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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, January 24, 2014

PROPPIAN PONDERINGS PT. 2

"I don't like brutality.  I like heroics. I like the blood of heroes."-- THE BLOOD OF HEROES (1989)


In this essay I review-compared the 1987 film THE RUNNING MAN with the 1989 film THE BLOOD OF HEROES.  Both are films about violent futuristic sports. The first story is literally a "bloodsport"-- one in which the main player is supposed to be killed by the game-- while the second tale is more comparable to modern-day sports stories, in which players may be expected to wreak great violence upon one another in order to win, but not to kill one another.  The first is centered upon one centric hero, a "Ben Richards" (Arnold Schwarzenegger), whose few allies do not share the main stage with him.  The second revolves more around the fortunes of a team that plays the futuristic "Game," which I described as "a combination of football, hockey, and gladiatorial combat."  However, only two of the players, "Kidda" (Joan Chen) and "Sallow" (Rutger Hauer) are centric characters, with their fellow players functioning as support-cast.

Neither the solo-hero Richards nor the ensemble-team of Kidda and Sallow are unambiguous examples of Vladmir Propp's "seeker" function, which Propp defined along these lines: "if a young girl is kidnapped,,,, and if Ivan goes off in search of her, then the hero of the tale is Ivan and not the kidnapped girl.  Heroes of this type may be termed seekers." 

With respect to RUNNING MAN's Richards, the hero is initially not "seeking" to overthrow the corrupt government of his future world.  I've commented that, in contrast to Stephen King's novel, Richards' "light bulb" realization that The Repressive Government Is Bad does not prove credible and seems to be just a tired device to make film-audiences identify with Richards.  Though Richards has risen to the position as the pilot of the police department's helicopter, he's genuinely shocked when his bosses tell him to shoot down civilians.  One might observe that Richards is "victimized" for this action by being sentenced to prison-- which sentence eventually leads him to be recruited by the "Running Man" game-show.  Still, the character's act of disobedience is meant to signal his innate heroism.  In prison, prior to being recruited by the game-show, Richards encounters some members of a resistance group that does wish to overthrow the evil government.  At first he sneers at the rebels, and his words sound like those of a demihero: "I'm not into politics. I'm into survival."  But his actions bely these words: the villain Killian is only able to coerce Richards into entering the game by threatening the lives of the rebels.  And of course Richards' triumphant conquests of the various "Running Man" executioners are part and parcel of the normative image of the adventure-hero.  Thus, though RUNNING MAN is far from being the best example of this hero-type-- in fact, it's pretty crappy next to inspired efforts like Schwarzenegger's TOTAL RECALL-- it still displays the pattern of a "seeker" type of hero, who in turn represents the "idealizing will."

The team of "juggers" in BLOOD OF HEROES really are primarily concerned with survival, at least at the outset.  And also in contrast to RUNNING MAN, there's never any suggestion that they can do anything to alter the political status quo of their futuristic world.  Rutger Hauer's character Sallow is, as I note in my review, the old pro with the tragic past. Long ago he was feted in the big cities, but he offended the aristocrats and so found himself playing his game in rude "dog-towns."  In contrast, the considerably younger character Kidda covets what Sallow lost.  Once she manages to join Sallow's team, she convinces him to return to one of the cities that exiled him, to challenge the professional players in the "Big Leagues."  Kidda hopes to be noticed by League scouts so that she can reap the financial rewards of professionalism.  Sallow, however, is motivated more by his own past grievances, not any practical considerations.  Not only does he not expect to overthrow the aristocracy, he also has no illusions of regaining his lost social status.  But when the professionals accept the challenge, the Game, not its financial rewards, becomes paramount in their minds. Kidda becomes the focus of the game at its climax, since her function is to make the equivalent of a dramatic "touchdown."  Though Kidda has no dialogue during this sequence, the tension of the scene suggests that even in her the spirit of the sport has triumphed over motives of financial advancement.

That said, even if I find Sallow and Kidda to conform to Propp's notion of "the seeker"-- since they certainly aren't forced to challenge the establishment-- they remain representations of "the existential will."  The same admixture of "idealizing will" and "existential will" also appears in my earlier examples LOST IN SPACE and LOST WORLD, and this is consistent with what I wrote on this theory in APES AND ANGELS 2:

I should have said earlier that these two forms of will, these "two souls" that seem to dwell in every human's breast, only appear in fictional characters to the extent that their creators choose to emphasize one or both.  It is possible to have characters who are purely devoted to glorious ideals, or purely devoted to the persistence of ordinary existence.  It is also possible to have combinations of the two, but one form of will must dominate over the other, by the same logic I pursued in JUNG AND SOVEREIGNTY and other essays with regard to the admixture of mythos-elements in a given work.

This will probably be all that I have to say for the present on Propp's categories, though I anticipate at least one more essay on the topic of "sports heroes" and "sports demiheroes."



 

PROPPIAN PONDERINGS PT. 1

Though I've sustained some limited influence from Vladimir Propp, I've only referred to him in three essays so far-- here, here, and here-- and I didn't include him among my TWELVE PILLARS OF WISDOM.

On one level, I admire the simplicity of his attempt to study folklore-personae as "functions," which led to this pellucid generalization on the nature of folkloric protagonists:

The hero of the tale may be one of two types: (1) if a young girl is kidnapped,,,, and if Ivan goes off in search of her, then the hero of the tale is Ivan and not the kidnapped girl.  Heroes of this type may be termed seekers. (2) If a young girl or boy is seized or driven out, and the thread of the narrative is linked to his or her fate and not to those who remain behind, then the hero of the tale is the seized or banished boy or girl. There are no seekers in such tales.  Heroes of this variety may be called victimized heroes.-- Vladimir Propp, MORPHOLOGY OF THE FOLKTALE, p. 36.

On another level, I've been less enthusiastic about his manifestation of what I call the "recipe mentality," and in the last of the three essays I stated my credo:


 the Proppian distinction doesn’t capture the difference in character-attitude, which might be fairly deemed a failure of Propp’s analysis


Years ago on some comics-forum I did "feel out" the idea as to whether one could divide pop-fictional heroes by whether they were proactive, like Propp's "seeker," or reactive, like Propp's "victimized hero." This was long before I coined my term "demihero," but even then, I was looking for some method to separate protagonists who looked for trouble from those who simply coped with trouble when it came their way.  Yet following Propp in his concentration on plot-elements alone proved to be a dead end. In this essay I gave an example of two sets of "victimized heroes"-- the respective casts of two teleserials, 1965'S LOST IN SPACE and 1999's THE LOST WORLD.  I demonstrated that despite similarities of continuing plot-situations, the "goal-affects" of the first series represented the affect of "persistence" while the second series represented the affect of "glory."

