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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...

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


"When animus and anima meet, the animus draws his sword of power and the anima ejects her poison of illusion and seduction."-- Carl Jung, AION, pt. II.

First, one more go-round for the assertion made in an earlier essay that engendered this essay series:

The action-heroine is a better symbol of the Schopenhaurean Will than the male action-hero.

I'll amend one minor aspect of that statement: it should read "Schopenhaurean-Nietzschean Will."  Reason being that although Schopenhauer may be the first great philosopher to expound upon a concept of The Will, Nietzsche's reconfiguration of the concept to suit his own priorities is no less significant.  Indeed, one might hazard that the two men have given us the opposite sides of one coin, both of which suggest an emotional dynamization invovled, whether one is denying or celebrating the allure of The Will.

At the end of WHAT WOMEN WILL PT. 1, I wrote:

In the next installment of WHAT WOMEN WILL, I'll explore a little more as to the archetypal associations that arise when the woman is "Taker" rather than "Giver."

In point of fact Part II contained only intimations on this subject, as I deciced that a side-excursion into Nietzsche-Land would prove valuable.  The above topic will now be addressed here in full.

I also said, at the end of Part II:
In part 3 I will examine more fully the two archetypes I find implicit in the writings of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche-- the Compassionate Man and the Barbarous Woman-- and relate them further to the archetypes arising in modern popular fiction.

Note the word "implicit."  I am not stating that these archetypes are consciously promulgated by the two philosophers, but that I find them implicit in certain of their writings.  Schopenhauer, who exalts men over women because the former sex possesses both greater strength and greater reason, must be imagining his ideal in the Compassionate Man, who alone possesses the power to deny the life-force within the Will.  Thus Schopenhauer should be viewed as a thinker aligned with "the ancient force that gives," though his ideal exemplars of this force are male.  Nietzsche aligns himself with the virtues of "the ancient force that takes," and generally praises male qualities almost as much as Schopenhauer.  However, he admires the feminine skills of "dissimulation" that Schopenhauer professes to despise, and goes so far as to say that:
Woman is indescribably more evil than man; also cleverer: a good nature is in a woman a form of degeneration." - Nietzsche

I suggest that Nietzsche was charmed, perhaps even titillated, by his own image of the Barbarous Woman, who might thus be seen as a better representative of his celebration of "the force that takes" than any male archetype in his repertoire. That said, I freely admit that Nietzsche's left-handed compliments to his idea of barbarous women sustain only a tenuous connection to the archetype to which I alluded in Part II with my citation of "the Bloodbath of the Goddess Anat," or earlier references to the "action-heroines" of popular fiction.

And yet, the connection is there, and can be glossed somewhat by the above quote from Carl Jung, whose psychological theories were influenced by both philosophers.

Like the two philosophers, Jung was a man of his time.  In the essay "Woman in Europe" (1927) he devotes a modicum of respect toward the changes feminism was wreaking in the society of his time.  He avers that feminism represents a "step toward social independence," even while he worries as to whether "woman is doing something not wholly in accord with, if not directly injurious to, her feminine nature."

Given that Jung did not believe in gross essentialism-- i.e., that women had a single nature any more than men did-- he evolved the theory of the anima/animus archetypes, "anima" being the feminine soul within man and "animus" the masculine soul within women.  As shown in the quote above, he imagines the female's animus possessing a "sword of power," emblematic of physical strength, while the male's anima possesses a witchy power of "illusion and seduction," like Schopenhauer's "dissimulation."

From this idea, that women could have masculine portions of their souls and men could have the complementary feminine aspects, it's no great step to what I like to call the "reverse-archetypes" found throughout mythology and literature.  Jung does not elaborate on these in AION, but mythology is certainly replete with "Males Who Give"-- Osiris, Orpheus, Jesus-- as well as "Women Who Take," ranging from female monsters like harpies and sirens and war-goddesses like Anat.  These are, in my view, examples of what Schopenhauer calls "the more developed Idea resulting from this victory over several lower Ideas or objectifications of will."

Now, on the cultural level, these inversions of expected male and female propensities would be equally valid.  But why o why (at long last) have I said that "the action-heroine is a better symbol of the Schopenhaurean Will than the male action-hero?"

Simplicity itself.  Whereas the two reverse-archetypes are equal in cultural terms, they are different in terms of their contravention of natural law, as discussed here

In the "real world" of experience, males, especially in their role of rulers, are capable of becoming cultural lawgivers or dispensers of wisdom.  Some men may choose to emphasize "the force that takes," and become warlords of mythic proportions, and some may choose to emphasize compassion, "the force that gives." However, real women-- culturally known for representing "the force that gives"-- have a physical disadvantage in terms of attempting to act out the role of "the force that takes."

Given that fact of physical law, why then do we have mythologies that depict goddesses of battle?  Why Anat, Athena, and Ishtar, among many others?  And why should literature take any pleasure in presenting mortal women as winning battles against men, whether it be Britomart in THE FAERIE QUEENE, Mrs. Corney in OLIVER TWIST, or non-superpowered fighters like Batgirl and Black Canary?

Precisely because, as I discussed here:

'"the desire to be recognized as the equal of other people," even if it were sufficient for human beings politically, can never be sufficient in the world of literature.'

Thus, when fictional action-heroes do their kickass thing, they are in essence "going with the flow," conforming to an archetype of male behavior based in both culture and physical nature.  When fictional action-heroines kick ass, they are in essence "swimming against the current." This current is best incarnated by the literary trope of "what women want," which in Chaucer and elsewhere is nothing less than "sovereignty over their husbands." In the real world this can only be done by manipulation of the "force that gives," by persuading the man to do her will through "dissimulation" or sexual attractiveness. 

Action-heroines, however, work their own will.  They align themselves with a reverse-archetype that describes not real experience but a gesture toward desired experience.  That implies a greater level of conflict in this reverse-archetype in that it contravenes (albeit in fiction, where nothing is impossible) both physical law and cultural experience.

