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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...

Friday, September 11, 2015


But despite all this difference between the agreeable and the good, they do agree in this: they are always connected with an interest in their object."-- Kant, CRITIQUE OF JUDGMENT, sec. 209.

Given all the times I've run down the ideological critics for "overthimking the underthought," I must admit that I'm in a not dissimilar position whenever I try to thump the tub for the mythopoeic expressivity of Jung, Frye, and Cassirer.  In essence, most readers of any popular fiction are principally occupied with neither "thinking" nor "intuition." Rather, most of these readers are moved principally by the irrational function of sensation and the rational function of feeling.

Drawing on Jung's comment about the purpose of each function, reprinted here, in literature "sensation" refers to the readers' identification with the physical sensations of fictional characters, while "feeling" refers to the extrinsic value that the readers place upon the characters' actions. This schema compares, albeit very loosely, with the two categories of "interest" that Kant deduces in his aesthetic theory. In my essay WOLK HARD  I critiqued Douglas Wolk for oversimplifying Kant's argument and underestimating the extent to which his favored "artcomics" practitioners were able to emulate "disinterest," Kant's prerequisite for a person to make a good taste-judgment regarding art.

Obviously Kant and Jung don't offer an exact parallel. Kant sees "the agreeable" as stemming from the audience feeling "stimuli" from a given work, which is a good analogue to Jung's assessment that the sensation-function is purely governed by physical perception, though Jung allows that sensation has both its "concrete" and "abstract" manifestations. However, what Kant means by "the good" ties in to his complicated meditations on moral law, which don't concern me here. Jung is perhaps less trammeled than Kant in his observations on what he Jung terms the "feeling-function." While the psychologist considers "feeling" a function of judgment rather than simple perception, Jung specifies that feeling's purpose is "not to establish conceptual relations but to set up a subjective criterion of acceptance or rejection."

I can't speak directly to the experience of any other human being with respect to how one's mind processes fiction; I only have my own experience for a guide. However, I can remember the state of my mentality when I was younger, and not as oriented on reading with an eye to specific potentialities. When I remember my younger self, I picture my identification as being almost entirely focused upon imagining the sensations, good or bad, experienced by the fictional characters, and then either interrogating the characters on whether they ought to be "accepted or rejected"-- or, to use my own terminology, whether they were "sympathetic" or 'antipathetic."

In A PAUSE FOR POTENTIALITIES I cited a Jung passage in which he spoke of the intuition's "mythological images" as "the precursors of ideas." Given Jung's love of symmetry, he probably contemplated a similar indebtedness between the other two functions, given that the base input of sensations-- as to whether they were agreeable or disagreeable-- can be easily seen as the basis of the feeling-function's more sophisticated decisions about what people and things ought to be accepted or rejected.

The "fight-scene" provides one of the most elemental means by which a reader dovetails the sensation and feeling functions. If I were to read FANTASTIC FOUR #16 without knowing anything about the characters, I might not have any feeling-reaction at the sight of the story's heroes being thrashed, though in all likelihood I would have some notion that the big green guy was "antipathetic" to my interests while his mostly-human opponents were meant to be "sympathetic." Yet I would be, in all likelihood, able to imagine the characters' fictional sensations even without placing any rational value upon them.

Now Jung calls intuition an "irrational, perceiving function" while thinking is a "rational function of judgment." Despite this difference, both of them seem to be secondary processes for purposes of literary identification. Perhaps this is because neither is as immediate as its counterpart. Jung says that intuition "mediates perceptions of ideational connections," connections which have more to do with the past and future than with the present. And of course thinking can only take place once the subject has learned to accept and internalize the logical patterns of discursive mental activity.

So it's not likely that most readers of popular fiction will ever give many props either to the myth-critics or the ideological critics. Both are dealing with "secondary levels" of criteria by which one evaluates the material perceived. It's a shame that so many ideological critics have allowed themselves to believe that their ideational constructs are objectively real, rather than being rooted in a matrix of expressive and pre-discursive "myths." Jung provided the most even-handed evaluation of the virtues of the two secondary (my word) functions:

The primordial image has one great advantage over the clarity of the idea, and that is its vitality. It is a self-activating organism, endowed with generative power. The primordial image is an inherited organization of psychic energy, an integrated system, which not only gives expression to the energic process but facilitates its operation.''-- Jung, PSYCHOLOGICAL TYPES, p.. 447.

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