Number 2091: Plastic Man finalizes his look
1 hour ago
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...
a word that includes the meaning of more specific words. For example, “vehicle” is the superordinate of words such as “car” and “truck.”-- Macmillan Online.
....while I would still support this basic construction [of the "death-trap trope"], I would not emphasize the fact that the "death-trap" is "improbable," but that it is an extreme example of "literary artifice." That artifice would exist even in a story where a given trap was justified in some quasi-realistic context, and does exist even in Dickens' naturalistic version of a "birth-mystery plot." But even within the context of "myth as artifice," the concept of a "mythopoeic purpose" lying behind said artifice is still applicable, even after the concept of probability has gone down the tubes.What the Batman death-trap and the Dickens "birth-mystery plot" have in common is not a presence or absence of probability or verisimilitude, but the fact that by virtue of being archetypes of strong amplitude, they are examples of *literary artifice* that call attention to themselves, thanks to their having been so frequently used over the years. "Artifice," while not exactly a principle in itself, stands counter to "verisimilitude," which is dependent on the author's observations about the workings of the experiential world.
The art of horror is the art of generating breakdown, where signified and signifier no longer can be kept separate-- p. 16.
That the experience of horror is first physiological, and only then maybe numinous, is revealed by all its hybrid and mutant linguistic forms.-- James Twitchell, DREADFUL PLEASURES, p. 11.
...though all our knowledge begins with experience, it does not follow that it all arises out of experience.-- Kant, CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON.By this early statement in DREADFUL PLEASURES, Twitchell makes clear his Freudian, and counter-Kantian, position: the "experience of horror" arises principally from physiological factors:
...the shiver that we associate with horror is the result of the constricton of the skin that firms up the subcutaneous hair follicles... From this comes the most appropriate trope of horror: creeping flesh, or "the creeps."-- PLEASURES, p. 10.
...terror will pass... but horror will never disappear, no matter how rational we become about it"-- p. 16.
;;;the eriology of horror is always in dreams, while the basis of terror is in actuality."-- p. 19.However, the "dreams" Twitchell has in mind are what might termed the Freudian "collective unconscious," because they are a concatenation of images and symbols rooted purely in physiological factors. Twitchell's figures of horror are primarily those literary figures that have stood the test of time-- Dracula, the Frankenstein Monster, Mister Hyde--because he believes that they all owe their long-lived nature to being in tune with Freudian complexes. In contrast, figures of "terror" are not so much those that are "actual" in the sense of a naturalistic phenomenality, but in the sense of being overly dependent on transitory "fads" and obsessions of a particular time-frame. Thus he finds most of the sci-fi terrors of the 1950s to be beneath his scholarly notice, because they're merely rooted in transitory fears of The Bomb or Communist invasion. (He does devote some space to 1956's FORBIDDEN PLANET, surely because it upholds his Freudian paradigm.)
I suspect Todorov's emphasis on horror-story authors stems from literary elitism. In 1970, names like Poe and Hoffman were still accepted in the Land of the Literary Canon, but Wells and Verne had barely established a foothold in academia, much less modern authors of SF (including Lem himself), or any authors of fantasy except for perhaps Carroll. By the mid-to-late 70s this would change, but clearly Todorov's theory is geared to highbrow tastes only. Arguably the horror genre is privileged by Todorov not because it possesses the best or more fulfilling examples of "the fantastic," but because artists known for their more naturalistic works, such as Balzac and Dostoyevsky (also briefly mentioned in TF), dabbled in it.
Suppose you were told there was a tiger in the next room: you would know that you were in danger and would probably feel fear. But if you were told ‘There is a ghost in the next room’, and believed it, you would feel, indeed, what is often called fear, but of a different kind. It would not be based on the knowledge of danger, for no one is primarily afraid of what a ghost may do to him, but of the mere fact that it is a ghost.
Terror and horror are so far opposite, that the first expands the soul, and awakens the faculties to a high degree of life; the other contracts, freezes, and nearly annihilates them.
As an image, it certainly is sublime; it fills the mind with an idea of power, but it does not follow that Milton intended to declare the feeling of horror to be sublime; and after all, his image imparts more of terror than of horror; for it is not distinctly pictured forth, but is seen in glimpses through obscuring shades, the great outlines only appearing, which excite the imagination to complete the rest; he only says, ‘sat horror plumed ;' you will observe, that the look of horror and the other characteristics are left to the imagination of the reader; and according to the strength of that, he will feel Milton's image to be either sublime or otherwise.