This manner of conflict, or "strife," is best described with one more quote from gloomy old Schopenhauer:

Thus from the strife of lower phenomena the higher arise, swallowing them all up, but yet realising in the higher grade the tendency of all the lower.


Monday, November 28, 2011


"Anat kills the people living in valleys, in cities and on the seashore and in the land of sunrise, until the cut off heads of soldiers were reaching to her belt and she was wading up to her waist in blood. Violently she smites and gloats, Anat cuts them down and gazes; her liver exhaults in mirth ... for she plunges her knees in the blood of soldiers, her loins in the gore of warriors, till she has had her fill of slaughtering in the house, of cleaving among the tables."-- "The Bloodbath of Anat," Ras Shamra texts, translator not credited.

"The perfect woman is a higher type of human than the perfect man, and also something much more rare."-- Friedrich Nietzsche, HUMAN ALL TOO HUMAN, pt. 377.

In Part 1 of WHAT WOMEN WILL I put forth the proposition that even though philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer was something less than flattering in his comments upon women, his theory of the will remains useful for valorizing my concept of the "woman-as-willing-subject"-- which takes in, but certainly isn't limited to, the more well-known concept of the "willing woman."  In the essay ON WOMEN, Schopenhauer himself values the "strength" and "reason" of men as against the "dissimulations" of women, so one would expect that his theory of the will would celebrate the masculine principle of *yang,* or what Frank Herbert calls "the ancient force that takes."

Such an expectation turns out not to be the case.  Though Schopenhauer believes that the will is the only thing-in-itself that humankind can know, he also believes that happiness lies in one's being able to transcend or even abolish the will in oneself:
"...we freely acknowledge that what remains after the complete abolition of the will is, for all who are still full of the will, assuredly nothing. But also conversely, to those in whom the will has turned and denied itself, this very real world of ours with all its suns and galaxies, is - nothing."-- Schopenhauer, THE WORLD AS WILL AND REPRESENTATION.
In Friedrich Nietzsche's early years he might be described as the most prominent disciple of the gloomy philosopher.  In later years, however, Nietzsche rejected Schopenhauer's interpretation of the will:

"Granted finally that one succeeded in explaining our entire instinctual life as the development and ramification of one basic form of will—as the will to power, as my theory—; granted that one could trace all organic functions back to this will to power and could also find in it the solution to the problem of procreation and nourishment—they are one problem—one would have acquired the right to define all efficient force unequivocally as: will to power. The world seen from within, the world described and defined according to its `intelligible character’—it would be `will to power’ and nothing else."-- Nietzsche, BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL, part 36.
Where Schopenhauer desired to see the will "turn and deny itself," Nietzsche was more preoccupied in the subject's embrace of chaos.  In this essay I found that the latter philosopher was concerned with a "deeper mental transformation" than anything found in Sade, a writer to whom Camille Paglia unwisely compared Nietzsche.  Yet though my opening Nietzsche quote is one which sounds roughly complimentary toward females, the philosopher's other writings are replete with questionable pronouncements upon the fair sex.

Nevertheless, Nietzsche's position on the nature of femininity is more ambivalent than Schopenhauer's by far.  Whereas Schopenhauer allows women no greater virtue than dissimulation, Nietzsche admires their talent for single-mindedness:

"In revenge and in love woman is more barbarous than man."-- BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL, part 135. 
Now, this concept of women being more "barbarous" may provide only the most tenuous similitude with the image evoked in my first quote: that of the war-goddess Anath.  I am not stating that Nietzsche had any interest in this particular archetype, but I think his definition of will as "will-to-power" has interesting consequences in relation to the archetype.

I noted above that even though Schopenhauer champions the male sex for "strength and reason," he doesn't give us a vision of the will as being fulfilling because it empowers us.  Rather, he champions a vision of men (implicitly only men, since women are bereft of reason) who abolish will.  It's questionable as to what the philosopher thinks such transformed men will be like, but given the heavy emphasis in his writings upon the virtue of compassion, I would venture that Schopenhauer's subjects will be best aligned with "the ancient force that gives," to quote Frank Herbert once more.

Nietzsche allows for the possibility of compassionate acts in his philosophical universe as well, but for him kindness results from a "superfluity" of power emanating from his noble ubermensch.  Nietzsche is therefore more aligned to "the ancient force that takes," and it is in this light that one may see that he values such *yang* energies in both sexes, even if he might prefer (as BGAE suggests) that women should not *overtly* compete with men.  Thus, even while he would admit that women might be more barbarous, or even more "evil" than men, one can't turn to Nietzsche for a valorization of Anath or similar figures.

In part 3 I will examine more fully the two archetypes I find implicit in the writings of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche-- the Compassionate Man and the Barbarous Woman-- and relate them further to the archetypes arising in modern popular fiction.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


BLOGGER'S NOTE: I usually don't reprint essays from my film-blog here, but I decided that I would do so with this one, inasmuch as its main topic-- sublimity and humor-- touches on some of the material covered in the CUTEY FUNNY posts.


“From the sublime to the ridiculous there is but one step”-- Napoleon Bonaparte.

Rarely does one see the opposite assertion: that one can go to the ridiculous to the sublime in one step. This rarity probably relates to the dynamics of producing both effects, at least in fictional narrative. When a creator seeks to invoke the sublime—which in my view is essentially identical with sci-fi’s “sense of wonder”—the creator tries to invoke a sense of majesty or awesomeness to some phenomenon. When the creator fails to do so, the disconnect between intention and execution often has a comical effect. In cinema, many of the most popular “bad films” are those that suffer such a disconnect, as seen in Ed Wood’s PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE and Phil Tucker’s ROBOT MONSTER.

