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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

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, May 13, 2015

PLAYING WITH FUNCTIONS

Not the artist alone but every creative individual whatsoever owes all that is greatest in his life to fantasy. The dynamic principle of fantasy is play, a characteristic also of the child, and as such it appears inconsistent with the principle of serious work. But without this playing with fantasy no creative work has ever yet come to birth. The debt we owe to the play of imagination is incalculable." (Jung, PSYCHOLOGICAL TYPES, 1921, page 63.)
I regard sensation as conscious, and intuition as unconscious, perception. For me sensation and intuition represent a pair of opposites, or two mutually compensating functions, like thinking and feeling. Thinking and feeling as independent functions are developed, both ontogenetically and phylogenetically, from sensation (and equally, of course from intuition as the necessary counterpart of sensation).-- more Jung.

In the third essay of the series THE ONLY DEFINITION OF ART YOU'LL EVER NEED, I started from Jung's proposition that art should be fundamentally defined as "play," but that so-called "serious art" and "escapist art" respectively would have to be separated out as "play for work's sake" and "play for play's sake."

From this secondary proposition I articulated, in JOINED AT THE TRIP PT. 4, a schema for assigning merit to each of these art-modes. By the design of this schema, both "good serious art" and "mediocre serious art" would be equal in terms of being "play for work's sake," that is, the narratives of serous art are designed so that the author can put forth some sort of ethical or moral argument. Yet, perhaps paradoxically, I stated that the superior "serious narrative" was one which successfully incorporated elements of play into its "work-oriented" theme. William Faulkner's LIGHT IN AUGUST possessed a "work-oriented" theme comparable to that of J.M. Coetzee's DISGRACE, but Faulkner's novel succeeds on more than one level because the author allowed some elements of play to leaven his serious theme.

Similarly, I stated that even though both Mitchell's GONE WITH THE WIND and Dixon's CLANSMAN were escapist works, ruled by the principle of "play for play's sake," of imagining the world as one might like it to be rather than as it is. Of these two works, Mitchell's was superior because I could discern that she had incorporated elements of work into a "play-oriented theme." I viewed the verisimilitude that Mitchell conferred on her character-types to be one such element of work, and as such one that seems to have been deficient in THE CLANSMAN, though I admitted that I made this judgment purely from viewing the D.W. Griffith film.

But what, a hostile critic might ask, does it really mean to speak of "elements of play" and "elements of work?"

Just as I endorse Jung's opinion with regard to the "dynamic principle" underlying all creative work, the father of depth psychology also provides the answer to this question.

Not mentioned in the second Jung-quote above is that Jung also divided his four functions into two distinct categories: "the irrational," sensation and intuition, in that no rational meditation is needed for them, and "the rational," thinking and feeling, which both require what Jung calls "reflection."

Given my endorsement of these divisions of the human psyche, I found myself applying these to literary qualities.  In a rough way I was influenced by Gerald Mast's 1984 work of cinema-theory, FILM/CINEMA/MOVIE, in which he argued for evaluating films in terms of both "the mimetic" (the film's ability to reproduce verisimilitude) and "the kinetic" (the film's ability to make the audience feel sensations within their imagined experience). So far as I know Mast's theory was not followed up by later film-critics, and I may be the only one to do so, even though I thoroughly re-interpreted his duality into a quaternity of what I called "potentialities," as stated in FOUR BY FOUR:

The KINETIC is a potentiality that describes the relationships of sensations.
The DRAMATIC is a potentiality that describes the relationships of discrete personalities.
The THEMATIC is a potentiality that can describe the relationships of abstract ideas.
The MYTHOPOEIC is a potentiality that may describe the relationships of symbols.
(I will henceforth substitute a new name, "the DIDACTIC," to replace "THEMATIC," which word is too easily confused with its more commonplace literary usage.)


I also cited two very brief examples as to how given works in the comics medium might emphasize one or another of the Jungian functions/ Phillipsian potentialities, with a concomitant de-emphasis of the others:

I might attempt to use Jung's function-terms to assert that Dave Sim's cerebral CEREBUS privileges the function of "thinking" more than any other, and that Frank Miller's SIN CITY privileges the function of "sensation." But though it's easy to make such an assertion, it's less easy to demonstrate its truth through textual examples.

I don't plan at this time to develop the theory of the four potentialities, since it's difficult to isolate the operations of each function from the others. But my hypothetical answer to my hypothetical hostile critic would be:

"The elements of play" are those that invoke the irrational kinetic and mythopoeic potentialities of the narrative.

"The elements of work" are those that invoke the rational thinking and feeling potentialities of the narrative.

Again, to a hostile critic, these refinements would still not resonate, but to pursue the concept further, I'll return to the examples cited in JOINED AT THE TRIP PT. 4.

What "realistic" elements are held in common by LIGHT IN AUGUST and DISGRACE?  Both novels are organized around scapegoat-characters. In the Faulkner novel, the character is Joe Christmas, a man who may or may not be half-black, who becomes the lightning-rod for white-black relations in 1930s Mississippi. The same is the case for the Coetzee novel, where the character David Lurie, a white man in South Africa, generates a white-black conflict based in the heritage of European imperialism. Neither novel emphasizes the irrational function of sensation, and so their potentiality for the *kinetic* is mutually nugatory. However, Faulkner's comprehension of the mythopoeic relationships of his narrative far exceed those of Coetzee.

What "escapist" elements are held in common by GONE WITH THE WIND and THE CLANSMAN? Both novels are organized around the sufferings of a community. oppressed by the liberation of slaves in the Deep South. That greater community is boiled down to the sufferings of a particular white family: the O'Haras in the Mitchell narrative, the Stonemans in the Dixon narrative. In both novels one solution to the South's oppression is the formation of a vigilante group, the Ku Klux Klan, though this solution is the main thrust of Dixon and a side-plot in Mitchell. Neither novel is strong on the "abstract ideas" necessary to support the rational function of thinking, and so their potentiality for the *didactic* is mutually nugatory. However, Mitchell's narrative finds its strength in the potentiality of "feeling," given that it manages to conjure forth a rich tapestry of character interactions, an arena in which Dixon's story cannot compete.

All four of these examples, of course, depend on one's having read the novels. In the coming months it may be possible to provide more extended applications of this theory-- a conflation of the work-play dichotomy and the four potentialities-- to media-works that are, at very least, easier to assimilate.

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