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SIX KEYS TO A LITERARY GENETIC CODE

In essays on the subject of centricity, I've most often used the image of a geometrical circle, which, as I explained here,  owes someth...

Monday, December 24, 2018

MYTHCOMICS" THE MAD COMPUTER" (2000 A.D. #144, 1979)




There’s a special kind of irony that the most mythic Xmas-comic I’ve found thus far doesn’t actually take place in the holiday season.

From the near-totalitarian philosophical stance of ultimate lawman Judge Dredd, holidays are just one more potential wrench in the gears of a smooth-running Mega-City: one more sybaritic excuse for citizens to misbehave and thus incur judicial wrath. This week’s mythcomic, spawned by John Wagner and Mike McMahon, shows that such “libelous displays” (to quote from Lerner and Loewe) are so infectious that they can even spread their cheery poison to days that are not holy, and to beings that are not human, like the titular “Mad Computer.”

“Everyone loved Barney, and Barney loved everyone—until the day that Barney went haywire, and Christmas came a little early to the Des O’Connor Block!” It would be interesting to know why Wagner chose the name of “Barney” for Mega-City’s master computer. The famed Purple Dinosaur, the “Barney” best known for cloying affection, did not come into being until 1992, and earlier Barneys from THE FLINTSTONES and ANDY GRIFFITH don’t seem like probable inspirations. Computer-Barney, a vital instrument in the running of the city, is given a human face by his creators—two tape-reels that look like eyes and a big red-lipped, toothy grin pasted on the machine’s front. The story, being only six pages long, doesn’t state outright that Barney has gone “haywire” because humans make the mistake of humanizing a mechanical intelligence, but the “everyone loved Barney” line implies that this is the proximate origin of the chaos.

One day, Barney decides that the Christmas spirit shouldn’t be confined to one day of Mega-City’s year. The inhabitants of “Des O’Connor Block” are the only residents who get expensive gifts from the computer, possibly because these are the people the computer most often sees day-to-day. Further, the local school is damaged by Barney so that all of the kids will be out of school, and the computer sends special announcements to some residents, which notes give unto them false “good news,” like a widow being told that her husband is still alive. Barney tells all of the residents, “I want you to be happy, folks—an’ I’ve got the power to do it! Before long, I’m gonna make it Christmas in every cityblock! Christmas every day of the year!”

The Bard memorably wrote, “If all the year were playing holidays, to sport would be as tedious as to work.” Judge Dredd isn’t worried so much about tedium as the insupportability of eternal good cheer. Since he can’t immediately attack the computer, which threatens to cripple all of Mega-City, Dredd tries to reason with the runamuck mechanism. When Barney proclaims his gospel-- “The law’s no good if it don’t make folks happy”-- Dredd responds with the Voice of Experience:

It’s false happiness, Barney! You don’t understand people! Pretty soon the bubble is going to burst—then the Judges will have to clean up the mess!

And Dredd’s gospel is borne out. Given a false god who promises that all one’s wishes can be fulfilled, the residents of Des O’Connor Block begin to fight amongst themselves, and even to commit murder, despite Barney’s confused, futile protests: “You should be happy!” Finally the Judges charge in to restore order, and by then, Barney’s circuits have become scrambled by seeing the results of his irresponsible largesse. Faced with a mother whose little girl was trampled by crazed residents, Barney commits suicide by switching himself off, making it possible for the Judges to control the city once more. The story’s final dialogue conveys the ironical gospel of Dredd, which counters that of the Pale Galilean by stating that essentially “man WAS made for the Sabbath:”

JUDGE TELFER: We can’t give people happiness. The best we can do is good old law and order.

JUDGE DREDD: As far as I’m concerned, Telfer, happiness IS law and order.

NEAR MYTHS: STOCKING STUFFER #2


This Xmas season’s second and last near-myth comes from the same series as the forthcoming mythcomic: the venerable series British series Judge Dredd.

In the first “stocking stuffer,” I opined that good sentimentality doesn’t always make good mythicity. However, sardonic irony doesn’t always provide the Keys to the Kingdom of Myth, either.

This cover, first appearing for a 1987 American reprint., seems to sum up one of the primary themes of JUDGE DREDD: no free rides for the pleasure-principle while Dredd, the incarnation of the displeasurable reality-principle, is on duty. 




However, most of the stories collected in this Quality Comics reprint, JUDGE DREDD v. 2, #6, make only niggling use of Xmas elements. The only tale that even deserves the status of a near-myth is 1985's “A Merry Tale of the Chiistmas Angel.”

That said, “merry mix-up” would be a better title, since scripter John Wagner and artist Steve Dillon simply tossed together four loosely-related plot-threads involving the terminally addled citizens of the futuristic Mega-City. One, the least memorable, involves a performance of the Nativity by a troupe of actors with bad Italian accents. In the second, Dredd’s perpetual sparring-partner, the manic Mean Angel, is lobotomized in order to make him into a model citizen, and in the third, a Christmas-hating terrorist named Flymo takes the Nativity-performers hostage. Lastly, there’s a frame story that starts out by suggesting that the Judges of Mega-City are extending the hand of charity to the grotty mutants outside the city’s borders.



Regarding the first and third plots, Wagner doesn’t even bother developing them past functional status, with Dredd commenting, after Flymo’s demise, that they (and the readers) will never know why the terrorist had a mad-on against the holiday season. Mean Angel is always fairly amusing with her berserker-rages against the incarnation of law and order. However, in symbolic terms the best part of this thread doesn’t involve the battle of hero and villain, but a comical bit where Mean receives a Christmas package containing a “Dredd-in-the-box”—which gift inadvertently helps break down the savage thug’s conditioning. As for the frame story, I’ll just say that it’s sort of plot that insures that JUDGE DREDD, despite its adventurous aspects, always keeps one foot planed in the realm of irony. Wagner’s Judges take no holidays from dispensing justice, and the Mutants—who are, very conveniently, all “known murderers”—find that the hand of charity is actually concealing the sword of Old Testament justice.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

NEAR MYTHS: STOCKING STUFFER #1

Not to be a Grinch about it, but though there's a lot of mythicity in the actual rituals and customs of Christmas, to say nothing of the intersection of pagan myth and Christian worship, not that much mythicity appears in pop-cultural Christmas entertainment. I like sentiment as much as the next fan, but with a few exceptions, like possibly Seuss's original Grinch-fable, holiday cheer doesn't seem to translate into what I've called (in my windy way) "hyperconcrescent symbolic discourse."

Case in point: TEEN TITANS #13, Bob Haney and Nick Cardy's winsomely corny reprise of Dickens' CHRISTMAS CAROL, blended with faux-hip teenaged superheroes. Haney probably guessed that most if not all of his readers had "grooved" on various adaptations of Dickens, and so what better grist for the story-mill than to have the Teen Titans experience almost the same story in "real life," with only minor changes of names and situations:

First the teen heroes sit around reading comic books, while Robin loftily recommends a more portentous author:



And then they start to experience almost the same events of the CAROL.