“Bad film” connoisseurs have shown little regard for Bruno VeSota’s 1962 sci-fi comedy, INVASION OF THE STAR CREATURES. In all likelihood this is because INVASION is intended to be ridiculous from the start—literally, since the first credit of the film is the jokey “R.I Diculous Presents.” INVASION follows the tradition of broad comedy a la Abbott and Costello, focusing on frenetic slapstick and simple spoofs of “straight” genres. Such films usually show no insights into what makes the “straight” genre appealing. INVASION is an exception, for it does have such insights. Indeed, the aggressive stupidity of the film, whose humor shouldn’t be overly funny to anyone out of grade school, makes it a little easier to view said insights.

INVASION opens less like a sci-fi parody than a service comedy, focusing on the misadventures of Penn and Philbrick, two dim-witted army privates assigned to duty on a missile base. Penn is nominally the “straight man” of the duo, heaping Abbott-like abuse upon his Costello-like partner, a whining child-man who reads comic books. Specifically, Philbrick reads the space-opera comics of “Space Commander Connors,” who also has his own TV show and marketing campaign. Later, one of the film’s real aliens asks Philbrick what “comic books” are. He replies that “they’re our army tech manuals”—a lame joke that may contain more truth than humor.

In contrast to the service comedies of 1940s Hollywood, everyone in the army is as idiotic as the two protagonists, from a sergeant who converses in Beatnik-speak to a wacky, gun-waving colonel. The colonel whips the plot into motion by choosing Penn and Philbrick to be part of a detachment sent to inspect the site of a recent atom-bomb test. According to the colonel, seven days have gone by, which is adequate time for the “fallout” to disperse, but aerial reconnaissance spotted a strange natural cave opened up by the bomb. Later it’ll be disclosed that the “Star Creatures” of the title are camped out in the cave, and have been there for ten years, but said aliens never comment on having weathered any nuclear explosions. The old force-field trick, perhaps. At any rate the colonel sends the detachment off to investigate the cave for no particular reason.

Following a few more forgettable comic escapades, the detachment arrives at the cave. Most of the soldiers are captured and put into stasis by the Star Creatures, but the aliens allow Penn and Philbrick to remain conscious for interrogation. The aliens take two forms: super-strong mindless plant-creatures called “vege-men” (guys in silly-looking tree-suits) and their mistresses, two stacked space-amazons wearing tight-fitting one-piece swimsuits and high heels. Penn describes the girls as being “seven feet tall,” but this comment may just be a way of masking how short the two heroes really are. Jonathan Haze’s script sneaks a ribald reference into the names of the amazons, who are “Doctor Puna” and “Professor Tanga.” Someone liked the pun so much that those names also appear in the credits, though no other actor in the lead credits has a character-name so referenced.

The space amazons are, in essence, the element of Haze’s script that most pushes the crude humor from the ridiculous to the sublime. Sci-fi cinema of the 1950s sports a fair number of stories about alien worlds ruled by women, as seen in 1954’s CAT WOMEN OF THE MOON and 1958’s QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE. In these films the females possess technology superior to that of Earth, but their feminine emotions make them vulnerable to the charms of hunky Earthmen. INVASION follows this basic pattern, but Tanga and Puna are scientists who are far more intelligent than any Earth-denizen in the story, rather than simply inheriting technology from their culture. Their ability to loom over the short soldiers is of course exploited for sex appeal—lots of shots of Philbrick looking straight up into Puna’s cleavage—but it also allows an interesting reversal, in that Puna and Tanga can and do frequently push or knock the two males about with impunity. To be sure, one line suggests that the males back home may be equally big, since Haze’s script devotes a few sentences to describing their culture as a “three-phase society,” in which men are the warriors, women are “the technicals” (implicitly the rulers?), and vege-men are the slaves. Haze says nothing further about the male natives of the alien world, but curiously takes the trouble to relate the history of how the women took control of the vege-men by killing off their leader (Che Gherkin, perhaps) and confining future vege-men to grow only from their “pastures.” To be sure, this mini-history is used as a cue for a lot of dopey vegetable jokes, as well as one of many witticisms about how much the vegetable slaves are treated like the army’s “yardbirds.” Still, the conquest and neutralization of the vege-men sounds a lot like standard tropes concerning amazon-societies conquering and neutralizing the male sex.

The “Star Creatures” originally came to Earth as scouts for possible invasion. As noted earlier they’ve been stuck down in this cave for ten years, stranded by damage their spaceship sustained on landing and unable to communicate with the home planet. That damage has just been repaired, however, and the amazons are making ready to blast off, taking Penn, Philbrick, and the rest of their detachment along as specimens into “the black voids of space.”

For some reason everything the space-babes say starts to sound dirty after a while. Maybe it’s those names…

The big girls have a chink in their armor, though: ten years is a long time without a man. Tanga doesn’t seem particularly charmed by their captives, and has issues with the male sex generally: “Stupid arrogant braggarts, all of them, with their illusions of superiority!” Her subordinate Puna, however, seems receptive to Philbrick’s attentions, and Tanga tells her that the Earth-man has merely stimulated her “maternal instincts.” This effectively turns the sci-fi trope of the “invading virile Earthman” on its head; in INVASION it’s the men who must “stoop to conquer,” seducing the superior females with their childlike weakness.

True, Penn does try one show of force: ambushing Puna to take her gun. She puts his lights out with a handy judo-toss, so Philbrick must fast-talk the amazon into receiving a cultural education on the human custom of kissing. In a schtick probably swiped from some Three Stooges short, the human-alien kiss creates electric-spark sounds and both of them are semi-paralyzed with ecstacy. Penn manages to drag Philbrick away from his conquest and the two escape.

