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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, April 28, 2015


“Status quo” science fiction. . . . opens with a conventional picture of social reality. . . . This reality 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. At the story’s conclusion, the initial reality (the status quo) reasserts itself (ix).-- Frank Cioffi, cited here.
…we must inquire into the very nature of narrative. Let us begin by constructing an image of the minimum narrative, not the kind we usually find in contemporary texts, but that nucleus without which we cannot say there is any narrative at all. The image will be as follows: All narrative is a movement between two equilibriums which are similar but not identical.-- Tzvetan Todorov, cited here.

I've mentioned many times that the philosophy of Georges Bataille is key to my project of analyzing the affects of fictional sex and violence in rigorous narratological terms. At the same time, I've gone to great pains to refute this Bataille statement:

In essence, the domain of eroticism is the domain of violence, of violation.

This 2010 essay states the argument succinctly, but it has recently occurred to me that when Bataille says "in essence," he might have been thinking of the similitudes of sex and violence in terms other than as "the sensuous frenzy" that he claimed was the link between both activities. Now it seems possible to me that Bataille-- though he does not expressly say so-- may have been thinking about the function of both activities in human society, to which topic he also devotes considerable space in EROTISM:

In the domain of our life [the principle of] excess manifests in so far as violence wins over reason. Work demands the sort of conduct where effort is in a constant ratio with productive efficiency. It demands rational behavior where the wild impulses worked out on feast days and usually in games are frowned upon. If we were unable to repress these impulses we should not be able to work, but work introduces the very reason for repressing them. These impulses confer an immediate satisfaction on those who yield to them. Work, on the other hand, promises to those who overcome [these impulses] a reward later on whose value cannot be disputed except from the point of view of the present moment.
In this societal sense, the "domains" of sex and violence are indeed homologous given that they so frequently conflict with the world of useful work.  Yet even given this paradigm, one cannot overlook that both practices admit of being used to support "productive efficiency," channeling the violent impulses of the young into warfare that brings more resources into a given society, or making advantageous marriages in order to create social bonds between separate groups. Nor should one make the Mickey Marx mistake of assuming that these stratagems are imposed upon innocent members of society by their devious rulers. There's nothing that a group's ruler has ever conceived that did not have its genesis in the stratagems used by "ordinary people" in their dealings with one another.

Now, since one of the main concerns of this blog is "fictional sex and violence," how if at all does Bataille's linkage of the domains of sex and violence apply to fictional narrative?

For clarity I return to the two complementary analyses cited above, by Frank Cioffi and Tzvetan Todorov, as to the nature of narrative. It's a well-worn truism that all fiction must revolve around some form of "conflict," but that truism doesn't say anything about the various ways in which conflict operates.

Of the two scholars, Cioffi employs a violent term-- "disrupted"-- to describe the way the "reality" at a story's beginning is transformed into another reality by the story's conclusion. (See the fuller quote in the cited essay for Cioffi's thoughts about the ways in which the "status quo" may be upset, or how the same dynamics apply no less to other genres than to the science-fiction genre with which he's concerned.)

Typically enough, Todorov-- a more elitist critic who barely takes notice of the permutations of popular literature-- avoids any such violent metaphors. Yet it's difficult to imagine what brings about his "movement between two equilibriums which are similar but not identical" except by some kinetic activity. Of course, not all activity is violent activity, and I myself have examined a particular Ray Bradbury story as providing a "base level of conflict." This might be an apt example of Todorov's minimal requirements for narrative movement: the Bradbury story begins with a couple that wakes in the night (initial equilibirum, or Cioffi's "status quo"), discuss between themselves their mutual vision that the world is about to end (movement), and are quickly reconciled to the world ending in a whimper (new equilibrium).

I took the position that the "conflict" in the Bradbury story was not intrinsic, since the tale only has two characters who immediately agree as to their new situation-- but extrinsic, in that their reaction conflicts with the expectations of the story's readers, who are likely to expect a bit more wailing and gnashing of teeth. I termed the characters' acceptance of their lot a "will to nothingness," But the matter may go deeper than that, as I will explore in more detail in the forthcoming Part 2.

[correction: since the essay mentioned above doesn't pertain directly to the matter of fictive violence, I've decided that it fits better as a follow-up to the two COMPENSATION CONSIDERATIONS essay.]

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