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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...

Monday, January 4, 2016


Recently I've been making a number of attempts to illustrate my various conceptual principles as "domains," in posts like this one and this one. This returned me to a line of thought dealing with the idea of "threshold experiences." I haven't dealt with the topic on this blog very often, the most pertinent post being my meditations on Philip Wheelwright's theories in the 2011 essay FOUNTAIN, FOUNTAIN, BURNING BRIGHT.

Another significant theme Wheelwright explores throughout FOUNTAIN is what he calls "the intrinsically threshold character of experience"... in a sense a tremendous amount of my theory involves movements from one phenomenolgical threshold to another.
In that essay, I addressed the ways the concepts of the NUM theory shade into one another, but I could also have spoken of the three dynamicities I formed in this 2012 essay. During this period I drew heavily upon Kant's concepts of "might" and "dominance" to describe two opposed types of narrative use of power/ dynamicity:

"Might," as situated in Kant's argument, is simply a superior force amid inferior ones.  This would parallel the type of story in which there exists an anomalous force (say, the vampire Dracula) with which a group of ordinary people must contend.
"Dominance" generates a very different type of plotline, in which at least two superior forces are arrayed against one another.  
During the following year I invoked this Kantian opposition in THE NARRATIVE RULE OF EXCESS, but I gave it a Nietzchean spin with regard to its ethical significance (with the usual caveat that unlike me, neither philosopher was writing primarily about art/literature):

(1) Megadynamicity, the level of extraordinary strength, is the narrative "proof of strength" in that its very excessiveness suggests a propensity to transcend ordinary limits.
(2) Mesodynamicity and microdynamicity, the levels of "good" and "poor" strength, cannot be used in narrative to prove the nature of strength because by their respective natures they are determined by limitation.

The above statement regarding "might" focuses upon the disparity of dynamicites: "a superior force amid inferior ones," while the statement regarding "dominance" posits "at least two superior forces." Both of these forms of literature can be indicative of what I called "the proof of strength," as opposed to those types in which no forms of superior strength are seen, as with, say, JANE EYRE-- to my mind a fair comparison to DRACULA, given that it mentions the superstition of vampires but there is no invocation of any form of megadynamic presence, not even in the novel's "madwoman in the attic" character. Thus whereas any reasonably faithful iteration of DRACULA can be explored for its relevance to Nietzsche's concept of the "proof of strength through excessiveness," no form of JANE EYRE can be, unless an unfaithful adaptation chose to upgrade one or more of the characters to such a status.

Thus any work of art which depicts even one megadynamic presence has crossed a threshold that separates one from the experience of limitation.

Keeping in mind this extrapolation from the aforementioned "narrative rule of excess," I'll now examine the three examples of subcombative manifestations I listed in MYTHOS AND MODE PART 3. All of my chosen examples-- CORIOLANUS, TITUS ANDRONICUS, and HAMLET-- contain scenes of violence, for as I've stated before, Shakespeare was a playwright with a particular penchant for such scenes. But do they any of them, even given that they are subcombative works, cross out of the threshold of limited violence, where only the "mesodynamic" and the "microdynamic" reign?

CORIOLANUS creates two superior (albeit entirely naturalistic) forces, embodied by its martial title hero and his frequent battle-opponent Aufidius. Thus it does passes the imagined threshold. Because these two superior forces do not extend their initial contention through to the climax, I don't find that the play satisfies my criteria for the combative mode. But it does at least pass the threshold by virtue of showing two such superior forces to have a real existence.

TITUS ANDRONICUS is similar in that the opponents, Titus and Tamora, are masters of the trope I call the "bizarre crime," though the execution of the trope falls into the naturalistic domain.  There's something closer to a "fight" in the way that Titus manages to trump Tamora's abomination with his own Sadean sortie, though again I judged their conflict to be subcombative. Still, even if Titus were purely a Sadean schemer rather than a physically proficient general, that ability to imagine and execute excessive scenarios of slaughter would still cross the threshold, for the idea of dynamicity doesn't connote only physical strength, but also what I've called "potency."

HAMLET, on the other hand, does not really satisfy either criterion. Hamlet and Laertes have a fight at the play's climax, but it's difficult to say for certain whether or not either combatant displays "superior force," which is my reason for deeming it subcombative.

So HAMLET does not cross at all, while TITUS and CORIOLANUS do. How then is their crossing any different from the way a fully combative work makes the transition?

I've chosen the metaphor "storming the threshold"-- as in "storming the heavens"-- to describe the difference. Any subcombative work that creates a megadynamic presence simply steps across the threshold, but a combative work cascades over the threshold like a wind-driven thunderhead. It's because the combative mode gives megadynamic violence this quality that I claimed it has the greatest capacity to evoke the feeling of the dynamic-sublime in this essay:

...what I've called the "combative mode" is an academic way of speaking about an archetypal construct, one that, in my view, is capable of stirring from at least some readers the response of a "hard, gemlike flame" of ecstasy. 

More later.

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