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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


At the end of PART 1 I stated that I would investigate a particular archetypal trope, that of the "birth-mystery plot," across the three phenomenalities of the NUM theory. The two examples more or less introduced by Frye in the earlier quoted section from his ANATOMY were Oliver Twist (my selection of a Dickens "mystery orphan") and Ion (from the Euripides play of the same name). Within the domain of "the uncanny," the most famous example of this trope is almost inevitably Tarzan. whose origin-tale may be more widely known than that of the other two.

I'll backtrack here just enough to reference my 2013 statement here as how the uncanny differs from the purely naturalistic, both in terms of the principle of "strangeness" and in terms of a potential for combinatory power:

What Todorov fails to comprehend here is that the "quite rational explanations" in USHER do not dispel the sense of something bizarre taking place, as is seen when the "statue" in WINTER'S TALE seems, ever so briefly, to have come to life.  The slight nods to possible rational explanations in USHER do not the banish the strangeness of the House, with its face-like facade, its doomed occupants and its cataclysmic descent into the tarn.  This is the common element of all of my ten uncanny-tropes.  In each case the uncanny-author plays a game that resembles the game of the advocate of naturalism, in that he does not violate causality.  But he does so not to reify "the real," as Todorov suggests.  He does so to create a "supra-real world," one in which there is a far greater potential for combinatory sublimity than in any naturalistic work. 

Now, in PART 1 I made a brief comparison between the narrative strategies of Oliver's creator and the dramatist of ION:

the author [Dickens] 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.)
Now, the caveat must be made that Euripides did not "invent" Ion as the other two invented their respective characters. Nevertheless, an author who follows the basic outlines of a traditional myth-tale about a traditional character tacitly accepts the phenomenality implied in that material, and anyone who attempts to produce a mythology out of whole cloth, as Tolkien did, is likely to pursue roughly the same narrative strategies as the archaic authors, as far as how the gods function with relation both to mortals and to godly kindred.

Again I return to the definition I formulated of the three phenomenalities in response to my reading of Roy Bhaskar: 

In the NATURALISTIC category, all phenomena are both "coherent" and "intelligible."
In the UNCANNY category, all phenomena are "coherent" in that they do not exceed the cognitive//physical nature of causality, but some phenomena are not "intelligible" given that they may prove unintelligible by the standards of the NATURALISTIC.
In the MARVELOUS category, some phenomena may be neither "coherent" nor "intelligible."

(Note:my current term "coherent" substitutes for the discontinued one "regular.")

Everything in Oliver Twist's world is both coherent and intelligible, just as certain things in Ion's world are neither coherent nor intelligible. In the world that Burroughs created for Tarzan, however, he pursues some of the same goals as the naturalistic author as described in Part 1:

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 audience's acceptance of the rules of consensual reality. 

But Tarzan is not strictly intelligible as is Oliver Twist. I'm not speaking of incidents in the first book that strain credulity, like the ape-man teaching himself to read, because Burroughs wants his readers to believe that this miracle falls within the bounds of naturalistic possibility. Rather, it's that the author allows his character an "affective freedom" that exceeds the type of affectivity normally possible for characters in naturalistic worlds. Burroughs isn't being literal when he styles Tarzan a "forest god," but the impression of godhood is conveyed by the hero's strength, which on one hand is entirely human in its scope, and yet on the other hand has been developed to an extent most men never experience, including jungle-dwelling tribesmen who haven't been raised by apes.

Marvelous works by their nature must privilege the world of literary artifice, whether they are creating a whole world of marvelous things (Tolkien again) or just one marvelous thing in an otherwise natural-seeming world (Verne, and, in a narrative sense, Euripides). Naturalistic works privilege the perceptions, by the author and his culture, as to the restrictions of verisimilitude. The uncanny author utilizes strategies from both domains. Poe in Todorov's example of "House of Usher" allows his reader to pursue a naturalistic interpretation if he really wants it, but the author doesn't buttress that interpretation with assorted facts about the tendency of houses to sink into tarns at the least provocation.

In Part 3, I'll get back to the matter of how archetypes and artifice go together.

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