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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Sunday, August 31, 2014


In POWER AND POTENCY PT. 2 I gave some examples of ways in which some of my "ten tropes" could indicate uncanny phenomenality based on whether their subjects-- astounding animals, outre heroes, etc-- "seemed like" they possessed greater potency than similar entities of a naturalistic phenomenality. Within my system this means that they have effectively exceeded the intelligibility aspect of causality. I did not explore each of the ten tropes in the light of this formulation. However, one of the tropes, "exotic lands and customs," merits special consideration because it deals not with entities but with environments.

Of the films thus far examined on my blog, the majority of "exotic lands and customs" narratives have fallen into the genre of the "jungle-adventure film." In my review of TARZAN THE TIGER, the first film I analyzed for this trope, I wrote:

"Exotic lands and customs" applies to the fantasized jungle-setting in which the Tarzan films take place, and this trope alone would be enough to label certain jungle-films as metaphenomenal, even if they lacked the presence of a mostly-naked hero raised by apes.

Now, the question might arise: what sets aside these "fantasized jungle-settings" from others that also might be deemed "exotic," at least on the naturalistic terms of a NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC mentality. It's one thing to say that an entirely made-up society, like that of Tarzan's Opar, should be deemed "exotic" in an uncanny manner. Yet I've also made that claim with respect to real-world cultures like that of the African Masai tribe, who make an appearance in BOMBA THE JUNGLE BOY. In theoretical terms, what would separate the Masai in this BOMBA flick from the Masai in a naturalistic romance-drama like 2005's THE WHITE MASAI

Again, the answer is that though both tribes do not exceed "causal coherence," the latter seems entirely intelligible, while the former *seems like* it is unintelligible.  From a naturalistic NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC perspective, the exotic nature of the Masai, with their famous lion-hunting rituals, is merely a curiosity that exists on the same plane as any other culture's customs. But even as mediocre as BOMBA's treatment of the real-life tribe may be, the film's intent is to make the Masai seem like something exceptional, even "magical," at least on the terms of "the uncanny."

For a time I flirted with the notion that maybe the "jungle-adventure" film was unique in offering so many uncanny versions of its cultures, both real and imagined. Westerns, for example, are full of real and imagined "exotic" Native American cultures, but the majority are almost always naturalistic.

However, I've recently come to certain new conclusions thanks to my meditations on the many ways in which "exotic lands and customs" evolve from the intermingling of entities or historical occurrences that produce "uncanny" narratives, such as THE CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR, 300, THOR AND THE AMAZON WOMEN, YEAR ONE, RED DAWN, and SON OF SINBAD. What all of these films-- and the jungle-adventure stories as well-- have in common is the transposition of "things that do not belong" within a milieu that the viewer is expected to believe should be unitary; governed only by "things that belong together."  As I argued in my recent SON OF SINBAD review, these jumbles are not just textual errors by writers who did not know any better: they are intended to create a specific effect that I have labeled through terms like "anti-intelligibility" and "the uncanny."  This is not to say that there are not real historical or sociological errors that are made through pure carelessness, just that not all errors are made for the same reasons.

Saturday, August 23, 2014


In this essay I referenced Dave Sim's GLAMOURPUSS writings, which reflected, in part, on the career of Margaret Mitchell. I pointed out that Sim's conclusions about Mitchell and many other female celebrities could be valid only in terms of the concept of intersubjectivity. I'm reasonably sure that Sim would not agree with this perspectivist take on "truth:" at most, he might admit-- as he does in an essay I'll touch on later-- that as he is not God he can't be absolutely sure as to what is or is not true.

While I've dismissed some psuedofeminist complaints about the "old boy's network," in GLAMOURPUSS #25 (May 2012) Sim made one remark on Margaret Mitchell that left me nonplussed.  In a printed exchange between Sim and his interlocutor Eddie Khanna, Khanna remarks on the disparity between Mitchell's first beau Clifford West, a decorated war hero who died in battle, and her first husband Red Upshaw, an alleged drunk and wife-beater. Sim replies:

It's one of those sad instances, I suspect, where a woman gives full vent to the extent of her heartache-- going completely "over the edge" as an expression of her darkest emotions and her extreme sense of loss-- and thereby does a grave disservice to the memory of a genuine hero who has paid the ultimate price.

To back up slightly for context, Mitchell certainly used aspects of her own life to provide the dramatic pattern for GONE WITH THE WIND.  Clifford West, whom Mitchell never actually married, provides a loose parallel to Charles Hamilton, the man Scarlett O'Hara marries out of spite when Ashley Wilkes rejects her. Mitchell's first husband, who sounds like a reprobate, is transformed into the rather more charming scalawag, Rhett Butler, who becomes Scarlett's third husband.  Rhett, in contrast to the alleged acts of Red Upshaw, never beats his wife. Rhett does rape Scarlett, but this, as mentioned earlier, is something less than a punishment.