At no point, surprisingly, do any of the heroes start worrying, a la Will Farrell, that they may be helpless pawns of some capricious author. They just go about solving a crime that involves the skinflint "Mister Scrounge," his employee "Ratchet" and Ratcher's crippled son "Tiny Tom." I'd be lying if I said I hadn't enjoyed the pants off this cornball version of metatextuality back in the day, and that I still enjoyed Cardy's masterful mise-en-scene upon recently rereading same.

However, the closest the comic comes to mythicity is the weird, eye-catching cover:




The idea of having a bunch of good guys pinned to a Christmas tree like living ornaments is by itself nothing special. However, the idea of the faux-tree being  made out of a collection of junk is inspired, since Xmas presents usually connote the promise of The New, while Junk connotes the Old and the Unpromising. Further, seeing the heroes are bound by old tires and radiators and bedposts makes it seem as if the junk is alive, preying on the energies of youth. However, even Haney's lunatic imagination couldn't figure out how to justify "junk-that-eats-teens-as-food" (in contradistinction to the more familiar "teens-eat-junk-food"). So in the story proper it's not a tree of junk, just a big conical pile of trash that somehow has the power to magnetically attract the good guys, though not any of the bad guys they're fighting at the time. An added, almost Old-World touch is that the two figures in the foreground-- the "Scrooge" doppelganger and modern-day crook "Mister Big"-- are making deep, flourishing bows to one another as if emulating those turn-of-the-century personifications of politeness, Alphonse and Gaston.





Saturday, December 22, 2018

MYTHCOMICS: "THE LEGEND OF POP! POP! POP!" (BEANWORLD #1, 1985)




When I pulled out the first issue of TALES OF THE BEANWORLD, I wasn't consciously seeking a parallel to last week's mythcomic. Nevertheless, the parallel is there: both "Planet Story" and "The Legend of Pop! Pop! Pop!" spin fantasies about how a race of sentient beings exist in perfect harmony with their ecology, only to have that ecology disrupted. In "Planet Story," the mood is that of tragedy: the sentient beings choose to depart Paradise, needing no serpent to tempt them. In the BEANWORLD story, the mood is heroic, as well as more typical of ecology-oriented stories today, in which a figurative "serpent" doesn't just tempt the inhabitants of Paradise, but seeks to invade their world and destroy their equilibrium.

The first non-fanzine issue of the comic is accompanied by writer-artist Larry Marder's brief "history of the Beanworld." Marder asserts that he first began doing loose and inconsistent cartoon-sketches of his characters-- most of whom look like humanized beans, with arms,legs, hair and eyes (but no mouths)-- before finally deciding to publish them in a fanzine. To flesh out the cosmology of the Beams, Marder says that he "read myths, anthropology books and religious tracts," and so to some extent the Bean-universe is underscored by concepts about how human beings organize their own myths.



Like a 1930s animated cartoon, Beanworld sports minimal background designs. The cynosure of this bean-dimension is a gigantic tree known as "Grandma'pa," and the Beans are first seen congregating beneath the tree's bisexual (self-fertilizing?) branches. The Beans have no secondary sexual characteristics and most of them are defined by male pronouns, though their toolmaker, the whimsically named Professor Garbanzo, is designed as female late in the story. Most of the Beans are coded as male by their activity as "chow sol'jers," who are armed with big forks (sometimes called pluckin' wands), and their leader is implicitly male as well, the even more whimsically named "Mister Spook."


The Beans have gathered beneath Grandma'pa to witness an event important to their very lives: the spawning of a single seed, known as a "sprout-butt," which falls off the tree with a single "pop" sound. Though all of them are ready to catch the sprout-butt on their forks, only Mister Spook succeeds. Once this is done, the chow sol'jers are ready to depart on a raiding-mission to one of the other Four Realities.



Whereas Beanworld slightly resembles Earth in at least having a grassy sward of ground, the next reality, that of the Hoi Polloi, is more like one of the free-floating cosmoses one would see in "Doctor Strange" comics. As in Beanworld, there's just one species in this world: the Hoi Polloi, who look like disembodied heads (albeit with mouths!), except that each head has just one arm, complete with a gloved hand, growing out of it. The Hoi Polloi spend all of their time gambling with a "stony substance" called chow, though they never eat the stuff, nor are seen to eat anything at all. However, it's soon borne out that the Beans do need chow for their sustenance, hence their raiding-parties to the world of the Hoi Polloi.



As soon as the Beans enter the proximity of the one-armed heads, the Hoi Polloi become defensive. Each group of Hoi Polloi, perhaps twelve at a time, proceed to "circle the wagons," each head extending an arm to grab onto another head, and that one onto another, and so on. In the center of each circle, the heads guard the stony chow from the invaders. However, the Hoi Polloi can't defend themselves from direct attacks by the forks of the chow sol'jers. As the forks inflict superficial wounds, the rings break apart, and the chow sol'jers use their forks to scoop up bits of chow. Once they have a full load, these raiding Beans zoom back to Beanworld, where they will boil the stony chow into a soup that they can absorb with their bodies (perhaps necessary since they seem to have no oral cavities). However, before Mister Spook leaves, he tosses a compensatory gift to the particular ring his soldiers have robbed: the sprout-butt. Immediately that group of Hoi Polloi forms a ring around the seed, nurturing it with looks of quasi-maternal love, and in moments the seed is transformed into yet more stony chow.




If Marder had stopped with this depiction of cartoon-critter life, this part of the narrative would comprise a mythcomic on its own. Clearly the author was seeking to create a fantasy based in the idea of symbiotic life-forms, where two species benefit one another, even if one species' actions isn't committed with the other species' full permission. It may be that Marder was also familiar with a particular anthropological idea about the evolution of human trading. In ORIGINS OF THE SACRED, writer Dudley Young suggests that the earliest instances of trade may have started as counterfeit "raiding-parties," where there was the appearance of one group taking from another but the tacit understanding that the second group received something in compensation.

But Marder, as I noted earlier, did not stop there. Some time after the Beans of Beanworld have enjoyed soaking up their chow, Professor Garbanzo asks the heroic Mister Spook to rummage around the Four Realities for "spare parts." Having done so, the Bean-leader happens to visit the world of the Hoi Polloi. He's aghast to see that several of the Hoi Polloi have been both killed and reduced to skeletal masses, and one of the dying creatures tells Spook that the invaders only wanted him and his fellows dead, showing no interest in their chow-currency. When Spook hears a mysterious "pop pop pop" sound (hence the story's title), he hides, and thus gets a look at the invaders. Known only "whip-skinners," the invaders look much like beans but have four arms and carry whips. They skin the now dead witness to their attack and take the skin to their invasion-craft, which looks like a giant corn-cob. Still watching from hiding, Spook also sees their leader, "the Clone Commander," and learns from conversation that the invaders are out to ruthlessly plunder the environment without giving anything back.

