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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...

Sunday, March 30, 2014

WHEN FUNNY ANIMALS ATTACK

Technically the words "funny animal" could be used for real-life critters who perform amusing stunts, like the contenders in Dave Letterman's "Stupid Pet Tricks." But it's generally used as it is in this Wiki-page: to signify creatures who are anthropomorphic in some way.

One variety is the fully humanized animal, who regularly walks on two legs, may wear clothes like a human, and who frequently interacts with cartoon versions of human beings.



Another type behaves in some ways like an amimal, and usually walks (or flies, or swims) as its real-world counterpart does. However, at any time such types can "take a break" and do identifiably human things.

They may do nothing more than think coherent thoughts, like the titular star of Disney's 1964 film THE THREE LIVES OF THOMASINA.



They may imitate only a few human actions, like standing on two legs. as Garfield often does. A
related but more outrageous type like Snoopy doesn't regularly wear clothes but can don them whenever he wants to take on another identity.



Some continue to go on all fours but can talk like-- and even to-- human beings, a la Scooby-Doo.



It's clear that in a purely technical sense, all of these types fall into the phenomenal category I call "the marvelous."  And yet it's clear from my studies of other compendia of metaphenomenal films that often this species of marvelous phenomenon is given a "pass." To my knowledge no such compendium has ever included 1972's SNOOPY, COME HOME, in spite of its walking, coherent-thinking "funny animal."  Similarly, in the essay ON FAIRY STORIES, Tolkien's great examination of the nature of fantasy, he excluded animal fables like those of Aesop from his realm of faerie.

I can well understand Tolkien's reticence. Features in which the characters look like humanized animals but essentially act like human beings generally fail to transmit what Tolkien called the "arresting strangeness" of fantasy. Mickey Mouse animated cartoons may at least have the mouse doing impossible things, but the Floyd Gottfredson comic strip was more like a rural comedy-adventure that just happened to star humanized mice, horses, etc. The erotic anthropomorphic comic book OMAHA CAT DANCER only rarely referenced the animal natures of the characters, whose adventures usually fell into the realm of soap-operatic melodrama.



It's as if funny animals have a certain "invisibility" in certain contexts: they're so obviously stand-ins for human beings that one doesn't think of them as "marvels" at all. I'm tempted to regard some of them, like the casts of OMAHA and  the MICKEY MOUSE comic strip as belonging to the naturalistic version of my narrative trope "delirious dreams and fallacious fantasies." However, to qualify as a "fallacious fantasy," the fantasy would have to be a phenomenon that was simply a departure from the work's diegetic "reality" that the audience was not expected to take seriously. An example of this would be the animated "Pink Panther" from the live-action PINK PANTHER films, who may comments upon, but is not involved in, the "reality" of those movie narratives.



In conclusion, I can only note that although many funny-animal works technically belong to the category of the marvelous, they often evoke so little of the affects of wonder and strangeness that they almost constitute an "attack" on their own domain.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

THE PHENOMENALITY OF PSYCHOS

In my last essay I emphasized the essential independence of dynamicity, mythicity, and their respective significant sublimity-values.  However, I also noted that their affects could become "intricately intertangled." Since I've been addressing the phenomenality of the "perilous psycho" intermittently this year, starting with the essay OF SHERLOCK AND PSYCHOS, I'll stick with this theme as a source of examples.

In the aforesaid essay I questioned in part whether or not Sherlock Holmes was always a naturalistic figure in all of his iterations.  In the third essay in this series, I observed an opposing tendency in the villain of the Holmes film A STUDY IN TERROR:

I have yet to encounter a fictionalized Jack the Ripper, however, whose spectre does not suggest either "the uncanny" or "the marvelous."  This is in contrast to many other perilous psychos. 
The character in STUDY is of the "uncanny" type, which means that he does not violate the regularity aspect of causality, but does transgress upon the expectations of intelligibility. Jack the Ripper in STUDY IN TERROR is uncanny because he is "anti-intelligible," because he cannot be reduced to naturalistic causes, even though his real-life model probably was no more than a crazy man.



A STUDY IN TERROR is also a combative film in that its hero and villain engage in a battle of spectacular violence near the film's climax.  Because this Ripper is no more than an ordinary man possessed of uncanny madness, he is also "megadynamic" in the sense I used the term here.

It may be harder, though, to see all such uncanny figures as megadynamic, since not all of them are as combative.  In the 1960 PSYCHO, Norman Bates is a megadynamic figure only while he pretends to be his crazed, axe-murdering mother, and only when he is assaulting women in a relatively helpless position. When this psycho is caught by an ordinary husky man, Norman's appearance of power is stripped from him like his phony white-haired wig.



I suppose that I could solve the dilemma the same way I solved the fluctuation of power-levels in the three dynamicities in DYNAMIC DUOS PT. 2: Norman is merely an "exemplary" psycho, while Jack the Ripper is an "exceptional" one.  But I find it worth noting that Norman, both in his initial prose and film incarnations, is superior in terms of his mythicity to the Ripper-character from STUDY IN TERROR.  This suggests that he is a better conduit for the "combinatory-sublime," even as the Ripper is a better conduit for "the dynamic-sublime."

At present I have not found a necessary connection between the two forms of the sublime.  It does suggest to me how some figures of comparatively low dynamicity can suggest that they are more powerful than they really are. I conclude that it is because of the effect of the combinatory-sublime, which seems to invest such figures with a larger-than-life "mana."





COMBINATORY-GLORY + DYNAMICITY-POWER= KINGDOM OF THE SUBLIME

...combinatory sublime... a sublime affect brought about by the potentially dazzling array of "changing forms"-- COMBINATORY CONSIDERATIONS.

In the case of religious myth-figures, some sort of extra-human power would seem to be implied in the very idea of religion.  Mircea Eliade once commented that the hierophany (manifestation of a god) was always also a kratophany (manifestation of power), be it the strength of Heracles, the ability of Aphrodite to make mortals fall in love, or even the power to become a holy sacrifice, as with Dionysus in his form of Zagreus.  Folklore proper, perhaps because it often stems from oral and/or rural roots, tends to deal more with clever if powerless trickster-heroes as well as types who possess superior power: types like the "Jack" of beanstalk-fame would seem to outnumber types like the German "Strong Hans."-- THE UBERMENSCH AND THE PRINTING PRESS.

In the second quote, I noted that "extra-human power" was a fundamental aspect of religious myth-figures. But I do not find it to be so fundamental in the form usually called the "folktale."

