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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...

Saturday, December 19, 2015


As the Nietzsche citation in Part 3 should make clear, the philosopher believed in the principle of mastery, or "overcoming" (German *uberwindung*) as a necessary aspect of the human spirit. At the same time, he believed more profoundly that the possessor of a "master morality" should also practice *selbstuberwindung,* usually translated as "self-overcoming." As I observed here, Nietzsche expressed a marginal preference for the corrupt, real-life Cesare Borgia over the simon-pure fictional character Parsifal, essentially because Parsifal had no real "self" to be overcome. For similar reasons, Nietzsche expressed disgust at those whom he deemed adherents of "slave morality" because he felt that they weren't really any more free from the impulse of aggression than the representatives of "master morality." Rather, adherents of "slave morality" merely projected the illusion of self-mastery. Only those who consciously admitted the allure of mastery, of wielding power over others, had any true capacity for self-overcoming.

In other segments of COMBAT PLAY I've sought to provide somewhat more personal motives for advocating the importance of combat-fantasies, and for arguing that they can represent "positive compensation" when dealing with the travails of ordinary life. I would add-- without bringing in all the Hegelian arguments about the nature of freedom-- that it's psychically necessary for any individual human to feel as if he or she can, as the occasion demands, fight back against oppression of any kind. At the same time, the notion of "fair play" becomes important within the sphere of fiction and fantasy, possibly more important than it can ever be in the real world of political negotiation and compulsion. In my own lit-critic cosmos, the ideal of "fair play" assumes the role of "self-limitation" that is, in Nietzsche's philosophy, occupied by "self-overcoming." Clearly the importance of this concept has led me to author essays like this one, where my main concern is to account for certain pop-culture figures, such as the Golden Age Spectre, who seem to know little if any "self-limitation." In the original series, whose tone was set by scripter Jerry Siegel, there's no question that the Spectre is positioned as a hero-- and yet only occasionally does this hero encounter opponents able to wield forces equal to his own.

In the aforesaid essay DECIDEDLY SEEKING SYMMETRY, I argued that occasional heroes who worked without the limitations of the "fair play" were a "natural, and probably inevitable, counterpoint" to the statistically dominant type of hero who tends to meet his foes on a level playing-field. I say that it's inevitable because it's the nature of affective freedom that individual authors can diverge from any statistically dominant model of a given concept, be it "the hero" or anything else. The model I've established is one in which heroes and villains alike align themselves with *glory* by championing either the positive or the negative forms of the "idealizing will," while monsters and demiheroes align themselves with *persistence* by pursuing the negative or positive forms of the "existential will."  But the existence of this model, while statistically dominant, does not prevent individual creators from diverging from it. For whatever reasons, Jerry Siegel conceptualized the Spectre as having such near-omnipotence that he could "overcome" most of his villains without the limitations of fair play. I wasn't entirely serious in SYMMETRY when I labeled such heroes as "sadists," for a true sadist would not possess the Spectre's empathy toward ordinary humans oppressed by mortal evildoers. That empathy, as well as the determination to better the world through the positive form of the idealizing will, still qualifies the Spectre as a hero. Later versions of the Spectre conformed to the dominant model, giving the Ghostly Guardian more high-energy foes to combat. But had the character never appeared anywhere but in his Golden Age adventures, I might have to view him as a "subcombative superhero," in that only rarely did the original Spectre combat megadynamic entities like himself.

By the same parallel, the nature of affective freedom also makes it possible for individual authors to diverge from the statistically dominant model of "the monster." In contrast to the hero, the monster often appears as the sole megadynamic entity in his universe, and his opponents, usually demiheroes, are not usually able to stand against him. In SYMMETRY I mentioned Freddy Krueger as an exception to this rule, in that the majority of his films end when another megadynamic entity-- usually the so-called "final girl"-- manages to defeat the dastardly dream-creature with her own display of dynamicity.

However, a better-known example would probably the combative relationship between the starring monsters of the original ALIENS film-franchise and their most "persistent" demihero-enemy, Ellen Ripley. Ripley starts out as a typical demihero, and in her first appearance she only manages to stave off the assault of one monstrous extraterrestrial by getting him in the right place for his elimination, rather than beating him one-and-one.

In the second film, however, Ripley resorts to mechanical aid to fight a Queen Alien on its own terms, and even though Ripley loses that battle and must once more trick the creature into defeat, the narrative places far more emphasis on Ripley as a megadynamic figure.

Though the character also does not directly defeat any Aliens in the last two films in the original franchise either, Ripley continues to display a megadynamic formidability, so that she is, unlike most monster-victims, a combative demihero. The fact that the Aliens' most prominent human foe can fight them back doesn't alter their persona as monsters, but their divergence sets them slightly to one side of the dominant model for monsters, just as Original Spectre's divergence sets him slightly to one side of the dominant hero-model.

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