Given how much time I've spent on recounting the involved layers of Marder's quixotic universe, I'll forego examining in detail the way in which Spook defeats this foul threat to the Beanworld's balanced ecology. I'll confine myself to mentioning that when Spook returns to his home, he consults with Garbanzo, and, in common with the archetypal practices of shamans, she summons otherworldly help by communing with the Beans' "god" Grandma'pa. The venerable tree delivers a weapon designed to play havoc with the ruthless hierarchical organization of the whip-skinners and their leader, forcing them to abort their mission and destroy themselves. Marder does hint about other enemies that may arise from the Dimension of Mass Exploitation (my term), but as far as the Beans and the Hoi Polloi are concerned, a terrible evil has been dispersed. The Hoi Polloi allow Spook and his soldiers to take all the chow they can carry back to their own domain, after which the one-armed heads began keening for their lost brethren. The narrative ends with the Beans feasting on chow-stew, though it goes without saying that other conflicts would await the intrepid Mister Spook in future issues.

In closing, though, I can't help but mention that "hoi polloi," according to Merriam-Webster, is one of those odd terms that has come to be used for two mutually contradictory designations:


1the general populace MASSES

2people of distinction or wealth or elevated social status ELITE

THE READING RHEUM: FANTOMAS (1911)



I've heard for many years that the character of Fantomas, originating in a series of French novels (forty-three in all), has been pegged as one of the important "proto-superheroes," for all that he was an unregenerate villain, unlike "gentleman-thieves" along the lines of 1905's "Arsene Lupin" and 1914's "Gray Seal." I've now read only the first of the novels, and there's some evidence that Fantomas is an important transitional figure. However, one of the primary visual tropes to which superhero fans respond-- that of costume-- does not apply in the case of the initial prose version of Fantomas. The cover of the first book edition, showing the villain wearing evening dress and domino mask as he looms over a city, is not borne out in the prose, nor does he wear the hooded garments seen in some if not all of the Feulliade silent serials.



Instead, Fantomas's costume, if he has one in the first book, is that of being "a man of many faces." Now, being a simple "disguise expert" is not enough to mark a protagonist as belonging to what I've termed "the superhero idiom." In past essays I've noted the existence of various characters who went around in masks, some of whom belonged to the idiom, like the Durango Kid, and some who did not, like Oldring's Masked Rider. By the same token, there are various "men of many faces" who do make my cut for belonging to the idiom, like the 1934 pulp-hero Secret Agent X--




--while others do not, like "Paris" from MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE.



The original FANTOMAS novel does, I believe, create the sense of strangeness needed for any character relevant to the superhero idiom. Indeed, when the novel begins, various ordinary French citizens are discussing the rumors of Fantomas, and the first thing they mention is his penchant for disguise:

In these days we have been distressed by a steady increase in crime, and among the causes we shall henceforth have to count a mysterious and most dangerous creature, to whom the baffled authorities and general rumor have for some time now given the name of Fantomas. It is impossible to say exactly what or to know precisely who Fantomas is. He often assumes the form and personality of some particular and often well-known individual; sometimes he assumes the forms of two human beings  at the same time. Sometimes he works alone, sometimes with accomplices; sometimes he can be identified as such and such a person, but no one has ever gotten to know Fantomas himself.

Later novels do unveil aspects of the master villain's history, but as far as the first novel is concerned, Fantomas is a shadow that constantly looms over law-abiding civilization, committing crimes with impunity, despite being pursued by a resourceful detective, Juve, who also dabbles in disguises himself. Imposture seems like a disease spread by the evildoer. One of Fantomas's early victims, a young man named Charles, is framed for a murder probably committed by the master villain, and to escape prosecution the youth must, with Juve's help, take on a fictitious new identity, that of Jerome Fandor, who often joins Juve in future novels to pursue Fantomas. Indeed, for reasons that are never entirely clear, the fictitious cognomen "Fandor" is explicitly taken from that of the master criminal.

In this novel Fantomas is even less "on stage" than other famous villains, like Dracula in Stoker's novel or Fu Manchu in the Rohmer series. Usually the criminal's misdeeds are discovered long after he is gone. Only in one sequence does a victim confront for some time a disguised criminal who may or may not be Fantomas, but the only reason that the villain maintains the confrontation is to suss out where the victim's valuables can be found. During this encounter, the maybe-Fantomas speaks of himself in lofty terms; when the victim says that he "must" leave, he replies, "Must? That is a word that is not often said to me."

A preface to my edition of the novel mentions that in later works, the malcontent attacks victims with such devices of plague-rats and sulfuric acid stored in perfume-spritzers. There are no gimmicks in the first outing, though. Even more important, though, for the determination of a character's relevance to the superhero idiom is that there is also an absence of spectacular violence.

In contrast to the Fu Manchu novels that began the very next year, all of the villain's violent acts are committed off-stage. There are sporadic incidents of violence, but no combat in the sense of the combative mode. This isn't surprising, since the narrative seems more allied with that of the detective tale, so that it's quite as if the authors had sought to create a series in which the Great Detective's lauded foe Moriarty received his own universe in which to play games upon the righteous.

FANTOMAS by itself is a good if not exceptional proto-pulp story. Upon reading further novels, I may be able to determine whether the character deserves to be associated with the combative idiom of superheroes and their supervillain adversaries, or whether he belongs to a side-category of "subcombative supervillains."


Thursday, December 20, 2018

UNCANNY GENESIS PT. 3

I foregrounded this essay in the first paragraph of BOUNDED WITHIN INFINITE SPACE:

My plans for the third and last part of UNCANNY GENESIS involve my using certain linguistic terms to expand further on my concepts of artifice, affective freedom and cognitive restraint.
The primary linguistic terms I'm invoking are the two most crucial to the concept of symbolism: the *simile* and the *metaphor.* Truth to tell, the particular significance of the simile became clearer to me when I looked again at my argument in the POWER AND POTENCY series, regarding G. Wilson Knight's assertion that Shakespeare's Hamlet was "a superman among men:"

G. Wilson Knight's essay on HAMLET implies this opposition between body and non-body when, as I showed in Part 1, Knight imputed to the moody Prince of Denmark a power that was not a literal power, saying that "the poison of [Hamlet's] mental essence spreads outward among things of flesh and blood, like acid eating into metal."  When he wrote this, Knight was not being at all literal, as his use of the acid simile demonstrates. Hamlet has no more physical power than any other human being, but because he has "held converse with death," he *SEEMS LIKE* he has become something more than human. But the "seeming" takes place purely upon the mental/spiritual/"non-body" plane of being.