In this essay I commented on the distribution of the levels of dynamicity between three tales from the collection of the Brothers Grimm. The last-analyzed tale, "The Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was," sports the protagonist with the greatest dynamicity, in that he overcomes threats almost as powerful as himself, so that the tale also sports the greatest potential for the "dynamic-sublime."  The tale "Hansel and Gretel" deals with protagonists who have no spectacular dynamicity themselves, but who do overcome a menace of such high dynamicity, an evil cannibal-witch.  And "The Bremen Town Musicians" deals with only a functional level of dynamicity, as a group of intelligent animals take over a house from a gang of easily routed thieves.

Having rated these stories in terms of their potential for the dynamic-sublime, do they show the same dispersion with regard to the combinatory-sublime, a response to the "dazzling array of changing forms?"

As I noted in the last essay, not all works in the marvelous phenomenality are equally able to inspire the affect of the combinatory-sublime.  Though the protagonist in the "Youth" story encounters more menaces than Hansel and Gretel do, it might be argued that none of the young hero's menaces inspire a sublime affect equal to the primary menace presented in "Hansel and Gretel," that of a cottage of candy which conceals a cannibal witch: a crone who makes an appeal to the hunger of lost children in order to satisfy her own hunger on their flesh.  Certainly "Hansel and Gretel" has a fair greater popularity than "Youth," though this in itself does not demonstrate greater mythicity.

However, "Musicians" is still on the bottom level with respect to mythicity as it is in terms of dynamicity, and this returns me to the point I made at the outset.  The only marvelous element of the story is that the animals are intelligent and can communicate with one another, though as I recall not with human beings.  This seems to be the only marvelous element one can finds in most such animal-fables, like those for which Aesop became famous, and in general, as Tolkien observed in a different context, this form doesn't usually engender much in the way of the "sense of wonder." Further, though today Aesop's oeuvre is strongly associated with animal-fables, that oeuvre also includes joke-tales of a wholly naturalistic nature:


The joke involves a woman who asks a surgeon (in this case) to cure her from approaching blindness on the understanding that he would not be paid until she was cured. The surgeon applied salves but stole from the house anything moveable during the course of his visits. Once the cure was completed, the woman refused him payment on the grounds that now her sight was worse than ever, since she could not see any of her household effects.-- "The Old Woman and the Doctor."

So the folktale, unlike the religious myth, is able to be as marvelous both with or without involving "extra-human power," or simply naturalistic, or arguably uncanny, as in the case of the most well-known version of the Bluebeard tale

All of these observations are pertinent as proofs of my argument that the "two sublimities" are essentially independent of one another's operations, though those operations can become intricately intertangled, as I'll note in my next essay.

OUT WITH THE OLD "PROBABILITY," IN WITH THE NEW "INTELLIGIBILITY"

In April 2013, I formulated the concept of the "combinatory-sublime," defined here as a sense of wonder born from the "endless combinations" one may find in fiction, a phrase I derived from a statement in Tolkien's ON FAIRY STORIES.  Unfortunately, though Professor Tolkien has remained a true guide in these matters, I was not as well guided by his colleague Professor Lewis.  All of the TWO SUBLIMITIES HAVE I essays, as well as the follow-up SUBLIMITY VS. MYTHICITY PT. 3, were written when I was attempting to explain the distinctions between the three phenomenalities in terms of comments made by Lewis-- and by Aristotle-- on the nature of "probability" and "possibility." I have rejected these terms now, for reasons I won't repeat, but I find it necessary to re-examine certain of those essays with the new concept of "intelligibility" in mind.

For instance, I observed in the last-cited essay that the "combinatory-sublime" was a "significant value" corresponding to the "narrative value" of a given work's mythicity.  The narrative value of mythicity denotes the density and complexity of the mythic symbols in the work; the significant value of the combinatory-sublime speaks to the reader's reaction to this density and complexity.

Parts of the SUBLIMITY essay are still unblemished by my later formulations, as when I examined the mythicity present in three franchises of each respective phenomenality:

DIRTY HARRY-- symbolizes the psychology of the (fictional) Old West, reborn in a modern urban environment
ENTER THE DRAGON-- symbolizes the psychology of the peerless martial artist, whose power lies not only in physical strength but also in his ability to "see" the weaknesses of his enemies
STAR WARS-- symbolizes the psychology of the archetypal orphan-hero, seeking to prove himself in a cruel world and finding his strength in opposition to a father (and a grandfather) archetype

But the next paragraph unfortunately tries to define the effects of the combinatory-sublime in terms of what the reader may think to be probable and/or possible:

 On the level of the narrative value, all of these myth-functions are equal.  HOWEVER-- the potential of myth-combination is inevitably limited in Dirty Harry's world, since a naturalistic world always values verisimilitude over myth's improbabilities.  Works in an uncanny world have more leeway to be improbable, and thus greater combinatory power-- while marvelous works, able to present various levels of "the impossible," can present more combinations of elements than either.  Thus it seems demonstrable that because mythic/symbolic aspects are so highly referential in nature, this principle skews more toward the significant value of the "combinatory sublime," toward calling attention to the difference between the dancers and the dance.
Now I would rephrase this to say that the combinatory-sublime arises rather from the transgression upon the reader's expectations in terms of intelligibility and regularity. DIRTY HARRY, a naturalistic work which conforms to general expectations regarding intelligibility and regularity, has its own proper level of mythicity but is not likely to inspire a high level of the combinatory-sublime because of said conformity. ENTER THE DRAGON conforms to expectations regarding regularity but not intelligibility; being "anti-intelligible," it has a higher potential to arouse the combinatory-sublime. And STAR WARS, which violates both intelligibility and regularity, has the greatest mythicity of the three in reality, as well as the greatest potential for symbolic combinations and thus for the combinatory-sublime.

Now, I add "potential" because one can only assert abstract matters such as mythicity in purely logical terms, not in terms of statistical analysis. Suppose that in place of three 1970s action-films by different authors, I substitute three plays with the same separate phenomenalities from the same author:

HAMLET (1599-1601)= "uncanny"
KING LEAR (1605-06)= "naturalistic"
MACBETH (1606)= "marvelous"

Just as no one can prove via statistics that any of these well-regarded is factually "better" than one another, no one can prove that the mythicity of one is "better" than the other. However, it can be argued logically that Shakespeare's mythicity is highly dependent on his frequent references to myth, religion and folklore, even within a naturalistic context like that of KING LEAR. Therefore even when a given work does not violate intelligibility and regularity, its principal if not exclusive means of gaining mythicity stems from making reference to mythico-religious beliefs, which are dominantly based upon the violation of intelligibility and regularity. It is for this reason that I state that works of the marvelous possess the greatest potential for the combinatory-sublime, not because I believe that every actual work of the marvelous possesses superior mythicity to the works of the other two phenomenalities.

