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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...

Monday, March 3, 2014


Part 1 provided a grounding in theory for my "bifurcated fictive causality," and Part 2 applied the two aspects to the naturalistic and uncanny phenomenalities.  In this essay I'll address the necessity for this system in terms of exploring certain radically opposed, yet intersubjective, authorial approaches to defining that domain which I call "the metaphenomenal."

In my first review of a Tarzan film on my film-review blog, I compared the divergent ways in which two authors viewed the Tarzan character:

Many fantasy-film reference works are divided as to whether or not Tarzan films belong under their rubric. I believe R.G. Young includes them all, but John Stanley's CREATURE FEATURES guide only mentions those that have some strong fantasy-content. But in my view Tarzan by himself is a metaphenomenal figure, even putting aside the facts that the "great apes" that raise him in Burroughs don't exist in the real world and that Burroughs' common language for all his creatures does not exist either. Tarzan is a fantasy-figure who may appear at times to conform to the demands of real-world causality, particularly in the more "realistic" films like TARZAN'S GREATEST ADVENTURE (1959). But affectively he is a fantasy no matter how cognitively realistic he may appear to be, though 1984's GREYSTOKE comes pretty close to banishing most of the fantastic affects of the original concept.

Tarzan, as I asserted in Part 2, is a prime example of a character whose adventures do not seem to challenge the "regularity aspect" of fictive causality,  except in those cases when he encounters tropes out of fantasy or science fiction, such as ant-sized humans, man-eating plants, or John Carter of Mars. 

 I can't precisely use the encyclopedia-author R.G. Young as support for my theory of the uncanny phenomenality, for I've noted that he also includes many works that I deem "naturalistic," such as CUTTHROAT ISLAND.  Nevertheless, though Young includes such genres as swashbucklers and what he calls "heavy melodramas," he never includes anything that smacks of down-to-earth "reality."  Thus he includes certain crime melodramas, possibly because crime suggests mystery and mystery suggests horror.  But he does not include anything comparable to a melodrama about union politics (NORMA RAE) or environmental pollution (ERIN BROCKOVICH), even though certain types of "crime" do appear in these films as well.

In contrast, though John Stanley cites many horror-themed films in his CREATURE FEATURES in which the regularity aspect of causality is not violated, like the 1960 PSYCHO, he wasn't willing to cite any Tarzan films except those that contain the aforesaid fantasy/science-fiction tropes, like the man-eating plant in TARZAN'S DESERT MYSTERY.

Now, from an absolutist POV, the divergent views of Young and Stanley re: Tarzan cannot be reconciled.  Either Tarzan is a "fantasy-hero" or he is not.  But I argue that the two authors may be responding to Tarzan in different ways. 

Stanley, though he is happy to include Norman Bates in CREATURE FEATURES, clearly would not include Tarzan at all if the ape-man had confined himself to fighting exotic native tribes or locating lost cities --that is, as long as the cities possessed no magical or super-technological people or objects.  This argues that in Tarzan's case, Stanley recognizes Tarzan as "fantasy" only when a Tarzan story violates "regularity causation."

Young, in contrast, lets in both Tarzan films and Boston Blackie films, but not Norma Rae. Why?

To the extent that any solution to the problem can be imagined when one is dealing with internal responses, it may be possible that Stanley is more influenced than Young by the appearance of genre-tropes.  Thus Stanley is willing to include many "psycho-films" in his compendium that I personally would not include, simply because there is a well-documented tradition to the effect that, "Psycho films are also horror films."  But there is no strong tradition that "heroes raised by animals" are either fantasy or science fiction, so that in the absence of such a tradition, Tarzan films enter his encyclopedia only if they have things like giant man-eating plants.

I theorize that in contrast Young's selection is more informed by the search for that quality I have called "violent sublimity."  Sublimity, as I have defined it in many essays on this blog, does not depend upon violence as such, only on a sensation of overwhelming forces.  Yet it's axiomatic that many if not all works predicated upon violent conflict should create a sublime affect. I have argued, in essays like this one, that sublimity is only clearly demonstrable with works that demonstrate "spectacular violence," and that in each phenomenality the sublime manifests in a specific manner given the nature of power in that domain. 

I have not observed any sublime levels of spectacular violence in the naturalistic "Boston Blackie" films, but I have in the Dirty Harry films.  Possibly Young does derive such a sublime affect from a less spectacular level of violence, but if so, that does not mean that either of us is wrong about the way in which we achieve that affect.  I advocate mine, and explore mine, purely because it is mine.

I argue, then, that many persons who have attempted to define the boundaries of "the fantastic" have in some way responded to the aspects of regularity and intelligibility.  To put it another way, the fans who don't want to view Batman as a superhero-- referenced here-- would be of the party that must have specific fantasy/SF tropes present before they can deem Batman a superhero.  In contrast, those who accept Batman-- and Zorro, and the Lone Ranger-- to be relevant to the superhero idiom are those who are willing to cross "genre-fences," and comprehend the way in which heroes with "realistic" powers may have "unrealistic" tonalities.

The confusion stems from the fact that what English-speakers call "horror, fantasy, and science fiction" have become the three most-referenced "super-genres" of the metaphenomenal, and from the fact that these super-genres have been ceaselessly interbred throughout the twentieth century-- principally, though not exclusively, by authors of popular fiction.  I may explore some of these combinations in a future essay.

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