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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, December 18, 2017


The reason I wrote this sequel to the 2014 essay OBJECTS GIVEN LUSTER was not because that particular subject had been occupying my mind on-and-off for the past three years. Rather, I returned to that obscure topic because I'd been giving more thought to the categorization of different types of presences, focal or non-focal, that appear in fiction, as seen in September's PALE KINGS AND DEMIHEROES. These meditations got me thinking not only about following up on the implications of the 2014 essay, but also about the application of my persona-classification system to non-focal figures.

A quick recapitulation of the roots of said system: first, though I said this at the beginning of the PALE KINGS essay:

The strongest influence on my theory of the four persona-types has been the work of Schopenhauer, but I'll confess that Northrop Frye's writings on literary dynamis had an impact on the theory...
This was an oversimplication on my part. It's true that Frye's ANATOMY influenced only the concept of the four mythoi, and that his theories contributed little if anything to my concept of literary personas. However, Frye's work led me to a deeper consideration of one of his influences, Theodor Gaster, and my conceptualization of persona-types coalesced from my attempt to bring Gaster's concepts of "plerosis and kenosis" into line with Schopenhauer's concepts of will, as I expounded in Part 1 and Part 2 of WHEN TITANS GET CROSS-COMPARED. A short summing-up of the Gaster concepts appears in this essay, where I cross-compared Gaster's categories with Frye's four mythoi:

,,plerosis is best conceived as the life-force engendered by the contest of hero-and-villain, taken seriously for the adventure and humorously for the comedy, while life is purged or otherwise compromised in the black-comic irony and in the drama.

One of my major differences with Frye is that I don't think he paid enough attention to persona-types in the ANATOMY. Here's his meditation on figures of aristocratic authority, who inhabit what he calls the "high mimetic mode:"

 If superior in degree to other men but not to his natural environment, the hero is a leader. He has authority, passions, and powers of expression far greater than ours, but what he does is subject both to social criticism and to the order of nature. This is the hero of the high mimetic mode, of most epic and tragedy, and is primarily the kind of hero that Aristotle had in mind.

This formula overlooks certain distinctions between different types of rulers. Some of these protagonists are genuinely heroic in all senses of the word, such as Homer's Achilles. But others, despite their level of authority, are closer to being what I term "demiheroes," which means that they align more with the idea of the sacrificial victim than of the hero. Indeed, Shakespeare's most famous protagonists-- Hamlet, Lear, Macbeth-- are closer to being victims than to being heroes. Frye passed away in 1991, but I imagine that if he had somehow lived long enough to become acquainted with the two examples I contrasted in PALE KINGS AND DEMIHEROES-- Neil Gaiman's Morpheus and Nozomu Tamaki's Mina Tepes-- then I hazard that he would have seen in both of them the pattern of the high mimetic mode. Despite the fact that both characters possess supernormal powers that make them somewhat superior to their natural environment, Frye might have perceived that they were both rulers of fantasy-realms and were thus forced to deal with limitations upon their powers. I think the fact that both characters possess temporal authority is less important than what they do with it. Both Morpheus and Mina seek to consolidate their kingdoms, but the former seems concerned mostly with maintaining a status quo-- which in my mind associates him with a very high rank of demihero-- while Mina Tepes is more heroic in nature, forging her kingdom against a horde of opposing forces.

It would seem axiomatic that such authority-figures can also take on the persona-roles of either "monsters" or of "villains," but I'll deal with those eventualities in Part 2.

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