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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, November 24, 2014


In retrospect, I should have expected that the majority of works reviewed in the "uncanny phenomenality" would be dominated by "terror" more than "wonder," given the statement I made in THE ETHIC OF THE COMBATIVE PT. 2, where I also cited the now familiar Lovecraft quote:

Of these three patterns, I've hypothesized that the middle one, labeled "Might vs. Non-Might," is the most popular in the totality of literature (by which I mean, the "bad stuff" as well as the "good stuff.")
Now, assuming the truth of this, what would this pattern mean?
It might mean that the surest way to appeal to a human audience is to play upon their fear that they-- represented by the viewpoint characters of their stories-- are always on the verge of being overwhelmed by powers greater than themselves.  As noted in this essay, the aforementioned H.P. Lovecraft felt that fear was the most primal emotion:

THE OLDEST and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.
Though there are a lot of stories in which ordinary humans are menaced by the forces of "the unknown," the basic pattern is not confined to supernatural stories: a story like the 1962 film CAPE FEAR sports only a "known" fear, that of a ruthless criminal who impinges on an almost-helpless family.  It is also the same pattern we see in Hegel's opposition of the "bondsman"-- who in my system would represent "non-might"-- and the "lord," who of course represents "might."

So if fear has primacy in human emotions, as Lovecraft claims, then that would be the reason why terror might dominate all literary phenomenalities, if indeed it does. To oppose a viewpoint character's "non-might" with the overwhelming nature of some source of "might"-- be it an entity like Dracula or a domain like Wonderland-- would be the easier way to appeal to one's audiences.

That said, the appeal of "might vs. might," which implies that a viewpoint character may become a liberating source of might, using that potency to battle a source of domineering might. In the above essay, I complained that Hegel did not address this possibility.

...within stories that emphasize "might vs. might"-- which is to say, combative stories-- the plurality of might implies that no lord is ever so mighty that a bondsman cannot assume his power and knock him from his lofty position. Of course, in real life this often means "meet the new boss, same as the old boss."  But in fiction we can indulge in the possibility that the new lord will make better choices than the old one.

But the elegant simplicity of this process is of course not acknowledged by ideological critics. Ironically, some of them are more terrified by the hero who rises to fight the tyrant than by the tyrant, rather than feeling engaged with sympathy for the hero's travails. The ideological critic-- the obvious example seen here--   is on some level attracted to the "might vs. non-might" formula, in that he imagines himself defeating tyrants by lofty rhetoric and psychological analysis.  From there, it's just a short step for the ideologue to defend the tyrant as being a mistreated "other," tyrannized by some superheroic storm trooper-- a tendency I identified in both Frederic Wertham and Gershon Legman. In POP GOES THE PSYCHOLOGY I noted that their fatuous attempts to read all crimefighting heroes as exemplars of lynch-law were undone by their ignorance of the actual structure of adventure-fiction:

...while the jury may remain out on the question as to whether the adventure-genre can inspire any sort of sadistic vibe in their audiences-- a question I'll address more fully in a future piece-- it seems obvious to me that when heroes fight villains in adventure-tales, the narrative action could not be less like a lynching, much less a Sadean sadist torturing helpless victims or a gangster shooting down old ladies in the street. Wertham and Legman dance around the difference by trying to make it sound as if the villains are merely stand-ins for despised minorities and the like, which argument remains a linchpin of Marxist oppositional thought, both in modern comics-criticism and elsewhere. But neither author can totally expunge this difference of narrative action: in the adventure-genre, *the villain can defend himself.* He may be fated to lose the struggle-- indeed, until recently he always did-- but the struggle itself is essential to the adventure-genre, as it manifestly is not with the crime genre. As Wertham and Legman both point out, the crime-genre books usually ended with a last-minute destruction of the rampaging crook as a "sop" to morality. But the struggles of hero and villain in the adventure-genres-- best represented in comic books by the superhero-- are not thrown in at the last minute. Narratively, structurally, such physical struggles are the selling-points of the genres, and so cannot be conflated with either the crime genre or the Sadean paradigm by any truly rational approach.
 Since both writers made so many cutting remarks about conflating superheroes with fascists, it would have been interesting to ask both if they believed that the real Nazis had been defeated with lofty rhetoric and psychological analysis.

In conclusion, while I believe it likely that the formula "might vs. non-might" dominates the majority of all literary works, in all three phenomenalities, I will speculate of the three the domain of the marvelous may be most amenable to the formula "might vs. might," simply because works in this domain are given the license to stray the furthest from consensual experience, and thus, to imagine ways in which heroes can fight tyrants on the tyrants' terms, without becoming tyrants themselves.

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