When I wrote the EXPENDITURE ACCOUNTS series of essays, I had not yet formulated my terms for the type of "will" represented by each affect.  I formulated these terms a few months later in APES AND ANGELS.  If I had, I would have said, in addition to terming the LOST IN SPACE crew "demiheroes" and the LOST WORLD group "heroes," that each represented respectively the "existential will" and the "idealizing will."

The converse of course would be equally true.  Though the term "seeker" sounds like the sort of protagonist who actively seeks trouble, it's just as possible to posit a seeker who represented the dyad "persistence/existential will" as the dyad "glory/idealizing will."  Indeed, one of my recent dual-reviews of two films with loosely similar topics supplied just such an opposition, which I'll discuss more fully in Part 2.


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

BITER BIT: FILM AT ELEVEN

Though this essay still concerns Alan Moore's most recent-- but probably not final-- rant-fest, I'm separating it from the "Elitist Neopuritan" series because I want to make a broader point about the ironies of scapegoating.

Back in 2009 I wrote of one of Moore's rants:

...scapegoating has an indispensable function in both literature and religion. The notion that one can dispense with evil (be it moral evil or mere physical calamity) by dispensing with a representative of evil is well-suited to both of these forms (to use the Cassirer term).

Scapegoating isn't quite as suited to politics. It's true that every political system advances itself by excoriating (whether directly or by implication) an opponent who represents a contrary belief. It's also true that this excoriation can sometimes lend to a process of scapegoating. But political systems inherently require compromise between rival factions. Even Machiavelli, who as Cassirer noted was the first to speak openly of the *realpolitik* that took place in Renaissance versions of the smoke-filled back room, admitted the necessity for compromise between rival powers.

A scapegoat, then, is not the same as an opponent. You may compromise or come to terms with the latter, but the former exists to be sacrificed.
In this essay my problem was with Moore's simplistic-- and badly substantiated-- reading of American culture.  In this 2012 essay, I found his view of Ian Fleming's James Bond no less problematic.  While I allowed that Moore might have valid reasons for his ire toward the injustices of masculinist culture in real life, I found that his satire of Bond was almost purely Moore's own projection, and as such, another example of scapegoating rather than a genuinely thought-out criticism.

Now, neither of these developments is ironic.  What is ironic is that over the past few years Moore himself has become the target of another form of scapegoating.  And golly gee, guess who doesn't like having his work cherry-picked for anti-liberal meanings!


I'm not sure what started the trope "Alan Moore Writes Rapey Comics," though I did find one blog-post from 2009 on the topic.  In the rant-fest Moore blames Grant Morrison for continuing the trope, but I for one have been seeing it for at least the past three years on various forums.  Moore's response to this accusation is muddled and verbose, suggesting that readers have overlooked the number of "far greater prevalence of consensual and relatively joyous sexual relationships" in his work.  Further, what scenes of rape or other violent sexual encounters Moore did pen should be seen in a spectrum of truth-telling about real life: "my thinking was that sexual violence, including rape and domestic abuse, should also feature in my work where necessary or appropriate to a given narrative, the alternative being to imply that these things did not exist, or weren’t happening."

Though I would debate many of the specific political observations Moore makes in the rant-fest, I'm completely on his side in stating that an author seeking to address adult themes should be free to do so without fear of, well, scapegoating.  Yet Moore, offended though he is by being misrepresented as a rape-happy sadist, fails to see that he's been so victimized because the topic of rape itself has become an ultraliberal hot-button issue. In this essay I traced how Mark Millar was pilloried last August for making a simple-- if somewhat obtuse-- statement about the potential use of rape as a story-element. Various ultraliberals-- I define the term here-- jumped on Millar for not having defined rape the way they wanted it defined.  And at heart they are no different than the ultraliberals who have decided that Moore's use of violent sexuality goes over some ill-defined line.  It's a line that suggests the hectoring tone of Susan Brownmiller, co-founder of the feminist organization WAP:

We are unalterably opposed to the presentation of the female body being stripped, bound, raped, tortured, mutilated, and murdered in the name of commercial entertainment and free speech.

If Alan Moore were exposed to this quote, would he perceive that the censorious voices of the comic book world have evolved along the same lines as pundits like Brownmiller?  That, even though Moore is far more esteemed in the comics-world and the "outside world" than Mark Millar is, he has been stigmatized precisely because he has invoked the trope of the raped female at times.  To this mental and political outlook it does not matter how many times Moore has written of "consensual and relatively joyous sexual relationships." I don't imagine Moore would agree that he has used rape purely for mere "commercial entertainment," but he does believe that it was within his rights of "free speech" to write seriously on these and other adult topics as he pleased.


Nor can I see any compelling or worthy reason why I, or any other writer, should restrain themselves from addressing whatsoever issues they feel are worthy of address, if they have the courage to engage with those subjects in the face of the possible approbation and loss of livelihood which may be entailed.


I have always maintained that art-- not just fine art, but also popular art-- must be free to explore all such aspects, whether they represent "real life" or not.  I don't credence Moore's attempt to portray himself as nothing more than the noble teller of uncomfortable truths, especially when one sentence before the one quoted, he tries the old dodge of attacking the commercialization of non-sexual violence:


I genuinely cannot see any reason why lethal non-sexual violence should be privileged over sexual violence, other than a residual middle class discomfort or squeamishness over all matters pertaining to sex, which in this instance has taken on the protective colouration of a fairly spurious appeal to contemporary sexual politics.

But of course the "appeal" is not spurious.  The scapegoating of the hideous anti-liberal icon is intrinsic to both ultraliberal and ultraconservative ends of the political spectrum.   Alan Moore himself is just fine with scapegoating, as shown in the essays referenced. 

He just doesn't like being the one with the teeth in his rump.




 




Tuesday, January 21, 2014

MORE CASSIRER CONTEMPLATIONS

I continue to make slow progress through Edward Skidelsky's breakthrough book on Ernst Cassirer, not because the book is slow reading but simply due to other distractions.

 Chapter 4 addresses one of the principal ways in which Cassirer's assimilationist ambitions became out of step with the dominant "either/or" tendencies of 20th century philosophy.  Skidelsky asserts that in the early 20th century the "symbolic logic" of Bertrand Russell and Gottlob Frege, which focuses on the logic of "relations," abolished from philosophical circles the mathematics-affiliated logic used by Kant:

Russell extended the logicist enterprise from arithmetic to geometry, eliminating altogether Kant's synthetic a priori (p. 53).