Back at the army base, the two doofuses fail to convince their chicken colonel of the impending danger—that is, until Philbrick reveals that he is a member of “Space Commander Connors’ Secret Squadron.” The colonel is a member too—“Space pals forever!”—and so he and his two new buddies lead another (very small) detachment against the alien cave. This ersatz “cavalry” promptly gets detained by a group of roaming Native Americans who happen to be in the neighborhood. Philbrick explains their mission, only to once again invoke the name of Commander Connors, whereon the Indians’ leader reveals that he too is a member of the squadron. In fact, he has a superior rank to both Philbrick and the colonel. “Outranked by a savage,” grouses the colonel. The cavalry and the Indians both get drunk on firewater, leaving Penn and Philbrick once more alone to plumb the perilous papier-mache cavern.

By the only kind of luck such heroes ever have—the dumb kind—the soldiers not only sneak into the cave without being torn apart by vege-men, they manage to launch the amazons’ spaceship without anyone aboard, where it will be lost in space. Soon Puna and Tanga learn they’ve been marooned on Earth, and conclude that when they don’t return to their homeworld the invasion will be called off. Tanga doesn’t take it well, beating up both men and threatening to shoot them. Puna draws her own weapon and forces Tanga to surrender. She suggests that they throw themselves upon the Earthmen’s mercy. Penn gives Tanga the requisite electric lip-job and the two men propose marriage. “It sounds like slavery,” says the bemused Tanga. “That’s exactly what it is,” responds cagey Penn. INVASION then concludes with the two soldiers getting medals for their heroism. They go to their car, where their amazon wives-- now clad in Earth-garments-- are seated atop the rumble seat like two tremendous trophies. Off the two dopes drive with their prizes, and so ends the INVASION.

When I first viewed this film as a kid, I thought most of its humor was pretty lame, especially the parts where grown men were playing some sort of Buck Rogers-Captain Video space-opera games. I still think the humor itself is lame, but it’s interesting that writer Haze and director VeSota end up depicting all the patriarchal societies seen in the film as no better than a “secret squadron” based on a television show. For male juveniles of that time period, such merchandise-related “societies” functioned as “boys’ clubs” in which males could fantasize about performing the deeds of men. Such deeds included conquering alien princesses as a substitute for fraternizing with real girls. The two dunces do indeed conquer a pair of space-babes, but the way they do so undercuts the heroic element of such fantasies. Given that INVASION doesn’t work that well as a comedy, it’s surprising that it has such a comparatively high level of mythicity, mostly within the sociological and cosmological functions.


"For poetry differs from reality by the fact that in it life flows past us, interesting and yet painless ; while in reality, on the contrary, so long as it is painless it is uninteresting, and as soon as it becomes interesting, it does not remain without pain."-- Schopenhauer, Part 204. Supplements to the Third Book of THE WORLD AS WILL AND REPRESENTATION.
I started re-reading Schopenhauer to follow up the issue of "feminine will" currently pursued in the WHAT WOMEN WILL essay-series, but the gloomy philosopher has application to other aspects of my lit-crit theory as well.

In the quote above, Schopenhauer speaks of the fact that for the reader of "poetry" (by which he means prose and plays as well as traditional poetry) the "life" depicted in the narrative is both "interesting and yet painless" for the reader.  Of course Schopenhauer knows very well that those narrative events he deems "interesting" are for the fictional characters sources of conflict, and therefore sources of real or potential pain, but here he's concentrating on the irony that our real lives cannot become "interesting" and at the same time "remain without pain" (or again, at least the potential for pain).  Schopenhauer suggests that in some sense this is much of the appeal of poetry inheres in this ability to watch others suffering terrible fates from afar.  This description recalls Kant's identification that the affect of "the sublime" depended largely on the subject's knowledge that he himself was not threatened by the awesome source of sublimity:

“…consider bold, overhanging, and, as it were, threatening rocks, thunderclouds piling up in the sky [and other examples of furious nature]... Compared to the might of any of these, our ability to resist becomes an insignificant trifle. Yet the sight of them becomes all the more attractive the more fearful it is, provided we are in a safe place. And we like to call these objects sublime because they raise the soul’s fortitude above its usual middle range..."-- Section 261.

Schopenhauer does pursue Kant's concept of sublimity elsewhere in WORLD, but not in this section.  However, the above observation has even greater application to my notion, expressed here,

that the traditional notion of narrative conflict should be seen as coterminous with George Bataille's concept of "the transgressive," as detailed in his work LITERATURE AND EVIL.  I've observed that even in isophenomenal works-- works wherein there is no challenge to reason as such; no manifestations of the uncanny or the marvelous-- there remains a tension between "typical reality" and "atypical reality," as schematized by Frank Cioffi in this resource:

The “classic detective story” (as defined by John G. Cawelti) takes a similar structure [to that of the status quo formula story]. Into a fairly conventional and familiar world a crime intrudes, and by the story’s conclusion, the crime is solved, and the integrity of society is reinforced (40).

As I've mentioned elsewhere I find Cioffi's term "anomaly" useful to describe the element or elements that provide the motive force of the narrative, so it would seem that the anomaly expresses the narrative's need for conflict/transgression.

However, one need not assume, as Schopenhauer gloomily does, that all that is "interesting" is entirely defined by "pain."  It would be more useful to see pain linked to pleasure in a continuum of kinetic emotional affects which the narrative conjures forth to make possible both conflict and character identification.  Paglia, indeed, speaks of "pleasure-pain" as being "the gross continuum of nature." In reality we always have this potential for pain or pleasure; in fiction our delectation of fictional conflicts is always somewhat removed from immediate experience, as I've covered in my extrapolations of Susanne Langer's concept of the gesture.  This would apply even to a work would seem to offer pure pleasure rather than pain-- say, a simple pornographic tale in which the "anomaly" is that a pizza-boy goes to make a delivery to an apartment (uninteresting) but comes away after a sexual encounter with the apartment's hot-babe resident (interesting).

