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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

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, February 13, 2015

CROSSING THE LAWLINES PT. 5

I'll probably wind up my essays on clansgression for the time being with this entry. There are a number of other subtle ramifications of the theory, but by next week I plan to work on some new angles regarding the NUM theory and the concept of freedom.

In THE CLANSGRESSION FORMULATION I mentioned in passing that violence as much as sex could function, under the proper circumstances, to provide the reader with "the sense of being "caught up" in the experience of having boundaries broken in an explosive, irresistible state of being." Yet I have not explored the element of violence in respect to clansgression, for all of my examples have primarily focused on clansgressive sexual interactions: OEDIPUS, FANTASTIC FOUR, THE MOONSTONE, and GONE WITH THE WIND.  Given that my essay LEAD US INTO TRANSGRESSION details the ways in which the two kinetic elements can either remain separate or become melded into "impure states," the element of violence requires some exploration.

Now, as Bataille has observed, violence is essentially any activity that disrupts the workaday world, and for that reason he viewed sexuality as an aspect of violence, with which statement I do not agree. One of the most significant differences is that violence is not surrounded with nearly as many arbitrary codes as sex is, though there are some. In Part 4 I wrote:

The principle of transgression, however, stems from both the diegetic world of the narrative's characters, as created by the author, and the extra-diegetic world of the audience.
Where violence is coded into a very simple form of transgression-- Criminal A threatens Victim B with violence but is thrashed by Hero C-- there's not a lot of distinction between what the characters think about a fictive act of violence and what the audience thinks about it.  But in the "impure states," violence does become almost as complicated a matter as sex.

The two impure states as defined in the TRANSGRESSION essay were "erotic violence" and "violent sex." Although these are frequently confused, they can be best distinguished by close reading of the motive imputed to the one who commits the violence, to wit: is the agent of violence more concerned with injuring or with screwing?

Of the examples used thus far, only one of the four utilizes either of the impure states, and this is GONE WITH THE WIND. In PART 2 of my essay-series THE ONLY GOOD RAPE IS A FAKE-RAPE, I observed that Scarlett O'Hara's deeds earned her opprobrium from both various characters in the novel and from at least some readers:

Scarlett commits many sins for which readers will want to see her punished, as do her detractors within the novel-- but for many readers this will be her worst sin: failing to love the man devoted to her, and forbidding him from her bed simply because she does not want more children. 

It seems obvious to me that generations of female readers did not take Mitchell's novel to their bosoms because they thought that it advocated spousal rape, or rape of any kind, as a general policy, though some modern ideologues have expressed such opinions. The only way that these female readers can possibly forgive Rhett's action-- or even take vicarious pleasure in it-- is if they are convinced that Rhett's motivation is honest passion, not violence. Violence certainly does shade into the rape-scene: Rhett is clearly trying to humble her, but not to cause her injury as such, even though prior to the rape he openly fantasizes about crushing her skull like an eggshell. And as I noted, Mitchell herself is implicated in the fantasy of rape, or else it would be impossible for her to portray Scarlett in post-coital bliss-- a bliss that implicitly goes beyond whatever functional, baby-making sex the couple has had before.

For a contrasting representation of "erotic violence," where the intent to injure is paramount, I turn to the novel that I cited here as an ideal example of the "bizarre crimes" trope: the Marquis de Sade's JULIETTE. Sade's violence, of course, is always aimed at inspiring erotic satisfaction through violence, but one particular scene relates, unlike the Mitchell scene, to both transgression and clansgression. Juliette, an orphan raised in a convent, escapes the world of righteous morality and becomes a happy convert to the philosophy of torment expounded by a male mentor. There follow many somewhat rote descriptions of Juliette and her fellow sadists getting off on pain and death, but only one strikes me as noteworthy. Late in the novel, orphan Juliette meets M. Bernal, her birth-father. She determines to transgress against all laws of parental respect by killing him, but first she seduces him. Then, having shown that Bernal is a massive hypocrite by society's lights, she binds him, verbally torments him, and then shoots her father through the head. To his credit as the father of a Sadean woman, M. Bernal doesn't beg for his life before he dies.  Although sex certainly figures into this episode, clearly Juliette's intent is always to injure, not to screw.