  Skidelsky also observes that in contrast to Herman Cohen, the doyen of the Marburg school, Cassirer was able to assimilate symbolic logic into his burgeoning system, as represented by his "first work of systematic philosophy," SUBSTANCE AND FUNCTION (1910), a book I have not read.
Skidelsky summarizes Cassirer's ability to see that Kant's dependence on the traditional logic of mathematics had been superseded:

The central, defining feature of traditional logic... is that it takes as its starting point a class of individuals.  Concept formation is then envisaged as the abstraction of common properties from the members of this class. Higher-order concepts can be formed through a further process of abstraction, until finally one reaches the ultimately extensive and empty concept of "being." Traditional logic is perhaps adequate to  classificatory systems such as botany and zoology; these were, after all, Aristotle's original prototypes.  But it cannot do justice to mathematics or mathematical natural science, for the concepts of mathematics, as serial concepts, are not abstracted from independently existing classes of objects but rather constructed through the iteration of some basic relation... (p. 59) 

Skidelsky credits Russell with having "shown how the serial concepts of mathematics might be expressed in purely logical terms," in contrast to Kant, who believed that man's inability to reduce mathematics to logic demonstrated that the former's status as "a priori."

However, Russell viewed the logic of relations simply as "the way in which the truth of certain sentences is entailed by the truth of others."  Cassirer, Skidelsky claims, never understood that Russell was entirely focused on using the logic of relations to express "truth-value," while Cassirer "was interested in concepts not simply as components of possible propositions but as tools for the organization and mastery of experience."  In this Cassirer was very much still in the tradition of Kant, with his belief in the supremacy of man's reasoning powers.

Skidelsky faults Cassirer for not having perceived the philosophical gulfs separating him from Russell and other, more popular proponents of symbolic logic.  This counts as a very small fault in my book, however, since I believe that even if Cassirer had been aware of that gulf, it would not have changed his conviction in the power of reason to subsume all differences without eliminating them:

In contrast to Aristotle's generic concept, which obliterates all specific differences, the functional concept retains these differences; indeed, it generates them from out of itself (p. 68).

Anyone familiar with Cassirer will see in this summary the same attitude the philosopher displayed with respect to his "symbolic forms:" a wide-eyed, pluralistic appreciation of both diversity and unity.

I will note in passing that I find it interesting to re-conceive my own current attempts at taxonomy-- that of formulating the generic concepts that unify all forms of the heroic and superheroic idioms-- has probably been informed by the traditional logic of Aristotle.  Still, my purpose in so doing is one that applies more toward a Cassirerean appreciation of unity in diversity, and vice versa, than to Bertrand Russell's concentration on "truth-value."



Saturday, January 18, 2014

ALAN MOORE, ELITIST NEOPURITAN PT. 3

I took issue with Alan Moore's remarks about the superhero filmgoing audience in this essay in part because they were expressed incoherently, with no justification as to why he had contempt for said audience.  In a more recent interview, he has expanded those thoughts, which are no longer incoherent but are still kind of stupid.

The subject of comic-related-films (or film-related-comics) had understandably arisen and, when asked, I had ventured my honest opinion that I found something worrying about the fact that the superhero film audience was now almost entirely composed of adults, men and women in their thirties, forties and fifties who were eagerly lining up to watch characters and situations that had been expressly created to entertain the twelve year-old boys of fifty years ago. I not only feel this is a valid point, I also believe it to be fairly self-evident to any disinterested observer. To my mind, this embracing of what were unambiguously children’s characters at their mid-20th century inception seems to indicate a retreat from the admittedly overwhelming complexities of modern existence. It looks to me very much like a significant section of the public, having given up on attempting to understand the reality they are actually living in, have instead reasoned that they might at least be able to comprehend the sprawling, meaningless, but at-least-still-finite ‘universes’ presented by DC or Marvel Comics. I would also observe that it is, potentially, culturally catastrophic to have the ephemera of a previous century squatting possessively on the cultural stage and refusing to allow this surely unprecedented era to develop a culture of its own, relevant and sufficient to its times.

Not only is this a stupid opinion-- even though Alan Moore is obviously NOT a stupid man-- it's also a fairly routine and boring one.  If the adults of current years have learned to enjoy superhero films, it cannot be because there is something intrinsically entertaining about larger-than-life spectacle.  It must be "a retreat from the admittedly overwhelming complexities of modern existence."  The argument "fantasy offends realistic concerns" dates back to Legman and Wertham.  Those worthies dissed juvenile comics-- the sort of things Moore has found entirely appropriate to their audience-- because said comics confused youngsters about real-life matters of science (Superman's absurd defiance of physical law) or history (Superboy helping George Washington cross the Delaware).

And of course, it's Alan Moore, so he must work in a shot or two at Marvel and DC Comics. who are
"squatting possessively on the cultural stage and refusing to allow this surely unprecedented era to develop a culture of its own, relevant and sufficient to its times." Of course not all superhero films are derived from Marvel and DC, though certainly they are in the majority.  But if films are made of relatively recent properties like HELLBOY (1993) or SCOTT PILGRIM (2004), are those films also squatting on the cultural stage? 

I'm not finished reading the Big Long Alan Moore interview yet, so it may be that he has more to say about the pernicious effect of superhero films.  If so, I'll address such remarks later.

OF SHERLOCK AND PSYCHOS PT. 2

In PART 1, I said this of Sherlock Holmes' unusual deductive abilities:

After weighing the matter, I would say that most of Holmes' amazing observations about people still tend to belong to the naturalistic, as they do not create a sense of strangeness.  So Holmes uses a naturalistic, not an uncanny, version of the "illusionism" trope. 

Having said that most of these demonstrations of mental superiority are naturalistic, by what criterion can one judge even a few of them to enter the domain of the uncanny?

The most striking-- literally-- example of an uncanny employment of such skills appears in the 2009 SHERLOCK HOLMES film.  In this essay I noted that Holmes showed rather "hyped-up" combative skills in this film.



What I did not then note is that in this scene Holmes-- who is obviously less heavily muscled than his opponent-- is utilizing his deductive skills as Doyle never did and probably would not have: to suss out his opponent's weaknesses and to plan his attack with machine-like efficiency.  Thus this film, which I have not yet reviewed, would fit the uncanny version of my trope for "uncanny skills." The film's use of graphics to depict the way Holmes thinks-- projecting words or images onto the screen, to share diegetic space with the actors-- also imparts an aura of "strangeness" to Holmes' computer-like cogitations.

But it may not always be necessary to use visual graphics to suggest mental strangeness. 