Friday, March 28, 2014

HERO VS. ANTIHERO VS. DEMIHERO

The term "antihero," which dates back to 1714, is defined thusly on Wikipedia:

 a leading character in a film, book or play who lacks the traditional heroic qualities

My concept of the "demihero" will probably never supplant this better-known formulation, but in my essays I've tried to show that "heroic qualities" can appear in all four of my persona-types, as can "unheroic qualities"-- which in this case would probably parallel other paired concepts in my system, ranging from "life-affirming forces/life-denying forces," "glory/persistence," or "idealizing will/existential will." In THE COMPLICATIONS OF COMEDY PT. 2 I noted the intermixing of the "positive" and the "negative" in Marvel's "unheroic hero," The Punisher:

It's less typical for focal heroes to have negative manifestations.  Marvel Comics' Punisher would probably be one example, in that his obsession to eradicate crime, though certainly larger-than-life, is rooted in his personal animus rather than in concern for life.  The Punisher does end up supporting the forces of life, but he's not always admired for his persistence, so that he ends up becoming a quasi-villain in the features of other Marvel heroes like Daredevil and Captain America, or getting beat up by Batman in a throwaway scene of JLA/AVENGERS.



An even better example of this intermixed quality appears in a novel I recently reviewed on my book-and-comics review site OUROBOROS DREAMS: the character of Hell Tanner, the hero of Roger Zelazny's 1969 DAMNATION ALLEY. In part I wrote:

Zelazny isn't simply glorifying the type of antihero that became fashionable in the 1960s.  Although Hell is a son of a bitch, he begins to have a very unsentimental appreciation for the magnitude of his task...

This appreciation appears in this excerpt from Hell Tanner's thoughts about his mission:

 Nobody had ever asked him to do anything important before, and he hoped that nobody ever would again. Now, though, he was taken by the feeling that he could do it. He wanted to do it. Damnation Alley lay all about him, burning, fuming, shaking, and if he could not run it, then half the world would die, and the chances would be doubled that one day all the world would be part of the Alley.




Now, going by the Wikipedia definition-- and by the generally lax way that the term "antihero" is tossed around-- one could judge Hell Tanner to be an "antihero," simply because he "lacks the traditional heroic qualities." Indeed, I have seen two online reviews of the novel that use the term. However, I think that even though Tanner has any number of negative aspects, his heroic ones dominate the unheroic (or demiheroic) ones.  The passage cited above is not the sort of thought one would find in the heads of characters usually out only for themselves, indicating to me that author Zelazny wanted to delve into deeper waters. He seems to have wanted to put a vicious son-of-a-bitch in the position of acting heroically even though he has no sentimental regard for society or its members. Like the Punisher, Tanner is a hero who affirms life even though he may choose at any time to kill or maim anyone he doesn't like. 

The reverse is seen in the case of the cinematic Rick Deckard of Ridley Scott's 1982 BLADE RUNNER. In this essay I gave my reasons for regarding this Deckard as a combative demihero. Through a Google search I've seen many online sources regard Deckard as an "antihero," but in my opinion the use of this term blurs a crucial distinction between Deckard and Tanner: that the former is motivated only by the quality of "persistence"-- that is, of making sure that he and his immediate loved ones can survive-- while the latter is motivated by the quality of "glory," that of doing something great even though it defies the logic of survival.







Saturday, March 22, 2014

PERFECT STORMS OF SEX AND VIOLENCE

I mean, you’re willing to defend sex and violence from highbrow critics, but somehow slapstick is to be scorned? Come on now.-- Noah Berlatsky to me in this essay's response-thread.

There's no point in trying to reconstruct whatever tenuous line of logic Berlatsky used in making this remark, since it had almost nothing to do with the argument we were having on his essay-thread back in January.  Had I asked him at the time what "defense of sex and violence" of mine he was referencing, I don't imagine Berlatsky would have given me a straight answer.  But compared to some responses I've received from illiterate know-nothings, Berlatsky's summary, apart from its irrelevant aside about slapstick, is at least partly on the money.

It's partly misleading, as well, though. I don't defend *all* sex and violence; I defend the principle that it can be used well, like anything else in fiction.  In 2009 I gave an example of a piss-poor execution of the use of violence when I reviewed a hyper-violent comic book, BLACKEST NIGHT #1, and said:


my problem is not that [Geoff] Johns put these characters through the wringer. I like them all, but I don't mind seeing them travestied, if it's done with some imagination.
At the same time, I have defended the use of violence when it's been used just for kicks, if I think that some degree of imagination had been evoked, as with this once-infamous scene from SUPERGIRL #14:




I won't repeat the specific arguments I used to refute "highbrow critic" Dirk Deppey's interpretation.  But I will extend those arguments to observe that often when highbrow types object to this sort of hyper-violence, with or without erotic elements, they're taking issue with the very nature of popular art, which is generally characterized by its ability to deliver almost pure kinetic entertainment to any audience, or as one story weekly of the 1880s called it, "sensational fiction with no philosophy."
For highbrow/elitist critics the lack of philosophy in narrative is anathema, which may be why they so often pursue Sigmund Freud's strategy: claiming that one can read such entertainments in order to reveal latent meanings that show the philosophical underpinnings not of the work or its author but of the culture that formed both.  Usually this cultural substructure embodies some psychological or sociological opinions or practices that the critics do not like-- e.g., masculinism, fascism, and so on-- and so the identification of this alleged "latent content" takes the form of casting out the critics' personal demons.

While I've gone on record as saying that these and other deeper facets do exist, and that even the most barren seeming narrative does have some "philosophy," my approach is Campbellian rather than Freudian/Marxist.  SUPERGIRL #14 doesn't have many deeper facets, but those that are present relate to mythic tropes like "the Hero Gains a New Power," which is what's transpiring in the violent scene above when the titular heroine stabs her bat-attacker.

These distinctions apply to sex as much as violence, for though the two are separable kinetic phenomena both in the real world and the world of fictional narrative, they have an interconnectedness best expressed by George Bataille.

...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.-- A REALLY LONG DEFINITION OF VIOLENCE, PT. 3.

