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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 haven't revisited Theodor Gaster's concept of "kenosis and plerosis" for some time, but it's occurred that some of my writings on the subject should be cross-compared with my observations on Adler's concept of "positive and negative compensation."

In this April essay, I cited what I found to be the closest Alfred Adler came, at least in a particular collection of his works, to giving examples of positive and negative compensation with respect to a particular bodily activity: that of sight:

As a negative example of overcompensation, Adler posits a situation in which a paranoiac is so impelled by "the drive to see" that "the weakness of the overcompensation expresses itself in hallucinatory fits and visual appearances"... In contrast to this, Adler gives a positive example of a documented writer with poor vision: Friedrich Schiller, who exorcised his nearsighted demons by creating a fictional hero reputed for faultless aim and vision: William Tell.

I further observed that many elitist critics tended, unlike Adler, to view all such heroic fantasies as if they were negative compensations, as if they were automatically bad for being "escapes from reality." Since I have from the beginnings of this blog championed the idea that "fictions of escape" cannot be judged by the same terms as "fictions of realism,"  my verdict in this essay was that the only sin of a given fictional narrative lies in not living up to its potential as fiction:

This, then, would be my criterion for both "negative compensation" in literature and the only ways in which fiction can be correctly seen as escaping responsibility. Only when a given work of a given mode fails to be true to its own mode would it be "escaping" from anything in a negative manner; that of escaping from its own potential as fiction.
That said, aside from the very broad categories of "thematic realism" and "thematic escapism," I've also tried to map out how particular types of potential are oriented according to other criteria. Northrop Frye was my original guide in terms of viewing every fictional narrative as being principally dominated by a type of *mythos:* each of which owed something to Frye's elaboration of material from myth-ritual scholars like Gilbert Murray. I kept two of Frye's terms for these mythoi, "comedy" and "irony," and substituted modern terms "drama" and "adventure" for his terms "tragedy" and "romance." In my opinion the substituted terms were more in keeping with the actual affects that each mythos was meant to invoke, not to mention being more in tune with the formulations of Theodor Gaster. Gaster was certainly a primary force upon Frye's meditations in 1957's ANATOMY OF CRITICISM, though Frye, being more taken with the Aristotelian model provided by Murray, did not say much about Gaster's formulations.  I, in contrast, was particularly taken with the predominant "moods" that Gaster identified in his four types of myth-ritual narrative, and how these moods followed patterns of what the archaic Greeks called "kenosis" and "plerosis." Over the years I've endeavored to meld Frye's schema of the four mythoi with Gaster's schema of the four moods, as in this 2012 essay:

In the first part of HERO VS. VILLAIN I aligned drama with irony in terms of what Theodor Gaster terms *kenosis,* the process that expels harmful energy from society, and adventure with comedy in terms of *plerosis,* the process that brings positive energy back into the community, in the following terms:
,,,plerosis is best conceived as the life-force engendered by the contest of hero-and-villain, taken seriously for the adventure and humorously for the comedy, while life is purged or otherwise compromised in the black-comic irony and in the drama.
In the rituals Gaster describes, one must assume that both *kenosis* and *plerosis,* as societal rituals, were intended to have beneficial effects upon the society that practiced them.  The question of "escaping from potential as fiction" does not even come up in the context of religion.

However, because fiction is almost always presumed to be man-made, the question of whether or not it does its job well-- whether one uses terms like "positive and negative compensation," or "consummation and inconsummation"-- is one that recurs again and again.

In Part 2 I'll address some of the complexities involved in applying Adler's compensation argument to my adaptation of Gaster's concepts of plerotic and kenotic narratives.

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