The rest of Part II I devoted to showing how other manifestations of uncanny phenomenality seemed to possess some potency that exceeded the world of naturalistic causality. Since uncanny works by definition cannot exceed the coherence aspect of causality, they can only exceed naturalistic causality in the sense of *intelligibility,* which is why I argued that such fictional presences as Herman Melville's Moby Dick and Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan are more allied with the world of the metaphenomenal than that of the isophenomenal.

So, what does it mean if the world of the uncanny is governed by the construct of the simile, and do the other two phenomenalities accord with other linguistic forms of speech?

Well, as noted earlier the simile and the metaphor are often paired as related but non-identical linguistic terms. The simile draws a comparison between two or more phenomena, one which may be expressively memorable but is not meant to change one's view of consensual reality. The metaphor, however, expresses the identity of two or more phenomena, in a manner that parallels the direct association of phenomena in Cassirer's view of mythical thinking:

Mythical "metamorphosis"... is always the record of an individual event-- a change from one individual and concrete material form to another. The cosmos is fished out of the depths of the sea or molded from a tortoise; the earth is shaped from the body of a great beast or from a lotus blossom floating on the water; the sun is made from a stone, men from rocks or trees."-- Cassirer, MYTHICAL THINKING, p. 46-47.


 In THE GREAT CODE, Northrop Frye spun forth a mammoth theory of language derived from the work of Renaissance scholar Giambattista Vico. In essence, Frye asserts that human language has three phases: the *hieroglyphic,* which is the language of the gods, the *hieratic,* which is the language of the aristocrats, who also give birth to what Cassirer calls "discursive reason," and the *demotic,* the language of ordinary-world description (what Wheelwright calls "stheno-language.")


Common words like child, parent, dog, tree, sky, etc., are steno-symbols, and their accepted meanings are steno-meanings, because what each of the words indicates is a set of definable experiences (whether actual or only possible) which are, in certain recognizable respects, the same for all who use the word correctly. (Metaphor and Reality, p. 33.)
I don't intend to draw direct comparisons between Frye's formulations and mine, for as I've mentioned elsewhere, Frye has no real interest in phenomenology. But I mention Frye's schema as a prelude to outlining my own, which concerns not the nature of language but the application of linguistic terms to the three phenomenalities, to wit:

The NATURALISTIC is governed by the concept of the "stheno-symbol," of the base sign that is supposed to represent exactly what it shows and nothing more.

The UNCANNY is governed by the concept of the "simile," in that there is a restricted level of symbolism. Thus Edgar Rice Burroughs can compare his hero Tarzan to a "forest god," which gives the hero the semblance of godliness to the character, yet without actually imputing the nature of a god, or that god's power, to Tarzan in any literal way.

The MARVELOUS, however, is governed by the concept of the "metaphor," in which the symbolism is meant to imply some base identity between two or more phenomena, as seen in Cassirer's last two examples, the sun being created from a stone and men being created from rocks or trees. Within fiction, this transcendence of experienced reality may be explained by magic, by some not-yet-discovered principle of real-world science, or by nothing whatever. But the action involved is always that of an identification of two disparate phenomena, becoming associated after the "magical" fashion of the metaphorical connection.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

BOUNDED WITHIN INFINITE SPACE

...the first Greek philosophers were looking for the "origin" or "principle" (the Greek word "archê" has both meanings) of all things. Anaximander is said to have identified it with "the Boundless" or "the Unlimited" (Greek: "apeiron," that is, "that which has no boundaries")... some have pointed out that this use of "apeiron" is atypical for Greek thought, which was occupied with limit, symmetry and harmony. The Pythagoreans placed the boundless (the "apeiron") on the list of negative things, and for Aristotle, too, perfection became aligned with limit (Greek: "peras"), and thus "apeiron" with imperfection.-- INTERNET ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY.
O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.-- HAMLET, Act 2, Scene 2.

My plans for the third and last part of UNCANNY GENESIS involve my using certain linguistic terms to expand further on my concepts of artifice, affective freedom and cognitive restraint. So first I'm going to take a shot at clarifying how these concepts diverge from language and all the forms of symbolism underlying language.

I always meant to draw some comparisons between Anaximander's apparent categories of apeiron ("the boundless") and "perata" (the limited) with my categories of freedom and restraint. Admittedly, Anaximander was addressing the origins of the physical universe, which has no direct bearing on my explanation of the universe of art and literature. For my system "the boundless" is not the physical universe-- "infinite space" though it may be-- but the universe of the human mind, as it stands in comparison to humanity's physical environment.

However, the closest I came to systematizing these ideas of affective freedom and cognitive restraint is probably this passage from this essay:


One mythical idea to which Cassirer refers occasionally is myth’s view of the origins of the world. Some mythical tales hold the world comes into being only because some giant being—Ymir in Norse stories, Purusha in Hindu stories—is torn apart, so that the different parts of the giant’s body become the earth, the seas, the moon, etc. Within the scope of these narratives, there is no attempt to provide a rationale as to why the world had to made from the flesh and bones of a giant. It is true purely because it confers the aura of human associations upon the whole of creation, even those aspects of creation that may seem entirely alien to human experience. This is what I’ve called “affective freedom,” humankind’s ability to imagine almost anything, whether it accords with experience or not.
Rational conceptions of causal relations, of course, could not care less about the aura of subjective emotions and drives: the desire is to extrapolate a closed system of relations that depend entirely on physical force: CAUSE A exerts FORCE B upon OBJECT C, resulting in RESULT Z. This tendency to rely exclusively upon material experience is one that I’m now terming “cognitive restraint.” Just as in psychology “the affective” and “the cognitive” describe complementary aspects of human mentality, “cognitive restraint” exists in a complementary relationship with “affective freedom.” In other words, human beings are entirely defined by neither: we need both the ability to imagine what seems impossible and to discourse about what we believe to be immediately possible.

Persons of a positivist slant might point out that one cannot truly call the human "ability to imagine" to be truly boundless. Still, as Hamlet points out, the imagination certainly makes it possible for one to escape the bondage of a nutshell-- even a nutshell called Denmark-- with the vision of being "a king of infinite space." True, the Dane is too melancholy to enjoy such fantasies, because he's also hemmed in by "bad dreams," presumably brought on by his knowledge of the real-world corruptions of his mother and uncle. But Hamlet is a character in a tragedy, doomed to perish along with most of the Danish court, and so his verdict on the imagination may not be the final word.

