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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, November 19, 2016


In RETHINKING THE UNDERTHOUGHT, I took Frye's concept of "overthought" and "underthought," which he took from Gerard Manley Hopkins, and refurbished both terms to my Jungian preferences. By my scheme, the "underthought" is a given work's discourse of "images and metaphors," toward which the audience feels sympathy or antipathy, and the "overthought" is a given work's discourse of abstract, didactic ideas. The first I posit as identical to Jung's "function of intuition," and the second to the "function of thinking," while the other two functions comprise the "lateral meaning" of the work, the audience's basic sense of what happened to the story's characters ("sensation") and how it affected them emotionally ("feeling.")

As I continue to meditate on various comics-works to see if they qualify as mythcomics, I'm finding that whether a given work is more dominated by its overthought or by its underthought, it works best when it follows Aristotle's dictum for the "unity of action."

The Unity of a Plot does not consist, as some suppose, in its having one man as its subject. An infinity of things befall that one man, some of which it is impossible to reduce to unity; and in like manner there are many actions of one man which cannot be made to form one action. . . . The truth is that, just as in the other imitative arts one imitation is always of one thing, so in poetry the story, as an imitation of action, must represent one action, a complete whole, with its several incidents so closely connected that the transposal or withdrawal of any one of them will disjoin and dislocate the whole. For that which makes no perceptible difference by its presence or absence is no real part of the whole.

This is one reason why, even though I stated long ago that I considered the X-MEN's "Dark Phoenix": storyline to be a mythic work, I would now consider it more of a "near myth." Like many serial comic books of the period-- DEATHLOK and BLACK PANTHER, for example-- the writers often plotted the stories in episodic, helter-skelter fashion. This can be potentially more fun to read than a rigidly plotted opus, but it doesn't produce the desired "unity of action."

I don't have plans as yet to create a category for "overthought-dominated works," but if I did, I might include a 1953 sequence from Walt Kelly's POGO comic strip. The sequence, in which Kelly heaps satirical barbs upon the still formidable public figure of Joseph P. McCarthy, has been lauded by many comics-critics. I respect both Kelly's craft and his intent, but the sequence is most interesting to me in that any free flow of symbolic content has been tamped down, so to speak, to serve the primary purpose of elucidating Kelly's ideas about McCarthy, demagoguery, and American commercialism.

By way of contrast, an "underthought-dominated work"-- one which happens to be as complex in terms of symbolic discourse as Kelly's work is in terms of didactic discourse-- is examined in my essay on the Origin of Metamorpho. The main purpose of Bob Haney was not focused upon ideas, but upon the symbols attendant to his newly crafted superhero. This includes both (1) the Oedipal quadrangle of hero, hero's girlfriend, girlfriend's rich father and the father's brutish stooge, (2) assorted references to Egypt and vaguely alchemical symbols ("the rose stone.')

While it would be impossible for an ideological critic to admit any sort of equivalence between a high-minded political satire and a wildly escapist superhero tale, both works do display a necessary unity of action. One merely have to be tuned to hear and/or see.

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