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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...

Tuesday, January 6, 2015


In the early years of this blog I didn't trouble much about "first posts of each year." But I did so at the beginning of 2014, so I might as well ring in the new year in the same manner.

From my admittedly biased POV, 2014 was an important year in filling in some important elements of my literary theory.  If my "big discovery" of 2013 was my slow determination was that Kant's "dynamic sublime" did not adequately explain all aspects of the fictional sublime, a.k.a. "the sense of wonder," then for 2014 it was my chance exposure to Roy Bhaskar's work on scientific phenomenology. As described in this essay, Bhaskar's work proved helpful in guiding me away from the influence of C.S. Lewis and his persuasive but ultimately unrewarding meditation on probability. In the same essay I suggested a new refinement for the methods by which the phenomenalities of "the uncanny" and "the marvelous" appeal to the wonder-seeking audience.

Now I would rephrase [the above] 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, 2015 may bring even further refinements> But if I'm correct in thinking that Bhaskar's terminology has provided me with a firmer ground for the NUM theory that I ever derived from Lewis, Cassirer, or Todorov, then the question arises: is there an efficient way to communicate the theory of the combinatory-sublime to the actual seekers of wonder, the readers of horror, fantasy and science fiction?

That it represents my own responses to the joys of metaphenomenal art goes without saying. But the proof of the theory is, at least partially, to be found in practice.  I would expect that some readers of metaphenomenal literature would be somewhat more approachable to analyzing their responses in philosophical terms. They might not be up on all the Burke and Kant stuff, but a simple essay dealing with what makes marvelous images appealing-- something along the lines of COMPENSATION CONSIDERATIONS PT. 3-- might be one avenue of approach to the more bookish of the book-readers.

As for fans of fantasy-movies or fantasy-comics-- I have a feeling such analytical ruminations would not be to their taste. Whenever I've put forth feelers on such subjects on forums devoted to popular media, I almost get the feeling that these fantasy-fans have allowed their dominant culture to define the metaphenomenal experience for them, as with, "I know it's fantasy, but I like it anyway." Unfortunately this admission can lead anti-fantasists to accuse said fans of practicing simple "negative compensation," which I've attempted to refute here repeatedly.

It may be that one of my impending projects for 2015 may yield a better forum for these insights than one among a thousand blogs.  We shall see.


AT-AT Pilot said...

Hi, Gene. First off, Happy New Year and thank you for continuing to share your ideas about literature and film in your blogs.

The ARCH-ARC blog is fascinating and challenging--mainly because I am catching up on things I never learned in school. Heck, I think only one of the classes I had mentioned Frye (among other theorists). Most philosophers here--save for Jung--were unknown to me.

"...is there an efficient way to communicate the theory of the combinatory-sublime to the actual seekers of wonder, the readers of horror, fantasy and science fiction?"

As I stated, a lot of information in this blog is new to me. I imagine that others are in the same position, and unable to engage in this conversation. (I think superhero fans would appreciate this blog.) However, there's a kind of "language barrier" that could keep them from commenting--although looking up terms is quite easy from a browser, just need to highlight a word and search. Still, I don't feel comfortable enough with the material to add anything to the discussion; there's more reading to do first.

I think the NUM blog (along with FEMMES and OUROBOROS) is friendlier for newbies like myself. It would be great to see a NUM blog for comics. Maybe taking a Grant Morrison-like approach to a blog (comparing superheroes to mythological and religious figures) could also help in attracting genre fans.

Gene Phillips said...

I appreciate your input, Pilot. I've often rationalized that in some ways this blog is like a notebook of ideas rather than a straightforward series of essays. A while back I noticed that my local library had a copy of a Northrop Frye notebook. I checked it out, read through it-- and didn't get much out of it, specifically because it was just a lot of loosely associated ideas. I think my essays are more coherent than Frey's notes, but many of the essays *are* heavily cross-referential.

Actually, I'd been giving some thought to the idea of reviewing more comics, possibly with reference to the NUM theory. Years ago I did an alphabetical review of "myth-comics," but when it didn't generate any discussion, I retired the idea. But it could be interesting to see how some comics compare to famous "uncanny" films, or how comics play with Campbell's four functions.

Again, thanks for the encouragement.