In my review of the 1931 adaptation of the Doyle short story, THE SPECKLED BAND, I deemed this film to be uncanny due it features 'a method of murder so peculiar that it falls into my category for "bizarre crimes."  Said method is that of an evil stepfather forcing his stepdaughter to sleep in a pre-designated room with a bell-cord pointlessly hanging over it, and then to introduce a swamp adder into the room's ventilator shaft, so that the serpent will crawl down the cord, kill its victim with a bite, and then retreat when called back up the bell-cord.

My rationale for deeming both the short story and its adaptations as works of the "uncanny-metaphenomenal" is the same as with all others: though there is no violation of the laws of cause and effect, causality's rules are bent, in that people, their societies, their devices or the creatures with whom they interact go beyond the domain of the naturalistic in terms of normal behavior.  In many cases, the person who commits the bizarre crime-- such as the near-supervillain Blofeld in Ian Fleming's THUNDERBALL-- is the only one associated with it.

However, the villain of SPECKLED BAND may conceive of his bizarre murder-method, but the hero mirrors the villain's ingenuity by being able to deduce the plot by piecing together such disparate clues as a useless bell-cord and a mysterious whistling sound-- the one being the snake's method of entry, the other being the method by which the snake's owner calls the creature back up the cord.  In this story, Sherlock accomplishes his feat of detection by drawing upon his encyclopedic knowledge of exotica, rather than by making deductions based on reasonable premises.  In contrast, Holmes' solution of the HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES mystery depends not on special knowledge but on a careful observation of available facts.  Holmes' knowledge of exotica then may qualify him as an uncanny entity in this story, just as a similar body of knowledge elevates Professor Van Helsing in the DRACULA novel to a status above that of an ordinary individual.  


Ironically, neither method would work in the real world.  It's very unlikely that a snake could negotiate a hanging cord without simply falling off, and since snakes are deaf, it would hardly respond to a whistle-cue.  But these are merely errors of verisimilitude.  Such errors don't affect whether or not a work logically qualifies as a metaphenomenal one.  And even if some character in the movie stopped the proceedings and started telling the audience that there was no such thing as a "swamp adder," such a scene by itself would only rate as a "fallacious figment" in the naturalistic mode.  A similar scene appears at the beginning of 1965's THE ALPHABET MURDERS, when Tony Randall briefly breaks the fourth wall to tell the audience that nothing unusual is going to happen.  In contrast, a "figment" in the uncanny mode can be seen in 1968's HEAD, where the Monkees' attempt to win clear of the clichés of the entertainment industry are doomed, and they remain the prisoners of their own, or someone else's, "heads."


Thursday, January 16, 2014

THEORETICAL GOODNESS, PRACTICAL VIOLENCE

I've noticed, in my process of responding to Noah Berlatsky, that in several essays he has asserted that superhero narratives conflate goodness with violence.

I won't say that they never do.  But I don't think that this is the representative intent behind even the simplest of them.

Rather, in superhero narratives specifically, and combative narratives generally, the intent is not that the two are identical, but that they are linked.

In always-handy Wikipedia I read:

In Ancient Greek the word praxis (πρᾶξις) referred to activity engaged in by free men. Aristotle held that there were three basic activities of man: theoria, poiesis and praxis. There corresponded to these kinds of activity three types of knowledge: theoretical, to which the end goal was truth; poietical, to which the end goal was production; and practical, to which the end goal was action.

Many later philosophers put aside "poiesis" and focuses upon what we have come to call "theoria and praxis," or "theory and practice."

It seems obvious to me that this is the vital linkage one sees in combative narratives that focus upon a hero winning over various menaces is also one of "theory and practice."

For example, regard this page from a war-era issue of the Golden Age Captain America:




At no time does the page stress that Captain America and Bucky are good because they are powerful.  Rather, after they have beaten the evil members of a criminal Bund, they conflate the worship of pure power with Nazism, and scorn the idea of hitting "men who are licked."

Does the authors-- presumably Joe Simon and Jack Kirby for the most part-- affirm that violence is a practical necessity?  Obviously so.  But the "theory" is goodness, and its superiority is borne out by the willingness of good men to fight for it in practice.

Thus, in contrast to Adin Bellou's famous aphorism "might makes right," what this page best illustrates is Abraham Lincoln's reversal on Bellou's formula:


Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.




Monday, January 13, 2014

A REALLY LONG DEFINITION OF VIOLENCE PT. 3

Although the definition of "violence" is my titular purpose, I've been obliged to discuss the topic of "might" first.  The formula "might makes right" is practically the unacknowledged motto of those practicing the politics of ressentiment, as I pointed out here  with respect to Noah Berlatsky's rewording of that motto:

"For the superhero genre, the best person in the world is the one with the greatest power; beating evil is a matter of hitting it harder."

Parts 1 and 2 of the long definition have thus situated "might" as every kind of conceivable activity.  Though the person who conceived the aphorism almost surely was thinking of "might" as a superior capacity for violence, "greater might" does not really make right in all circumstances, either in fiction (WATCHMEN) or in the real world (the struggles of Nelson Mandela).  It is demonstrable that "lesser might" can make right even as "greater might" does.  Admittedly one sees "lesser might" in ascendance, both in fiction and real life, far less often than the converse.

So violence cannot be equated with might. In fact, many forms of might in modern society depend on money rather than guns.  An easy example would be the current battle regarding state-sanctioned abortion, in which some organizations attempt to "freeze out" the government by refusing to let their tax dollars be utilized for that purpose.

It is sensible, then, to see violent activity-- as well as sexual activity, to which the former is inextricably linked, if only in a cultural sense-- as a subset of a larger set comprising "all forms of activity/might." I propose this arrangement even though I realize that most ressentiment-critics will fail to make such distinctions, and fall back on the equivalence of might and violent expressions of power.

The next question is, what if anything distinguishes violence and sex-- which I see as violence's "mismatched partner in a buddy-cop film"-- from all other forms of activity?  In literary analysis I've usually referred to them as "kinetic elements" or "kinetic effects," but these determinations are not sufficient for a definition taking in both fiction and the real world.   This essay approached the question by negotiating the intellectual insights of Francis Fukuyama and Georges Bataille.

First Fukuyama:

Fukuyama's re-defines Plato's *thymos* as a spectrum of esteem ranging from how an individual seeks his own esteem from others to the way whole societies seek such validation. He then provides a dualistic schema as to how differing versions of thymotic action manifest in society. One version is "megalothymia," whose prefix means "great or exaggerated," and the other is "isothymia," with a prefix meaning "equal

Then Bataille:

There is certainly a somatic sense in which sex resembles violence, which is the principle reason why Freudians in particular have associated the two. But Bataille concentrates too much on the somatic similarity, the arena of an eros that may include the "sensuous frenzy" to destroy an enemy as much as the frenzy to consummate the sex-act.

