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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, April 26, 2014


Once more, I'll present the two images seen in Part 1:

In that essay I allowed that there was a partial truth in asserting that many works of fantasy, such as Superman, seem to be oriented upon fantasies of escape, i.e., "negative compensation." At the same time, I noted that many fantastic images, such as the one presented by the book-cover for the story-collection NIGHT'S YAWNING PEAL, display no overt appeal to any form of compensation, positive or negative.

The appeal of the scene on the cover of ACTION COMICS #1 is clearly one of physical confrontation and triumph. Thus some critics, particularly elitist ones, will assume that this connotes nothing more than the satisfactions of violence.  In my theory this also connotes a sublimity associated with Kantian might, but this consideration would not be relevant to an elitist, whose project is to stress the superiority of the mental to the physical.

I do not know how an elitist would explain the appeal of wolves-with-snakes-for-tongues for its target audience. I assume that they would think that the merging of two fearsome images would be a means of the threat of violence as well, even though no violence is shown, perhaps with the Freudian understanding that the genre of horror is usually "masochistic" whereas the genre of adventure is "sadistic."

I would say, though, that although both images contain aspects of the dynamic-sublime, their predominant appeal is that of the combinatory-sublime.

The wolves-with-snake-tongues is clearly a hybrid image. It creates a sense of supernormal terror, strongly associated with the antipathetic affect of awe.

However, because most critics are opposed to analyzing the nature of violence as a fictional construct-- preferring rather to make spurious conflations to real-world political ideology-- most such critics will not perceive that Superman, too, is a hybrid figure: that he looks like a man but is seen performing an act with a heavy car that only another heavy machine should be capable of performing.

Both images, then, appeal to the human imagination in terms of their ability to meld two or more things that do not generally go together. In isophenomenal fiction, such as my example of Conrad in Part 2, the author can only appeal to the imagination through simile: Conrad's sea is "like" a sheet of ice. In contrast, in the world of the marvelous metaphor takes precedence over simile. Superman is not like a machine; he has the same power of a machine, and the demon-wolves' tongues don't look like snakes; they are snakes.

I submit then, that even though elitist critics are not generally aware of Kant's concept of the dynamic-sublime, the general concept of "might" is one that they automatically associate with "escape," and therefore with "negative compensation." But the appeal of the combinatory-sublime is not so easily conflated with such an easily defined pleasure.  Given that this form of the sublime is more evident in all manifestations of the human imagination, regardless of phenomenality, I view its presence as a de facto demonstration of positive compensation. 

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