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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...

Saturday, March 7, 2015


At the beginning of Part 5 of CROSSING THE LAWLINES, I said:

I'll probably wind up my essays on clansgression for the time being with this entry. There are a number of other subtle ramifications of the theory, but by next week I plan to work on some new angles regarding the NUM theory and the concept of freedom.

It's taken longer than expected to do so, but the dominant "angle" I have in mind is a comparison of the "freedom" on which I expatiated in LET FREEDOM RIDE  with Ernst Cassirer's definition of "mythical thinking" as a phenomenological investment of a "free selection of causes" as to the nature of reality-- as opposed to the logical, unitary limitations of causality that are inevitably worked out by "discursive thinking."

I touched on this in THE POWERS THAT BIND PART 2:

This mutual narrative dependence on a "free selection of causes," then, is a key link between the realm of archaic myth and the realm of metaphenomenal narrative; a link that is not in the least diminished by arguments defining myth through functionalism, or even by my own distinction between religious myths and literary myths as that of "closed rituals vs. open rituals."  And when the metaphenomenal author chooses his causal agent, he is placed in the same position as the archaic myth-maker.  The rules of normal cause and effect, of regular time and space as the author knows them, must be transcended by an authorial "efficacy," as in, "It works this way because I say it does."

But both in myth and in metaphenomenal literature, causal freedom is not an adulation of randomness for the sake of randomness, as one sees in the spoof-religion of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.  It is a means of selecting, out of the "blooming, buzzing confusion" of perceived reality, those phenomena that are most important to human beings in a particular culture, and placing them in an expressive continuum. In JUNG LOVE FIRST LOVE I phrased it in this manner:

In Jung's view, myth, both in its archaic and modern manifestations, is a creative response to the archetypal experience.  He opposes the idea of "myth as primitive science" advanced by E.B. Tylor and James Frazer, claiming that primitive man possesses an "imperative need... to assimilate all outer sense experiences to inner, psychic events."  I agree, but with the caveat that in many instances primitive humans did look for aspects of "outer sense experiences" that were regularly replicated.  This is the sort of thing Tylor mistook for primitive science; the idea that, for instance, a story about a sun-god was an attempt to understand how the real sun worked. 
In Jung's paradigm, it's impossible to imagine a primitive trying to explain the regular motions of the sun in terms of a figure like Helios driving his chariot across the sky.  However, it would be fair to state that many of the features of the physical world that science would study in terms of their etiology-- the movement of celestial bodies, the characteristics of vegetation, et al-- were sacred clues to the nature of divine power.  The "empty and purely formal" archetype is the principle around which these "clues" aggregated.  For Jung the emotional wonder of beholding the sun as a sacred mystery would be the keystone of making a myth about it, while the specific local details of any given myth were the "ions and molecules" upon which the organizing power acts.

More recently, in THE WORK AND PLAY MIX-A-LOT, I drew a parallel in which the "organizing power" was best symbolized as "play" while "the molecules of the crystal" could be symbolized as "work." I mention this to emphasize that both "work" and "play" are interdependent necessities, not opposed in the conventional sense that people oppose, say, "right choice" and "wrong choice."

I've most frequently castigated comics-critics for choosing to see fiction as nothing more than sociological justifications, which for me is an unsupportable limitation upon the freedoms of fictional narrative. These critics would be guilty of making the choice of "work" at the wrong time or in the wrong place. That does not mean that there are not other times or places in which it is necessary to emphasize work over play, and I've done so myself in particular circumstances.

Can one meaningfully draw parallels, then, between the freedom to make moral choices and the ability to change one's phenomenological perspective within fictional narratives? I obviously think so, even with my knowledge that most people are not conscious of those differing perspectives. Nerds and academics are usually the only ones given to sussing out whether, say, Poe's House of Usher belongs to fantasy, reality, or something in between. Nevertheless, the critics who wish to reduce all narrative to a series of sociologically or politically correct choices are not advocating freedom, only a rigid conception of equity.

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