I've used the term "perfect storm" in the title, defined by Wikipedia as "a rare combination of circumstances will aggravate a situation drastically." The meaning is usually negative in the real world.  As I apply it to narrative fiction, it's a positive thing, referencing the ways in which the creative forces of an author, or set of authors, may combine elements of a narrative to create storms of sex and/or violence that sweep away the senses, and arguably promote the sense of the sublime.

Do people experience such storms in the real world?  It's obvious how the "swept away" metaphor applies to sex, but it can apply no less to certain experiences of violent conflict, or at least to people coveting glorious battle: one might recall my observation here that "an estimated 150,000 German soldiers went off to the trenches with [THUS SPAKE] ZARATHUSTRA in their knapsacks."  But such real-world tempests are limited to those who experience them, and they can be communicated to others-- usually for the purpose of engendering envy-- only through narrative, albeit not the narrative of fiction.

In contrast, the sensuous frenzies of fictional sex and violence potentially belong to everyone.  The vagaries of taste insure that even the kinetic scenes that are most celebrated at any given time will not please absolutely everyone, and in some other time they may fall out of favor. Further, there may be some danger in concentrating on the kinetic to the exclusion of other aspects, which makes certain aspects of Camille Paglia's criticism as problematic as the ratiocentric prejudices of the highbrows.  In criticism, too, one desires a "perfect storm," where all potential insights come together for a spectacular breakthrough.

Friday, March 21, 2014

ROBINSON CRUSADE

I should expand a little on my remarks here, with regard to my speculative citation of ROBINSON CRUSOE as a contender for the "first work of popular fiction" in Western culture.

CRUSOE was not intended as a work of popular fiction in the sense that we use the term today. Though I confess that I have not read Defoe's entire novel, its deeper themes mark it as an ancestor of the form Voltaire later called the "conte philosophique," which he Voltaire coined in opposition to simple "popular tales."  This online journal includes an essay by one Peter Leithart, who asserts that "Robinson Crusoe is a novel that continually threatens to collapse into allegory." 

CRUSOE was not the first work of "elite culture" ever to become popular with the masses. We know from Ben Jonson's remarks that the audience he shared with William Shakespeare embraced the "mouldy tale" of PERICLES PRINCE OF TYRE, though the folkloric feel of the play alienated many later generations. But I perceive that CRUSOE, writing to a post-literate populace-- that is, one that had become dominantly literate and accepted all the customs of literacy-- validated the nature of the visceral and the popular in CRUSOE in a way that could not have happened with PERICLES or any similar work.

In the opening chapter of the literary survey LOVE AND DEATH IN THE AMERICAN NOVEL, critic Leslie Fiedler suggests some of the reasons that this may have come about.  Fiedler deems the eighteenth century to be the period of a "continuing, complex event" he calls "the Break-Through," in which many if not all of the old societal beliefs began to undergo a systematic reversal.

Whatever has been suspect, outcast and denied is postulated as the source of good... in a matter of months, Don Juan, enemy of Heaven and the family, has been transformed from villain to hero, and before the process is finished, audiences have learned to weep for Shylock rather than laugh him from the stage. The legendary rebels and outcasts, Prometheus and Cain, Judas and the Wandering Jew, Faust and Lucifer himself are one by one redeemed.

The same principle holds for that ancestor of the horror-genre, the Gothic:

..."gothic" passes from a term of contempt to one of description and then of praise...

Fiedler, although he would champion popular fiction in many of his later works, does not treat popular fiction as a separate subject in LOVE AND DEATH, as this work is concerned largely with the novels that became canonical literary works.  But I assert that, in addition to the developments Fiedler cites for the Break-Through, another such turnabout is one in which fiction aimed at the masses began to be valued.  Admittedly, the next three centuries had no shortage of highbrow critics inveighing against the merely popular, one example of which can be read here

ROBINSON CRUSOE, perhaps as much or more than THE CASTLE OF OTRANTO, may have played a key role in fomenting the rise of "popular tales," even if neither Defoe nor Walpole intended to bring about such a revolution in literary taste.  Significantly,  CRUSOE is the first novel of the 18th century to become popular enough to generate two sequels, as well as engendering its own eponymous genre, the "robinsonade."  Predictably enough, many of the works listed as followers in this generic tradition-- particularly the best-known, the 1812 SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON-- have little of the "conte philosophique" about them.  But this was only fair, given that "elite culture" had a long tradition of borrowing from the pre-literate forms of "popular fiction"-- with the great Bard of Avon fairly well leading the pack in this respect.


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

ADDRESSING DISTRESS PT. 3

I observed at the end of Part 1 that a statement by Brittney-Jade Colangelo was intriguingly arguable, so in this section I will proceed to argue the point in said statement:

The “Damsel In Distress” archetype is arguably the first character type for women in popular culture.

As I also observed, Colangelo does not examine popular culture as a whole, but concentrates on the indubitably influential genre of horror, particularly in its cinematic iterations.  But if she had chosen to cast her net more widely, to take in all of popular culture-- where might she have started, given that there is no universal agreement as to when it begins?

One starting point is to observe that although popular culture has many facets in common with so-called "folk culture," the most salient difference is that the latter is predominantly pre-literate, in that its practitioners usually could not read, while the former is predominantly post-literate, even though it will eventuate in media that require little or no reading-skill, primarily that of the cinema.  Thnaks to innovations in printing-technology, the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, according to this excerpt from Wikipedia, can boast the first true "bestsellers:"

The vast printing capacities meant that individual authors could now become true bestsellers: Of Erasmus's work, at least 750,000 copies were sold during his lifetime alone (1469–1536).[

All very well for Erasmus, but he's still "elite culture."  Where does popular literature, the literature of the masses, begin?

In this essay I asserted that I didn't think that popular fiction truly got rolling until the 19th century, but there are some noteworthy exceptions in the 18th, which is generally considered the era in which the form of the prose novel catches fire. Wikipedia cites several "genres" of novel, including the epistolary novel, the libertine novel, and-- most significantly for Colangelo's argument-- the Gothic novel, beginning with Horace Walpole's 1764 work, THE CASTLE OF OTRANTO-- also the first "supernatural Gothic" in that the ghostly happenings are not disavowed at the novel's end.

So one might fairly cite OTRANTO as the progenitor of the horror genre.  But is it also the progenitor of all popular fiction? And if I were, what consequence would that have for the "damsel in distress" argument?