To some degree I could understand Sim's polemic if Mitchell had been actually married to Clifford West.  Though divorce hardly if at all carries the social stigma that it once did, there are some persons who believe that even after one spouse dies the remaining spouse is not free to re-marry. Sim's negative feelings about divorce are expressed to some extent in this essay on the MOMENT OF CEREBUS blog, though they are not apposite to the subject of re-marriage after one spouse's death.

BUT-- of course, Mitchell was not married to West; God never "joined them together." So I cannot fathom, either from the specific essay in GLAMOURPUSS or in any other Sim essay of my acquaintance, in what way Mitchell did a "grave disservice to the memory of a genuine hero."

(I note in passing that though Khanna describes Upshaw as a "debauched, violent, alcoholic bootlegger," Sim says nothing in issue #25 about Upshaw, who, according to this post, not only married again after his divorce from Mitchell-- just as Mitchell did-- he also left his wife and child to fend for themselves. I'm not sure why Upshaw wouldn't make just as good an example of "going over the edge" as Mitchell-- except that his example would weaken Sim's ideological concentration upon the supposed greater emotionality of women.)

Anyway, the question arises: is Sim imparting this special privilege, that of a woman being somehow bound to a beloved even sans marriage, to all men? I don't think so; this seems to be a special case, due to the fact of West's stellar military performance. Prior to Sim's remark about Mitchell, he contrasts West's "genuine heroism" to that of Alex Raymond, who was *potentially* heroic in that he refused a "natural deferment" but did not end up making a "similar ultimate sacrifice."

The odd thing about Sim's remark is how much he sounds like certain characters in the Atlanta of Margaret Mitchell's GONE WITH THE WIND-- namely, the generally female gossips who castigate the widowed Scarlett for a host of cultural offenses. But again, within the novel's fictional context, all of these castigations make some sense: Scarlett is an actual widow, seen as doing a disservice to Hamilton's death by dancing with, and keeping company with, scalawag Rhett Butler.  In contrast, Sim is apparently perturbed because Mitchell made herself "a public disgrace in Atlanta;" because she did not don "widow's weeds" and remain chastely unmarried for the remainder of her days. Amusingly, this goes further than even the fictional old biddies of GONE WITH THE WIND would have gone, even though they "existed" in an Atlanta of over a hundred years ago.

This, in conclusion, supports my earlier statement that emotion is not opposed to reason, as Sim has claimed. Rather, emotion "provides a lens through which everything, including rational cognition, is colored."  Sim's focus upon "haughty women brought low" indicates that he has chosen his examples of irrationality in a fundamentally irrational fashion.

A side-note: Sim also calls Mitchell's novel "a precursor of today's feminist 'victimology.'  I don't agree with this assessment, though I've found myself opposed to many other manifestations of false victimologies, particularly those of Kelly Thompson and Gail Simone. But in making this irrational attack on the character of Mitchell, Sim practices his own male-oriented form of victimology, and so pokes holes in his own polemic.

Saturday, August 16, 2014


In Part 2 I've defined "potency" as a "dynamicity that is not a dynamicity," one that I applied principally to works of the uncanny. I believe that this will be the dominant use of the term in my system. By virtue of this logic I can assign greater potency, say, to the Durango Kid as opposed to Roy Rogers, even though the two characters have equivalent levels of power and appear in narratives that are almost identical, and the only uncanny element is the former hero's masked identity.

However, as I have experimented with categorizing many types of marvelous protagonists, it's come to my attention that some of them, too, are distinguished only by a type of potency, one dependent on the conditions of their temporal placement.

Mark Twain's 1899 A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT is among the earliest novels in which a man travels to a time not his own, and uses the knowledge of his own time-period to advance himself.

To an extent the same process is true of Wells' 1895 THE TIME MACHINE, though there are fewer examples of the Time Traveler using his knowledge of the past to enhance his survival.

Now, neither of these works is directly relevant to my project of categorizing combative types in fiction, for these are not combative works.  But both the Twain novel and the Wells work have influenced combative works, and therefore they also influence the questions of what powers and/or potency those works' heroes possess.

The 1966-67 teleseries THE TIME TUNNEL is one of the more unqualified combative works in the oeuvre of producer Irwin Allen. Two uncommonly athletic young scientists, Tony Newman and Doug Phillips, become victims of the U.S. government's "time tunnel" experiment, so that both men find themselves hurled willy-nilly from one time-period to another. Not every episode contained a big concluding battle, but Newman and Phillips frequently used both their fists and their futuristic knowledge against such adversaries as the ancient warriors of Troy, King John and Billy the Kid.  If one were evaluating them purely in terms of what "powers" they possess, Doug and Tony would be entirely naturalistic. However, the knowledge that they bring from their own time into other times confers on them a strategic "potency" as well.