The tension between these two states-- of being able to imagine anything, yet being hemmed in by the physical world in which one necessarily exists-- is one that Northrop Frye attempted to define:

Our survey of fictional modes has also shown us that the mimetic tendency itself, the tendency to verisimilitude and accuracy of description, is one of two poles of literature. At the other pole is something that seems to be connected both with Aristotle's word mythos and with the usual meaning of myth. That is, it is a tendency to tell a story which is in origin a story about characters who can do anything, and only gradually becomes attracted toward a tendency to tell a plausible or credible story. Myths of gods merge into legends of heroes; legends of heroes merge into plots of tragedies and comedies; plots of tragedies and comedies merge into plots of more or less realistic fiction. But these are change of social context rather than of literary form, and the constructive principles of story-telling remain constant through them...-- Northrop Frye, ANATOMY OF CRITICISM.
My ARCHETYPE VS. ARTIFICE series, beginning here, was devoted to explaining why Frye's use of the term "myth" was not viable, and why I coined the term "artifice" to replace it. "Affective freedom," then, is the principle underlying an author's use of tropes based in artifice, while "cognitive restraint" is the principle underlying an author's use of tropes based in verisimilitude.

Further, an author's usage of tropes, whether it is dominated by artifice or by verisimilitude, creates a "literary universe" for each narrative universe, be it a stand-alone novel or a series of interconnected stories. Since I've asserted that no author of fiction ever fails to use tropes both from the domain of artifice and of verisimilitude, this has led me to distinguish three modes of literary "universe-building," which I have termed "the naturalistic," "the uncanny," and "the marvelous." I went into considerable detail about the definitions of each universe when viewed through a lens provided by science-philosopher Roy Bhaskar, but happily these deeper definitions do not pertain to the current argument.

All of the concepts relating to the phenomenality of fictional universes are communicated through language, but they are not linguistic concepts as such. Thus, when I attempt in UNCANNY GENESIS PT 3 to explicate the three phenomenalities with reference to linguistics, this must be seen as a illustration and not as an attempt to conflate the very different domains of language and of phenomenology.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

UNCANNY GENESIS PT. 2

If anything good came of my reading Jack Zipes' THE ENCHANTED SCREEN, it is that my take on the author's use of the psychological term "the uncanny" spurred me to look for the first time both at Freud's 1919 essay "The Uncanny" and at the 1906 essay by Ernst Jentsch, which Freud credited as a partial inspiration for his more famous work.

In the aforementioned take, I stated:

Freud came up with his term "the uncanny" in order to distinguish the questionable nature of a story like Hoffman's "The Sandman" from, say, the world of fairy tales, in which Freud says that "the world of reality is left behind" by a constant stream of marvelous things and beings.

Since Freud's remarks on literary phenomenology are crude and undeveloped, I wondered whether or not he had taken any cues from Jentsch in this regard. 

Jentsch, however, is concerned only with one psychological motif, which for him brings about the experience of "the uncanny:" 

Among all the psychical uncertainties that can become a cause for the uncanny feeling to arise, there is one in particular that is able to develop a fairly regular, powerful and very general effect: namely, doubt as to whether an apparently living being really is animate and, conversely, doubt as to whether a lifeless object may not in fact be animate – and more precisely, when this doubt only makes itself felt obscurely in one’s consciousness. The mood lasts until these doubts are resolved and then usually makes way for another kind of feeling. 

Throughout the rest of the essay, Jentsch's examples are all over the phenomenological map. He mentions, albeit briefly, the E.T.A. Hoffman short story, THE SAND-MAN in which Freud finds his own version of this "feeling of trepidation." Yet Jentsch also finds the uncanny in the thoroughly naturalistic ROBINSON CRUSOE:

The episode in the Robinsonade, where Friday, not yet familiar with the boiling of water, reaches into simmering water in order to pull out the animal that seems to be in it, is also based on an inspiration of the writer that is psychologically very apposite. 

Jentsch also finds the "animate/non-animate" quandary in vague daydreams, like those in which one sees in "the outline of a cloud... a threatening Satanic face," or in organized literary works, which engage an audience's empathy "with all the emotional excitements to which the characters of the play, or novel, ballad, and so forth, are subject." Sometimes Jentsch emphasizes phenomena that are more specifically "strange," like dryads in trees, and sometimes they're somewhat macabre, like the spectacle of dead bodies and skeletons. It can certainly be concluded that in this concept of "the uncanny" Jentsch casts his net far too widely.

According to online biographical material, Freud did not write "The Uncanny" in direct response to Jentsch, but chose to rewrite an earlier, unpublished essay-- no longer extant-- in order to frame his concepts. Freud  acknowledges some indebtedness to Jentsch, but clearly diverges from Jentsch's opinion that the most important source of "the uncanny" in THE SAND-MAN is that of a non-animate artiface, the life-size doll Olympia, becoming :animated." Rather, Freud rather conveniently finds the trepidation of the uncanny in all those motifs of the story that reinforce Freudian concepts of castration and the repetition-compulsion. 

This short summary leaves, I think, no doubt that the feeling of something uncanny is directly attached to the figure of the Sand-Man, that is, to the idea of being robbed of one’s eyes; and that Jentsch’s point of an intellectual uncertainty has nothing to do with this effect.

Freud also concludes-- in contrast to his later quasi-follower Tzvetan Todorov, for whose system "intellectual uncertainty" is critical-- that once Hoffmann has completed his story, the author has made clear that this is clearly "a purely fantastic one of his own creation," at least partly because Hoffmann makes such an indubitable identification between "Coppola the optician" and "Coppelius the lawyer," both of whom are the "secret identities" of the Sand-Man.

Yet, having claimed that Hoffmann created a "fantastic" world rather than one based in reality, later in the essay Freud makes clear that he's not extending his special interpretation to just any old fantasy, which is one of the section with which Jack Zipes so fervently disagrees. 


Fairy-tales quite frankly adopt the animistic standpoint of the omnipotence of thoughts and wishes, and yet I cannot think of any genuine fairy-story which has anything uncanny about it. We have heard that it is in the highest degree uncanny when inanimate objects—a picture or a doll—come to life; nevertheless in Hans Andersen’s stories the household utensils, furniture and tin soldiers are alive and nothing could perhaps be more remote from the uncanny. And we should hardly call it uncanny when Pygmalion’s beautiful statue comes to life. 

And later:.

The story-teller can also choose a setting which, though less imaginary than the world of fairy tales, does yet differ from the real world by admitting superior spiritual entities such as daemonic influences or departed spirits. So long as they remain within their setting of poetic reality their usual attribute of uncanniness fails to attach to such beings. The souls in Dante’s Inferno, or the ghostly apparitions in Hamlet, Macbeth or Julius Caesar, may be gloomy and terrible enough, but they are no more really uncanny than is Homer’s jovial world of gods. We order our judgement to the imaginary reality imposed on us by the writer, and regard souls, spirits and spectres as though their existence had the same validity in their world as our own has in the external world. And then in this case too we are spared all trace of the uncanny. The situation is altered as soon as the writer pretends to move in the world of common reality. In this case he accepts all the conditions operating to produce uncanny feelings in real life; and everything that would have an uncanny effect in reality has it in his story. But in this case, too, he can increase his effect and multiply it far beyond what could happen in reality, by bringing about events which never or very rarely happen in fact.

So it's clear that even though Jentsch has cast his net too widely, Freud casts his own within a quite narrow range: that is, "the uncanny" applies only to fantasies, whether psychological or literary, that reflect Freudian concepts. 

For me, one of the most interesting revelations of this comparison is that it shows that Tzvetan Todorov, though he only quotes Freud's "The Uncanny" in his book THE FANTASTIC, seems to have far more in common with Ernst Jentsch in terms of identifying the idea of the uncanny with what Freud calls "intellectual uncertainty." Here's Todorov defining his category of "the fantastic," within which "the uncanny" forms a subcategory:

The fantastic, we have seen, lasts only as long as a certain hesitation: a hesitation common to reader and [viewpoint] character, who must decide whether or not what they perceive derives from ‘reality’ as it exists in the common opinion” (p. 41).



Saturday, December 15, 2018

UNCANNY GENESIS PT. 1

Mythical "metamorphosis"... is always the record of an individual event-- a change from one individual and concrete material form to another. The cosmos is fished out of the depths of the sea or molded from a tortoise; the earth is shaped from the body of a great beast or from a lotus blossom floating on the water; the sun is made from a stone, men from rocks or trees."-- Cassirer, MYTHICAL THINKING, p. 46-47.

It's recently occurred to me to pose the question, "When did human works of art and/or religion manifest the phenomenality of the uncanny?"

After all, as the above passage from Cassirer indicates, most if not all early religion concerned itself with marvelous magical transformations. This is not to say that early humans did not have their share of mundane stories along the lines of "the one that got away" or "who's so-and-so's wife is sleeping with," much of which would approximate what we now deem naturalistic narrative. At the same time, it should be considered a given that in archaic times, even the most skeptical disbeliever lived in a culture dominated by conceptions of the marvelous. Thus a story like Homer's ILIAD, a tale of human beings going to war, is continuously entangled with the narratives of the gods behind the scenes.

But what about the interstitial category of the uncanny? This phenomenality, as I've often mentioned, shares with the naturalistic the characteristic of casual coherence, yet also shares with the marvelous the characteristic of anti-intelligibility-- though most of the artifacts I've identified with this phenomenality are of comparatively recent creation.

Is it possible to find this phenomenality within the earliest myths and tales of humankind? Rudolf Otto, one of the key philosophers to employ the term "uncanny," thought so. However, he applied the term largely to pre-Christian religions, rather than analyzing a variety of religious and literary works across the span of human history. Here's Otto's most concise judgment on the matter, from Chapter 4 of THE IDEA OF THE HOLY:


let us give a little further consideration
to the first crude, primitive forms in which this numinous
dread or awe shows itself. It is the mark which really
characterizes the so-called Religion of Primitive Man , and
there it appears as daemonic dread . This crudely naive and
primordial emotional disturbance, and the fantastic images to
which it gives rise, are later overborne and ousted by more
highly-developed forms of the numinous emotion, with all its
mysteriously impelling power. But even when this has long
attained its higher and purer mode of expression it is possible
for the primitive types of excitation that were formerly a part
of it to break out in the soul in all their original naivete and
so to be experienced afresh.

So for Otto, "the uncanny" was essentially an early if crude form of "the mysteriously impelling power" that he calls "the numinous." Man's capacity for experiencing the numinous stands as an ideal function of the human mind, one that is best developed by the higher religions, though the numinous experience cannot, he says, be boiled down to anything like Kant's notion of "the sublime." Otto clearly deems "the so-called Religion of Primitive Man" to be an illusion born of "naivete," but this has nothing to do with the actual content of most primitive religious narratives, which are implicitly dominated by the marvelous.

If the tropes of the uncanny exist in early literature, presumably they would exist with the same status as naturalistic tropes, within the greater scope of a marvelous phenomenality. For instance, all three phenomenality-tropes appear in the non-canonical Hebrew text "Bel and the Dragon:"

The NATURALISTIC part appears when the prophet Daniel exposes the way the priests of Bel sneak into the temple to eat the sacrifices, the better to convince the naive that the gods are real.

The UNCANNY would be Daniel's investigation of yet another hoax, but one with a greater degree of mystery to it, when he finds that some colossal animal inhabits (presumably) another temple, which the local priests consider a "living god." Apparently the "dragon" is not a common animal that anyone in town might recognize as a simple creature, so within my system I would deem it an "astounding animal." Daniel's method of slaying the creature I might further deem a "bizarre crime." The thrust of the story is that the "dragon" dies specifically because it is does not share the marvelous nature of a god, so that it is strange enough to be anti-intelligible but not something outside the bounds of causal coherence.

The MARVELOUS phenomenality, however, dominates the story as a whole, in that Daniel is thrown into the lion's den and succored by angels. This section of the story provides beings whose nature exceeds both intelligibility and causal coherence-- not to mention being the best-known part of the story for most people today.

Just as a guess, I would imagine that oral culture may have produced assorted stand-alone stories that would conform to my definition of the uncanny phenomenality, wherein which the tropes of the naturalistic or the marvelous did not hold sway. But most such stand-alone stories were not written down until the dawn of European rationalism, and if we have them in any form, they were probably incorporated into longer tale-cycles, like the Six Labors of Theseus that precede his encounter with the marvelous Minotaur.

More to come.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

MYTHCOMICS: "PLANET STORY" (MARVEL PREMIERE #61, 1980)

The Bronze Age of Comics-- which I would peg as the period from 1970-1986-- was the last era in which Marvel and DC published a significant number of new characters in their own features but not derived from earlier features. Year 1986 seems like a good cut-off point, given that the profitability of two works then published-- WATCHMEN and DARK KNIGHT RETURNS-- encouraged many creators to quit automatically contributing to "the Big Two."

To be sure, many of these characters proved no more than minor players, and Marvel's Star-Lord-- despite an impressive translation to the cinema in recent years-- couldn't even be said to be one of the sales-failures that remained a fan-favorite for years later, such as Killraven and the Man-Thing.

The base-concept of Star-Lord was essentially "Green Lantern without the Green Lantern Corps." His origin involved an alien giving Earthman Peter Quill cosmic powers, with an eye to creating more space-supermen later. But Quill/Star-Lord was the only one created, and despite his ties to Earth, his few adventures didn't involve his home planet, also in contradistinction to DC's Green Lantern. Given an "element-gun" for self-defense and an intelligent ship named "Ship" for transport, Star-Lord tooled around various galaxies for about a half dozen stories, before disappearing for the remainder of the Bronze Age.



