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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, November 20, 2015


I've never claimed to be an expert in the culture of archaic Greece, so I can only make tentative assertions based on fragmentary evidence. Within the halls of academia, there may be extensive analysis of the provenance of these terms, but the most thorough references I can find on the Net credit Hippocrates and related medical authors for using the two terms in my title-- "kenosis" and "plerosis"-- to mean "an inadequate diet" and "a more-than-adequate diet." It should surprise no one that these arcane technical terms originally connoted something having to do with the body, pertaining to whether it was too empty or too full-- both conditions that are opposed to one's diet being, as in the Goldilocks tale, "just right."

In Theodor Gaster's schema, there are two primary types of ritual action performed for both kenosis and plerosis, and each is focused on creating a distinct mood for the witnessing audience:

First the rites of mortification, symbolizing the temporary eclipse of the community. Next the rites of purgation, by which all noxious elements that might impair the community's future welfare are eliminated. Then the rites of invigoration, aimed at stimulating the growth of crops, the fecundity of humans and beasts, and the supply of needed sunshine and rainfall throughout the year. Finally, when the new lease is assured, come the rites of jubilation; there is a communal meal at which the members of the community recement their bonds of kinship by breaking bread together, and at which their gods are present.

These descriptions may or may not be adequate to describe all forms of archaic ritual activity, but they adapt well to the Fryean scheme of the four mythoi, which is my main concern here.

In Part 1 I asserted the logic of Alfred Adler's compensation theory, in which individuals might seek to compensate for various forms of conflict-- or what Hans Selye calls 'stress"-- in various ways. Some compensation strategies might prove negative in that they weakened the individual who pursued said strategies, while others would be positive, in that they made the individual stronger in some way.

I've been exploring, and will continue to explore, the ways in which fiction does or does not succeed in terms of the mythopoeic potentiality. This is a purely formal argument that does not impact directly on considerations of positive and negative compensation, though in Part 1 I stated that any such considerations would have to line up with my analysis that fiction had to be true to its greatest potential.

Because of my concept of *thematic escapism,* I've validated a lot of narratives that other critics have viewed as "fascist." I won't repeat my various arguments here, but one that I advanced in the March essay POSSE COMIC-TATUS might also be seen in terms of Adlerian compensation for the mythos of adventure. In that essay I wrote:

In my essay TORTURED, PROSAICALLY, I largely defended the trope of inquisitorial torture from the usual attacks on it, but noted two exceptions, in which the television programs 24 and HAWAII 5-O indulged in the trope purely for the sake of showing the hero in the position of doling out violence without restraint. These shows were in part bad because there was no sense that the authorities involved might face any consequences for their actions, and in part because they were, in Sadean terms, stupid and unimaginative. At least when a Mickey Spillane hero tortures someone, there's a sort of brain-fevered fascination with the act itself, and I've often thought that Spillane's ideological posturings were just an excuse to bring about retributive violence. In other words, Spillane, like Sade, esteemed violence for its own sake, not as a means for preserving the police state.

The exploits of Mike Hammer and Jack Bauer depend heavily on retributive violence, which means that they pertain to the mythos of adventure, which according to my adaptation of Gaster's four moods is primarily meant to be "invigorative" in its effect upon its audience.  But I would have to say that the Sadean air that Mickey Spillane brings to his righteous heroes is one that can "strengthen" the reader if said reader is able to read it as a wild fantasy, rather than mistaking it for a rendition of reality. In contrast, the "stupid and unimaginative" fantasy of the teleseries 24 lacks any of the qualities seen in the Spillane works. Both are "plerotic" works, in that the audience is supposed to feel invigorated by seeing evildoers defeated by the representatives of social good. But I label only Spillane as being a "good plerotic meal," while the contrasting examples are the sort of meals that will make one feel full, but in a way that weakens the body and the mind.

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