistic"
MACBETH (1606)= "marvelous"

Just as no one can prove via statistics that any of these well-regarded is factually "better" than one another, no one can prove that the mythicity of one is "better" than the other. However, it can be argued logically that Shakespeare's mythicity is highly dependent on his frequent references to myth, religion and folklore, even within a naturalistic context like that of KING LEAR. Therefore even when a given work does not violate intelligibility and regularity, its principal if not exclusive means of gaining mythicity stems from making reference to mythico-religious beliefs, which are dominantly based upon the violation of intelligibility and regularity. It is for this reason that I state that works of the marvelous possess the greatest potential for the combinatory-sublime, not because I believe that every actual work of the marvelous possesses superior mythicity to the works of the other two phenomenalities.

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