This is where Fukuyama's formulations about thymos provide a theoretical guide to steer one clear of the rocks of Freudianism.

While there are ways in which sexual partners can attempt to "assault" one another-- ways which include, but are not confined to, rape-- sex is dominantly isothymic, in that sex usually requires some modicum of cooperation. Violence, then, dominantly conforms to Fukuyma's megalothymic mode insofar as it usually involves a struggle of at least two opponents in which one will prove superior to the other, though in rare cases fighters may simply spar with no intent of proving thymotic superiority

 So of all forms of human might/activity, violence and sex are the perfect exemplars of competition and cooperation, and therefore of the thymotic tensions that pervade all human societies and cultures.  Further, violence and sex are also the primary sources of what Bataille calls "sensuous frenzy," which may be termed the perception that one's thymos has become so expanded as to escape the confines of one's body.  People may love their money-- or, if they give it up, love dictating what it should or should be used for, as with the Little Sisters of the Poor-- but few real people get a feeling of ecstasy from it, a la Uncle Scrooge.




Assuming that the ressentiment-critic is even aware of the arguments that posit violence as a fundamental aspect of human nature, said critic will almost certainly reject the argument out of hand.  Attempts to conflate superheroes-- or violent heroes generally-- with fascism are always built upon the supposition that violence is not intrinsic; that it is a demon that can banished by invoking comparisons to anti-liberal forces like the KKK and proponents of eugenic control, as Berlatsky does in the cited essay.  Though Berlatsky knows that American superheroes were not produced in a literally fascist society, the spectre of fascism-- supposedly the worship of force-- is an ever-present danger, if one happens to swear by that great insight: "monkey see monkey do." Here's Berlatsky in the comments-section:

...fascism in particular tends to equate violence and goodness, and power as itself righteous. That’s not the case for left ideologies, which are about equality, and so don’t tend to elevate individual power as the apotheosis of goodness.

Berlatsky's "violence=goodness" equation misrepresents the appeal of fictional violence as being one of crypto-fascism.  It's also significant that where he's willing to invoke "the hermeneutics of deceit" to find fascism in violent conflict irrespective of the circumstances, he doesn't apply the same hermeneutics to those supposedly more "equal" societies:

Fascism is particularly inclined to promote might as right; it’s a worship of power. Like I said upthread, liberal and communist philosophies don’t do that; they tend to be interested in promoting equality (though of course they’re perfectly capable of supporting state violence.)

By framing his observations on "liberal and communist philosophies" in this manner, Berlatsky contrives to make it sound as if the exercise of force is not a central aspect of those philosophies, as it is with fascism.  A true hermeneutics of deceit would assume, with Machiavelli, that states built on those philosophies would simply have more roundabout ways of expressing their might, even when they are not "supporting state violence."  Certainly, though I support Obamacare in its overall intention, I would never deny that it is a manifestation of might, even if its purpose is to promote a particular form of "equality."

To keep the more liberal philosophies from being temporarily affected by fictional displays of violence-- that is, to keep the monkey from seeing, and perhaps imitating what he sees-- the ressentiment-critic must constantly harp on the supposed similarities between Superman and storm troopers. 

This is the last of the essays under this heading, though some of the following essays will also investigate issues of violence in fiction.  So the really long definition is hardly concluded.




Saturday, January 11, 2014

A REALLY LONG DEFINITION OF VIOLENCE PT. 2

When I use the term "might" in the formula "might makes ego," I use it not in the sense Kant (in translation) used the term, as a level of power that evokes the sublime. I am obliged to use it in the same way it's used in the famous aphorism, "might makes right," where "might" denotes any kind of energy, or what I have called "dynamicity." For this essay it should be understood that the word "might" denotes all three of the dynamicity-levels that I have worked out in earlier essays-- "basic strength," "might," and "dominance."

According to this Wikipedia entry the aphorism "might makes right" was first coined by an American "pacifist and abolitionist," Adin Ballou. The article also comments that Abraham Lincoln once reversed the formula, asserting that "right makes might." But Ballou's saying remains a touchstone for the sort of grievances Nietzsche would call "ressentiment." Such grievances, when politicized, lead to the assumption, mentioned in Part 1, that all entities that represent a disproportionate level of "might"-- as with the so-called "status quo"-- always deserves to be overthrown, and that to defend any of them is to prove oneself a reactionary.

While it is true that there are circumstances in which an entity of "greater might" subdues one of "lesser might," these circumstances obscure the greater reality: that everything we do, every act of self-determination we take, is an act of "might" in this generalized sense.  Dressing well for a job interview.   Driving to work.  Getting your car tuned up so that you can drive to work without an unhappy incident.  Writing essays for a blog.  All of these forms of "lesser might" are mundane and very un-spectacular. Nevertheless, one's (perceived) success in performing them builds one's ego, one's sense of self, while failing to perform them invalidates the ego.  This remains an exact parallel to success and failure in more spectacular undertakings.

It's easy to sling out a pat phrase like "might makes right" in order to make some critique of conservatism, the status quo, etc.  It's much more demanding to realize the extent to which the supposedly disproportionate forms of might-- the ones that are said to be curtailing the freedoms of those who possess only "lesser might"-- are not different in kind, only in degree.  In WATCHMEN, Rorschach is implicitly condemned for using his disproportionate physical toughness to intimidate others-- both those who are unquestionably guilty and those who are comparatively innocent of wrongdoing.  Yet his more mundane act of keeping a journal-- even though it is a journal filled with bilious ultra-conservative rants-- is an act of "lesser might" that will prevail over the "greater might" of Ozymandias.





Friday, January 10, 2014

A REALLY LONG DEFINITION OF VIOLENCE PT 1

The short one appeared here:

MIGHT MAKES EGO

In that essay I admired the succinctness of Berlatsky's theme statement, though I regard the statement itself as wrong-headed on every possible level.  Thus I rewrite Berlatsky's theme statement like this:

Superheroes exemplify goodness in their willingness to place their lives on the line in defense of the greater good. For the superhero genre, the best person in the world is the one who recognizes the world as a constant struggle of egos-- Hobbes' "war of all against all"-- and realizes his own ego by defending the good.

This formulation of course relates to my concept of the "idealizing will." I will not explore this concept and its near relations except to re-iterate a relevant "theme statement" from one of the "will" essays:

I advanced a theory of the hero and villain as dominantly positive or negative incarnations of a type of will, "the idealizing will," that aspires to go beyond the bare functions of the maintenance of life.