These two examples are reasonably clear-cut, but others can be confused by the question, "Is violence being used in place of sex?" In SHOOTING THE SHIRT I pointed out how often Japanese comedy-manga made use of the trope in which irate females clobbered the guys they secretly liked when said guys stepped over, or appeared to step over, some lawline. I observed:

the beating may be deemed a symbolic displacement for the sex-act, since the female is almost always hot for the male.

Often these comic versions of Juliette don't admit that violence stokes their engines. Rumiko Takahashi makes frequent use of this trope throughout URUSEI YATSURA, RANMA 1/2, and INU-YASHA, but as far as I can tell through translations, the female protagonists never express any reaction beyond feminine pissed-offed-ness-- an oddly demure reticence from an author who includes so much sex and violence in her work. Takahashi only touched such overt Sadean territory once to my knowledge, in a comic short story about a modern married couple who displayed a peculiar fetish for having violent fights in their home-- but though comic sexual stimulation is suggested, the principal emphasis is on the neighbors giving the couple hell for their disruptive ways.

Ken Akamatsu's LOVE HINA, though, seems to be one of the few works that eventually admits to the sexual nature of the trope, if one can trust the Tokyopop translation. In the last volume, after innumerable incidents in which Keitaro intrudes upon Naru and gets beaten on for it, the two protagonists confess their true feelings to an interlocutor. Keitaro doesn't precisely say that he gets off on masochistic treatment, but he claims that he loves peeping on Naru so much that he doesn't care that he gets beaten for it, while Naru explicitly admits that she loves both his attentions and getting to beat on him for crossing the lines.



If, as I tend to believe, Akamatsu's sado-masochistic representations explain much about the popularity of this trope, then into which "impure state" do they fall? Since intent to injure is the predominant factor, they belong principally to the domain of "erotic violence." However, unlike Juliette's unlucky papa, these victims of female violence always survive their ordeals, so they may eventually have actual sex-- although, like Akamatsu's Keitaro, even "getting the girl" in the end may turn into "getting it in the end," so to speak.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

CROSSING THE LAWLINES PT. 4

At the end of Part 3 I said that I would consider those cases 'when transgression is "cooperative" with, or "competitive" with, a given culture's mores.'  I'll stick with the two examples put forth in that essay, but with a preliminary definition of transgressive viewpoint.

My NUM theory of phenomenality is centered almost entirely upon audience-response. For my purposes it doesn't matter whether or not the characters of THE LORD OF THE RINGS think that wizards and dragons are marvelous. All that matters is that the audience reading the book must inevitably think so, since that audience lives in this more phenomenologically uncertain world.

The principle of transgression, however, stems from both the diegetic world of the narrative's characters, as created by the author, and the extra-diegetic world of the audience. For example:

Wilkie Collins' MOONSTONE was published in 1868, and took place within the same time-frame. As I said in Part 3, there's nothing to suggest that either the characters in the novel or the original audience that read the novel regarded first-cousin marriage as transgressive against social mores, at least not when practiced among the aristocracy. Cousin Frank is good and Cousin Godfrey is bad, but the only criterion is only that one is honest and the other is not. In contrast, the 1934 film adaptation of the novel implicitly makes Frank "good" in part because he's entirely unrelated to the heroine, and is hence totally exogamous, unlike Godfrey, who is "bad" in part because he dares to lust after a near relation (though I don't think that the film, unlike the book, specifies how near a relation he is).

So is the cousin-cousin relationship in Collins' original work transgressive at all, if we grant that neither the diegetic characters nor the extra-diegetic audience thought that it transgressed any lawlines?

My verdict is yes, but with the qualification that the MOONSTONE's "incest" is only transgressive-- and clansgressive-- *in posse.*  Because a unison of two near relations of roughly the same age strongly *suggests* a unison between blood-siblings, the basic situation of a sexual relationship between cousins will always carry a potential for transgressivity, no matter whether the author makes use of that potential or whether the audience recognizes it.

If Collins' MOONSTONE is clansgressive *in posse,* Mitchell's GONE WITH THE WIND is clansgressive *in esse,* for the 1936 novel is lousy with the symbolic form of brother-sister incest-- which is to say, sexual feelings between brother-in-law and sister-in-law.

