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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...

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

A "NULL-MYTH" PREFACE

Before I print the first of my series of "null-myths," I want to ramble on a bit about the contrasts between "mythicity" and its alleged opposite.

I first suggested the use of "null-myth" in this essay. With this term I wanted to introduce a term that would be more elastic than "false myth," a term which Ursula LeGuin made up out of whole cloth and little logic, and applied rather high-handedly to the character of Superman. As a hardcore comics-reader-- something I'm sure LeGuin never was-- I was aware that there had been many super-stories that had strong mythicity (defined elsewhere as "the symbolic complexity comparable to that of archaic myth")--



--as well as many more than did not possess more than mythic potential. Such stories would be "null-mythic" because whatever potential they had was not fulfilled.




About three years later, I got around to reading Philip Wheelwright's book THE BURNING FOUNTAIN. In a handful of essays, such as this one,  I asserted a basic similitude-- though not identity-- between my concepts and Wheelwright's continuum of language-forms, primarily described as "steno-language," in which linguistic representations are largely denotative and have only the simplest connotations, and "poeto-language," in which there is theoretically no limit to the connotative associations of the representations. In ONLY AN ARCHETYPE CAN BEAT ANOTHER ARCHETYPE PART 1  I made the similitude between my system and that of Wheelwright explicit:

It's my contention, then, that stereotypes are static representations in tune with Wheelwright's "steno-language," while true archetypes are dynamic representations in tune with his concept of "poeto-language."

Thus, Superman as a concept may have high or low mythicity in any given iteration. All fictional characters and "focal presences" have this potential, though it's fair to observe that some characters have so few "high-mythic" moments that one can easily designate them as "null-myths" in a statistical sense. Thus, Ebony of THE SPIRIT-- whom I mentioned in ONLY AN ARCHETYPE-- has this potential as much as Superman. But since the potential is only infrequently (if ever) realized with Ebony, one can speak of him as a "null-myth" as well as a stereotype. It should be noted that Ebony is not a stereotype because many modern readers don't like what he represents, while the contemporaneous readers of THE SPIRIT found him unobjectionable. It is the lack of symbolic complexity that makes a character stereotypical, not his or her political correctness.




I didn't stick with the term "null-myth" very long, but in 2011 I conceived this essay as a way of working Susanne Langer's concept of an "unconsummated symbol" into my system, where it occupied the position of "praxis of language" alongside the Wheelwright "theory of language." I wrote:

In earlier essays I've spoken in symbolic discourse in terms of *mythicity,* through which concept it's possible to detect differing degrees of symbolic complexity within a range of literary works.  This remains the cornerstone of my theory, but Langer's terms are useful for determining the processes behind the articulation of complexity. In this essay I formulated the term "null-myth" for a given element in a narrative that did not happen to be complex in a particular iteration, with the explicit statement that no such element was beyond a high-mythic transformation elsewhere. In yet another essay I conjoined my Frye-influenced theories of symbolic complexity with those of Philip Wheelwright, who employed the terms *plurisignative* and *monosignative* for differing levels of symbolic expression.

And finally, of late I've been adapting both "consummate" and "inconsummate" as terms to be applied to the discrete potentialities of a given work, with the idea that such terms might be more precise than the more frequent "doesn't suck" and "sucks." The four "null-myths" that I've retroactively identified here are all inconsummate with regard to the mythopoeic potentiality, but this says nothing about any other potentiality for entertainment. The two Jack Kirby works cited-- BLACK PANTHER 1-2 and the "Challengers" story in SHOWCASE #6-- display Jack Kirby's mastery of comic-book kineticism. In this same kinetic sense the "faux Captain-Marvelisms" of MAGICMAN don't come close to touching Kirby's work even at its weakest, but in the right frame of mind it might be enjoyed on that level too. Only Mark Millar's work is one I consider "practically inconsummate in every way."

Thus, when I present my examples of "inconsummate comics," I would reiterate that I'm only assessing them in terms of their mythopoetic potentiality. I've often enjoyed various comics for any of the other three reasons-- didactic, dramatic, and kinetic-- and it may be that some, or all, of the examples I choose may be strong in these departments.


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