Featured Post


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, May 16, 2015


I said at the end of PLAYING WITH FUNCTIONS that I'd seek to find examples of the four potentialities that might be more accessible than the novels I cited (GONE WITH THE WIND being the only one of the four that is widely read these days). But it's occurred to me that since I revived the concept of the potentialities alongside the Langerian concept of consummation, adapted here with application to literary merit.

I chose "potentialities" as the term for these four types of relationship between literary elements because such elements are not "given," like physical elements. The author is, as Tolkien rightly says, a "sub-creator," and for a work to succeed with respect to any of the potentialities, a significant number of readers must feel that all or at least most of the proper elements are well enough assembled that the work feels "finished," which is the definition of the adjective "consummate," But when the audience feels that the work is "unfinished" in some way-- i.e., "inconsummate"-- the result is audience dissatisfaction. Of course, "consummate" and "inconsummate" will never replace common terms like "good" and "bad," or even "cool" and " sucky." But I believe that they are not only more accurate with respect to the vagaries of taste, the dichotomy allows one to explore the potentialities with a somewhat more objective eye.

I've stated in a general way that most works are dominated by a particular potentiality, but here I want to state that my principle of centricity applies to the potentialities as much as to mythos. In JUNG AND SOVEREIGNTY I stated:

 One of the key features of my ongoing theory is the notion that every coherent narrative, even if it contains elements of all four of Northrop Frye's mythoi, only one of the mythoi dominates the narrative.... I find it interesting that even though Frye does not invoke Jung's four psychological functions (sensation, intuition, thinking, feeling), Frye's "logic of dominance" (my term) mirrors the logic Jung uses to assert that only one of the psychological functions can be dominant when it is in a "conscious" state. 

The same logic pertains to the potentialities. In FOUR BY FOUR I used Dave Sim's CEREBUS as an example of a work dominated by the potentiality of "the didactic." (And though I've never stated it outright, its overall structure conforms to the mythos of the Fryean irony.) The same "logic of dominance" pertains to both. CEREBUS contains elements characteristic of the drama, the comedy, and the adventure, but overall the elements of the irony dominate. And like all works that are primarily about "thinking," its potentiality is dominated by the didactic. Elements of the kinetic, the dramatic and the mythopoeic are all present, but they don't inform what Frye would call the "total vision" of the work.

Now, since Sim was a superlative (if problematic) artist, even the "inferior potentialities" are generally well executed, even if they are "side dishes" to the main entree. So in none of my four categories do I consider Sim's work "inconsummate."  In contrast, if a work seeks to craft even a side dish, and does so in an unsatisfactory manner, then the work is inconsummate with respect to that potentiality. For instance, in this essay I judged that Mark Millar's WANTED fails in the domain of the dramatic. Dramatic relations are certainly not the focus of WANTED, but since Millar fails in this department as much as he does in the centric area of WANTED-- that is, the sensation-oriented "kinetic"-- then in these two areas the work is inconsummate.

Similarly, Millar botches any mythopoeic elements that might have been inherent in his proposition that "this is what happens when the villains win." So WANTED is inconsummate with respect to those three potentialities.

But is it fair to view WANTED as having failed in the domain of the didactic? Millar isn't really dealing with abstract ideas at all; he doesn't even bother to lend any intellectual rationalizations to the characters' actions. I would probably judge the potentiality of the didactic to be inconsummate as well, but in a different way than the others. It's not so much "tried to run the marathon and failed to complete it" as "didn't even show up at the starting-post."

ADDENDA: I should add that it's certainly possible for an author to use one of his non-centric potentialities in a minimal fashion, yet still prove satisfying and thus "consummate" with respect to that potentiality. Spielberg's RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, like Millar's WANTED, is primarily intended to evoke the audience's thrill in pure kineticism, and so like WANTED, the other three potentialities are all used to a lesser extent. Yet whereas WANTED fails to support its extravagance with any hint of abstract concepts, RAIDERS evokes didactic concepts-- like modern man's indebtedness to ancient history-- to a degree which is satisfying even though it remains even more minimal than the film's dramatic and mythopoeic components.

No comments: