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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...

Tuesday, January 10, 2017


An archetypal experience is not any emotional event but only an overwhelming one, the extraordinariness of which stems exactly from the power of the archetype encountered through projection.-- Robert A. Segal, THEORIZING ABOUT MYTH, p. 93. (quoted in greater context here).
A stereotype is defined by bare functionality.
An archetype is defined by some degree of "super-functionality."-- A QUICK ASIDE ON FUNCTIONALITY

The primary similarity between (1) the many facets of "the archetype" as described by Jung and others and (2) the concept of "artifice" that I introduced in EFFICACY, MEET MYTH is that both are abstract constructions. Both are built up not from observed experience but from patterns one projects upon abstract ideas about experience. Such abstractions tend to intermingle willy-nilly, which is why my EFFICACY essay might have been better titled ARTIFICE, MEET MYTH, since I was arguing that my new term provided a more effective substitute for Northrop's Frye use of "myth" in the particular Fryean schema I quoted.

Still, "efficacy" wasn't without significance. Cassirer introduced the term as a way of seeking to understand the "non-causal causality" one finds in myth, as one sees in favorite tropes like that of the giant who is dismembered to create the universe. I drew a comparison between Cassirer's definition of efficacy as a "translation and  transposition of the world of subjective emotions and drives into a sensuous, objective existence" and viewing this as comparable to the will-based process by which a literary author creates a world out of his own "subjective emotions and drives."  No matter how much an author may think that he's attempting to hew close to observed experience, the moment he seeks to create fiction-- as opposed to nonfiction and memoir-related works like those of Harvey Pekar-- he will always impose some sense of order on his fictive world that parallels that of the cosmic order one finds in myth.

Nevertheless, many authors seek to buttress their visions of real life with direct observations that they or others have taken from experience, and all such attempts to bring the fictional world into line with observed experience fit under the heading of Frye's category "verisimilitude." Ironically, "verisimilitude" can even take in inaccurate information. In HENRY IV PART 1, Shakespeare makes Henry and Hotspur the same age, which was not historically accurate. However, misinformation serves the same purpose in the play that accurate information would: to give the audience a set of particular facts about the antagonists.

The author who wants to be admired for his verisimilitude, then, endeavors to imply that any subjective concerns that inform his work are logical extrapolations from his observations of experience. Thus, even when he employs an archetypal trope, such as Frye's example of the "birth-mystery plot" in various Dickens works, the author will seek to emphasize that, say, Oliver Twist is the product of an unjust social system, rather than the obvious spawn of either a fiction-writer or of any mythological entities that might stand in for the author. (Again following Frye's example, the god Apollo exists to "explain" the provenance of his mortal son Ion, in more or less parallel fashion to the sacrificed giant whose death "explains" the origins of the universe.)

I'll state then a general maxim: no fiction-author can ever completely succeed in divorcing himself from the domain of artifice and totally cleaving to the domain of verisimilitude.

That said, an author's focus upon verisimilitude means that he automatically seeks to limit the potential "affective freedom" of his work, in favor of a "cognitive restraint" based in his own acceptance, and that of his potential audience, of all the rules of consensual reality. And that means that the "will" incarnate in the work of a (usually) naturalistic author like Dickens is not quite the same as what one sees in the work of one best known for marvelous scenarios, like Euripides, or of one who uses the same archetype in an uncanny work-- more upon which in Part 2.


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