In less theoretical terms, I also referred to the ego-based nature of the superhero-- which for me applies to the hero-persona generally-- in the comments section for Berlatsky's essay.  A respondent named "Mywa" comes much closer to my "might makes ego" formulation, though finally agreeing with Berlatsky:


Superheroes negotiate through violence, but at their core they (are supposed to) embody agency, of which violence and aggression are just a form. We like violence because we value agency, and if that agency happens to find itself situated high among the echelons of power, well, that merely transposes what we like to a rule under which to live and a status quo to value

In my formulation, "might" equates to what Mywa calls "agency," though given that we later argued on the question of "the status quo" it seems likely that he (or she) might not view agency as being integral to the individual ego, as I do. Mywa defined the character Green Lantern as an "intergalactic space cop" and asserted his relationship to his bosses the Guardians as a typical "defense of the status quo,"to which I responded:


I said that the authorities would bring GL back to the fold because they couldn’t do without him, which is not quite the same thing as [their] tolerating the hero’s tantrums. It’s a power fantasy, all right, but it’s one in which the hero, despite his occasional failings, shows himself to be the center of the cosmos and the upholder of life. That’s precisely why I don’t find the heroes to represent “ideological unity;” they’re close to being solipsistic in their emphasis upon the individual ego. Not that one can’t find the same ego-fantasies imbedded in many more allegedly sophisticated works, including those that purport to be “liberal.”

I noted in the previous essay that the principal strategy used to conflate superheroes and fascism is to disregard the actual representations of any superhero narrative's diegesis.  One maneuver is to insist that the villains attacking the status quo should be viewed as liberating influences, while the status quo automatically deserves to be torn down, as Mywa assumes:

...your exploits and desires do little to challenge the pre-existing power structure (which you are a part of) in any meaningful way. What an exhilarating, quid-pro-quo power fantasy!

But as Mywa said, "agency" logically takes in every form of agency, not just violence.  And with that in mind I present an example of a work generally deemed more "sophisticated" and "liberal" than GREEN LANTERN, but which still demonstrates the same type of ego-fantasy:




There is no violence at all in these final panels of WATCHMEN, but there certainly is "might:" the might of the written word in Rorschach's diary, where he has chronicled the truth of Ozymandias' murderous scheme.  It's true that Alan Moore keeps the conclusion ambiguous.  We do not know positively that the redheaded dunce will choose to print Rorschach's diary and reveal the scheme, just as the late Rorschach would have wanted.  But there is a strong possibility that he will do so.  If this happens, this act of truth-telling will validate Rorschach's will over that of far more powerful entities like Ozymandias and Doctor Manhattan, even though Manhattan has the power of a vengeful deity.



Clearly Moore is choosing to emphasize the triumph of "lesser might" over "greater might" in defiance of what others would call the "might makes right" aspect of superhero comics-- even though Rorschach himself is one of Moore's vehicles for critiquing "might makes right" in other sections of WATCHMEN.



Nevertheless, whereas other heroes in the narrative end up going along with Ozymandias' scheme once it's a fait accompli, Rorschach the Fascist Believer in Violence is the vehicle through which truth is realized.  To me Rorschach's "attack on the status quo"-- a status quo represented by Manhattan and the other heroes-- is no more or less egoistic than Green Lantern's supposed "defense of the status quo."

I should note in closing that in the still ongoing comments-argument between myself and Berlatsky, Berlatsky has not yet responded to one of my observations re: "non-fascist superheroes:"

BTW, if there was a superhero series where the character ran away helping insurgents throw off their chains– wouldn’t that still be a case of “might makes right?”

More to come.



A REALLY SHORT DEFINITION OF VIOLENCE

In the essay SUPERHEROES ARE ABOUT FASCISM, Noah Berlatsky offers an assortment of generalized arguments about superheroes, violence and fascism that I have refuted under other circumstances.

in order to prove superheroes fascist, you dismiss the diegetic reality of the villains whom they fight, who most often are seen robbing and killing and swindling, and choose to perceive [these acts] simply as amorphous violations of a "dominant order."  That way, you paint the hero/ine as a mindless defender of that order-- one that can then be compared, no matter in what far-fetched manner, to whatever dominant order one doesn't like.

What strikes me as most interesting about Berlatsky's essay-- to which I have already responded at some length-- is that from a writer's standpoint he makes his point clear right away.  Whether his readers agree or disagree with him, he provides a succinct theme statement right away:


Superheroes conflate goodness with hitting things. For the superhero genre, the best person in the world is the one with the greatest power; beating evil is a matter of hitting it harder.

In the comments-section a respondent named Sean boils this assertion to its most familiar formula:


Actually, superheroes are about capitalist democracy – might makes right together with a bit of (self serving) moralistic waffle about justice and the individual.



Thus, though Berlatsky himself does not utter the familiar formula, anyone can read his first sentences and know that (a) he believes superheroes are governed by the ideal of "might makes right," (i.e., "the best person in the world is the one with the greatest power")  and (b) that this is a bad thing to believe.

What would be the countervailing statement to this assertion?  It comes down to this:

                               MIGHT MAKES EGO


And that's the short definition.  Long one to follow.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

OF SHERLOCK AND PSYCHOS

The motive for my recent meditations on the "nonbody" nature of the uncanny in this essay came about as I meditated on my analysis of the 1965 film A STUDY IN TERROR.

Sherlock Holmes, both in the canonical stories and in the character's many public domain adaptations, has been valuable to my studies in that he has been all over the phenomenal map.  In addition, though I've judged that the original canon does not generally manifest the mode of the combative, many of the adaptations-- including STUDY-- have been instructive about the ways in which a character known primarily for deduction became equally associated with martial adventures.

Now, when I declare STUDY IN TERROR to be a metaphenomenal film, I do so in the conviction that its use of the "perilous psycho" trope-- incarnate in the film's version of Jack the Ripper-- conveys the element of "strangeness" necessary for any metaphenomenal work. 

I also find that STUDY satisfies my requirements for a combative work: a narrative focus upon a plotline leading to an important battle at or near the story's climax, and a battle that depicts "spectacular violence" between two or more entities.  It is possible for one of the two to be *naturalistic* in nature-- which was my original estimation of this version of Holmes-- but for a work to be both combative and metaphenomenal, the other combatant must be either uncanny or marvelous.

I started thinking, though: in what qualities does Jack the Ripper's metaphenomenality inhere?  As his only qualification for the metaphenomenal is his status as a "perilous psycho," that metaphenomenality must inhere in a mental, "non-body" quality.  His madness is his method, and therefore his metaphenomenality.

So far so good.  But I began to wonder-- what about Sherlock's own mental attributes?  He isn't a psycho, at least in this version.  But his polymath deductive skills might qualify Holmes-- or some versions of Holmes-- as a metaphenomenal figure, in keeping with another trope, "Outre Outfits Skills and Devices."  Holmes does not use any special devices in most iterations, and though his traditional appearance has become iconic it is not in itself "outre."  But what of his mental skills?

