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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...

Wednesday, April 29, 2015


In SACRED AND PROFANE VIOLENCE PART 1, I outlined a way in which both fictional sex and violence, although ultimately distinct in their various applications, could be subsumed as a sort of narrative "violence" that brought about the transformation from the outset of the narrative to its resolution.  My future discussions of sex and violence in this essay-series, however, aren't meant to be focused on the abstraction of pure narrative, so I've decided to continue this aspect of my ruminations under the rubric COMPENSATION CONSIDERATIONS. This 2014 essay-series was the first time I considered that both the combinatory mode and the dynamicity mode might be applied to my adaptation of Adler's theory of positive and negative compensation.

The terms "combinatory mode" and "dynamicity mode" are new extrapolations from the established terms "combinatory-sublime" and "dynamic-sublime." The latter terms were appropriate to the particular types of fantasy-narrative I was analyzing in the earlier essays. However, now that I'm speaking of narrative as a whole, I'm forced to apply the concepts across the board. After all, in VERTICAL VIRTUES  and its second part, I took the Huxley-derived position that all fiction is concerned in some way with transcendence, be it "horizontal," "upward," or "downward." The first form of transcendence is defined by its lack of the sublime affects present in the other two forms. But narratives of "horizontal transcendence," while not constituted to deliver the major emotional upsurges seen in the other forms, must be rooted in the same matrix of will and desire that informs the others.  So it follows within my system that a work of horizontal transcendence-- Mitchell's GONE WITH THE WIND being my chosen example in the VIRTUES essays-- must conform to the same pattern as the two sublime forms. WIND's main theme relates to dynamicity, in that it addresses the regulation of power in its society is negotiated: the death of the Old South and its resistance to the victorious North, even while the North is subtly changing the old values. However, the mode of the combinatory appears as well. Tolkien, whose seminal essay "On Fairy Stories" was a key influence on my refinement of my sublimity-theory, discusses this form of the non-sublime combinatory mode:

Of course, fairy-stories are not the only means of recovery, or prophylactic against loss. Humility is enough. And there is (especially for the humble) Mooreeffoc, or Chestertonian Fantasy. Mooreeffoc is a fantastic word, but it could be seen written up in every town in this land. It is Coffee-room, viewed from the inside through a glass door, as it was seen by Dickens on a dark London day; and it was used by Chesterton to denote the queerness of things that have become trite, when they are seen suddenly from a new angle. That kind of “fantasy” most people would allow to be wholesome enough; and it can never lack for material. But it has, I think, only a limited power; for the reason that recovery of freshness of vision is its only virtue.

And in this regard Mitchell's "freshness of vision." her invocation of the combinatory mode in its non-sublime form, appears in WIND's highly variegated characters. In this essay I mentioned that "GONE WITH THE WIND lacks the affects of the sublime, but that lack doesn't take anything from Mitchell's amazing ability to create characters who can seem well-rounded even though they may appear for no more than a paragraph or two." I'm not an expert on historical fiction of Mitchell's period, or of any period, but I would venture to guess that most popular writers working in Mitchell's idiom did not work as hard as she did rendering all of these characters, both major and minor. For that matter, there are quite a few authors of canonical literature who are must weaker on minor characters than Mitchell, including "big guns" like Hemingway and Fitzgerald.

Turning back to a topic raised in SACRED AND PROFANE, I sought to bring my Bataillean concept of narrative "violence" in line with what I'd written in the essay THE BASE LEVEL OF CONFLICT. I hadn't noticed until recently that I wrote the BASE LEVEL essay a couple of weeks before I made my breakthrough in deducing two forms of sublimity. Prior to the TWO SUBLIMITIES HAVE I series, I had only defined sublimity in terms of dynamicity. Thus, when I tried to analyze Bradbury's story "The Last Night of the World," I was on some level seeking to express the nature of conflict in terms that would make sense within the dynamic-sublime, and so I asserted that the story was an example of Nietzsche's "will to nothingness." This isn't so much wrong as incomplete, for the "conflict" I was seeking is not one of dynamicity, but of the combinatory mode.

In the past couple of years I've identified instances of "combinatory thinking" in authors like J.R.R. Tolkien, Joseph Campbell and Grant Morrison, but the unintentional father of this concept must be, in a historical sense, Edmund Burke, who emphasized its power in this passage:

Thirdly, by words we have it in our power to make such combinations as we cannot possibly do otherwise. By this power of combining, we are able, by the addition of well-chosen circumstances, to give a new life and force to the simple object. In painting we may represent any fine figure we please; but we never can give it those enlivening touches which it may receive from words.

I still assert that the predominant appeal of "The Last Night of the World" is its defiance of audience-expectations re: the equanimity with which the viewpoint-characters-- and implicitly, all other people in the world except the children-- meet the world's irrevocable end. But this conflict arises from the combination of a dire situation with reactions which do not seem to fit that situation, as seen by this exchange:

"Do you know, I won't miss anything but you and the girls. I never liked cities or autos or factories or my work or anything except you three. I won't miss a thing except my family and perhaps the change in the weather and a glass of cool water when the weather's hot, or the luxury of sleeping. Just little things, really. How can we sit here and talk this way?"
"Because there's nothing else to do."

I should note that this was one of several 1950s stories Bradbury wrote that referenced the possibility of nuclear devastation. "Last Night" hints that the peaceful ending of the world takes the place of such a devastation, and that it comes about specifically because nuclear death is so close to reality:

"There are bombers on their course both ways across the ocean tonight that'll never see land again."
"That's part of the reason why."

Thus Bradbury's strategy for giving "new life and force" to the overly familiar threat of nuclear war was to undercut its power by invoking a greater power, one that simply chooses to end the story of mankind in the manner of "the closing of a book"-- an apt metaphor for a writer frustrated with the follies of mankind.

Thus the conflict of Bradbury's story is expressed through the combination of things that don't quite seem to match, much like the images I reproduced in COMPENSATION CONSIDERATIONS PART 3.  Of course, these images, like the Bradbury story, seek to evoke the "strangeness" of the sublime, and this provides a contrasting employment of the combinatory mode to what we see in Margaret Mitchell's purely horizontal, representational cast of characters. Yet even the horizontal manifestations serve to illustrate the incredible fecundity of the combinatory mode.

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