I noted in Part 3 that there's no suggestion by Mitchell that she disapproves of the liaison between Ashley and Melanie, and it's not likely that any of her readers did either, as long as it was suggested that the consanguinity was sufficiently distant. Some of Mitchell's readers might not have entirely approved of relations between cousins of any sort in their own time, but Scarlett O'Hara's world had gone with the you-know-what, and so it could be regarded as a charming historical relic whose social rules no longer applied to current practice. This would be in marked contrast to my verdict on the behind-the-scenes tinkering with the 1934 MOONSTONE film. In that work, even though the story still took place in England, the story was also updated to the contemporaneous 1930s-- and so I theorize that the only "cousin-relationship" in the finished film was made to be a marker of evil, in keeping with the screenwriter's anticipation of audience-antipathy for cousin-relationships.

Similarly, there's no sense of opprobrium attached to the romantic intermingling of Ellen and her lost love Phillippe, since by the time the audience learns of it, Phillippe is long dead, and Ellen has married, raised three young daughters, and become a sort of Madonna of the Plantation. Ellen's last word at her death, however, is the name of her lost love, occasioning puzzlement for Scarlett, who unlike the audience never knows anything of her mother's secret romance.  However, though the Ellen-Phillippe relationship is not condemned, it also has a quality not found in the Ashley-Melanie relationship: passion. I didn't explain in Part 3 why I considered this relationship "racy" as I called it, but some of the raciness stems from the fact that the Ellen-Phillippe affair is governed by passion, not just a vague inclination between kindred spirits.

The brother-in-law/sister-in-law relationships are characterized by similar passionate spirits. Scarlett, despite her quasi-sisterly relationship to Melanie, tries to get Ashley to run away with her, and he comes damn close to yielding to the Southern vixen. Scarlett doesn't actually care about the two Tarleton Twins that she pulls into her orbit, but they're equally passionate about her, and Mitchell explicitly says that each of them would happy even if the other one married Scarlett-- which suggests almost a "Corsican Brother" level of identification. Finally, there's the convict Archie. This mountain-man character is understandably omitted from the movie, for his only function in the novel is to express scorn for Scarlett when she starts treating white convicts like black slaves at her mill. He's easy to omit from a plot-angle, but he adds a strong humorous element to the postwar section of the novel, not least because he's the only white Southerner who admits outright that he can't stand black people (though of course he does not call them by that name). But he also shows that even with this minor character, Mitchell was fascinated with the brother/sister dynamic, in that Archie's term in prison comes about because he killed his brother for-- what else?-- sleeping with his wife.


All of this should indicate what I've said above: MOONSTONE appears to "cooperate" with societal mores in respect to consanguinity mores, so it keeps its transgressions in the realm of the merely potential. GONE WITH THE WIND finds sneaky ways to flout social mores, and makes those clansgressions seem all the more raunchy for having the allure of the forbidden.


Monday, February 9, 2015

CROSSING THE LAWLINES PART 3

The relationship which "manages to be exogamous and endogamous at the same time" is that of the cousin-cousin relationship.

Cousin-marriage is ideal for any group that wishes to keep its resources "all in the family." The Old Testament is rife with marriages that are not technically within the immediate family-- and so are somewhat exogamous-- but which are within a more general clan, and are hence endogamous in their effect.

Though some cultures split hairs about how far the cousins could be "removed" before intermarriage was possible, some literary works make it clear that first-cousin marriage endured into comparatively recent times, especially for the aristocracy, who certainly had the best motives for centralizing their resources. On my film-blog I reviewed two movie-versions of Wilkie Collins' detective novel THE MOONSTONE here, and in this essay I included a brief summation of the novel, calling attention to the fact that nowhere in the novel does anyone think it odd that wealthy heiress Rachel is romanced by not one but two of her first cousins.  I noted also that the first American-made film to adapt the novel dispensed with this trope, that the female lead's "good" suitor was completely unrelated to her while the "bad" suitor remained a near relation. This doesn't mean that one can't find any positive examples of "first cousin marriage" in early American films. But the change certainly suggests that one or more of the persons producing the 1934 MOONSTONE film felt that the audience might not accept such a situation, even though the action of the movie is still set in England.




Yet in some American cultures the practice of cousin-marriage did continue, possibly in subconscious imitation of English customs.  When I read Margaret Mitchell's GONE WITH THE WIND for the first time, I was taken aback by how chock-full of "sibling clansgression" it is.
The 1939 movie maintains the plot-thread in which Scarlett steals a beau from her sister Sue Ellen, but it omits the fact that early in the novel Scarlett also swipes the attention of the man adored by her other sister Careen-- and does so not because she Scarlett wants to bed or marry the fellow, but just to assert her superior skills at "vamping" males.