Interestingly, in a separate essay Schopenhauer seems to see fiction's diversions as distracting from one's knowledge of real pain (which elsewhere he regards as necessary for one's transcendence of the will):
we call drama or descriptive poetry interesting when it represents events and actions of a kind which necessarily arouse concern or sympathy, like that which we feel in real events involving our own person. The fate of the person represented in them is felt in just the same fashion as our own: we await the development of events with anxiety; we eagerly follow their course; our hearts quicken when the hero is threatened; our pulse falters as the danger reaches its acme, and throbs again when he is suddenly rescued. Until we reach the end of the story we cannot put the book aside; we lie away far into the night sympathising with our hero’s troubles as though they were our own. Nay, instead of finding pleasure and recreation in such representations, we should feel all the pain which real life often inflicts upon us, or at least the kind which pursues us in our uneasy dreams, if in the act of reading or looking at the stage we had not the firm ground of reality always beneath our feet. As it is, in the stress of a too violent feeling, we can find relief from the illusion of the moment, and then give way to it again at will. Moreover, we can gain this relief without any such violent transition as occurs in a dream, when we rid ourselves of its terrors only by the act of awaking.
However, in the very next section of this essay Schopenhauer anticipates Northrop Frye's distinction between the "narrative values" and "significant values" of a work, by distinguishing between its "interest" and its "beauty:"

It is obvious that what is affected by poetry of this character is our will , and not merely our intellectual powers pure and simple. The word interest means, therefore, that which arouses the concern of the individual will, quod nostrĂ¢ interest ; and here it is that beauty is clearly distinguished from interest. The one is an affair of the intellect, and that, too, of the purest and simplest kind. The other works upon the will. Beauty, then, consists in an apprehension of ideas; and knowledge of this character is beyond the range of the principle that nothing happens without a cause. Interest, on the other hand, has its origin nowhere but in the course of events; that is to say, in the complexities which are possible only through the action of this principle in its different forms.

The association here between beauty and Ideas in a quasi-Platonic sense may relate Kant's association between "the beautiful" and "boundedness:"
"The beautiful in nature concerns the form of the object, which consists in its being bounded.-- CRITIQUE OF JUDGMENT, Section 245.
I've not yet finished re-reading Schopenhauer's reflections on the sublime, so this remains only a tenative conclusion.  Still, Schopenhauer's distinction between "the concern of the individual will" and "an affair of the intellect" should yield interesting applications to an archetypal theory of art and literature.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


"There is in each of us an ancient force that takes and an ancient force that gives. A man finds little difficulty facing that place within himself where the taking force dwells, but it’s almost impossible for him to see into the giving force without changing into something other than man. For a woman, the situation is reversed."-- Paul Atreides describing his own transformation in Frank Herbert's DUNE.

"The more developed Idea resulting from this victory over several lower Ideas or objectifications of will, gains an entirely new character by taking up into itself from every Idea over which it has prevailed a strengthened analogy. The will objectifies itself in a new, more distinct way. It originally appears in generatio aequivoca; afterwards in assimilation to the given germ, organic moisture, plant, animal, man. Thus from the strife of lower phenomena the higher arise, swallowing them all up, but yet realising in the higher grade the tendency of all the lower."-- Schopenhauer, Book 1, part 27, THE WORLD AS WILL AND REPRESENTATION.

The above quotes both deal with concepts of transformation.  Herbert's fictional protagonist describes a mental shift from one set of gender-oriented priorities to another; a shift brought after he imbibes the vision-inducing Water of Life. Schopenhauer's philosophical observation is far more abstract.  He takes Plato's Ideas, which were both essential and eternal by nature, and gives them a post-Kantian spin, in which the Ideas can assume different "grades" of relative perfection, all of which are objectifications of the true "thing-in-itself," the Universal Will. 

It will be noted that the Schopenhauer quote, unlike the Herbert quote, contains no reference to concepts of gender.  However, the "gloomy philosopher" had some definite thoughts on the subject; thoughts that make comicdom's Dave Sim sound like Betty Friedan by comparison.

From the essay "On Women:"

Hence, it will be found that the fundamental fault of the female character is that it has no sense of justice . This is mainly due to the fact, already mentioned, that women are defective in the powers of reasoning and deliberation; but it is also traceable to the position which Nature has assigned to them as the weaker sex. They are dependent, not upon strength, but upon craft; and hence their instinctive capacity for cunning, and their ineradicable tendency to say what is not true. For as lions are provided with claws and teeth, and elephants and boars with tusks, bulls with horns, and cuttle fish with its clouds of inky fluid, so Nature has equipped woman, for her defence and protection, with the arts of dissimulation; and all the power which Nature has conferred upon man in the shape of physical strength and reason, has been bestowed upon women in this form.

I'm not inherently opposed to the notion that genders may be characterized according to what one observes to be statistically-dominant virtues or vices.  The usual mush-headed responses to such characterizations-- "We're all individuals," "If you label me, you negate me"-- get no hearing in my court.  But I think that even though at times Schopenhauer's characterizations may ring a bell of familiarity, on the whole said characterizations carry less explanatory value than the observations of the 20th-century author of DUNE.  In addition, as presented here Schopenhauer's animadversions on the female sex are something of a betrayal of his post-Kantian project.

As I elaborated here, no post-Kantian project is viable unless it stresses the dual influence of natural and cultural influences.  Schopenhauer, anticipating Freud, chooses to define women in terms of lack: women have "cunning" because they lack "physical strength and reason."  The first is an aspect of demonstrable natural law.  The second lack, if it exists, can only be demonstrated through manifestations within humankind's cultural cosmos, through a rigorous philosophical definiton of what reason is.  Doubtless Schopenhauer felt he defined reason in other writings, but since he does not do so in respect to its purported differences between men and women, the assertion remains baseless.  Most of what Schopenhauer "proves" about woman's natural inferiority is based in his proto-evolutionary meditations on natural law (ON WOMEN was published eight years before ORIGIN OF THE SPECIES, incidentally).  I suggest that natural law, both in Schopenhauer's time and our own, is about as much use in understanding culture as a hammer is for turning on a light-switch.  This type of reductionism is unworthy of one of philosophy's paramount thinkers.