OTRANTO has but three female characters, all distressed by the castle's overlord Manfred.  When Manfred's only son Conrad is killed by a supernatural phenomenon, the lord plans to divorce his hapless wife Hippolita-- surely given the name of a famous Amazon in irony!-- and to marry his son's fiancĂ©e, Isabella. Isabella, with the help of Manfred's daughter Matilda, flees Manfred's influence, and both become the first distressed damsels in the Gothic subgenre, and in horror fiction generally.  Thus, if we regarded OTRANTO as the starting-point for popular culture, Colangelo would be entirely correct.

As it happens, though, I think 1719 brings a far more credible progenitor for pop culture: Daniel Defoe's ROBINSON CRUSOE.  In contrast to many of the novels aimed at more educated readers-- those of Swift, Fielding, and Voltaire, for three-- CRUSOE can be read for nothing more than visceral entertainment.  True, the novel has its deeper themes, but I don't think that its perennial popularity rests on them. According to the summaries I have read, CRUSOE, unlike OTRANTO, has no significant female characters at all, so it neither proves nor disproves Colangelo's assertion. None of Defoe's other works fit my criteria for popular culture, though it is worth noting that Defoe was not hostile to the idea of empowered female characters, given that his second best-known novel is 1722's MOLL FLANDERS. The titular character probably is not a femme formidable, though Wikipedia notes that she "begins a career of artful thievery, which, by employing her wits, beauty, charm, and femininity, as well as hard-heartedness and wickedness, brings her the financial security she has always sought."

Lacking another nominee for the beginnings of popular fiction, then, Colangelo's assertion would seem to be correct, but with a corollary.

Femmes formidables had appeared in earlier works of "elite literature," not least Shakespeare's HENRY VI, PART 1, with its sword-swinging villainess "Joan la Pucelle," and in Spenser's FAERIE QUEENE, with its equally martial heroine Britomart, but even in poetry and prose, realistic villainesses were more standard, as with such Bard-born characters as Lady Macbeth and Tamora of TITUS ANDRONICUS.  Given that the eighteenth century became dominated by the realistic novel, it's perhaps not surprising that the more martial "femmes" were not much in evidence. But though one might hypothesize that OTRANTO may indeed give us the first "damsels in distress," two years later the same author wrote a never-produced play in which a female character, the titular MYSTERIOUS MOTHER, performs an evil act worthy of Shakespeare's Tamora, best known for inciting her two sons to rape a younger woman.
Walpole's drama on that popular yet disturbing theme oddly common in the Romantic period: incest. Walpole gives us a multiple incest scenario: the Countess knowingly seduces her son on the night of her husband's death; her son, Edmund, thinks he's having sex with one of his mother's maids, so he's pretty much guiltless. This tryst makes the Countess pregnant, and she gives birth to Adeliza, with whom Edmund, not knowing she is the Countess' daughter (let alone not knowing that she is also his own daughter and his half-sister), falls in love. They marry, and only then does the Countess, who's been laboring under a load of guilt for 16 years, reveal all. Layer onto this a plot involving the wicked and duplicitious monk Benedict, and you're in deep Gothic waters. Unlike Otranto this work is utterly devoid of supernaturalism, but with a family romance like that as the subject, who needs ghosts? Perhaps not surprisingly, the play was never performed in Walpole's lifetime.-- THE LITERARY GOTHIC.

So if Walpole gave us the first damsels in distress, he also gave us an early example of "feminine evil," one who defines the parameters of the Gothic at least as well as Manfred does.

It's my contention, then, that archetypes of women both with and without agency-- whether representing good or evil-- appear throughout the realm of popular fiction, and that many are not specifically generated by one another, as Colangelo seems to argue.  Some famed works of popular fiction are known for featuring both noble heroines and conniving villainesses in the same stories, as is seen in Dumas' THREE MUSKETEERS and Hugo's MAN WHO LAUGHS.  In fact, Colangelo indirectly references the latter:

From the earliest examples of horror films, “Damsels in Distress” (or women in peril) were the only roles that actresses would play. From the beautiful Dea in The Man Who Laughs, to the kidnapped Madeline Parker in White Zombie, these women were often the sole conflict of horror films.

Were such imperiled heroines central to the themes of many early horror stories, whether in books or films? Probably, but Wikipedia notes that Hugo's original novel contains a female character at least as perverse as the Mysterious Mother:


Gwynplaine accidentally meets Josiana, having been brought into her palace by her confidant, the intriguer Barkilphedro. At first she nearly seduces him, perversely excited by his deformity. However, she then receives a letter containing the Queen's order to marry him (as a replacement for David and the legitimate Lord Clancharie) and therefore violently rejects him as a lover, while accepting him as her (formal) husband.

The 1928 film, which I have not screened in many years, may not emphasize the perversity of the Duchess Josiana, but a cognate character is in the film.  It's also worth noting that WHITE ZOMBIE, closely patterned on the 1931 DRACULA film, contains a scene in which the zombified Madeline is not just a woman in peril; she is also briefly a threat, when the villain orders her to kill the hero.

Therefore, even though from one viewpoint the "damsel in distress" might indeed be the first feminine archetype in "popular fiction," it is hardly the only one, nor does its primacy necessarily generate its opposite number.


ADDENDA: I revised an earlier paragraph above, to make a more pertinent comparison between Shakespeare's Tamora and the titular character of Walpole's THE MYSTERIOUS MOTHER.




ADDRESSING DISTRESS PT. 2

In keeping with my remarks in Part 1, in this essay I'll deal strictly with some of the problematic aspects of Brittney-Jade Colangelo's essay on "damsels in distress."

First up is a minor glitch in this sentence: 'Film theorist, Budd Boetticher, stated “what counts is what the heroine provokes, or rather what she represents. She is the one, or rather the love or fear she inspires in the hero, or else the concern he feels for her, who makes him act the way he does. In herself the woman has not the slightest importance.”'

I don't doubt that Budd Boetticher made this statement, but he was never a film theorist, but rather a writer and director of films, one best known for a series of westerns starring Randolph Scott. He probably did make ample use of the "damsel in distress" archetype, as the archetype was almost de rigeur in the western. However, Boetticher is not the best example of this tendency, for a fair number of his projects include the type of gutsy females I have termed "femmes formidables." Admittedly, in such films as 1953's WINGS OF THE HAWK and 1959's RIDE LONESOME, these female characters are narratively subordinate to a male hero, but one may argue that such figures anticipate the sort of "badass women" Colangelo sees as a conscious renunciation of the "damsel" archetype.