I don't recall whether or not the movie mentions the fact that Ashley and his bride Melanie are distant cousins, but the novel is far clearer on the point that their family's members prefer to "stick to their own kind." They are, Mitchell suggests, a pure strain of Old South aristocracy that will prove unable to cope with the demands of the New South, unlike Scarlett, who inherits her commoner Irish father's skills at wheeling and dealing. Scarlett marries Melanie's brother Wade, who dies early in the war, and so Scarlett becomes sister-in-law to Melanie, thus transgressing on the rules of propriety both when she desires and when she pursues Ashley.



Finally, there's no relation between Scarlett and her eventual husband Rhett Butler, though he is of course from a genteel Southern family and is of good stock, in contrast to the "cracker" Will Benteen, who ends up marrying Sue Ellen. However, cousin-cousin romance stands behind the relationship of Scarlett and Rhett in a symbolic sense. While the movie tells the audience nothing about the backstory of Scarlett's mother Ellen, the reader learns from Mitchell that Ellen once had a passionate love-affair with one of her cousins, name of Phillippe. But because Ellen's family sent him away from the home, Phillippe-- implicitly a hell-raiser like Rhett Butler-- died in a bar-brawl, and thus Ellen married Scarlett's father Gerald on the rebound.  It seems fairly obvious that Mitchell meant to suggest that the Ellen-Phillippe relationship prefigured that of Scarlett and Rhett on a non-diegetic level, even though no character but Ellen ever knows about the forbidden-- and thus implicitly racy-- relationship.

I regard cousin-cousin liaisons as symbolically parallel to those of siblings because in most though not all cases, there is no significant difference in age between the subjects. When a difference in age does appear in such a relationship, that difference tends to overpower the quasi-sibling symbolism.

Next up: when transgression is "cooperative" with, or "competitive" with, a given culture's mores.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

CROSSING THE LAWLINES PART 2

In this essay I said:

When people voice the familiar cliché, “X is old enough to be your [parental unit],” it’s not because they literally fear that every May-September liaison will result in corporeal incest. Rather, aversion to such liaisons seems more rooted in a quasi-religious sense of the proper order of life: young with young, old with old. These are just two examples of what I term “incorporeal incest.”

The terms "corporeal incest" and "incorporeal incest" are henceforth subsumed by the term "clansgression," implying, for fiction, a narrative action that confuses the proper hierarchies of familial and quasi-familial relations.

For some time I've contemplated the consequences of this statement. I still hold to the idea that May-September heterosexual pairings may recapitulate strong "daughter-father" or "son-mother" connotations. But does that necessarily mean that pairings between heterosexuals of roughly the same age are inevitably closer to the model of "right relations"-- even if, with Bataille, one believes that even the closest that humans can get to that model is still transgressive in nature?

The obvious answer is that it ain't necessarily so. Even age-appropriate status between two given subjects does not nullify the possibilities for clansgressive activity. One can find some suggestion of the potential for the symbolic reading of "sister-brother" clansgression in the familiar joke: "If all men were brothers, would you let one marry your sister?" The joke is primarily a play on the different connotations of the word "brother," but its logic is irrefutable: if all males and females were siblings, sibling incest would be the only way to reproduce the human race.

However, even in real-life culture the spectre of clansgression can appear with respect to age-appropriate pairings, even when the subjects involved are not physically related, nor are they raised in circumstances of regular propinquity (cf. "neighbor-kids who grow up together.") In fiction this motif is most frequently seen in the trope "high school girl dates college boy," or (more rarely) the reverse situation with respect to gender assignment. Typically no more than four years separates the collegian from the high-schooler, so it isn't feasible for such pairings to carry the "May-September" vibe. Yet the sense of boundaries traversed is clansgressive, usually because it's assumed that one member of the couple has already had sex and will be initiating the other. The motif appears prominently in the 2010 film EASY A, in which high-school protagonist Olive, tired of having a friend bug her about her virginal status, makes up a story about losing her cherry to an unnamed college student. Making her imagined seducer a college student suits Olive's purposes of anonymity, so that no one at her school will contradict her tale, but every high-school student immediately finds it credible that a collegian makes a likely enough seducer. It's an interesting detail that in Olive's fabricated tale, the person who introduces her to her seducer is none other than her college-age brother, a character who does not appear in the film, any more than does the collegiate suitor.