I said in an earlier essay that I would address the differing "intensities" of violence in fiction, by which I meant what I called "clean violence" vs. "dirty violence." These are NOT meant to be covalent with my versions of Twitchell's preposterous violence and its unnamed opposite. I refer to the "intensities" of clean and dirty because they are determined purely by how intensely the work does or does not present scenes of violence. As I see it preposterous violence and its opposite are not determined by intensity of effect but by narrative function.
Now religious ideas, as history shows, are charged with an extremely suggestive, emotional power. Among them I naturally reckon all "representations collectives," everything that we learn from the history of religion, and anything that has an "ism" attached to it. The latter is only a modern variant of the denominational religions. A man may be convinced in all good faith that he has no religious ideas, but no one can fall so far away from humanity that he no longer has any dominating "representation collective." His very materialism, atheism, communism, socialism, liberalism, intellectualism, existentialism, or what not, testifies against his innocence. Somewhere or other, overtly or covertly, he is possessed by a supraordinate idea.I tend to think that Jung's "superordinate ideas" probably come closer to what Otto was trying to say about the relation of "the uncanny" to "the numinous," even though as a religious man Otto would have opposed Jung's tendency to subsume religion into pure psychology.
It may be that my revised versions of overthought and underthought will in future serve me as shortened forms for the respective effects that "the function of thinking" and "the function of intuition" have upon literary narrative. I concluded in REFLECTIONS IN A MERCURIAL EYE PART 3 that both myth-critics and ideological critics were in a similar unenviable position as far as converting the majority of readers to pursue more abstract readings of texts. Most readers quite logically are concerned with lateral meaning, which takes in both "the function of sensation" and "the function of feeling"-- and in truth, the abstractions of both overthoughts and underthoughts are only possible when constructed on the foundation of concrete experience.
This will I'll term the "existential will," because it is a will to remain attached to all the affects that call up everyday sensory existence; our feeling of being inextricably a part of the physical world.
This will I'll term the "idealizing will," because it seems obvious to me that any "idea" to which a subject becomes emotionally attached becomes an "ideal."
By the power and glory of the transitive effect, then, a given work's lateral meaning may be said to incarnate the "existential will" of all of the characters combined, who are inextricably focused upon their own interests within the diegesis. The work's underthought and overthought, whatever their quality of expression, would then incarnate the "idealizing will" of the plot-action as a whole: that which often receives the cumbersome and inaccurate term of "the theme." I've tended to speak of the two types of will in identifying characters within the diegesis as being heroes, villains, monsters, or demiheroes. However, here I'm addressing the dual ways in which the reader interacts with the text: identifying with the characters' travails within the diegesis even as he may (sometimes) seek an extra-diegetical meaning to the entire narrative, and so the two types of will have a different function when applied to the possible reactions of the reader rather than the functions of the characters.
I reviewed Kim Newman’s alternate-world take on the DRACULA mythos, in which Dracula became consort to the Queen of England and turned Old Blighty into a haven for his vampire spawn. I wasn’t enthused with the Newman work, but Nozomu Tamaki wreaks wonders with the same basic idea. Here it’s a man-made island that becomes a haven for a kingdom of bloodsuckers: quite naturally for a manga-series, the island has been built off the coast of Japan. The heroes of DANCE are Mina Tepes, queen of the vampires, who facilitates the worldwide emigration of her people to the island, and Akira, her werewolf bodyguard. DANCE also sports a large cast of allies and villains, most of whom are incredible hot-bods. But Mina and Akira are the focal heroes, and their complicated relationship is the core of the series as they defend their makeshift kingdom (the “bund” of the title) against assorted threats—meddling human beings, assassins, conspiracies, and, most formidably, three vampire overlords, the last survivors of “the 100 vampire clans.” Grotesque horror and frenetic action dominate the storylines, though Tamaki makes considerable time for comic byplay and the Japanese “cult of cuteness.”
...Tamaki is clearly playing around with the concept of “lolicon,” teasing the reader with the possibility while making clear that Humbert Humbert doesn’t live here. In the first DANCE continuity, Mina meets Akira for the first time in seven years, and uses an assortment of stratagems to make him want to serve as her bodyguard willingly, rather than out of a sense of impersonal duty. One of these stratagems includes disrobing in front of him. Her pre-pubertal form doesn’t entice Akira, but making him uncomfortable accomplishes the same end: that of helping her manipulate him into her service. This is made palatable by the fact that she does have an abiding love for him, and clearly would like to assume her mature form in order to be with him. During a dream-sequence in TPB volume 6, Mina imagines herself living a normal human life, which attests to her romantic desires for Akira, though only in mature form.