Nor is this process unique to examples of people from our time traveling to times past. In the 1986 teleseries OUTLAWS, five men from the American Old West-- a sheriff and four relatively noble "outlaws"-- are unceremoniously transported to America in the 1980s. Like Newman and Phillips, the outlaws have no special powers to help them survive in the modern world, though the former westerners acclimatize well enough to start their own detective agency. Unlike Newman and Phillips, the outlaws generally don't have any special knowledge derived from their time that helps them in the alien time-period.  However, their status of being men from another time-period confers upon them a marvelous "potency," given that they view everything they see in the 1980s through a 1880s perspective.

At present this seems to be the only way in which I am likely to apply the concept of potency to the category of the marvelous. That doesn't mean I won't find other applications, though.


I've studied various colloquial definitions of the words "power" and "potency," and, as mentioned before, some dictionaries make them virtually identical. The Oxford online reference, though, suggests a discontinuity useful for my purposes:

POWER: The ability to do something or act in a particular way, especially as a faculty or quality

POTENCY: The power of something to affect the mind or body

These primary definitions show a tendency to speak of "power" in terms of physical action, whereas "potency" can affect "mind or body."

This in turn lines up with my distinctions between the marvelous and the uncanny. I've consistently defined the marvelous as some object, entity or occurrence that breaks with causal law, be it something nominally justified through some new scientific technique-- Verne's Nautilus, obviously-- or something with no justification at all, like a cartoon rabbit who can defy gravity when it happens to be funny to do so.  Not all marvelous entities register as having high dynamicity, as I pointed out here, yet even a character whose marvelous nature gives him no special power of physical action still displays a "power" to flout natural law.

Going by the Oxford definition, though, "potency" can be used to affect both the physical and the mental planes of existence, or, as Octavio Paz put it, "body" and "non-body."  Paz's dichotomy was useful to me in sorting out the three phenomenalities with respect to a bifurcated causality in THE INTELLIGIBILITY QUOTIENT PT. 2:

...both the "naturalistic" and "marvelous" phenomenalities are unitary in terms of what I chose at that time to call the aspects of "body" and "non-body"-- also roughly comparable to Cassirer's "causality" and "efficacy." In contrast, the phenomenenality of "the uncanny" was one in which "body" was at odds with "non-body."

G. Wilson Knight's essay on HAMLET implies this opposition between body and non-body when, as I showed in Part 1, Knight imputed to the moody Prince of Denmark a power that was not a literal power, saying that "the poison of [Hamlet's] mental essence spreads outward among things of flesh and blood, like acid eating into metal."  When he wrote this, Knight was not being at all literal, as his use of the acid simile demonstrates. Hamlet has no more physical power than any other human being, but because he has "held converse with death," he *SEEMS LIKE* he has become something more than human. But the "seeming" takes place purely upon the mental/spiritual/"non-body" plane of being.

Until reading Knight, I had always classified HAMLET and most of its film adaptations as instances of the trope I call "phantasmal figuration." However, Knight's description makes Hamlet sound very much like the type of uncanny-or-naturalistic figure of another trope: "the perilous psycho."  In terms of the play proper, one may argue back and forth whether or not Hamlet, in feigning madness, may have actually gone mad. But whether the Danish prince is mad or merely infected with a pestilential cynicism, his attitude has given him a special "potency," even though he has no special power-- just like all of the "psycho" characters I've studied.

The primary subject of the aforementioned INTELLIGIBITY essay was to survey instances of my ten phenomenality tropes, in both their naturalistic and uncanny manifestations. I demonstrated that even though all of the cited examples fell within the bounds of causal coherence, the "uncanny" examples broke with causal intelligibility while the "naturalistic" ones did not. Now I refine that statement to add that the process of breaking with causal intelligibility is one that also confers a "potency" that is not "power."

The above phrase *SEEMS LIKE* proves applicable to all of the chosen examples, and, I assume, to any other examples that might be provided:

The Moby Dick of Melville's novel is identical in POWER to the Moby Dick of John Huson's 1956 film-adaptation. However, the original White Whale surpasses his naturalistic imitation in POTENCY, precisely because he *SEEMS LIKE* he is more than an ordinary whale.

Tod Slaughter's naturalistic perpetrator of "bizarre crimes" Perceval Glyde has no more POWER than the actor's more famous character Sweeney Todd, but Sweeney exceeds Glyde in POTENCY because he *SEEMS LIKE* more than a common criminal.

Hawk of the Wilderness and Tarzan are equals in POWER-- indeed, Olympic star Bruce Bennett played both-- but Tarzan clearly *SEEMS LIKE* he is more than a mortal man, even though he is not-- and the same applies to the huge horde of animal-skinned jungle-people who have imitated Tarzan.

And finally-- since I need not repeat the formula for all ten-- "perilous psycho" Joanna Eris of EYE OF THE BEHOLDER kills men for the crimes of her father, just as the fellow who popularized the very term "psycho" kills women for the crimes of his mother. But even though Norman Bates isn't a particularly powerful example of a psycho-- as I mentioned here-- he *SEEMS LIKE* he has a far greater ability to dispense death.

