Featured Post


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...

Sunday, January 14, 2018


The title refers back to the 2016 essay THIRD PRESENCE, PERIPHERAL. That title referred to presences in a narrative peripheral to the concerns of the focal presences. These peripheral types might be actual characters, like the genie-figures I mentioned, or they might be presences that have no personality, like the unseen germs that devastate the Martian fleet in both H.G. Wells' WAR OF THE WORLDS and the 1953 film-adaptation.

"Peripheral" was a term I was trying on for size as a permanent critical term, but "third presence" was more frivolous, merely playing on terms like "third person plural." More recently, I've replaced what I originally meant by "peripheral" with "eccentric." The latter, connoting everything outside the center of a given narrative or group of narratives, seemed to make a better pair with my opposing term "centric," connoting everything pertaining to said center.

And yet "peripheral," though not useful as an ongoing term, isn't without meaning in my system. The periphery of a circle is not just everything outside the center, but the circle's outer limits-- and this is indeed what I was talking about when I spoke of the influence of certain entities upon the combative mode of a given work.

The most normative form of a combative narrative is the one in which the narrative action is worked out between the centric"protagonist" and the dominant "eccentric element," the "antagonist." In 2013's PASSION FOR THE CLIMAX, I stated:

Though it's possible that I'll encounter some exceptions, there seems no way to demonstrate the persistence of the narrative combative value unless there is some sort of spectacle-oriented struggle at or very near the climax. 
I then provided for a few variations. For instance, the combative struggle could be interrupted so that there was no clear victory between the opponents, as is the case in the kaiju film KING KONG VS. GODZILLA. I also noted that sometimes the victory might be obtained not by the centric presence, but by someone allied to the centric presence.

Another variation is seen in my review of the 2012 DARK SHADOWS,wherein vampire protagonist Barnabas Collins has a violent conflict with the villain but is taken out of the fight, after which the villain is destroyed by the main character's allies. But as long as there has been some narrative plot-thread to leads inevitably to some sort of spectacular combat, it doesn't matter if the combat follows the dominant pattern of the main hero overcoming the villain.  In fact, though it's rare for a combative film to end in the defeat of the hero, it does happen, most memorably in 1982's BLADE RUNNER.

Now, an ally to the centric presence is, like the antagonist, an "eccentric presence." So is (to cite one of the examples from THIRD PRESENCE) a character like the witch in THE COURT JESTER. The witch uses hypnosis on protagonist Hubert, enabling him to mount a spectacular fight against his enemy, but that influence falls short of bringing about a spectacular victory, even though Hubert does (sort of) best his adversary. Specifically, I said that when "the protagonists are not not empowered by [their genies'] influence," there took place an "inconsummation of the transitive effect." Yet, I don't believe I ever stated outright that the reverse-- a consummation of the transitive effect-- took place whenever an 'eccentric presence" did indeed empower the protagonist. DARK SHADOWS is one of many film-works in which the combative mode is maintained even when the hero is aided by some eccentric presence, as I've charted in movies like HOOK, BARBARELLA, and even such obscurities as THE HOODED TERROR.

So in some scenarios, the "eccentric presence" is "closer" to the aims of the centric presence, and so it enjoys something like "secondary" status insofar as it helps the hero bring forth the spectacular climax necessary for the combative mode. Other eccentric presences, however, are closer to the "periphery," and so are closer to being "third persons" in the equation. They may have effects that are important to the narrative as a whole, for the religious theme of the 1953 WAR OF THE WORLDS could hardly be realized without the germs, seen here as part of God's plan, killing off the invaders. Yet the germs' influence undercuts the spectacular violence of Earth's battle against the Martian invaders, rendering Earth's military might nugatory. A contrasting example, one that consummates the transitive effect, is found in 1991's HOOK. In Barrie's PETER PAN, Peter Pan is spared of the dirty work of killing Hook by kicking the pirate off his ship, into the jaws of Hook's secondary foe, the crocodile. The novel's beast is only an unwitting ally to Peter Pan, but he furthers the combative mode just as the germs disperse it. Similarly, the taxidermically-preserved corpse of the crocodile in Spielberg's HOOK serves a similar role. Even though the creature no longer lives, its body still possesses the fatal charisma of Barrie's beast, and so it again serves the purpose of executing the villain so that the hero need not do so.

I have some additional thoughts pertaining to the transitive effect as it applies to both serials and stand-alone works, but these should be worked in the forthcoming second part of A KNIGHT OF COMBAT AND CENTRICITY.

No comments: