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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...

Wednesday, December 9, 2015


As stated in Part 1, the term "domains" can apply to any number of the multifarious principles, or groups of principles, that I've introduced on this blog since its inception. Obviously I could have continued to call them "principles," "rules," or "laws" just as easily. The word "domain," however, communicates a potential image of home and hearth, for all that in recent years that meaning may have been shoved aside for its connotation of "an address on the Internet," which is not much less abstract than a "principle."

Nevertheless, even the modern Internet usage is not without its "homey" associations. I compared my pluralist theory of art and literature to a "house with many mansions," where the separate rooms could contain such separable concepts as "Gene Phillips' version of Northrop Frye's generally accurate idea of the comedy-mythos" and "Gene Phillips' take on Todorov's thoroughly misguided idea of 'the uncanny.'" Since it's my house, it's inevitable that all of the rooms will reflect the owner's priorities.

But of course, just because I have priorities in my views of art and life does not mean that they have relevance only to me. Every philosophical posture is a open challenge to readers: it seeks to invite those who can agree with that posture, if only in part, and to downplay the priorities of those who disagree. A positivist would view all of these interactions from an atomistic standpoint: people agree and disagree purely according to their own interests.

Jung's concept of the "collective unconscious" was the psychologist's solution to science's tendency to view all psychological activity as belonging purely to what Jung called the "personal unconscious." From an entirely personal vantage, there can be no points of meaningful commonality between figures as removed in time as, say, Arthur Schopenhauer and Theodore Gaster. Yet, by seeing these philosophers' priorities through an archetypal lens, it may be possible to see what conceptual "mansions" they hold in common, rather than assuming that they just experienced similar patterns of toilet-training or the like.

Artists are not quite as focused on issuing conceptual challenges as philosophers. Sir Philip Sidney argued that "the poet never affirmeth." Surely "never" is certainly too strong given all the poets who trumpet their political affiliations to the world-- yet Sidney has correctly identified the archetypal nature of the artist far better than the ideologues who want to have their beliefs, be they ultraliberal or ultraconservative, supported by the artist's persuasive powers. The artist is one who potentially can see all things from all perspectives, even perspectives that may be alien to him. Thus, though most critics, including me, would judge Frank Miller's HOLY TERROR an artistic failure, it remains significant that he attempted, despite his limitations, to place some human face upon the political movement he wished to vilify.

On a related note, I spent a fair amount of time recently analyzing Frank Miller's SIN CITY in terms of my phenomenological NUM-project. SIN CITY is strongly indebted to the genre sometimes called "hard-boiled crime," and the shadow of Mickey Spillane's work looms long over Miller's crime-cosmos. Given Miller's status with his readership at the time SIN CITY began, he could have chosen to pursue the domain of a naturalistic phenomenality and left all the signs of the uncanny and the marvelous behind, as Mickey Spillane largely did when he moved out of comic-book writing and into the world of crime paperbacks.  But despite all the ways in which Miller chose to emulate Spillane's style and content, he did not set SIN CITY in the same sort of naturalistic domain as the majority of the Mike Hammer books. As my study shows, a large though not totally dominant proportion of Miller's SIN-works fall into the domain of the uncanny-- and though none of the comic-book works flirt with the marvelous, one story in the film SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR does allow for the presence of a literal, if nearly impotent, ghost.

The three phenomenal domains of my NUM-theory operate in what I deem an archetypal sense. Different artists are drawn toward images and tropes that promise, or at least suggest, different types of freedom. What Joseph Conrad deems to be artistic freedom relates to the perceived rigor of the naturalistic, while J.R.R. Tolkien associates freedom with marvelous creations like green suns. Yet both, as much as "heavy thinkers" like Gaster and Schopenhauer, are alike in searching for the formula that gives them a sense of transpersonal fulfillment-- which, in the last analysis, is what all persons, of all races and creeds, desire when they speak of their need for freedom. Yet it is a freedom that is only possible in terms of perspectivism and pluralism-- and any creed that takes a different stance is merely seeking the fulfillment of some favored group or groups.

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