In contrast to the Oxford definition above, then, I will use "potency" exclusively to denote this semblance of a "non-body" form of *dynamicity.* However, since in earlier essays I've defined "dynamicity* exclusively in terms of that power that affect physical bodies within a given narrative, at best potency must be interpreted as extrinsic, rather than intrinsic. to that narrative-- which may line it up more properly with my conception of the combinatory-sublime.

Thursday, August 14, 2014


[Hamlet] is a superman among men. And he is a superman because he has walked and held converse with death... Thus Hamlet is an element of evil in the state of Denmark. The poison of his mental essence spreads outwards among things of flesh and blood, like acid eating into metal. They are helpless before his very inactivity and fall one after the other, like victims of an infectious disease.-- G. Wilson Knight, THE WHEEL OF FIRE, 1930.

Later in the essay Knight says that Hamlet "is, as it were, the channel of a mysterious force, a force which derives largely from his having seen through [all the other characters]."

Obviously, when Knight calls Hamlet a "superman," he's not speaking of him in the comic-book sense of the word; he's almost certainly referencing Nietzsche's concept of an ubermensch whose mental outlook simply outstrips that of ordinary men. In keeping with I find Knight's idea of a force which is not really a force-- one that derives from a simple change in perspective-- to be intriguing for my category of the uncanny as expressed by the NUM formula.

Whenever I have written about either the Shakespeare play or various cinematic adaptations, I've almost entirely analyzed it in terms of the trope I call the "phantasmal figuration." This means that there is some entity or occurrence in the narrative that is witnessed by a given subject-- usually a viewpoint character-- and that said entity/occurrence is dubious as to its true nature. Many films use this trope to conjure with "ghosts" who are merely masquerading human beings. HAMLET, in contrast, has a ghost whose existence one cannot doubt, though the spirit's true nature is unfathomable. Knight calls it "the devil of the knowledge of death," but in contrast to many of the "specious spectres" of Gothic literature, the ghost is not the star of the play. The imaginative center of the play is Hamlet, who brings death to almost every major member of the Danish court, outstripping his uncle by far.

Until reading the Knight essay, it hadn't really occurred to me to think of Hamlet as having an infectious potency. But he is a man transformed by a "converse with death," who has in a sense become one with Death, not least because the ghost bears his own name. He does not literally channel any "mysterious force" to bring down the Danish court, and he doesn't even out-maneuver his foes in the cunning manner of his literary ancestor, the original Amleth. Yet he does seem to be protected by something more than his author's desire to give him good or bad fortune as the story demands.

I pored over all of the "phantasmal figuration" films I had thus far reviewed for my movie-blog. In all of them, none included a phantasm that somehow transformed the outlook of the subject who viewed it. The closest thing I found were films in which some individual dressed up like a spectre in order to make a murderer recall his or her crimes, but no "infectious potency." as I've termed it, appears as a result of this exposure.

However, in the essay OF SHERLOCK AND PSYCHOS PT 2, I did discuss a certain interesting interface between the villain who conceives of a "bizarre crime" and the detective who solves it.

 ...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.  

So is there an "infectious potency" between the villain's conception of the crime and the sleuth's fathoming of it? If so, the interface is far more beneficial to society than anything one sees in HAMLET, for all that the hero is also engaging in a kind of "detective work."

Knight's essay has got me thinking further on the subject of a "potency" that is not quite the same as "power," even though some dictionaries view the words as essentially covalent.  Part II will be devoted to these thoughts.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


In this essay I cited this Heideggerian morsel:

"'How we find ourselves' expresses the fact that we are thrown into a 'world' already there before us -- this is most evident in the radical sense of Birth. Hence, one is literally 'thrown into a world' beyond one's control -- but this 'world' is not merely a particular environment -- it has its place in history: one is, broadly speaking, thrown into a historical moment."

I didn't return to this point at the conclusion of Part 4 of the "fake-rape" series, but I will here because I think Heidegger's general concept of being "thrown into a world beyond one's control" applies very well to the topic of fictional rape.

No world is entirely beyond all control, of course. If I say that I want to promote freedom in the arts, I'm trying to influence others to my point of view, which is at least a limited form of controlling others. And if a feminist ideologue claims that my defenses of sex and/or violence are an attempt to validate male privilege, that too is an attempt to control one aspect of the world.

Obviously, I think that the latter interpretation only holds if one disregards the facts of nature I discussed in the above SWEPT AWAY essay. I'm aware, of course, that there are individuals who have used "facts" to validate repressive viewpoints. I will briefly re-quote Dave Sim on "male-female difference," though I examined his perspective in more detail here:

For a man to win an LPGA tournament would be humiliating for the man. It would be like entering a children’s T-ball tournament and really tearing up the base-paths and smacking some major home runs. There isn’t enough money in the world to overcome the resulting humiliation of knowingly competing against…(pay attention, “ladies”)…
…inherently, self-evidently, inferior beings. -- Dave Sim, CEREBUS 293.

