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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...

Friday, June 13, 2014

A QUICK SHOT OF ECSTACY

I observed in FIEDLER NABBED  that Leslie Fiedler was not able to advance a theory that described "ecstatics" or gave reasons as to why this mode should be preferable to the more standard literary modes of analysis, "ethics" and "aesthetics."  As I often do, I turn to Carl Jung for elucidation:

Almost every day we can see for ourselves, when falling asleep, how our fantasies get woven into our dreams, so that between day-dreaming and night-dreaming there is not much difference.  We have therefore two kinds of thinking: directed thinking, and dreaming or fantasy-thinking.  The former operates with speech elements for the purpose of communication, and is difficult and exhausting; the latter is effortless working as it were spontaneously, with the contents ready to hand, and guided by unconscious motives. -- Jung, THE PSYCHOLOGY OF THE UNCONSCIOUS.

I won't dwell long on Jung's categories, since I discussed them here to some extent. What I want to consider here is the possibility that Fiedler, in responding to an "ecstatics" that he apparently found in both the art of William Faulkner and the junk of Margaret Mitchell, was responding to the spontaneous quality found in "fantasy-thinking." I think that late in life Fiedler realized that the same basic principles of imagination informed both Temple Drake and Scarlett O'Hara. However, given that Fiedler's early work seems more strongly influenced by both Freud and Marx than by Jung or any comparable figure, he couldn't really hammer out what principles linked the two types of fictional works.

I assert that "fantasy thinking" is heavily dependent on what Jung called the "irrational functions" of consciousness; that is, "sensation" and "intuition."  Jung contrasts these to the "rational functions" of "thinking" and "feeling," which involve a process of conscious judgment (do I like so-and-so, do I agree with Ayn Rand) which can be subsumed under the activity of "directed thinking." However, the irrational functions don't wait on judgment: they just occur spontaneously, and then allow the subject to make of them what he will. The experience of "sensation"-- in which one literally perceives one's surroundings through the senses-- is much more common than that of "intuition," in which one seems to perceive a sentiment or idea without sensory meditation.

Jung devised his categories to describe the multifarous nature of humankind: why some people are more oriented on feelings, others on thoughts, etc.  The psychologist did not apply the categories to literature, but I have attempted to do so recently in the essay FOUR BY FOUR, in which each of the four functions can be found in a specific potentiality one may express in art:

The KINETIC is a potentiality that describes the relationships of sensations.

The DRAMATIC is a potentiality that describes the relationships of discrete personalities.

The THEMATIC is a potentiality that can describe the relationships of abstract ideas.

The MYTHOPOEIC is a potentiality that may describe the relationships of symbols.

To state my thesis as simply as possible, I believe that the majority of what we call "popular art" is conceived through "fantasy-thinking" alone, and that its charm is that it appeals primarily to sensation, while inevitably calling some degree of symbolic values into being through a more or less intuitive process.

In contrast, what some call "canonical art" may well begin with the irrational functions, but it is soon subsumed by one or both of the rational ones: of thinking, of feeling, or both. Traditional literary criticism has been so wedded to the idea of the rational in art that even the process of symbolic formation-- a process highly dependent on an artist intuitively bringing together a congeries of meaningful images or tropes-- has often been relegated to the function of "thinking."

But though the irrational functions are somewhat damped down in "high art," they are not entirely absent: thus we see a critic like Camille Paglia attempting to draw attention to the visceral nature of art in her famous (or notorious) book, SEXUAL PERSONAE.

For all the very real differences between "high art" and "low art," they are bound together by their sharing of the irrational functions, which are the cornerstone of the "fantasy-thinking" process. It is a spontaneous process which at its most complex levels cannot be reduced to rational judgments, and for that very reason, incites a pleasure that is literature's closest analogue to the religious concept of "ecstacy."

Some will not credit Leslie Fiedler's implication that Scarlett O'Hara incarnated both a sensual and a symbolic presence comparable to the presence of Temple Drake. But it's my continued assertion that those who cannot see this commonality are not honestly regarding the combination of sensuality and symbolic value in the Faulkner creation, but are rather responding only to the latter figure's incarnation of "thinking" and "feeling" values-- thus moving in lockstep with a thoroughly barren elitist tradition of literary criticism.


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