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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...

Monday, October 24, 2016

MY DALLIANCE WITH DYNAMIS

It was about four years ago that I wrote I made a distinction between *dynamicity* and *dynamis.* I've noted that though I continued to write about the former without stinting, *dynamis* fell by the wayside. By 2013 the concept was more or less subsumed by the notion of the "combinatory-sublime," in its turn subsumed by a more generalized "combinatory mode."

I'm sure that I dwelt on the Greek term for so long purely because Frye had invoked it to mean "power of action" in THE ANATOMY OF CRITICISM. Frye actually does not use the term all that often in the whole of the book, though I would say that his Aristotle-derived concept of dynamis informs the framework of his theory. But I found that Frye had failed to distinguish between physical power of action of characters within the narrative, and the power of action conferred upon those characters by extra-diegetical forces, meaning, the author and/or the culture of the author.

In NOTES ON NORTHROP FRYE AND THE NUM-THEORY, written contemporaneously with the GRAVITY'S CROSSBOW essay-series, I said:

The most problematic aspect of Frye’s *dynamis* schema is that in its attempt to cohere with Aristotle’s pattern, it implies that “the marvelous” is located purely within the mythoi of myth and romance.  I’m sure that, even staying within the confines of the canonical “high” literature with which Frye concerns himself, the scholar was quite cognizant that there exist many literary works which have marvelous content but which are not adventure-romances as Frye himself defines that mythos.  Apuleis’ novel THE GOLDEN ASS concerns a man magically changed into an ass, who then listens in on the secret conversations of human beings, while Shakespeare’s TEMPEST concerns a genuine practitioner of magic—but neither work is centered upon what Frye terms the *agon,* the conflict between representatives of good and evil.  If one agrees with me that these two works belong to other mythoi—my choices would be “comedy” for one and “drama” for the other—then it does not make logical sense to say, or even to imply, that aspects of marvelous phenomenality appear only in the adventure-romance category.
GRAVITY'S CROSSBOW PART 3 used Frye to fight Frye, counteracting the logical problems of one work with solutions from another:


...I've drawn attention to a dichotomy Frye introduced about 4-5 years before the publication of ANATOMY OF CRITICISM, in an essay entitled "The Archetypes of Literature," sort of a dry run for ANATOMY.  The dichotomy was between what he called the "narrative values" and the "significant values" of any given narrative.  The former set of values denote those aspects of the narrative that are important to its function as a narrative, while the latter set are relevant to those that cause the narrative to be significant to audiences in a moral, ethical or aesthetic sense (my definition).  As it happens, though Frye does not repeat these terms in ANATOMY, he does, within the same chapter that introduces his reformulation of "power of action," draw a distinction between "fictional modes" and "thematic modes."  These are so close in essence to the earlier terms that I choose to keep using the earlier ones.
Later, in the aforementioned DYNAMIS VS. DYNAMICITY, I gave a pertinent example:


...in future uses, I'll define *dynamis* only as a significant value, in that the character "power of action" in the story is pre-ordained by the type of story in which he finds himself, be it adventure, comedy, irony or drama.
*Dynamicity,* in contrast, denotes a "narrative value" in that the level or character of a protagonist (as well as that of his allies or antagonists) is a value *within* the sphere of the narrative.  To cite one of my earlier examples, Ranma Saotome doesn't know that he's in a comic universe. His level of power, as well as his struggles against the aforesaid antagonists, are no less dynamic than those of adventure-heroine Buffy Summers.
Without pressing the point too much, this means that even though Buffy Summers and Ranma Saotome may have roughly covalent levels of *dynamicity,* their *dynamis* is very different. Buffy is not made "the goat" nearly as often as Ranma is, and this disparity in *dynamis* comes about because of those extra-diegetical forces I mentioned above.  Joss Whedon and Rumiko Takahashi both display a strong penchant for intense action and for incongruous moments of humor, but in these two particular works, Whedon has chosen to emphasize the "adventure mythos" while Takahashi has concentrated upon the "comedy mythos."

Frye's concept of a "power of action" based in his four mythoi was, in essence, a little too limiting as I continued, throughout 2012 and 2013, to investigate the concepts of Kantian sublimity as it applied to literature. However, the more I investigated sublimity, the less it seemed to me that it could be explained purely by the reader's experience of fictional dynamicity, which was the only part of Kant's sublimity-concept that I found useful for literature. I did, slightly before the CROSSBOW series, intuit a parallel between the affects of "the dynamic-sublime" and those of mythicity, as seen in SUBLIMITY VS. MYTHICITY, where I quoted a section from a 2011 essay:


Neither Burke nor Kant demonstrate any great fascination with mythic symbolism as such. However, I would expand some of the terms they use to describe the sublime, such as "might" or "magnificence," to include the sense of a greater mythic pattern that brings the events of a given story into the wider "family" of mythic narrative.


Yet it still took me another year to realize that the "greater mythic pattern," for authors more than philosophers, is the totality of plot-functions and character-types from which they may choose, This led to the TWO SUBLIMITIES HAVE I series, whose key statement appears in Part II:

The "infinity" of which Yeats speaks here-- like the "richness and profusion of images" I found in Edmund Burke-- suggests another form of the sublime with a different nature than the "dynamically sublime."  It is one that overwhelms in a manner roughly analogous to the "mathematically sublime," but the "magnitude" is one that stems not from physical size, but from the magnitude of how many conceivable connections can be made within a given phenomenality.

I then followed up on my phenomenality-statement in OUT WITH THE OLD PROBABILITY, IN WITH THE NEW INTELLIGIBILITY:

Now I would rephrase [my earlier statement] to say that the combinatory-sublime arises rather from the transgression upon the reader's expectations in terms of intelligibility and regularity. DIRTY HARRY, a naturalistic work which conforms to general expectations regarding intelligibility and regularity, has its own proper level of mythicity but is not likely to inspire a high level of the combinatory-sublime because of said conformity. ENTER THE DRAGON conforms to expectations regarding regularity but not intelligibility; being "anti-intelligible," it has a higher potential to arouse the combinatory-sublime. And STAR WARS, which violates both intelligibility and regularity, has the greatest mythicity of the three in reality, as well as the greatest potential for symbolic combinations and thus for the combinatory-sublime.

In this essay I reversed an earlier claim in which I opined that mythicity was not affected by the narrative's phenomenality. I still maintain that a given metaphenomenal work, in contrast to any given isophenomenal work, inherently possesses more potential for "symbolic combinations" by virtue of violating one or more of the expectations regarding causal nature.  These combinations, however, are also pre-determined not only by the author selecting the nature of his work's phenomenality, but also by his selecting the types of plots and characters that will determine his "thematic" or "significant" approach. Thus, in 2014 I meditated on the role of a character's mythic type, rather than his power, as having a noteworthy impact on the impression he makes:

At present I have not found a necessary connection between the two forms of the sublime.  It does suggest to me how some figures of comparatively low dynamicity can suggest that they are more powerful than they really are. I conclude that it is because of the effect of the combinatory-sublime, which seems to invest such figures with a larger-than-life "mana."-- THE PHENOMENALITY OF PSYCHOS.

Or, to put it as I might have back in 2012: "Norman Bates might not have much in the way of *dynamicity,* but he sure does have a dynamic *dynamis.*"

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