It would be easy for an ideologue to look at what I've written here and to assume that I, by speaking of such aspects "male-female difference" as strength-weight comparisons, am trying to validate fantasies in which males are inherently superior.  This is not the case, however.  Gender difference is a fact that influences many fictional scenarios-- whether Doctor Light tries to rape a woman rather than a man, whether serial killers with mommy problems choose to assault females or males. However, in my philosophy, the fact of male-female difference does not determine the status of either gender, either in fiction or reality.

My borrowed Heideggerian metaphor of "throwness" merely means that one must accept some facets of reality as having a non-ideological level of influence. Most women are "thrown" into a world in which, 99% of the time, the men they encounter are both bigger and stronger. This does not determine their status as one of inherent inferiority. But it does influence any attempt they make toward self-determination. To disregard the way the world often works, or to claim that it is a creation of "male privilege" or "rape culture," remains a fundamental dishonesty.

And now-- back to the boring literary analyses!!

Monday, August 11, 2014


In the comments-section to FEELINGS, NOTHING MORE THAN FEELINGS, poster Marionette said in part:

At one point I was keeping a tally of how many rapes occurred in comics (largely for this purpose) a month. I stopped because the whole thing just made me feel ill after a while.

Since Marionette didn't provide a list, I have to wonder at her criteria for this statement. Was she including attempted rapes that are prevented by timely intrusions? I mentioned this sort of crime in this essay, noting that it was the same trope whether the (usually female) victim was rescued by a male or by a female hero. I wouldn't say that attempted rapes should be deemed the same as accomplished rapes, though it's true that a given attempt may be as sensationalized as a completed act.

It's possible that sexual threat may be counted as well.  I have no doubts that even powerful female superheroes probably get sexually threatened by villains much more than male superheroes are. But that too would not be actual rape.

The only other possibility that I can countenance-- speaking as a comics-fan who no longer reads a lot of current comics-- is that some of the "rapes" included may be incidents in which a female victim gets beaten up and/or killed. I'm not imputing any of these beliefs to the poster Marionette, but of all those described, the last position has become the most popular in fannish circles, as evidenced by Gail Simone's notorious WOMEN IN REFRIGERATORS list.

In this essay I've stated that there are two forms in which fictional sexuality does or does not have a significant violent component, and two in which fictional violence does or does not have a significant sexual component.  So I've obviously no problem in saying that *sometimes* a violent act is not just a violent act.

A problematic aspect of the Simone list and similar fulminations, though, is that such imputations start and end with the observation that a lot of female characters get beaten up by male ones. But if any popular medium is notable for its preponderance of Equal Opportunity Assaults, it ought to be comic books.  This is not to say that I think "man beaten by woman= rape" any more than I do when you reverse the genders. But often comics-fans are a little too quick to condemn in the male what they ignore in the female.

For instance, it's become a popular fan-trope to laugh and/or sneer at comic-book covers in which a heroine like Lois Lane or Wonder Woman is made the target of assaults that may or may not look like Freudian displacement.

Here's one famous "spread-eagled" cover:

And here's one that's a little more convincing in the Freud department:

But if we're going to say that any projectile is a penis, what should one make of this GREEN LANTERN cover?

Here Star Sapphire is not only jabbing the hero in the chest with a lance-like lightning bolt, she's even smiling while she does it.

So, by the logic that all assaults equal rape, is she raping him?

And what should one make of this famous, admittedly comical scene of Feminine Rapine?

I should perhaps underline the point I've been hammering away at so long. Assuming that everyone could somehow come to total agreement as to what constitutes fictional rape, it doesn't really matter whether there are more male-female rapes in comics, or female-male, or any other permutation of which one may conceive.

What matters is that a great part of fiction's appeal is its ability to conjure forth fantasies of supremacy, with or without sexual content. By doing so fiction mirrors that portion of human nature that I will again term *megalothymia.*

This portion may be, as Jung once suggested, a part of an indelible shadow within us. But even if this is the only way to characterize this part of human nature, Jung repeatedly calls on human beings to acknowledge and understand that nature, rather than attempting to bury it beneath fatuous appeals to goodness-- or, even worse--

Political correctness.

Saturday, August 9, 2014


"Rough sex or rape?" is the title of a New York Times essay on the spousal rape scene of GONE WITH THE WIND. This crucial ambiguity in the intersection of sex and violence makes it difficult to pick a "male-oriented" example of rape in popular fiction.

