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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...

Monday, May 4, 2015


In the WHAT WOMEN WILL essay-series-- which I referenced in Part 2 of this series-- I chose to focus upon two cultural and fictional archetypes, the Compassionate Man and the Barbarous Woman. These archetypes, whose appeal derives from their reversal of default characterizations of males and females, were directly derived from the works of the two 19th-century philosophers most associated with the concept of "the will:" Schopenhauer and Nietzsche.

Here, though, I'm concerned with following through the logic established in Nietzsche's assignment of the attributes of males and females as "will" and "willingness"-- which I in turn translated to the statement that the dominant attribute of males is violence, while that of females is sex. The Barbarous Woman, as represented by myth-figures like Athena and Ishtar, still applies to this dichotomy. However, the Compassionate Man-- represented by wise, caregiver-males like Osiris and Ea-- does not epitomize the male as a sexual being, though arguably both this archetype, and the substitute I'll shortly discuss, both depend on what Frank Herbert called "the force that gives" (see the WOMEN WILL series for details).

The turnabout myth-figure here would be rather "man, the lover," but it would have to be a type distanced from the notion of man as a dispenser of violence. In other words, though mythic and fictional characters ranging from Gilgamesh, Heracles, Don Juan and James Bond are known for scoring in epic proportions, their success with women is strongly predicated on the males' ability to fight. "Man the lover" would be represented by types like Adonis, Paris (despised in THE ILIAD for being only a "warrior between the sheets," or words to that effect), and the title character of the 1977 French film THE MAN WHO LOVED WOMEN (but not the ghastly 1983 American remake of said film by Blake Edwards).

So, for the purpose of this discussion, the archetypes that most fundamentally reverse the standard attributes of males and females are "Adonis, Loving Man" and "Athena, Fighting Woman." Both archetypes, despite going against the expected grain, sustained religious roles in archaic Greece and indubitably appeared in many, if not all, human cultures to some degree. And since one can also say this of the default gender-roles, then all four types have been "sacred" at some time or other-- which is my way of finally working back to the title of this essay-series.

At the same time, they have all had "profane" manifestations as well, if one accepts Durkheim's concept of the sacred and profane: that the former is devoted to the concerns of the group while the latter revolves around the concerns of individuals. Of course when dealing with figures from fiction, where one does not assume the unquestioned reality of supernormal personages, "sacred" and "profane" would assume a different meaning.

It would not depend on the fictional figure being actually popular with a large group of people, any more than sacredness in religious myth depends on this factor. for as I pointed out here, some figures of religious myth are clearly directed at "small enclaves or sub-societies."

More promisingly, I would say that for fiction the closest parallel between "sacred" and "profane" is the dichotomy proposed by Susanne Langer, which I in my turn have tweaked for my own uses. In fiction, to be "sacred" is to be consummate, in that the narrative's symbolic discourse has succeeded in promulgating some discernible meaning. In contrast, narratives that do not succeed in promulgating meaning through symbolic discourse would be profane in that their potential meaning is not activated, and is thus both profane and inconsummate.

In Part 4 I'll explore the two "turnabout archetypes" in terms of their relevance to Bataille's concept of "narrative violence" as referenced in Part 1.

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