The title "Planet Story" does concern a planet, though it's likely that either writer Doug Moench or artist Tom Sutton also had in mind the famous pulp-magazine PLANET STORIES, which specialized in adventurous space-opera. If so, it's an ironic title, because the script bears less resemblance to space opera than to more involved science fiction meditations on quasi-sentient planets, like Harry Harrison's DEATHWORLD. Moench does not give the planet in his story a name, but for convenience I will call it "the Sharing World."



Star-Lord and "Ship" have no particular agenda, save curiosity, when they happen across the Sharing-World. Their survey indicates that the world is replete with lush vegetation but no "higher fauna." Yet Star-Lord also observes a ruined city, indicating that at some point intelligent beings occupied the planet. Under his own flight-power, Star-Lord leaves his vehicle in orbit and descends. As soon as he does, various phenomena-- a volcano, an earthquake, and a bunch of tentacled plants-- assail the hero. He makes his way to the ruined city but finds no clue to explain the absence of the city's makers, though Star-Lord suspects that the populace may have been exterminated by the hostile environment.



Once Star-Lord leaves the city, again he's attacked by planetary phenomena, such as wind and lightning, but this time, the phenomena are driving him toward a destination. The hero is precipitated into the "organic cavern" of a huge tree, and the entrance seals up when Star-Lord tries to leave. The only thing inside the tree are various honeycombed chambers, which Star-Lord mentally compares to "cadaver-drawers" with no contents. Then he learns that they do have contents: groping plant-tendrils that try to grab him, though he's able to keep his distance from them.



Suddenly, the planet itself communicates with Star-Lord through the medium of dust that arranges itself into holograms (no, there's no explanation of how this could be accomplished). Through these images the Sharing-World informs its guest of its history with its sentient inhabitants, through the vehicle of the giant tree (and possibly other trees elsewhere on the planet).



Long ago, an intelligent race of parrot-headed creatures existed alongside the glories of the sentient planet, living as "noble savages in an alien Garden of Eden" (which is implicitly Star-Lord's interpretation of things). However, the parrot-people, whom the planet calls "the Sharers of Old," begin to dislike the planet's tendency to interact with them through the tree-tendrils. (Moench's script is unclear on some points: at first it sounds like some of the Sharers are killed by having their energies drained by the "vampire tendrils," but later it sounds like a symbiotic relationship that injures no one.)

In any case, the relationship is in later sections deemed as important by the Sharing-World, because intelligent beings, unlike lower animals, can choose whether or not to participate in the sharing-ritual. However, the parrot-people choose to leave this 'garden" and build their own cities. Then they follow the usual course of tool-using sentients, exploiting the planet and giving nothing back. In response the planet begins to die, and finally the Sharers give up and desert the Sharing-World via spaceship.



Then, as soon as Star-Lord has been given a Cook's Tour of the world's history, the feeding-tendrils latch onto him. At this point Moench and Sutton shift the narrative viewpoint to that of the Sharing-World, which describes its quasi-erotic attachment to the long vanished Sharers, and its desire to have Star-Lord take up the same role. The planet's attacks were caused by its eagerness to take on a new "lover," but though the reader learns these facts, but Star-Lord isn't tapped into the planet's ruminations. He breaks free of the tendrils and returns to his orbiting vessel. Once there, he confers with his intelligent ship, wondering if he ought to use the ship's weapons to destroy this menacing world. However, "Ship" talks the hero out of doing so, and the two of them leave-- which proves a final irony, since by that point the Sharing-World wants to die for its lack of loving symbiosis.


(The entire story can be read here.)


Even without Moench's early Eden-reference, one could hardly miss the tale's indebtedness to the Old Testament narrative of Adam and Eve. In said story, God gave the first humans the choice of whether or not to obey God's commandment not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge. Moench neatly inverts this myth, for here it's a tree, through which the planet manifests its will, that's more or less "feeding" on the inhabitants of the "garden." There's no tempter that moves the parrot-people to leave; they do so of their own volition, and Moench largely implies that their motives are more selfish than self-protective, and they're rejecting their quasi-sexual union with the planet rather than coming to a new knowledge of male-female sexuality. Christian philosophers have opined that humankind's exile from Eden was a "fortunate fall," but in Moench's story, strongly suggestive of ecological ideals like the "Gaea theory," the Fall is unfortunate for both the world and its intelligent denizens.

The element of "choice" is also less metaphysical and more sensual: the planet wants to share only with those who have the power to choose. Tom Sutton's art emphasizes the chaotic curves of natural life as against the hard lines of sentient dwelling-laces, and Star-Lord's brief captivity by the tendrils suggests a sort of human-alien sex along the lines of Philip Jose Farmer's 1953 story THE LOVERS, though Sutton's imagery suggests rape, as does one of Moench's lines:

"...the exit irised shut with a sloppy, wet sound that made me think of ripeness and guilt."









Saturday, December 8, 2018

MYTHCOMICS: NOSFERATU (1989)

Phillippe Druillet's NOSFERATU, given that it's a hymn to irony and solipsism, is in some ways the Frenchiest of French comics. In this it diverges from the works that popularized the word "Nosferatu" for modern audiences-- both Bram Stoker's DRACULA and F.W. Murnau's arty knockoff-adaptation NOSFERATU-- for both of these are melodramas in which an evil undead preys upon the living, only to be defeated and destroyed by the righteous actions of good people.

Druillet's narrative takes place in an unexplained post-apocalyptic world, implicitly Earth, though the word "Nosferatu"-- applied to the main character by persons unknown-- is one of the few touchstones with Earth's real-world history. This Nosferatu was apparently an ordinary human at some time, but the catastrophe mutated him into a science-fiction vampire, with the ability to fly and to feed off the living (although Druillet shows him eating flesh as often as drinking blood). From what the reader sees in the story, all other humans have also been mutated into weird non-human creatures.



For several pages, Nosferatu-- who has only a nodding resemblance to the vampire in Murnau's film-- wanders his wreck-of-a-world, looking for prey. He makes brief reference to how he and others escaped the brunt of the catastrophe by hiding underground, but the reader never sees any of Nosferatu's companions. At first he's also hunting for a female companion named Imma, making plans to carry food back to her, since she's immobilized by gangrene. But since he seems to forget her rather quickly, it's possible that she's either dead from the start of the narrative, or that she exists only in his imagination. Indeed, no explicitly female humanoids are seen in the story.

Nosferatu does find a little prey among a tribe of mutants he calls "the Cripples." These characters look like hairy dwarves, but the only thing "crippled" about them is that some of them have spikes in place of hands, while the others have just one spike and one human-looking hand. The Cripples are as eager to devour Nosferatu as he is to prey on them, but he manages to chomp off one dwarf's human-looking hand, which sustains him for the next few pages.