The last time I weighed in on Sherlock's mental propensities, I judged that they were entirely naturalistic.  In my review of the 1922 SHERLOCK HOLMES I wrote:


Many of Doyle's Holmes tales inhabit a world between the naturalistic and the uncanny. In contrast to many detectives, who seem merely clever, Holmes repeatedly conveys the impression of an all-knowing psychic. However, this impression is always (both in original stories and media-adaptations) quickly dispelled by Holmes himself explaining his intuitions in terms of empirical observations. Holmes' deductive skills thus always register in the naturalistic mode and never in the uncanny.
But now I'm not so sure.  True, Holmes always offers rational reasons for his amazing deductions, and, unlike his creator, frowns upon the idea of psychic phenomena.  But in some sense, his abilities to descry peoples' occupations or peregrinations from their appearance appears much like the tricks of mentalists, who appear to be psychic by virtue of "knowing" things about strangers.  This comparison would also give Holmes a link to the trope of "enthralling illusionism."

After weighing the matter, I would say that most of Holmes' amazing observations about people still tend to belong to the naturalistic, as they do not create a sense of strangeness.  So Holmes uses a naturalistic, not an uncanny, version of the "illusionism" trope. 

However, I must consider that another aspect of his mental skill-set seems more uncanny. I called him a "polymath" before, and in truth one key to Holmes' deductions is his ability to know more than the common man knows.  There are many naturalistic characters who are virtual storehouses of knowledge.  Yet Holmes' fount of knowledge does, at times, seem to verge into the territory of the uncanny.  It might be best to posit that Holmes-stories are uncanny only when he taps into some knowledge that seems too recondite for even a consulting detective to know.

This in turn leads me to consider that other characters may have uncanny propensities due to their outre levels of knowledge. In Bram Stoker's DRACULA the human opponents of the vampire would be practically powerless to fight Dracula, if not for Van Helsing's knowledge of the occult.  By this logic Van Helsing would be an even stronger candidate to be considered an "uncanny" opponent to the "marvelous" central character.

Other polymaths appear throughout popular literature, and many of them show excessive abilities to devise a wide number of devices by virtue of scientific genius.  In A SHORT HISTORY OF HEROIC FANTASY-ADVENTURE I concluded that the dime novel "Steam Man of the Plains" seems to have been one of the first modernistic works of heroic fantasy-adventure, as well as depicting a combative encounter between the titular Steam Man and a band of nasty Indians.  The protagonist of that story, then, might be deemed to have an uncanny skill in being able to devise such a creation, even though the dominant phenomenality of the story is "marvelous." 


THE INTERSECTING AXES OF BODY AND NON-BODY IN THE NUM-THEORY

For reasons I'll explore in a future essay, I'm addressing the ways in which a given phenomenality manifests its qualities of what some have loosely called "mind" and "body"-- qualities which the poet Octavio Paz re-christened "non-body" and "body."

I first mentioned Paz's formulation in this essay:

I take the phrases "body" and "non-body" from an essay by Octavio Paz in CONJUNCTIONS AND DISJUNCTIONS. Paz was mindful of the fact that a lot of the words used by human beings in opposition to the physical body (as well as physical phenomena generally) are highly speculative, such as "soul" and "spirit." For that matter, even words like "mind" and "the unconscious," while more commonly used by materialists, are still "iffy."


"Non-body," then, was Paz's portmanteau term for all that intangible shit. I believe he meant it not as a viable category in itself but just as a means of spotlighting how human beings regard everything that informs their symbolic universe (that's Cassirer, again, BTW), be it tangible or intangible, corporeal or incorporeal, body or "non-body." It appeals to me as a means to subsume aspects of humanity that are sometimes ascribed to "mind," sometimes to "spirit."

It occurs to me that with both my categories of "the naturalistic" and "the marvelous," all of the "intangible shit" is highly dependent on whether or not the diegetic world depicted is one in which causality can or cannot be disrupted.  Whether the range of affects is dominated by the spectrum of fear and admiration (the naturalistic), or the spectrum of awe and exaltation (the marvelous), those "non-body" affects are dependent on the nature of the "body;" i.e., the causal universe.


In contrast, within the intermediate category of "the uncanny," body and non-body are somewhat in equilibrium.  Causality is not violated, and yet the affects that arise from works of the uncanny-- dominantly dread and fascination-- exceed in tonality the range of affects that dominate the category of the naturalistic.  Given that I have formulated my "ten tropes" as a means of showing how certain works exceed naturalistic limitations, it seems apposite to explore those tropes in terms of how they reveal the uncanny affects in terms of the ambivalence between body and non-body.

Going alphabetically:

ASTOUNDING ANIMALS-- Any animal whose behavior exceeds the limits of common expectations, be it Moby Dick or Jaws, belongs here.  Though an uncanny animal does not exceed causal limitations, its attitude can, as when I describe Jaws as demonstrating an "almost supernatural ferocity." 

BIZARRE CRIMES-- This trope concerns the commission of crimes for motives that go beyond the ordinary ends of "acquisition," and are done more or less for their own sake. This trope frequently crosses over into the terrain of the "perilous psycho," well represented by the 1935 film THE RAVEN, but it also takes in types who are not truly insane in the diegetic sense, as with Sade's character Juliette and certain criminal masterminds, like Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

DELIRIOUS DREAMS AND FALLACIOUS FIGMENTS-- Here the ambivalence is between the dreamer-- or daydreamer-- who conjures forth "dreams that become more real to [the audience] than reality."

ENTHRALLING HYPNOTISM AND ILLUSIONISM-- In the essay TEN DYNAMIC DEMONS I used the famous hypnotist Svengali as an example of a character who could extend his will over his victims even though he had no literal power.  But it also extends to the use of objects in such a way that they fool an audience into believing in magical transformations, even when that audience is aware that no magic has taken place. 

EXOTIC LANDS AND CUSTOMS-- The idea that there are real places on the earth that seem strange in and of themselves-- and that the people living in those places practice customs which seem like inversions of the audience's-- is a conceit that probably dates back to the first travelers' tales, though we know such stories best from Europeans like John Mandeville and Marco Polo.  For whatever reason, Africa became a nexus for the maintenance of peculiar peoples and their customs.  Many of these were imagined out of whole cloth but at times they were based on real cultures whose customs seemed strange to viewers, as with the serial JUNGLE GIRL, which bases its fictional lion-worshipping society on the real Masai.