For instance, in the first Tarzan novel back in 1912, the hero rescues Jane from a possible "fate worse than death" at the hands of a crazed ape.  Tarzan, who has already become smitten with Jane from afar, then "assaults" her with kisses. Jane is briefly swept away and responds. Then her common sense re-asserts itself and she repulses him. Yet rape as such is never a real possibility in this sequence, for the gentlemanly ape-man is simply puzzled at Jane's behavior and takes no further action, except to escort her back to her camp. The hero does not get any nooky until the two of them are formally married in a later book.

Commercial films-- which were, it should be said, aimed equally at both male and female adult audiences-- are replete with such forceful displays of passion, in which the male protagonist forces his attentions-- usually not to the extent Rhett Butler does-- upon a female. It's generally understood that the female protagonist is a stand-in for the female audience that is presumed to want to see sex happen between the lead characters: ergo, the protagonist's reluctance is meant to be broken down in the face of passion; i.e., it is a "no" that really does not mean "no." I do not think that female audiences would have partaken of such scenes in novels and films unless they could relate to them as fantasies. This gives the audiences credit for realizing that such scenarios did not represent real experience, and that they did not represent rape as such.

Were all members of the male audiences aware of "forced attentions" as being in the domain of fantasy, and hence, not justifications of real rape? Here too I think that we must assume that the majority of males knew that they were watching a staged fantasy, though I would admit that there is more potential for misunderstanding from the male point of view.  Still, the male protagonists of novels and films usually were not represented as literally overpowering the female as Rhett Butler did. The more standard scenario was that the reluctant female would finally respond and the curtains would close upon what was then consensual, if only implied, sex.

Four years before the publication of GONE WITH THE WIND, Robert E. Howard submitted-- but did not manage to sell-- a Conan story entitled "The Frost Giant's Daughter," seen above illustrated by the comics-artist Barry Windsor Smith.  Usually Howard's most celebrated character does not have to rape anyone; women regularly throw themselves at the bemuscled barbarian.  But in this story rape is justified in a scenario almost involved as that of Mitchell's novel, though one playing to male fantasies.

As "Daughter" begins, Conan stands on an icy field littered with the dead bodies left from a brutal conflict between two enemy forces. He and a warrior from the other side, name of "Heimdul," square off, and with one blow Conan slays what would seem to be his last opponent.

Into this scene of carnage a naked woman who calls herself "Atali" manifests. She refuses to justify herself to the weary barbarian, but exhorts him first to lie down and die with his allies. Then Atali teases the warrior with her beauty, so that he becomes intent on conquering her. She leads him into an ambush, and as two larger-than-average warriors attack Conan, she shouts that they will enjoy eating his heart "on our father's board." But Conan slays Atali's brothers, and then chases her down. Atali is saved from being raped by the power of her godly father Ymir, who stuns Conan with a celestial light-show and carries his daughter away in what Conan imagines to be a "gigantic war-chariot."  When Conan's allies find him in the snow, he has only a piece of Atali's garment to validate his story.

This is one of the few times a commercial fiction-hero-- one with whom a dominantly male readership would have identified-- is shown to be not just capable of rape, but somewhat justified in committing it. Admittedly, Conan doesn't know that Atali is leading him into ambush when he first chases her; in fact, he's fairly businesslike with this naked vision, trying to figure out if she's allied to his side and if she'll lead him to safety. Only when she flaunts her charms and mocks his lack of manhood does he chase her down, "his eyes burning like those of a wolf." However, long before Conan knows what's going on, the intended readers are likely to suspect the motives of this ethereal cock-tease, and so the idea of the hero raping her as punishment for her deception probably would not have occasioned much grief for Atali, had the story seen print in the 1930s.

Even though the rape isn't completed, due to the interference of Big Daddy Ymir (Howard's Freudian superego?), this is still a psychologically significant "fake-rape" story.  Whereas the spousal rape in GONE WITH THE WIND is justified by feminine priorities-- Scarlett doesn't appreciate her husband, etc.-- this one is justified by male priorities: someone tries to kill you, so you can retaliate against them however you like.  "Daughter" is also a strong mythopoeic tale, in which Conan, even after winning out against mortal enemies, is tantalized by a woman who uses sex as a lure to promulgate death.  One can argue that this sort of fantasy is retrograde to any civilized way of life, and of course it is.  That's precisely the reason it retains its unique power and resonance.

More in Part 4--

Friday, August 8, 2014


It's debatable as to whether there have been "good rapes" in the medium of comic books. There have been a lot of bad stories involving rape, like the aforementioned IDENTITY CRISIS, and there have been stories in which rape is addressed as An Important Issue, like this issue of Alan Moore's SWAMP THING.

By my own lights, though, a "good rape" in the comics medium would be the same as it is in other media: a fictional scenario that speaks to humankind's inescapable nature.  That nature is the desire to dominate, which, as Francis Fukuyama has pointed out, is inseparable from the human desire to excel.  *Megalothymia* is not, as the Marquis de Sade was pleased to believe, the essence of human nature, for it has its opposing number in *isothymia,* the desire to share a commonality of rights and privileges with others. Both are equally part of our inherent nature, even if we exercise their respective desires only through the medium of fantasy.