My second niggle has more to do with opinion than fact, as I take issue with this statement near the essay's end:
The slasher film has arguably the biggest fanbase and brought more iconic characters to the horror world than any other subgenre. Although a bit formulaic at times, they all contain the all mighty Final Girl. 
Unlike many online critics, I do respect many slasher films for birthing "iconic characters" such as Jason Voorhees, whose first eight films I reviewed on my film-review blog, beginning here.  But I certainly wouldn't say that there are more iconic characters in this horror-subgenre than in its most prominent competitor: the Gothic horror subgenre that dominates the horror films of the Classic Hollywood period.  I would allow that most of the Gothic horrors are based on literary predecessors, so that many of the early cinema-icons are not original creations, though this is not a condition of Colangelo's statement. Nevertheless, I would have to say that the early cinematic versions of Dracula, the Frankenstein Monster, Mister Hyde, and Doctor Moreau far outstrip Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers, while original creations like Imhotep/Kharis and the Wolf Man are easily the equals or superiors of Leatherface and Freddy Krueger.

And though I agree that the evolution of the Final Girl is highly significant in terms of "reading gender" in cinema, they certainly don't appear in *all* slasher films.  Just to cite the most prominent counter-examples, both FRIDAY THE 13TH:THE FINAL CHAPTER and FRIDAY THE 13TH: A NEW BEGINNING use a male character as the narrative focus.

Finally, I disagree that the archetype of the "badass female," or "femme formidable" as I term it, is *purely* generated as a reaction against the offensiveness of the "damsel in distress" archetype, as Colangelo describes here:

Without the “damsel in distress,” we wouldn’t have a character to be offended and angry towards. That may sound silly, but it’s true. If we weren’t so intensely offended by this archetype, we wouldn’t have rebelled and tried so hard to disprove it.

I don't doubt that certain individual creators have sought to redress the offensiveness of "the helpless female" by evoking the opposite.  But I believe that the appeal of the femme formidable archetype does not depend upon such a reaction; the archetype has its own innate appeal, which I explored in the series WHAT WOMEN WILL, beginning here. I'll touch further on this appeal in the third part of this series, where I will deal with the historical aspects of Colangelo's assertions.


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

ADDRESSING DISTRESS PT 1

On the horror-blog THE DAY OF THE WOMAN Brittany-Jade Colangelo has posted an essay-- previously published on another blog last year-- entitled IN DEFENSE OF THE DAMSEL IN DISTRESS.  However, though this is the first "gender issues" post I've made in a while, Ms. Colangelo deserves absolutely no blame for my return to this topic.  Prior to reading her essay, I was making plans for an essay entitled "Perfect Storms of Sex and Violence," which will probably appear next.

Colangelo's defense does not support the sociopolitical ramifications inherent in the archetype of the "damsel in distress," which include but are not limited to the male gender's belief in its inherent superiority.  This can lead to the conviction that the male can expect to be rewarded sexually for his protection of the distressed damsel, which might well be termed "the Conan Syndrome," though the syndrome certainly predates that character.





Colangelo's approach, rather, is to examine the possible sources of the archetype without prejudice.  Her focus, as noted above, is the genre of horror, but her observations can be easily applied to art and literature as a whole.

The author first establishes the oppositional nature of the archetype:

The “Damsel In Distress” archetype is arguably the first character type for women in popular culture. It has without a doubt been cited as the biggest example of differential treatment of genders in literature, film, and works of art. “Damsels in Distress” are often scoffed at as perpetuating the stereotype that women are the weaker of the sexes and are rendered useless without the assistance of a man. The Damsel in Distress is the grandmother of other incredibly offensive female archetypes like the “princess in the castle,” “missing white woman syndrome,” “Daphne Blakes,” and most recently, “Bella Swans.” Despite their seemingly offensive and stereotypical portrayal of women in cinema, they may be quite possibly the most important stock character to happen to horror films.
(I note in passing that Daphne of the SCOOBY DOO franchise isn't universally a distressed damsel, but that's another essay.)

Colangelo then establishes the centrality of the archetype, at least to the horror genre:


From the earliest examples of horror films, “Damsels in Distress” (or women in peril) were the only roles that actresses would play. From the beautiful Dea in The Man Who Laughs, to the kidnapped Madeline Parker in White Zombie, these women were often the sole conflict of horror films. Although these women were written as nothing more than beautiful prized possessions, it was their existence that propelled the story further than just introductory statements.

And finally, she offers the crucial insight that women have been made central for a reason based more in biology than politics:


Men cannot bare [sic] children, therefore, they cannot continue on the species. Women are the most important attribute to survival and therefore, are the most valuable creatures to mankind.  When we look at it historically, the reason that “Damsels in Distress” were popular are due to the fact that up until the last forty or so years, there wasn’t any insight to the female psyche. Women were seen as inferior beings and the “Damsel in Distress” is merely a product of its time. Yes, the “damsel in distress” still makes its appearance into films today, but the impact this character type made on horror far surpasses its offensive nature.
I'm not asserting that this is a "game-ending" insight.  But I call it crucial because it seems so obvious and elementary, and because so few analysts of gender-difference in any genre-- horror, adventure, or what have you-- have made any statements whatever on said biological factors.  I'll hypothesize that many academic analyses of popular fiction pattern themselves slavishly on models of inquiry which insist that all perceptions of gender-difference are rooted in psychological or sociological factors.

Now, I do have disagreements, most of which I will cover in Part 2.  (That will delay my making a New Enemy for at least one day.) This statement, though, is the one I find most interesting:


The “Damsel In Distress” archetype is arguably the first character type for women in popular culture.

While such a statement may never be provable, it certain is, as Colangelo says, "arguable." My December post on the history of "fantasy-adventure" of course does not deal with horror or any comparable forms, but I would say that while I can think of many exceptions to Colangelo's proposition, exceptions do not necessarily prove or disprove a proposed rule.  The argument is made more difficult insofar as there is no single "flash point" that marks the separation of "popular culture" from what might be called "elite culture." Nevertheless, in Part 2 I will attempt to apply Colangelo's eminently sensible concept of "gender difference" to some other early examples of the form.


Friday, March 7, 2014

RIDDLE, MYSTERY, ENIGMA

I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma...-- Winston Churchill (or maybe his speech-writer(s), BBC broadcast, 1939.

The primary definitions of Churchill's three metaphors for Russia from Dictionary.com are as follows:

RIDDLE: "a question or statement so framed as to exercise one's ingenuity in answering it or discovering its meaning; conundrum."

MYSTERY: "anything that is kept secret or remains unexplained or unknown."

ENIGMA: "a puzzling or inexplicable occurrence or situation."