Earlier I mentioned the motif of propinquity with respect to the backstory of Reed and Sue of the Fantastic Four. That narrarive isn't the best illustration of the motif, though, for the circumstances of Reed and Sue's meeting are delivered as an explanatory toss-off in the original Lee-Kirby comics. In general those stories tried as hard as they could not to acknowledge a significant age-difference between Sue (young enough to have a teenaged brother) and Reed (old enough to have served in World War II). A better illustration of clansgressive propinquity might be Ken Akamatsu's LOVE HINA.



The set-up for LOVE HINA is that nebbishy loser Keitaro Urashima finds himself managing a girls' dormitory for middle school and college-bound high-school students. Naturally, in the long-running tradition of harem comedies, the girls are winsomely cute, and eventually all of them become enamored on some level with Keitaro, the only male living with them. A modicum of adult supervision is provided by Keitaro's aunt Haruka (the dark-haired woman at far left), but most of the time the girls are free to tease and torment Keitaro, who gets no points for being a little older than the oldest of them, since he's failed his college-entrance exams three times at the series' beginning.  The clansgressive vibe generated by the series eventually develops along the lines of an older "brother" being forced to put up with the hijinks of a band of capricious "sisters," all of whom take on a sibling-vibe partly because they share a house, with special emphasis on the arrangement of Keitaro's room being located directly beneath that of Naru Narusegawa (the girl at extreme right holding Keitaro's arm). Naru, it will eventually be revealed, has a connection to Keitaro than neither of them remembers when they meet, for they were the children of neighboring parents-- a connection that plays a large part in the development of their romance.

The young girls seen on Keitaro's left-- wacky Kaolla, shy middle-schooler Shinobu, aggressive Kitsune, and diffident Motoko-- are also not really related to Keitaro, any more than Naru is. However, they relate to Keitaro in ways that suggest sibling kinship. Even though Keitaro is older than the oldest girl, Kitsune, she gives the impression of having had sexual experience whereas Keitaro has none, which may be the reason why she chooses to call him her "younger brother." Shinobu, who like Kitsune has no siblings that are mentioned, relates to Keitaro like an older brother, though at the same time she has a mild crush on him, which brings down on Keitaro the righteous wrath of Naru, as she accuses him of trying to get jiggy with a middle-schooler. Motoko's backstory involves her convoluted relationship with her sister, a relationship that may have involved Motoko coveting her sister's never-seen husband, who is Motoko's brother-in-law. Finally, Kaolla frequently stresses that Keitaro reminds her of her brother-- also never seen in the manga series-- and though she too is a middle-schooler who would be age-inappropriate for Keitaro, Kaolla possesses a magical ability to "age" herself temporarily, so that she can become closer in age to the beleaguered dorm-manager.



None of these sibling-constellations would be remarkable by themselves, but it seems quite significant that brother-relationships are the only ones mentioned for all of the girls. This almost excludes Keitaro's aunt Haruka, but then, because she shares Keitaro's last name, she can only be the unmarried sister of Keitaro's never-seen father-- so even she is partly defined by a brother-relationship. Keitaro's parents, and those of the young women, are referenced obliquely if at all, with only Haruka and her sometime lover Seta providing adult input-- but they're essentially the "fun aunt" and "fun uncle" who don't interfere with any of the adolescent hijinks. The lack of parental influence might indicate that LOVE HINA actually is a "world of siblings," devoted to almost every conceivable take on sister-brother clansgressive relations, except for relations between biological siblings.




Late in the series Akamatsu introduces Kanako Urashima, who is Keitaro's adoptive sister, but she's even more aggressive than Kitsune, for she earnestly plans to seduce Keitaro. Keitaro is not willing, since he does think of her as the same as a biological sister, but given that LOVE HINA is a comedy, his consent is not important. What is important is that Naru, the romantic front-runner in the Keitaro Derby, is finally forced to put her affections on the line to prevent a forbidden level of clansgressive activity-- though as noted earlier, Naru herself is implicated in the sibling-clansgression vibe by virtue of her childhood association with Keitaro.

Having shown that sibling relationships can be potentially just as clansgressive as those between "age-inappropriate" subjects, in PART 3 I'll move on to the subject of a form of sibling relationship that manages to be exogamous and endogamous at the same time.