I said earlier that (1) I did not want to take refuge in examples taken from Established Literature, and (2) the examples I would take from popular fiction would be "works aimed at particular genders." With that in mind, I'll begin with what may be the most famous rape in a work of bestseller fiction aimed predominantly at a female audience.

Though the 1936 novel GONE WITH THE WIND has had many male readers, there can be little doubt that it was primarily aimed at female readers. Not only does the novel stay almost completely in the viewpoint of protagonist Scarlett O'Hara, most of its action takes place in domestic settings, upon which the male world of violence only occasionally intrudes.  Even Rhett Butler, consistently portrayed as a "man's man," fades in importance when he's out running guns or belatedly joining the Confederacy's lost cause; he becomes important to the story primarily for the many ways he pays court to Scarlett-- one of which is that he falls in love with her long before she reciprocates.

The novel also makes much of the feminine propensity for gossip, and Mitchell makes clear that a great deal of it serves to displace the women's own sexual desires.  Every time Scarlett scandalizes the straight-laced community of Southern women, there's a sense that they enjoy a forbidden pleasure in fantasizing about her misdeeds, even while they excoriate her.  One might extrapolate that this does not speak well for the sexual capacities of Southern men, if their women's greatest pleasure stems from fantasy-sex.

One of those fantasies is, of course, that of being raped, whether by ruthless Yankees or bestial black men. While Mitchell is too fully implicated in the fantasy to invert it-- as a politically correct author might-- it is ironic that no character in the novel actually gets raped in the general sense of the word, that is, in terms of a criminal assault. Twice Scarlett is confronted by threatening males, but though in both cases rape is a possible outcome, it's clear that both the pilfering Yankee soldier at Tara and the two lowlifes in Atlanta are primarily out to rob her.

As for normative sex, the reader only knows that Scarlett has had sex at least three times prior to the novel's famous scene of spousal rape. One knows this because Scarlett has three children, one of whom is born only to be killed in the novel while the other two might as well be phantoms for all the presence they have.  It's not surprising that in 1936 Mitchell was circumspect about the sexual act when writing to a majority audience, although she herself was a devotee of erotica ranging from Cabell to Cleland.  Yet Mitchell-- whose second husband, the putative model for Rhett Butler, was rumored to be a wife-beater-- isn't merely being circumspect.  Rhett Butler's rape of his wife Scarlett is, in essence, the culmination of the fantasies of the fallen culture of Southern womanhood and of Mitchell's female readership.

Yet GWTW's rape is more than a mere "bodice-ripper:" it speaks to specifically female issues, not in terms of the relationships of women to men, but of women to other women.  Few if any female readers will fail to realize my earlier point, that Rhett has fallen in love with Scarlett even at a time when she primarily thinks of him as an attractive scoundrel who has a lot of money.  Scarlett commits many sins for which readers will want to see her punished, as do her detractors within the novel-- but for many readers this will be her worst sin: failing to love the man devoted to her, and forbidding him from her bed simply because she does not want more children.  In addition, her continued pursuit of Ashley Wilkes-- although somewhat on the wane by the time the spousal rape takes place-- adds fuel to the fire that causes Rhett to lose all control.

Of course, as both the book and its film-adaptation make clear, the "punishment" is something less than punitive. By the generally sunny disposition Scarlett displays the next morning, Leslie Fiedler surmises that Scarlett has had her first orgasm, though Fiedler admits that Mitchell does not say this in so many words.

For many feminists this may be the novel's worst ideological offense, and many would rush to condemn the novel for supposedly validating real-world instances of rape, spousal and otherwise.  Some might even accuse Mitchell of indirectly supporting Sigmund Freud's thesis that the sexuality of women is inherently masochistic.

Nevertheless, good intentions aside, they would be wrong to do so.  Though GONE WITH THE WIND is directed at female readers, its evocation of a world in which sexual predators lurk around every corner is not entirely without appeal to male readers as well. In its thematic orientation Mitchell's Civil-War Atlanta is no less a fantasy than one of James Branch Cabell's horny otherworlds, and should be evaluated on that basis.

Next: the "He Said" side of the question.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014


In one sense the above is true of any criminal activity: it may be amusing to imagine oneself a daring thief or a flawless assassin, but one suspects that both play better than they live.

Rape is another such criminal act, but it does not spring from some amorphous "rape culture" centered in the conspiracy of men to keep women down. To be sure, individual men do strive to do this, but they don't comprise a "culture" any more than do retaliatory attempts by women to control or diminish males.

Whether one is speaking of the phenomenon of rape as practiced by men or, more rarely, by women, it becomes significant in art primarily because it blurs the distinctions between sex and violence. In VIOLENCE *AINT* NUTHIN' BUT SEX MISSPELLED PART 2 I wrote:

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.