Further, by characterizing female nature as something as unchanging as one of Plato's Ideas, Schopenhauer betrays his concept of "grades" of ideation.  Throughout "On Women" there is no sense that any woman's nature can be altered or subsumed by more "perfect" Ideas.  By contrast, both Plato and Dave Sim allowed that some women were capable of raising themselves to a level of masculine competence and insight. One need not agree with those worthies on their definitions of same; it's enough to note that they, unlike Schopenhauer, recognized that such a transformation was possible.  Frank Herbert's fictional meditations support this concept of transformation as well, though one must note that they are philosophical observations that grow out of a fictional structure.

It's just as possible for a mush-head to be insulted by Herbert's gender-characterizations as by Schopenhauer's: to be so obsessed with a purported individuality that one cannot recognize the broad mythic truth of Herbert's yang-like "ancient force that takes" and yin-like "ancient force that gives."  But even without the sort of visionary transformation brought about by the Water of Life, Herbert's narrative tapestry is broad enough to depict any number of cultural transformations.  Thus a male character like Liet-Kynes can function primarily as a nurturant force, attempting to bestow fecundity upon the desert-planet Arrakis.  Similarly, his daughter Chani becomes (unlike the majority of Fremen women) a skilled fighter, and in one chapter she kills one of Paul Atreides' challengers to spare Paul the trouble.

Yet despite all the personal prejudices that tainted Schopenhauer's view of the Fair Sex, his concept of the Will and gradations of ideation remain vital, and can be fruitfully applied to notions of gender transformation even though the philosopher would have certainly disapproved of such applications.  In 2-13-09 I wrote:

What is the cultural significance of action-heroines?

It's not that they make female readers feel more empowered, though there's not anything wrong with that.

It's not that they make male readers either more empathetic or more horny, though there's nothing wrong with either of those.

It's simply this:

The action-heroine is a better symbol of the Schopenhaurean Will than the male action-hero.

I let this particular field of investigation lie fallow for over two years, partly because I knew that re-reading Schopenhauer would take a fair amount of labor.  It's fortuitous that when the topic came to my attention once more, it was right at a time I'd just finished re-reading DUNE, which glosses certain aspects of Schopenhauer's beliefs just as I found they did for the writings of Paglia in this essay.

In the next installment of WHAT WOMEN WILL, I'll explore a little more as to the archetypal associations that arise when the woman is "Taker" rather than "Giver."

Saturday, November 19, 2011


For the purposes of this exercise, pretend that:
(1) You have no knowledge of the English language, and so cannot interpret any of the words on these two covers,
(2) You have a basic knowledge of science fiction concepts but have no familiarity with superheroes generally or anything specifically derived from the Superman mythology.
So, with those two stipulations in mind, what do you see when you gaze at the two images above?  Both deal with some degree of "impossibility," since they seem to be violating physical law (though that may not be the only law so violated).

ACTION COMICS #1 at bottom should seem, at first glance, the more impossible picture.  Even if you know nothing of Superman as a character, the sight of a man in a costume lifting a car over his head will be a clear violation of natural law.  There may exist occasional prodigies that might attempt to stymie a car's progress (an old strongman routine) but there exist none able to lift a vehicle of such mass over his head with such cheerful abandon, not to mention chucking it forward to smash against a convenient rock.

Clearly, since the image on the left does not apply to anything "natural," you will conclude that whatever glosses or explains it resorts to the sort of explanation seen in science fiction or fantasy stories. If it has no explanation you may term it (as I have) a "fait accompli" fantasy, which presents a fantastic image with no attempt to make sense of the "nonsense," as one usually sees in animated cartoons.

ACTION COMICS #346 presents a lesser challenge to the laws of physics.  If you have no acquaintance with Superman, Supergirl, or superheroes, then all you see is a girl in costume belting a man in a similar costume (as well as two men watching and laughing through some sci-fi viewscreen).  There's nothing in the image to suggest that either character might or might not possess super-powers, and you certainly can't tell from the image what the labored dialogue tells you: that Supergirl has fantastic powers and the "fake Superman" does not.  The only hint of fantasy in the scenario (aside from the sci-fi viewscreen) is that the Curt Swan drawing suggests that the male figure is being hit so hard that it's possible he's being lifted off his feet-- though since one can't see both feet, you may just think he's off balance.

Now, this is still something of a challenge to the laws of physics in that the Superman figure looks at least twice as massive as the Supergirl figure.  Given this discrepancy it should seem unlikely that the latter could inflict that much distress to the former, though of course it's still not in the same bailiwick as lifting a car.  You will be familiar with the general rule that most female humans are less strong than most male humans, so you may suspect some fantastic element, if only because the male in the picture looks like he's in considerable pain and may have even lost consciousness.  But you can rationalize that maybe she caught him by surprise, though the girl's shocked expression might mitigate against that interpretation. 

OK, now I wave my magic wand and you know everything about the provenance of these two images.  Given that knowledge, then, it's perfectly obvious that the award for the greater impossibility goes to-- Number Two, ACTION COMICS #346!

What?  You don't agree?  Even now that you know all the super-entities involved, the image of a super-man lifting a car still seems more impossible than a super-girl punching out an ordinary man?  I wave my magic wand again, bypassing a lot of argument, and we agree that since both scenarios incorporate marvelous elements, they are equally impossible--

On the plane of physical law, that is. At the last moment I re-quote my earlier quote of an anonymous interpreter of Cassirer:

...whereas intersubjective or objective validity in the natural sciences rests ultimately on universal laws of nature ranging over all (physical) places and times, an analogous type of intersubjective or objective validity arises in the cultural sciences quite independent of such universal laws.
So Cassirer's legacy says that "intersubjective validity" in the cultural sciences does not derive from the "universal laws of nature," as it does in the natural sciences. That validity depends upon having:

a trans-historical and trans-local cultural meaning that emerges precisely as it is continually and successively interpreted and reinterpreted at other such times and places.

