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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...

Monday, April 24, 2017



But although "density/complexity" is the primary criterion of fictional excellence in any potentiality, there is a role for Raymond Durgnat's "aesthetic of simplicity." Simplicity is the mode or modes through which an author seeks to communicate complexity in a pleasing manner, so that the reader absorbs the complexity without the sense of having it forced down his throat. More on this point later.

I invoked the base idea of simplicity-- though not as an "aesthetic"-- in a February 2008 essay, MOVING FURNITURE, TRADINGS SYMBOLIC SPACES.  

To repeat what I said in “Myths Without Fantasy,” any kind of story may attain to the complexity of myth, and any element of narrative storytelling—a plot-event, a setting, a piece of dialogue, or a turn of characterization—can have the potential to go from a simple variable to a complex one. At the simple level, such elements are manipulated by the author to serve the ends of the story, which (as per this article’s title) I consider to be akin to the simple act of moving one’s furniture from one place to another. However, where one encounters the author bringing in extra levels of associational complexity, often not necessary as such for the story’s smooth functioning, one is dealing with another level of symbolic discourse, where the simple is “traded” for the complex, rather than simply being moved from one spot to another.

 I didn't mention Frye in this essay, but he was credited for the "complex variable" insight in a related essay, DON'T FEAR THE FURNITURE, where I further built upon the simple/complex dichotomy.

Back in this essay I spoke of functions without any great associative complexity as "simple variables," akin to narrative "furniture" that an author had to move about. Somewhat later I used "null-myth" as a term of evaluating such simple variables in terms of their lack of mythicity. "Function" is meant to be more inclusive. Say that I consider Sherlock Holmes mythic while I deem August Derleth's imitation-Holmes "Solar Pons" to be null-mythic. That does not mean that I might not be amused in some way by a Solar Pons tale, depending on how well the author presents his material on the purely kinetic level. But I would not expect the level of associative complexity that makes the Sherlock stories generally more appealing.
Both Holmes and Pons stories share functions that their respective authors did not "invent." The Holmes stories, because of their added associative qualities, may be said to be "super-functional" in that author Doyle forges more felicitous associative connections within the literary elements of his tales than Derleth does. But Doyle doesn't escape the need for narrative functionality.
"Narrative functionality" means that whether a story is symbolically simple or complex, it has to satisfy certain some audience's narrative expectations, even if that audience might be limited to the author's idealized image of "the perfect audience." This is easy to descry with genre-stories: once Conan Doyle establishes (but does not invent) the trope that every detective-story concludes with the detective solving some mystery, then most other stories in that genre will follow the same pattern, in order to be "pleasing" to the reader. And though many literary elitists like to think that artistic fiction is immune to this sort of narrative expectations, I've noted the same distinction between complex and simple forms of art-fiction on assorted occasions, as per my unfavorable comparison of Daniel Clowes to Harvey Kurtzman here.

In the second part of DON'T FEAR THE FURNITURE, I also associated the simply functional elements of literature with the linguistic concept of the *denotative:* 

Even I, a pluralist, would rather read works that strike me as "super-functional" rather than only functional. But that which is purely functional informs every narrative ever conceived, if only insofar as all narratives need the denotative as a buttress for the connotative. So fearing and/or hating the functional is, in the final analysis, not much more profound than the activity of moving around one's old furniture.

Nowadays, I would not associate my idea of the "null-myth" with this base denotative functionality: over time it's come to mean a work that had "super-functional" potential coded into the narrative but which became denatured by authorial confusion or misjudgment. I note that in these older essays I only referenced the potentialities of "the kinetic" and "the mythopoeic." However, I've given other examples in recent essays as to how the other two potentialities are also embraced by the concepts of narrative complexity and simplicity.

To return to the last two examples cited above, the better work of Harvey Kurtzman has a desirable level of complexity, but it is presented in such a way that the author does not "force [the complexity] down the audience's throat." In contrast, though I do not consider Daniel Clowes' to be very complex in terms of any potentiality-- though I suppose it's strongest in the domain of "the didactic"-- it also sins in regard to the aesthetic of simplicity, by conveying his intellectual take on life in a poorly executed emulation of Alfred Hitchcock's storytelling practices.

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