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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...

Friday, December 7, 2007


As with many blogs mine starts with the desire to set down assorted thoughts and/or ideas. My primary reason for doing so is to keep them in an easily-accessible form, though of course I’m open for comment as well.

My basic posture is what has been called a “myth critic” or “archetypal critic.” I subscribe to the idea that literature in all its modes and media-manifestations is essentially homologous in form (if not function) with archaic myth/ folklore. There are differences that can be explored as well, but I find the similarities to be of greater importance.

Most of the essays and articles that I’ve had published in assorted magazines have concerned popular media like films and comic books. This blog can in theory allow me to deal with pretty much any sort of fictional narrative, whether deemed “high” or “low” by the more repressive representatives of academia. (Whether I actually will or not remains to be seen.)

One of the themes I hope to explore is what I call “mythic complexity,” which I derive from an almost-offhand statement made by Northrop Frye, often considered the ancestor of all literary theories that stress literature’s continuity with myth:

“Archetypes are associative clusters, and differ from signs in being complex variables.”—ANATOMY OF CRITICISM, p. 102

At this point I won’t go into talking about what Frye calls “signs,” which is a term he loosely derived from early writings on semiology. The essential thought here is that there is a hierarchy between simple and complex manifestations of the units of communication—whatever one chooses to call them—that make up a narrative. Frye doesn’t go into great depth in terms of using “complex variables” as a means of evaluating how well a narrative communicates, but it’s a centerpiece of my theory. Often, in the critique of popular artforms, I have seen any number of complex symbolic formations show up in narratives that are, on the surface, apparently simple, as are most of the myth-stories in the handed-down forms that we have them. This appearance of the complex within the apparently-simple convinces me that even these variables that we call “archetypes” have a propensity to generate themselves, at times without the conscious intent of the author. The poet William Butler Years, commenting on the poetry of Blake, said:

“It is the charm of mythic narrative that it cannot tell one thing without telling a hundred others. The symbols are an endless inter-marrying family. They give life to what, stated in general terms, appears only a cold truism, by hinting how the apparent simplicity of the statement is due to an artificial isolation of a fragment, which, in its natural place, is connected with all the infinity of truths by living fibres.”

Most stories in the popular vein also appear at a glance to sustain themselves on mere truisms: good conquers evil, etc. And there are some stories that offer little beyond truisms, as they are made up of nothing more than (so to speak) “simple variables.” But for others the apparent truisms are window-dressing for more important matters of myth and symbol, and to proving that theory I dedicate this blog.

1 comment:

RAB said...

One small point: since the publication of Men of Tomorrow it's come out that Jerry Siegel's apparently wasn't shot but died from a heart attack during an armed robbery, as noted here and here.

Also, when Brad Meltzer was interviewed for Publishers Weekly in connection with his novel Book of Lies -- which involves a heavily fictionalized version of the shooting incident -- Meltzer told Laura Hudson that half the family had been told the elder Siegel had a heart attack, and half had been told he was shot to death.

This doesn't have any effect on your comments, of course. Personally, I think it adds a slightly different inflection to the creation of Superman: it wasn't so much that he was creating a specifically bulletproof hero, but rather an invulnerable hero who had no reason to be afraid of anyone. That's what the early Superman is above all else: brash and fearless. I don't know if that distinction is of any importance to anyone else, but it grabs me.

I've only just started reading it, but this blog is excellent. Please tell me it's going to become a book someday.