This "cultural meaning," I argue to you, arises from the elements of conflict and/or transgression that make possible the narrative process.  Thus, in the cultural sphere all fictional narrative is fantasy, no matter how much it accords with natural law, and in theory no phenonmenon is more "impossible" than anything else.  The marvelous, the uncanny and the naturalistic are equally impossible, culturally speaking.

However, the critic claims the true validity of any cultural object depends upon its ability to transcend history and location.  Are the two images equal in that respect?

I tell you, not quite.  Superman's car-lifting feat is one of many Herculean accomplishments that participated in creating Superman's marvelous image in the early days of the character's iteration. However, the feat carries little transcendent cultural meaning in itself.  Cars themselves possess a great deal of cultural meaning in modern society, but the act of lifting and hurling one does not evoke many transgressive elements.

An act of fictional violence between male and female, however, carries transgressive elements that transcend any particular history or location.  These elements are certainly conditioned by the observation of natural law because culture is also partially conditioned by natural law, so the sight of a woman cold-cocking a man will always seem a little less possible than the other way round thanks to one's knowledge of natural law.  But the scenario is also a cultural transgression, transgressing the cultural norm that girls are sugar and spice and everything nice.  Image-wise Supergirl gets to enact a fantasy transgressing against this cultural norm while the diegesis supplied by the cover-copy quickly explains that she's not really outmatching the real Superman, just an impostor.

It may seem to you that I am conflating conflict/transgression with impossibility here, and I am.  But in the cultural sphere, to be "impossible" is not to violate the law (as in the natural sciences) but to fulfill it.  And that's why choice #2, being the more outrageous and culturally transcendent, is more "impossible" than Choice #1.

All of which will be elaborated somewhat more as I launch into yet another series of ruminations, tentatively titled "What Women Will."  A clamoring horde of one (hi Pilot!) asked me about a topic I'd raised about the subject of the Will and the Fair Sex, so you should consider the above a prelude to my response.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


At the start of this three-part serial essay, I asked:
Philosophically speaking, what does it mean to be a metaphenomenalist? Or, for that matter, an isophenomenalist?

The short answer is that to be an isophenomenalist, you must believe that everything within the scope of human experience reduces down to natural experience of some sort.  Even cultural experience is informed principally by whatever material factors provide the experiential root of a given culture.

However, with metaphenomenalism, one can choose one of two paths.  One path, that of the Rationalist, asserts that there is some "essence" that is beyond all experience, and hence trumps the banal round of existence.  The other path, which Cassirer called "critical idealism," follows the thought that Kant expressed at the start of CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON:
...though all our knowledge begins with experience, it does not follow that it all arises out of experience.

In part 2 I also noted the problems Kant addressed with both Empiricist and Rationalist arguments, and that C.S. Lewis was essentially in the Rationalist camp, as one who tended, in Kant's words, to "intellectualize phenomena."  Nevertheless, the schema Lewis depicts in THE PROBLEM OF PAIN-- the Fear/Dread/Awe affects that he invokes to explain the range of human responses to the Numinous, as well as what only seems like the Numinous (i.e., mundane danger)-- possesses an internal consistency not seen in most of his proselytizing arguments.  I find it interesting that Lewis' argument, like many of his other insights, seems to apply better to literature than philosophy as such.

I've stated as far back as MYTHS WITHOUT FANTASY in 2007 that fantasy (the generally used term for all metaphenomenal concepts) is not, strictly speaking, necessary for myth to flourish.  But as I said in that early essay, one does need, even in isophenomenal fiction, some sense of the "larger-than-life" in order that mythicity/symbolic complexity may function.

I extrapolated somewhat on similar themes in THRILLER KILLING:

The "suspense" genre, I said in a related post, was oriented not on seeking to scare the audience, but to "startle and disorient." In my own conception the pure horror film doesn't necessarily need the element of the supernatural, but it does need the element of the *mysterium,* which is my shortened form for the two Latin phrases invoked by Rudolf Otto is his classic IDEA OF THE HOLY, where he explains the numinous experience in terms of the *mysterium tremendum,* the overwhelming mystery that compels fear and trembling in the viewer, and the *mysterium fascinans,* which compels the viewer to be attracted to the fascinating mystery.

While it's quite possible for isophenomenal genres as far apart as the suspense thriller and the domestic comedy to be mythically complex, there may be a certain tendency against such complexity given the fact that many authors see their fictive worlds in terms of pure representationalism, and so lose track of the "larger-than-life" qualities.  These are worlds where neither ghosts nor gods have any true symbolic presence.  Here there be tigers, and nothing more than tigers.

The metaphenomal category of "the marvelous" is the exact opposite: however the author may choose to violate rationalism and causality for the sake of a marvelous story, some *deus ex machina* can be invoked.  To be sure, many marvelous works merely imitate others, and it might be argued that often the "gods," the metaphenomal marvels of such works are what Ursula LeGuin conceived to be "false myths."  However, the symbolic strength of gods is that for every worshipper they lose, they gain more converts down the line, and the "larger-than-life" qualities are brought forth in works that imitate in an inspired rather than perfunctory manner. 

The metaphenomenal category of "the uncanny" is, in a structureal sense, midway between the two as critical realism stands between Rationalism and Empiricism.  Like all or most neo-Kantian philosophies, the uncanny does not seek to usurp causal reality completely, as does the marvelous.  Yet its metaphenomena, its "ghosts," remain outside the affective boundaries characreristic of the isophenomenal world.

