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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...

Saturday, April 26, 2014

STALKING THE PERFECT TERM: CAUSAL COHERENCE

In Part 1 of THE INTELLIGIBILITY QUOTIENT I wrote:

My reading of Bhaskar's REALIST THEORY OF SCIENCE led me to advocate a bifurcated conception of fictive causality, characterized by "regularity" and "intelligibility."

I used these two terms because Bhaskar had used them. However, every time I invoke the former term-- speaking, for instance, of "the regularity aspect of fictive causality"-- I find the term awkward.   I'm sure that part of my discomfort stems from certain risible associations with the word "regularity." In addition, the word doesn't seem to take in what I mean when I speak of how "the marvelous" intrudes upon the ordered world of normal causation.

I recalled a phrase from Northrop Frye's ANATOMY OF CRITICISM, in which he asserts that literary criticism should mirror the physical sciences in making "an assumption of total coherence." In science, this coherence implies that every physical law impacts upon and coheres with every other physical law. In science's domain at present, there are no fields of space where, as Lovecraft put it, the laws can be different than they are in the fields we know; no obtuse angles that can suddenly behave as if they were really acute.

So my solution to my discomfort is that from now on everything I denotes as "regularity" will be termed "causal coherence" in the labels and just plain "coherence" in text. The label differentiation is meant to distinguish it from my use of the term "coherence" as an indicator of a particular type of critical merit, as I explained in TERMINOLOGICAL TRACKDOWN PT. 1. 

 I articulated the concept in response to Susanne Langer’s useful distinction between “discursive symbolism” and “presentational symbolism” in her 1942 book PHILOSOPHY IN A NEW KEY. Langer did not say anything about judging particular literary manifestations of these two forms of symbolism.  In contrast, I wanted to expound on ways in which these very different symbolic discourses could be used competently or not so competently.

Over the years since I first descanted on matters Langerian, though, I've hardly ever used "coherence" in this manner: to describe the qualitiative merit of a work's use of either "discursive" or "presentational" symbolism. So this becomes another term that is not incorrect, just inadequate for continued use. I will now speak of the "coherence aspect of causality" because the word "coherence" better describes what happens in a reader's consciousness when he sees a supposedly coherent world violated by the phenomenality of the marvelous; that is, when a world that seems in some ways like our own becomes at least partially incoherent by the presence of a numinous-seeming situation, object or presence, be it the entire fantasy-mythos of Tolkien or the "one gimme" of Jules Verne's Nautilus.

Therefore my "bifurcated conception of fictive causality" from now on will be characterized by two aspects, "coherence" and "intelligibility." For the three phenomenalities these terms sort out the same way the old ones did:

NATURALISTIC-- fictive causality is both coherent and intelligible
UNCANNY-- fictive causality is coherent but not entirely intelligible
MARVELOUS-- fictive causality is neither entirely coherent nor entirely intelligible




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