Wednesday, February 4, 2015

THE CLANSGRESSION FORMULATION

Aside from the fact that "clansgression" is not a real word, the above title might almost pass as the title of CBS' THE BIG BANG THEORY, since said titles usually stress the formal, hyper-academic usage of words.

The only "big bang" I'm concerned with, though, is the explosive experience that Georges Bataille calls "the sensuous frenzy"-- and even then, for the purposes of this blog I'm only concerned with its appearances in art and literature.

The primary elements of kinetic experience, as noted several times before, are sex and violence. Both can appear in literature in purely functional modes, but they are most effective when they provide to the reader the sense of being "caught up" in the experience of having boundaries broken in an explosive, irresistible state of being.

Sex and violence, obviously, are not the only elements that bring about the state of transgression. A plant growing from a seed "transgresses" against the soil it shoves aside as it grows, but no one would seriously call this violence, nor is it sex, though the seed's existence comes about as a result of a sexual process. Early human culture is governed by a wealth of taboos that may have no overt correlations with sex or violence, much less any utilitarian purpose. It's not impossible to believe, with Bataille, that these taboo simply exist to be transgressed, to serve as "lightning rods" around which the culture of practical work can organize itself.

I've agreed with Bataille that Freud's favorite taboo doesn't rate a special etiology as against other taboos, nor does it explain any of the others. However, I've stated in the essay INCEST WE TRUST PART 3 that the taboo against incest does occupy a special place in the history of culture:

In Part I I went to some pains to explain why Georges Bataille was right to say that no particular transgressive form of sexuality was any more important to human development than any other (in contradistinction to Freud and Levi-Strauss). That distinction made, I will note that the phenomenon of incest is probably the best possible metaphor FOR transgressive sexuality as a whole. Unlike homosexuality and bestiality (for two), incest in its most popular conception-- that is, its heterosexual form-- can give rise to living progeny whose proper relationships will thus be confused after the fashion of the riddle in PERICLES:
          I am no viper, yet I feed
          On mother's flesh which did me breed.
          I sought a husband, in which labour
          I found that kindness in a father:
          He's father, son, and husband mild;
          I mother, wife, and yet his child.
          How they may be, and yet in two,
          As you will live, resolve it you.


In CROSSING THE LAWLINES PT. 1  I gave two examples of sexual transgression: Oedipus sleeping with his mother and Ben Grimm coveting the fiancee of his best friend. I remarked that there was no form of incest-motif in the latter narrative, but it's not absent only because there's no genetic relationship between Ben Grimm and Sue Storm. I further argued that a relationship between Oedipus and the woman whom he believed to be his mother would also have carried incestuous connotations, and this is in part because such a pairing would also confuse the "lawlines" between family members, whether or not Oedipus was aware that Merope was not his biological mother. In fact, I mentioned a schema of three types of incestuous liaison in this essay, though I'm currently somewhat dissatisified with the terminology used therein, and not much happier with my recent opposition of "physical" and "cultural" types of transgression.

At any rate, I feel the need of a subcategory within the greater category of transgressive activity: a subcategory that would include all activities that seem to confound the boundaries between the roles and/or identities of family-members. My latest neologism, then, is "clansgression"-- a demonstrably false construction in the etymological sense, since it's produced by interbreeding two unrelated languages: "clan," which carries the connotation of "the extended family," and "-gress," meaning "to step." Thus, while the legitimate word "transgress" means "to step over," my made-up word "clansgress" means "to step into family"-- thus confusing the implied familial boundaries by said action.

By this logic, then, Ben Grimm's desire for Sue Storm and his antipathy to her bond with Reed Richards would be transgressive, because Ben wants to break the social bond between Reed and Sue, but it would not be clansgressive. Oedipus marrying his mother would be both, but so would even the most highly symbolized forms of quasi-incestuous events, such as the Superman story discussed in INCEST WE TRUST PAT 5.

In Part 2 of CROSSING THE LAWLINES I'll devote space to refining these arguments.




Monday, February 2, 2015

CROSSING THE LAWLINES PT. 1

Though I've discussed Bataille's concept of transgression frequently on this blog, Dudley Young's idea of "lawlines" affords me with an apt metaphor for both the physical and the cultural matrices that are being transgressed-- a word that means "stepped over."

