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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, April 25, 2015



[Campbell is] entirely justified in making generalized observations of hypothetically universal patterns. No one would criticize a physicist for asserting that gravity ought to work pretty much the same everywhere, except under circumstances that have unusual physical propensities. 

This week, I came across a Jung quote that justifies the use of typology in similar terms:

It is not the purpose of a psychological typology to classify human beings into categories--this in itself would be pretty pointless....we could compare typology to a trigonometric net or, better still, to a crystallographic axial system....it is an essential means for determining the 'personal equation' of the practicing psychologist, who armed with an exact knowledge of his differentiated and inferior functions, can avoid many serious blunders in dealing with his patients

I won't reiterate my observations as to why such typologies are disliked by ideological critics, which are adequately covered in PLENITUDE: IT'S NOT JUST FOR THE END-TIMES ANYMORE. But I will pursue some of the differences between Jung's use of "typology" for the purpose of analyzing the mental problems of living human beings, and its use by literary critics-- Frye being one of the principal "myth critics"-- for the purpose of analyzing the essence of literary characters, who have never lived. It should be patently obvious that even when an author brings some real historical personage into the mix, be if Jesse James or Martin Luther King, the historical figure is transformed into a literary character, even if said historical figure is not seen doing anything he did not do as recorded in our historical records.

Jung's quote is astute in that he clearly realizes how many persons will object to "classifying human beings into categories," even when those "opponents of typology" are not motivated by pure ideological concerns. But what is the objection to trying to classify literary figures into a typology, given that they're not living creatures?

The most frequent objection I've seen is the fear that typological criticism or "myth critcism," however one chooses to define these, will distort what the author was "trying to say." This assumes that fictional works are defined by their rhetoric; that they have moral or ethical concepts to put forth and that anything that doesn't fall in line with those concepts is an error.

Though I disagree with this definition of literature, I've certainly seen a great number of essays in which I felt that the critic was projecting his or her own worldview upon that of a given author. But what is the root cause of such misprisions?

In PLENITUDE I stressed Frye's distinction between "primary concerns" and "secondary concerns." "Secondary concerns," Frye writes in THE DOUBLE VISION, "include our political, religious, and other ideological loyalties," whereas "primary concerns" are those that we share with the animals; "food, sex, property, and freedom of movement."  The "secondary concerns" I have called the "mental strategies" by which a given human seeks to optimize his availability to the "primary concerns," whether he does so for his own ingroup or for some outgroup with whom he sympathizes. Frye specifies that one cannot put aside these more abstract interpretations of reality, and so it's in a sense inevitable that readers will make misinterpretations of one kind of another. Noah Berlatsky accuses me of wanting to "erase difference" by viewing superhero comics through a typological lens, and I accuse him of the doing the same thing through an ideological one.

Yet not all projections of the reader stem from the abstractions of "secondary concern." I remember a remark in THE COMIC BUYERS' GUIDE by Big Name Fan-Writer Don Thompson, wherein Thompson expressed aversion for anthropomorphic sex comics because he correlated the idea with bestiality. Since to the best of my knowledge anthropomorphic comics, sexy or otherwise, do not literally advocate bestiality, Thompson's correlation falls into the realm of "primary concerns." Seeing humanoid characters with the characteristics of beasts connotes "a kind of sex that is not good," and so he projected that animus upon whatever comics he was looking at. My own take, for what it's worth, is that the bestial aspects of anthropomorphic characters are skin-deep, and what one is seeing in, say, OMAHA is less "cat making it with a man" or even "cat making it with dog" than it is two (or more) human beings wearing animal-costumes.

I've repeatedly taken the position that I'm no fan of the statement that "all readings are subjective, therefore one's as good as another." Yet although any number of readers can make objectively wrong readings, even the bad ones are rooted in a desire for significance of some sort, as noted in Part 1 and Part 2 of THE INTERSUBJECTIVITY SOLUTION. A broad typology of the many avenues through which human beings seek significance is therefore indispensable for the pluralist critic.

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