FREAKISH FLESH-- This is the trope which places the most emphasis on "body," since it intimately concerns the body's many deviations from a hypothetical normality-- whether it be actual "freakish" distortions, as with the Hunchback of Notre Dame, or atypical phenomena like twins or dwarves, which are not distortions as such but which may convey a sense of supernatural "strangeness" under the correct conditions.

OUTRE OUTFITS SKILLS AND DEVICES-- This trope includes three bodily aspects beneath its "umbrella" because they often collude in creating an overall sense of dread or fascination for a given character, though all three can act independently. James Bond is probably the character best known for utilizing unusual, though not marvelous, devices, Tarzan for possessing perternatural skills due to his upbringing-- to say nothing of being additionally "outre" for wearing almost no outfit at all-- and the Lone Ranger for being a character who creates constant suspense re: maintaining a masked identity in a naturalistic setting.

PERILOUS PSYCHOS-- While there are some psychos who use uncanny gimmicks or commit bizarre crimes in addition to their being crazy, their insanity remains the baseline of their uncanny nature.  Many of them, such as Norman Bates, are not overly prepossessing apart from their mad qualities; in the 1960 PSYCHO Norman, after providing terror to the audience for roughly an hour, is easily sudbued by an entirely ordinary individual.  This more than anything suggests that a psycho need not be physically formidable to invoke dread and fear, in contrast to the more hefty maniacs seen in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART II and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE.

PHANTASMAL FIGURATIONS-- This trope has often been seen as providing a "victory" for causal reality, whenever a given heroine-- be it Jane Eyre or Velma Dinkley-- proves that the hideous, marvelous-seeming spectre is merely some masquerade or misunderstanding.  What is rarely understood is that the effort that has gone into creating the illusion is a source of strangeness in itself, much as one sees in stage-magician's illusions, even though the latter are done with the audience's partial complicity.  When a figure like the Hound of the Baskervilles remains a formidable spectre in the story, even after it has been revealed to be a phosphorescent dog, one cannot claim that reality has entirely won the game.

WEIRD FAMILIES AND SOCIETIES-- This parallels some of the same conceptual territory as "exotic lands and customs."  However, in the previous trope, the customs and the people who practice them have evolved as the dominant culture of a given location.  In the "weird families" trope, the unusual society exists within the sphere of a "normative" society, and is usually in opposition to its values.  A strong example of this trope is seen in the Satanist cult in THE SEVENTH VICTIM.



Friday, January 3, 2014

THE PROBLEM OF PLURALISM

Cassirer's criticism is not confined to preserving the ideal of a lively interaction between a multitude of cultural forms as expressions of human freedom-- the implicit guiding ethos of the cultural criticism unfolded in his philsophy of symbolic forms-- rather, his suspicion is directed more generally at the dismantling of cultural complexity.-- Enno Rudolph, SYMBOLIC FORMS AND CULTURAL STUDIES.

The "problem" I address in the above title is not intrinsic, but extrinsic.  Pluralism's problem is that it continually insists on the "cultural complexity" of which Rudolph speaks. But Edward Skidelsky's history of Cassirer, "the last philsopher of culture," illustrates again and again the fact that even many of those who claim to desire complexity resolve those issues in terms of simplistic "good vs. bad" rhetoric. I've recently critiqued this tendency in the fulminations of Alan Moore, here and here, but in Moore such crankiness is par for the course. It's rather disheartening, though, to realize that current philosophy has marginalized the contributions of Cassirer for similarly vacuous reasons.


In this early essay I celebrated Cassirer's ambitious task-- one I've endeavored to emulate-- of uniting the worlds that German idealism termed "the Naturwissenschaften and the Geisteswissenschaften," the natural sciences and the cultural sciences.  Though this task would probably by definition be open-ended-- a "never-ending battle," as it were-- the ideal seems anything but old-fashioned in my eyes.

In chapter 2 of ERNST CASSIRER, Skidelsky offers his take on the reason why Cassirer-- a German Jew who sought to reconcile the "two sciences"-- came to seem out of date to the thinkers of the early twentieth century.

The First World War brought an end to that era [of Cassirer's "Marburg school"], and with it the philosophy of neo-Kantianism.  [Herman] Cohen died in 1918.  The various social and intellectual forces he had striven to keep together rapidly came apart.  Socialists revolted against liberals, liberals turned their guns on socialists.  Anti-Semitism spread; young Jews lost faith in assimilation and turned increasingly to Zionism or international Marxism.  The intellectual world suffered the same polarization. The two cultures fell irretrievably apart; the Naturwissenschaften were given over to a reinvigorated positivism, while the Geisteswissenschaften shaded increasingly into political mysticism. Under these new conditions, the Marburg school disappeared almost without a trace.

Possibly Skideksky allows the "almost" in deference to his subject.  While the author's brief historical synopsis may be overly simple, he makes the devastating point that the very movement that sought reconciliation and synthesis was the mutual target for both positivism and mysticism.

If the logical positivists criticized neo-Kantianism for its residual idealism, many on the other side of the philosophical divide condemned it for its crypto-positivism.

Skidelsky does show that there may have been some genuine problematical positions expoused by the Marburg school.  However, these over-reactions from opposing sides of "the divide" suggest to me nothing so much as a pair of brawlers trying to fight one another no matter what-- brawlers who are quite willing to turn on anyone who tries to make peace.

Given my history as a comics-critic, it's natural that I should make comparisons between the "two cultures" of comics-fandom. Any parallels must be limited, though.  It's true that partisans of 'artcomics" often expouse critical positions suggestive of either positivism or, at the least, anti-idealism. Populist adherents of "the mainstream," however, hardly line up well with the "political mysticism" that led to Nazi Germany, despite the exaggerated rhetotic of Frederic Wertham and his apologists.  At the most one might say that mainstream defenders tend to see the idealization offered by fictional characters-- including, but not limited to, that old bugaboo the superhero-- as an "essence" to be enjoyed in itself, as opposed to being something reducible to some sociopolitical trope.

Further, the gains of positivism and what I call "ratiocentrism" in modern culture have caused many critics on opposing sides to use much the same terminology.  Thus Noah Berlatsky and Julian Darius may be total opposites in terms of the comics upon which each of them chooses to write.  But they end up using the same logical apparatus to sneer at sexy pictures.

This essay, I suppose, is a bit of a downer for my first essay of this year.  I should be clear that I'm not stating that I think pluralist criticism has been marginalized in the same way Skidelsky claims that neo-Kantianism has been.  This would hardly be the case since I've expressed some doubts about other aspects of Skidelsky's analysis of his subject.  Nevertheless, he offers a useful warning about how extremists can deliberately misrepresent the arguments of others-- especially of those offering a synthesis between extremes-- and with that warning in mind, one can view just how long the road ahead will be.