Nosferatu continues to roam the world, moaning about his solitary status as "the last vampire." He muses that "the important thing in life" for an individual  is to conform to the image that one's society has of said individual, but that even this doleful conformity is beyond Nosferatu, because "I'm both individual and society." He then stumbles across what he mistakes for a living female, but which turns out to be a metal dummy used for some advertising display. Despite this, he carried the dummy around with him for a while, talking to it, naming it "Lilit" (after Lilith, the reputed first wife of Adam), and wondering, "What were you selling, Lilit? Toothpaste? Shoes? Food?" He conceives the notion that, given his status as the sole intelligent life on the planet, he ought to become a poet, so he spontaneously spouts assorted free-verse from the works of Baudelaire (whose translators are duly credited in the comic). He comes across another tribe of mutated humanoids, but they show no intelligence, and one of them displays its lack of social skills by biting off the dummy's head, ending Nosferatu's amour fou.

Deprived of even this pitiable companionship, Nosferatu remarks that he's "tired of life." He "aspires to purity, with no hunger, no thirst, no breathing." However, after a little more soliloquizing, he does stumble across something that tests his alleged desire for fellowship. He falls in with a tribe of carrion-eaters that he conceives to be his kindred, and though most of them look more like werewolves than vampires, at least some of them can speak. However, the werewolves have their own problems, like a big serpent-creature that perpetually preys on them. (In an odd choice of real-world references, the creature is named for the San Andreas Fault, apparently just because the beast comes out of the ground.) Nosferatu devises a weapon to kill the beast. However, the stratagem fails and Nosferatu runs away from the conflict, so that he becomes an object of scorn to the werewolves.



Disgusted with his lot, Nosferatu decides to build a space-ark and depart the corrupt world for the stars,. He does so within the sight of the werewolves, which has the effect of making them his audience, even if they're cast in the role of "Noah's scoffers." During the construction of the ark, Nosferatu's single-mindedness has a salutary effect on his biology: he mutates further, becoming a being who derives nourishment from the air. However, when he finds he can't power his ship, all of the werewolves laugh at him. This puts the nail in the coffin, so to speak, of the last vampire's desire for society. He transforms into a mutant with mental powers, destroys both the werewolves and his own ship, and then flies off to the stars under his own power, though he continues to make ironic remarks to the readers like "Closing credits. Fade to black"-- which I suppose serve the same purpose as Baudelaire's famous address to his "hypocrite lecteurs."



NOSFERATU shares with other Druillet works its creator's imaginative prolificity, but this one-shot work is much better organized (and hence hyperconcrescent!) than most other Druillet works I've encountered. And, unlike a lot of French comedic works, it's actually funny. I think it was Durgnat who said that watching French comedy films was like watching a bear trained to dance: the pleasure of the spectacle is not that the bear dances well, it's that he can do it at all.

Friday, December 7, 2018

CONVERGING ON CONCRESCENCE

If there's one shortcoming in my Nietzschean-Bataillean "excess theory"-- aside from the fact that anyone reading about it would have to know both Nietzsche and Bataille to gauge its validity-- is that all too often I've focused on the end rather than the means, the product rather than the process, From the beginnings of this blog I've tossed out such parallel terms as "symbolic complexity," "peak amplitude," "high mythicity," "super-functionality," and "the combinatory-sublime," all of which address the symbolic qualities of the finished literary work. But assume that a reader agrees with me that some works are simply more "ample" than others, whether in terms of symbolic discourse or one of the other three possible discourses. What process, then, explains  how one work reaches "peak amplitude," while other works don't climb that high?

I have yet to read any of the works of Alfred North Whitehead, not even his best-regarded work, PROCESS AND REALITY. However, knowing that Whitehead's philosophy was in part concerned with the ways in which humans construct value. So I pored over the index of PROCESS, and wonder of wonders, the unfamiliar word "concrescence" leaped out at me.

Whitehead does not seem to have been adapted for purposes of literary studies much if at all, and most of his concerns seem entirely metaphysical in nature, as seen from this passage from THE INTERNET ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY:

This focus on concrete modes of relatedness is essential because an actual occasion is itself a coming into being of the concrete. The nature of this “concrescence,” using Whitehead’s term, is a matter of the occasion’s creatively internalizing its relatedness to the rest of the world by feeling that world, and in turn uniquely expressing its concreteness through its extensive connectedness with that world. Thus an electron in a field of forces “feels” the electrical charges acting upon it, and translates this “experience” into its own electronic modes of concreteness. Only later do we schematize these relations with the abstract algebraic and geometrical forms of physical science. For the electron, the interaction is irreducibly concrete.

Eventually I may read enough Whitehead to learn whether or not his overall system coheres with those that have inspired me, ranging from Nietzsche and Bataille to Frye and Jung. But /happily
the word "concrescence" has a meaning independent of Whitehead. From the online Merriam-Webster:


1increase by the addition of particles

2a growing together COALESCENCE

The term is used in both biology and medicine to signify organs that have grown together improperly. However, there's nothing improper in the process concrescence would connote in my system.

The Latin root of "conscrecense" connoted the ideas of "coagulation" and "solidification," but if the Encyclopedia is accurate, then Whitehead uses this physical process as a metaphor for the way "an occasion" expresses "its concreteness to the rest of the world." If we put aside the philosopher's specialized term "occasion" and replace it with any sort of phenomenal presence within the world of art and literature, then it would seem to aptly describe the intense interrelatedness of such phenomena to one another, much along the lines of Denny O'Neil's description of Hinduism's "Net of Indra," last referenced here:

We're looking at a net.  It has to be a largish one, though exactly how big is up to you... Now, imagine that at each juncture of your net there is a jewel, cunningly hung so it reflects all the other jewels... It's called the Net of Indra and scholars say it was conceived of by a Buddhist monk named Tu Shun about  2640 years ago. It was originally meant as a metaphor for the interconnectedness of everything that exists...

Conscresence, more than its roughly equivalent term "coagulation," suggests the process by which seemingly unrelated phenomena "concretize" into a greater whole. Thus images, symbols and story-tropes which can only have a very limited meaning by themselves take on greater depth when associated with others that have a reinforcing effect.

Further, the word is probably better for describing the intensification of any given discourse than the Aristotelian term I used in the two LINE BETWEEN FAIR AND GOOD that I employed here and here. Aristotle's "unity of action"-- which, when applied to the actual process of art, might be better termed "unity of effect"-- does not adequately represent the way artists bring together the representations of discourse within the four potentialities (even though for the most part I've devoted myself to the discourse of symbols alone). I will in future re-examine the few essays I've written on "unity of action" to determine whether or not "concrescence" proves a better fit, as it does for the LINE essays.

In addition, I'm considering the even more specialized term "hyperconscresence" to denote those works that "concrese" (not a real word, BTW) much better than any others.