In LEAD US NOW INTO TRANSGRESSION, I considered only the physical effects of the kinetic elements of sex and violence, because I wanted to illustrate how the two elements were distinct but could shade into one another. Thus I wrote:

If even "right" sexual relations are a transgression, as Bataille clearly *does* argue in his 1957 book EROTISM, then what is being transgressed against? Clearly, although there have many marriages in which one or both of the spouses were coerced into marital bliss, many were not so coerced and so did not transgress against either the will of the spouses or the will of the community.
I may be taking Bataille into something more like the territory of object relations with my own answer, but it seems evident to me that the only constant transgression is that of one body interacting with at least one other body so as to violate the integrity of both...

So it's in the physical sense that "right" sexual relations can be transgressive. But generally speaking, "wrong" sexual relations tend to be transgressive in terms of cultural matrices.

Consider, as a starting-point, one of the most transgressive sexual acts in the history of culture, the one that Big Sigmund Freud made the centerpiece of his theory of interpersonal relations.



Now, it's often a source of amusement for some people to say, "Hah, Freud named his complex after Oedipus, and Oedipus didn't even know he was sleeping with his own mother!" But that ignores the deeper reason that the Oedipus myth attracted Freud. What Freud must have liked about the Oedipus myth was that the hero, upon receiving the cryptic prophecy, was properly disgusted at the idea of marrying his own mother-- whom he believed to be his adoptive mom Merope-- and so he took measures to avoid doing so.  Yet the prophecy is fulfilled precisely because Oedipus took that precipitate action-- an action which is are especially ironic in Sophocles' version, since the hero recounts that some of the nobles in his adopted city of Corinth had questioned his background. Freud often represented his complex as being just as insuperable as a Delphic oracle; no matter how one might try to avoid marrying one's mother, one would always do so, at least in a metaphorical sense.

For moderns, Oedipus' transgression may be more cultural than physical. Yes, Jocasta is his true mother, but neither of them knows that, either during their sexual relations or when they bear children. Greek religion, being focused on the physical, viewed the sex between unknowing parents as a source of pollution, though Sophocles emphasizes the killing of Laius above all else. Yet had Oedipus had sex with Merope, who was the adoptive mother who raised him, in one sense this would have a much more "physical" transgression, since Oedipus had grown up believing that he'd come from Merope's womb.  However, had he possessed from childhood full knowledge of Merope's identity and had done the deed with her when he became old enough to do so, that would have been a purely cultural transgression.

So OEDIPUS REX is a transgression against both physical, personal boundaries and against cultural boundaries. Do we see the same types of transgressiveness in my other example from THE WORK AND PLAY MIX-A-LOT?




I argued in the above essay that in the backstory of the Fantastic Four, one can find a "taboo-and-transgression" pattern akin to that of Oedipus, even though this particular FF story has nothing to do with the incest-taboo.  Obviously I could have chosen other examples of the trope "two male friends fighting over the same woman," ranging from Shakespeare's TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA to late-night movie fare like WHAT PRICE GLORY? The conflict in FANTASTIC FOUR is particularly interesting, though, because Lee and Kirby step around it as if it were a literal taboo.  In the above scene Ben Grimm only agrees to fly Reed's plane to counter Sue's disparaging view of him, and the only other clue that Ben fancies Sue appears a few pages later, when he starts a fight with Reed later, claiming that Sue "loves the wrong man." There are no other references to unrequited love in the rest of the issue, and the conflict is only referenced indirectly from then on-- most significantly with the introduction of the character Alicia, clearly a "consolation prize" for Ben Grimm in that she looks a lot like Sue but cannot see the Thing's ugliness.

This reluctance on the part of the creators is especially strange in that in other contemporaneous features, the "two guys fighting over the same woman" trope is played for all it's worth: Tony Stark vs. Happy Hogan, Peter Parker vs. Ned Leeds (though the two of them are never really friends), and Thor vs. Balder (though once again, the latter's brief passion for Sif is forgotten when Balder takes up with another "consolation prize" figure, albeit one very unlike his original love-object.) It's possible than one or both of them felt queasy about introducing too much heavy drama in the feature-- for though they seem to have taken pains to keep it from looking like a standard superhero comic of the period, they must have known that their only probable audience was that of preteen boys. Since no one up to that point had incorporated "heavy drama" in a superhero-like feature, Lee and Kirby probably decided that bringing up Ben's unrequited love would be too disruptive to group unity on a regular basis. It was easier to have him or Johnny simply storm off about this or that perceived slight, so that the family-like dynamics could be perpetuated. Later, in fact, Ben and Johnny become comparable to quarreling children whose squabbles Sue and Reed must break up, making Sue into a symbolic mother-figure to both of them.