As I have also said before, the fact that I advocate freedom in the depiction of both sex and violence does not mean that I consider all usages of these kinetic elements to be good uses of that freedom.  In this post I took issue with a BEAT-poster who seemed to want to see rape depicted only in ways that supported a particular ideological position. However, that doesn't mean that I haven't seen stupid, unimaginative depictions of this particular crime. Brad Meltzer's 2004 series IDENTITY CRISIS stands out in this regard.

The only thing one can say in defense of this idiotic story is that when Meltzer chose to have Doctor Light rape Sue Dibny, he was to some extent following in the footsteps of many professional comics-creators who had sought to make superheroes more "realistic" by having them encounter greater levels of sex and violence-- that is, graduating from the levels appropriate to "juvenile pulp" to those of "adult pulp." The transformation has been ongoing since the late Silver Age, as I chronicled in broad strokes here.  So, even though IDENTITY CRISIS is a very bad comic book, it is not, as one critic claimed, "the comic that ruined comics." That ruination, if one chooses to deem it that, was in the works a little before Meltzer was born-- though it is amusing that he came into the world in 1970, the same year I deem to be the beginning of the Bronze Age, the time when commercial comics took their first major steps toward "adult"-erating their products.

At any rate, Doctor Light's rape of Sue Dibny is a "fake-rape," not least because it is depicted through the medium of two fictional characters. However, I don't state above that all "fake-rapes" are good; just that, if there is good in this crime, it will appear only in gestural entertainment.

It would be easy to refute the notion "rape should not appear because it aggravates the female audience and/or because it's the last resort of a lazy creator" by quoting the use of the crime in artistic types ranging from Shakespeare to Joyce Carol Oates. But since I'm defending the crime's provenance in popular fiction, it behooves me to cite two works of popular fiction-- both of which are also politically incorrect for a variety of reasons, apart from the depiction of "sex-as-violence."

Friday, August 1, 2014


I hadn't planned to write further about the topic of harassment and/or rape after I finished the BREASTS, BLOOD, AND JUSTICE series. However, I had to voice my disagreement with one of the examples of harassment in Rebecca Keegan's article. This resulted in FEELINGS, NOTHING MORE THAN FEELINGS, and later, my statement in the comments-section that "I have an idea for an exploration of the topic in works aimed at particular genders, as opposed to those that appear to be "across-the-board," as MAY be the case with GAME OF THRONES."

My motive in doing so would be to suss out the ways that symbolic rape-- that is, rape as it is depicted in literature, mythology, and cultural practices-- differs in terms of the gender-audience at which it is directed. I've said elsewhere that the differences between men and women are not reducible to sociological programming; if anything, the genders have the same range of affects, separated only in terms of attitude, what Nietzsche helpfully terms "tempo."

Physical rape-- the term I use to distinguish the real thing from symbolic treatments or even the related concept of *raptio*-- is almost always represented as the violation of a female by a male. Obviously, as I have stated earlier, this is not the only manifestation of rape, and not all rapes are committed by males, as attested by the narrative surrounding Joyce McKinney.  With these exceptions in mind, it must be specified that not all physical rape stems from the sexual dimorphism in homo sapiens. However, the effects of that dimorphism do skew the statistics toward males as perpetrators, whether against females or other males.

It should be noted that in nature as a whole, sometimes females of other species are given the advantage in terms of assault.  There is the notorious example of the black widow spider, where the doomed male is quite a bit smaller than his blushing-- and perhaps hungry-- bride.

More recently, we even have the so-far-unique example of a species of "cave insect" in Brazil where the female has quite literally "taken back the night" by evolving a "female penis" with which she plunders the sperm out of her opposite number.

But yes, in homo sapiens, men are usually bigger and heavier than women, so this factor predetermines many, though not all, instances of physical rape.

Now, biology does not determine our status any more than sociology. Yet there are aspects of one's existential physical situation that must be accepted even if, or when, one seeks to modify them-- again, whether biologically or sociologically.  I'm put in mind of my remarks to a poster named "JR" many years ago, who holds the record for the longest verbal duel with me on this blog. My remarks built in part on a commentary about Heidegger's concept of "thrownness:"

"'How we find ourselves' expresses the fact that we are thrown into a 'world' already there before us -- this is most evident in the radical sense of Birth. Hence, one is literally 'thrown into a world' beyond one's control -- but this 'world' is not merely a particular environment -- it has its place in history: one is, broadly speaking, thrown into a historical moment."

True, the series of essays I'm envisioning deal with "symbolic rape" rather than "physical rape," since I'll be talking about its appearance in popular fiction, in order to disprove poster Marionette's statement that symbolic rape is no more than "a hideously overused trope."  But while symbolic discourse is also neither determined by biology or sociology, it will be seen that it does find its expression in terms of the aforesaid "historical moment."