Macmillan Online has the following:

RIDDLE:  " a question that seems impossible or silly but has a clever or funny answer"

MYSTERY: " something that you are not able to understand, explain, or get information about"

ENIGMA: "someone or something that is mysterious and difficult to understand"


With infinite time and patience I could probably list out all cited definitions to these three overlapping yet different words.  But even if I did so, and determined that there is a statistically dominant definition for each, I don't think those statistically-arrived-at definitions would cancel out my conviction that Churchill's three words have a particular function in that speech about Russia.  In short, in order to make his point about the unfathomability of Russia, Churchill chooses three words that all connote unfathomability in increasingly greater degrees.  And this becomes important to my theory of literary causality in that each of the three phenomenalities the degree of intelligibility becomes greater.  

Just as a "riddle" is a perplexing arrangement of words that does (as Macmillan says) does finally have some rational or quasi-rational answer, the domain of the naturalistic is one in which all objects and situations, however perplexing they may be at a given time, are ultimately intelligible to reason.

A "mystery," as both cited definitions note, does not automatically have an answer-- which might mean that the majority of the ratiocinative works generally called "mysteries" perhaps ought to have been called "riddles," since almost all of them have answers of some sort.  The two cited definitions place an emphasis on the attempt of a subject to gain knowledge or information that is hard of access.  There is no guarantee, as with a literal riddle, that the mystery will be unveiled, though I would argue that this does not mean it cannot be.  Further, not all mysteries are revealed as plays upon rational understanding, as with the set of initiation ceremonies known as the Eleusianian Mysteries.

Of the two cited definitions for "enigma," I believe that Macmillan's is essentially identical to its definition for "mystery," so I disagree with it. Dictionary.com's suits me more in that it suggests that the "occurrence or situation" referenced may be not just temporarily unknowable, but may be permanently "puzzling or inexplicable."

Now, the best way to show how this eventuates in the world of literature is to focus on how intelligibility is reflected in the narrative function of "the anomaly."  Once again, I draw upon the definition supplied by academic Frank Cioffi:


This reality [of a traditional narrative] is disrupted by some anomaly or change--invasion, invention, or atmospheric disturbance, for example--and most of the story involves combating or otherwise dealing with this disruption.





Unlike Cioffi-- who does note that anomalies can stem from such mundane factors "such as family, the love ethic, manly heroism, the American Way, and the like"-- I link the nature of the anomaly to its function within a bifurcated causality, one comprised of both a regularity aspect and an intelligibility aspect.  In recent essays I've given copious examples as to how narratives conform to, bend, or break with the regularity aspect, but the "riddle, mystery, enigma" progression suggests to me a way to provide a structure for the differing degrees of intelligibility. 

In this essay, I attempted to assess to employ an argument about "degrees of probability" the same way I now advocate "degrees of intelligibility." I don't dismiss the arguments re: evidential probability, but they are not as useful as I had hoped to catch the affective distinctions between the three phenomenalities.  But the examples I provided work just as well for this current argument:

Sticking only with the Doyle stories this time:

THE FIVE ORANGE PIPS is a naturalistic RIDDLE. The conspiracy Holmes unmasks is one that is fully intelligible to reason, and once the answer is known, it has no further repercussions.

THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES is an uncanny MYSTERY. In the earlier essay I argued then, and still argue, that "the explanation of the Hound via the rules of ordinary causality, while it serves a valid narrative purpose, does not dismiss the affective sense of strangeness from the narrative."

THE ADVENTURE OF THE CREEPING MAN is a marvelous ENIGMA, because the anomaly around which the plot is structured is something outside the rules of "causality's regularity aspect," i.e., "a special drug that can somehow transfer the attributes of an animal to a man."  This level of intelligibility is enigmatic and insoluble specifically because the author must introduce some "fudge factor" that allows him to justify the appearance and/or behavior of the anomaly. 


I should note that the sheer number of "fudge factors" is irrelevant to the degree of enigmatic intelligibility.  It's quite true that Jules Verne did not need to provide as many "fudge-factors" in justifying the existence of his imagined submarine as H.G. Wells did in justifying the existence of gravity-nullifying Cavorite in FIRST MEN IN THE MOON-- nor does it matter, contrary to Verne's opinion, that in real life human beings could and did create real submarines, while no one has come close to synthesizing anything like Cavorite.  Both devices are equally marvelous, and equally enigmatic, within the sphere of the fictional universe their authors create.

I should also note that in some narratives it's possible that an uncanny or marvelous situation or entity may appear as a "throwaway," rather than being as central to the narrative as Cioffi's anomalies are. In this essay I reviewed two films in which marvelous occurrences or entities appear within the scope of comparatively mundane storylines.  But I tend to think that even when an uncanny or marvelous item intrudes upon a naturalistic framework in this marginal manner, they still transfer their qualities to the whole, as much as if they were central to the narrative.





Wednesday, March 5, 2014

TAKING A SHOT AT SIMPLIFICATION

Earlier today I tried to boil down my ideas re: Bhaskar on a forum, more than anything else to challenge myself and see if I could simplify my views for general consumption.  I don't think that I succeeded, but I'm reprinting it here for my own possible future use.

____________________

I've recently finished reading a book on philosophical views relating to science, Roy Bhaskar's A REALIST THEORY OF SCIENCE.  Bhaskar is only concerned with science, but as I read it I wondered if his ideas could have some application to my literary theory.


As I said above, there seems to be no rhyme or reason as to why some tropes belong to "horror" and some don't. To repeat three of my earlier examples, some persons might not feel that Victor Hugo's HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME qualifies as horror, or anything else remotely belonging to "fantasy."  But almost everyone would agree that THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is horror and MASK is not, even though all three deal with physically deformed characters.

Roy Bhaskar argues for his view of science against two other prominent views.  According to him, the main way that empirical science judges the nature of the world is in terms of "regularity determinism;" i.e., phenomena can be judged by their regular, repeatable nature.  According to him, Kant and the neo-Kantians judged the nature of the world in terms of "intelligibility determinism," which is to say phenomena can be judged by their accessibility to human understanding.


I see the paradigm of empirical science differently from Bhaskar. I agree that when humans begin to look at physical phenomena in terms of their regularity, and then find empirical reasons for the regularity in terms, of, say, the movements of heavenly bodies, this gives rise to a concentration on regularity.  But at the same time, this generates its own form of "intelligibility determinism," because the budding young empiricists believe that the world is fully intelligible-- that is, things need not be explained by supernatural forces-- because humans can understand the world's regularity aspects.