Now, this example of transgression is not physical in the least: Sue is certainly not related to Ben, nor have they even had a sibling-like relationship. If anything, Reed fits that profile better, since he's eventually given a backstory that suggests a sibling-like closeness, in that Reed and Sue are said to have been neighbors. So the transgression must be cultural. But what lawlines are being transgressed?

Of course there's no cultural consensus that an Old Suitor is automatically to be preferred to a New one, or vice versa. It's not difficult to call to mind multiple examples of Hollywood movies in which it's right and proper that a New Suitor should displace an Old Suitor, as well as examples that support the verdict of Lee and Kirby's setup: that Reed and Sue alone are "right" for each other.  So in this case the "lawlines" are entirely contingent on the internal logic of the series: the lawlines exist because the authors say that they exist, at least within the cosmos of FANTASTIC FOUR. In contrast, in the cosmos of IRON MAN, the contention of Tony Stark and Happy Hogan lasts only so long as the authors can get some mileage out of it. Finally the authors end up giving the girl to the supporting character, at least partly because there was no future in matching up Tony with his secretary-- in marked contrast to the current movies.

In a future essay in this series, I'll enlarge on some of the other ways in which implied lawlines can be just as arbitrary, if not more, than the real laws that govern society.

NUM-INOUS COMICS

Before going on to the next phase of my current project, I want to respond to a suggestion made in the comments section of TAKING STOCK OF 2014.

Correspondent AT-AT Pilot expressed interest in seeing more studies of comics with reference to both mythic analysis and the NUM theory. I responded in the comments that I was thinking about doing something more with "myth-comics," but I should devote a little space here as to how the NUM theory works out with respect to comics.

First thought: it's a lot easier for any medium dealing with "drawn" characters-- and that includes comic strips and animated cartoons-- to invoke the marvelous, that level of phenomenality that allows for absolute freedom. Media that communicate via living actors will of necessity always be more limited, though the process of CGI-- which could be said to "draw" images real enough to mingle with live actors-- has leveled that playing field somewhat.

I'm sure that as a young watcher of fantasy-movies, I had often considered the gulf between what many live-action movie implies would be a really scary monster, and the unhappy reality. I just reviewed one of the worst, 1958's WOMANEATER.



In his first COMICS JOURNAL interview, Steve Gerber put it down to the fact that the fact a comic-book artist could draw whole armies of aliens and weird creatures with nothing more than a pen and ink, while even a well-funded movie had to exert a lot more time and money to make such scenes come to life-- though I think he admitted that STAR WARS had bridged the gap considerably.

At any rate, prior to the 1970s a lot of metaphenomenal cinema, especially but not only in the genre of horror, sought to evoke thrills with the tropes of "the uncanny."  As I've mentioned elsewhere, an awful lot of my ten tropes invoke situations most associated with horror-films, though such ideas as "perilous psychos" and "weird families and societies" aren't limited to that genre.  I suspect that in comic books, the most-used uncanny trope is that of "outre outfits, skills, and devices," since American comics were quick to pick up on those tropes as they appeared in pulp magazines.

Now, one can FIND these tropes in comic-book stories, and I've been giving some consideration as to which comics-stories might be the best exemplars of each trope. But it isn't always as easy to access a comics-story as it is to check out a film that some online pundit has reviewed. In other words, there's no Netflix or Youtube for comic books.

The only online resources for comic books are those blogs where the blogger has devoted time and trouble to reprinting entire stories. The best example known to me is PAPPY'S GOLDEN AGE BLOGZINE, which began in 2006.  Here, for example, is the first story I found that he posted that involved the "outre outfits" trope, a tale of the superhero known as "the Face," whose only "super" aspect was-- as the dialogue below establishes-- the ability to scare people with his hideous fright-mask.




This is a pretty fair story of its type, but there's not a whole lot to analyze in it. Whenever I find time, though, I'll take a shot at finding other online stories that might lend themselves to NUM-analysis.

But now, back to the other project.