Now, my arguments from all this goes like this:

Whenever authors create a fictional world, they draw on the idea that the empiricist idea that the world is both regular and intelligible.  


If they create a naturalistic world, then it's like the world of MASK: nothing in that world violates the regular functions of the cosmos, and all things are basically intelligible as well.


If they create a marvelous world, even if it just has one marvelous item in it, like a deformed killer who rises from the dead (paging JASON VOORHEES), then it is a world that is no longer regular in the empiricist sense, and so also cannot be intelligible to empiricist reason.


But some worlds are "uncanny" in that even though there is nothing in them that violates the laws of a regular cosmos-- like PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and EYES OF A STRANGER, for two-- there remains something "unintelligible" about them.  Even the killer of EYES OF A STRANGER, who is in no way as bizarre in his appearance as the Phantom, conjures up a similar emotion of "dread" and so is not easily reducible to natural forces, which should conjure primarily "fear."


Hmm, I started this post, like the last one, with the idea of avoiding "proposition-based language," but I gave up halfway through.  Oh well.

Monday, March 3, 2014

THE INTELLIGIBILITY QUOTIENT PT. 3

Part 1 provided a grounding in theory for my "bifurcated fictive causality," and Part 2 applied the two aspects to the naturalistic and uncanny phenomenalities.  In this essay I'll address the necessity for this system in terms of exploring certain radically opposed, yet intersubjective, authorial approaches to defining that domain which I call "the metaphenomenal."

In my first review of a Tarzan film on my film-review blog, I compared the divergent ways in which two authors viewed the Tarzan character:

Many fantasy-film reference works are divided as to whether or not Tarzan films belong under their rubric. I believe R.G. Young includes them all, but John Stanley's CREATURE FEATURES guide only mentions those that have some strong fantasy-content. But in my view Tarzan by himself is a metaphenomenal figure, even putting aside the facts that the "great apes" that raise him in Burroughs don't exist in the real world and that Burroughs' common language for all his creatures does not exist either. Tarzan is a fantasy-figure who may appear at times to conform to the demands of real-world causality, particularly in the more "realistic" films like TARZAN'S GREATEST ADVENTURE (1959). But affectively he is a fantasy no matter how cognitively realistic he may appear to be, though 1984's GREYSTOKE comes pretty close to banishing most of the fantastic affects of the original concept.

Tarzan, as I asserted in Part 2, is a prime example of a character whose adventures do not seem to challenge the "regularity aspect" of fictive causality,  except in those cases when he encounters tropes out of fantasy or science fiction, such as ant-sized humans, man-eating plants, or John Carter of Mars. 




 I can't precisely use the encyclopedia-author R.G. Young as support for my theory of the uncanny phenomenality, for I've noted that he also includes many works that I deem "naturalistic," such as CUTTHROAT ISLAND.  Nevertheless, though Young includes such genres as swashbucklers and what he calls "heavy melodramas," he never includes anything that smacks of down-to-earth "reality."  Thus he includes certain crime melodramas, possibly because crime suggests mystery and mystery suggests horror.  But he does not include anything comparable to a melodrama about union politics (NORMA RAE) or environmental pollution (ERIN BROCKOVICH), even though certain types of "crime" do appear in these films as well.

In contrast, though John Stanley cites many horror-themed films in his CREATURE FEATURES in which the regularity aspect of causality is not violated, like the 1960 PSYCHO, he wasn't willing to cite any Tarzan films except those that contain the aforesaid fantasy/science-fiction tropes, like the man-eating plant in TARZAN'S DESERT MYSTERY.

Now, from an absolutist POV, the divergent views of Young and Stanley re: Tarzan cannot be reconciled.  Either Tarzan is a "fantasy-hero" or he is not.  But I argue that the two authors may be responding to Tarzan in different ways. 

Stanley, though he is happy to include Norman Bates in CREATURE FEATURES, clearly would not include Tarzan at all if the ape-man had confined himself to fighting exotic native tribes or locating lost cities --that is, as long as the cities possessed no magical or super-technological people or objects.  This argues that in Tarzan's case, Stanley recognizes Tarzan as "fantasy" only when a Tarzan story violates "regularity causation."

Young, in contrast, lets in both Tarzan films and Boston Blackie films, but not Norma Rae. Why?

To the extent that any solution to the problem can be imagined when one is dealing with internal responses, it may be possible that Stanley is more influenced than Young by the appearance of genre-tropes.  Thus Stanley is willing to include many "psycho-films" in his compendium that I personally would not include, simply because there is a well-documented tradition to the effect that, "Psycho films are also horror films."  But there is no strong tradition that "heroes raised by animals" are either fantasy or science fiction, so that in the absence of such a tradition, Tarzan films enter his encyclopedia only if they have things like giant man-eating plants.




I theorize that in contrast Young's selection is more informed by the search for that quality I have called "violent sublimity."  Sublimity, as I have defined it in many essays on this blog, does not depend upon violence as such, only on a sensation of overwhelming forces.  Yet it's axiomatic that many if not all works predicated upon violent conflict should create a sublime affect. I have argued, in essays like this one, that sublimity is only clearly demonstrable with works that demonstrate "spectacular violence," and that in each phenomenality the sublime manifests in a specific manner given the nature of power in that domain. 




I have not observed any sublime levels of spectacular violence in the naturalistic "Boston Blackie" films, but I have in the Dirty Harry films.  Possibly Young does derive such a sublime affect from a less spectacular level of violence, but if so, that does not mean that either of us is wrong about the way in which we achieve that affect.  I advocate mine, and explore mine, purely because it is mine.

I argue, then, that many persons who have attempted to define the boundaries of "the fantastic" have in some way responded to the aspects of regularity and intelligibility.  To put it another way, the fans who don't want to view Batman as a superhero-- referenced here-- would be of the party that must have specific fantasy/SF tropes present before they can deem Batman a superhero.  In contrast, those who accept Batman-- and Zorro, and the Lone Ranger-- to be relevant to the superhero idiom are those who are willing to cross "genre-fences," and comprehend the way in which heroes with "realistic" powers may have "unrealistic" tonalities.


The confusion stems from the fact that what English-speakers call "horror, fantasy, and science fiction" have become the three most-referenced "super-genres" of the metaphenomenal, and from the fact that these super-genres have been ceaselessly interbred throughout the twentieth century-- principally, though not exclusively, by authors of popular fiction.  I may explore some of these combinations in a future essay.