Lewis' use of the term "ghosts" for his interstitial category of "Dread" takes on ironic context in my system.  In said system any work that depicts a ghost as being unquestionably existential does of course fall into the category of the marvelous, not the uncanny.  There are a few exceptions where the ghost's nature is so tentatively known that it does fall into the latter category (see my review of Laurence Olivier's HAMLET as an example). Still, the ten tropes of the uncanny-metaphenomenal evoked on my film-blog may resemble Lewis' ghost in that they too tend to inspire dread more than awe.  Given that uncanny works also have a tendency toward pure representationalism-- best seen in the idea of the "phony ghost" Gothic-tale to which Tzvetan Todorov refers-- it may be argued that they too tend somewhat away from the higher degrees of symbolic complexity.  Naturally, this is not to suggest any agreement with Todorov's fallacious statement that any version of "fantasy" is primarily defined through "the real."

Thus, though I am frequently vexed by Lewis' in terms of philosophy, I must admire the deductive logic at which he produced this schema, even if it does work less well in the sphere of philosophy than in that of literature. Northrop Frye expressed a similar phenomenological discontinuity in ANATOMY OF CRITICISM:

If men were compelled to make the melancholy choice between atheism and superstition, the scientist…would be compelled to choose atheism, but the poet would be compelled to choose superstition, for even superstition, by its very confusion of values, gives his imagination more scope than a dogmatic denial of imaginative infinity does. But the loftiest religion, no less than the grossest superstition, comes to the poet, qua poet, only as the spirits came to Yeats, to give him metaphors for poetry.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011


“Suppose you were told that there was a tiger in the next room: you would know that you were in danger and would probably feel fear. But if you were told ‘There is a ghost in the next room,’ and believed it, you would feel, indeed, what is often called fear, but of a different kind. It would not be based on the knowledge of danger, for no one is primarily afraid of what a ghost may do to him, but of the mere fact that it is a ghost. It is ‘uncanny’ rather than dangerous, and the special kind of fear it excites may be called Dread. With the Uncanny one has reached the fringes of the Numinous. Now suppose that you were told simply ‘There is a mighty spirit in the room’ and believed it. Your feelings would then be even less like the mere fear of danger: but the disturbance would be profound. You would feel wonder and a certain shrinking–described as awe.”

Technically, the three entities C.S. Lewis employs to describe the responses of Fear, Dread, and Awe-- the trinity of human responses which Lewis deems relevant to the matter of "the Numinous"-- are not (as in my title) tiger, ghost and god.  For the last Lewis describes only a "mighty spirit."  However, given that Lewis was, in his most significant works, an unstinting apologist for the Christian faith, I don't think I'm reaching to hazard that for Lewis, that "mighty spirit" could be only the Christian God.  And in the PROBLEM OF PAIN essay from which the above quote stems, Lewis is far from shy about proclaiming his good news.  Indeed, he shows a curious ambivalence about non-Judeo-Christian religions like unto that of early Christian polemicists.  When Lewis wants to show the universality of the concept of "the Numinous" (first named as such by Rudolf Otto), he has no problem quoting examples of awe-filled responses from Ovid and Virgil alongside examples from the Old Testament. Nevertheless, it's clear throughout his screed that no mere pagan religion can possess its own validity.  There's only enough room in town for One Revelation.

Nevertheless, Lewis is insightful enough to invoke not only "virtuous pagans," but also modern philosophers like Otto in service of his creed.  I have not read Otto's IDEA OF THE HOLY, and so can't comment fully on Lewis' use of him.  Thanks to Google search, though, I can say that Lewis substantially uses the term "the Uncanny" substantially in accord with the way Otto uses it:

"...this expression [of unfamiliarity] is popularly used for a thing of which no one can say what it is or whence it comes, and in whose presence we have the feeling of the uncanny."-- HOLY (1917), p. 197.
I'll note that this usage is entirely the opposite of Freud's use of "the Uncanny" in the 1919 essay of that title.  As an empiricist Freud emphasized that what appeared to be unfamiliar, "umheimlich," was actually that which was too familiar, and could be glossed by the concept of the Oedipus complex, as opposed to being genuinely ineffable.  As I pointed out here, Todorov is on the same page as Freud when he claims that his version of "the uncanny" is also all about glossing the Fantasy with the Real.

All that said, the main assertion in Lewis' essay-- entitled simply "Introductory," though the essay stands on its merits without depending on the other essays in the book-- can be summed up in these two quotes:

The spectacle of the universe as revealed by experience can never have been ground for religion: it must always have been something in spite of which religion, acquired from a different source, was held.

There is no possibility of arguing from mere danger to the uncanny, still less to the fully Numinous. You may say that it seems to you very natural that early man, being surrounded by real dangers, and therefore frightened, should invent the uncanny and the Numinous. In a sense it is, but let us understand what we mean. You feel it to be natural because, sharing human nature with your remote ancestors, you can imagine yourself reacting to perilous solitudes in the same way; and this reaction is indeed ‘natural’ in the sense of being in accord with human nature. But it is not in the least ‘natural’ in the sense that the idea of the uncanny or the Numinous is already contained in the idea of the dangerous, or that any perception of danger or any dislike of the wounds and death which it may entail could give the slightest conception of ghostly dread or numinous awe to an intelligence which did not already understand them. When man passes from physical fear to dread and awe, he makes a sheer jump, and apprehends something which could never be given, as danger is, by the physical facts and logical deductions from them.
 As a neo-Kantian I part ways with both Empiricist Freud and Rationalist Lewis; I don't believe in the least that religion stems either from the purely materialistic causes Lewis is refuting, nor from the "different source" Lewis uses to explain religion's provenance.  In THE CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON Kant contrasts and dismisses the problems with both Empiricism and Rationalism:

In one word, Leibnitz intellectualized phenomena, just as Locke, in his system of noogony (if I may be allowed to make use of such expressions), sensualized the conceptions of the understanding, that is to say, declared them to be nothing more than empirical or abstract conceptions of reflection. Instead of seeking in the understanding and sensibility two different sources of representations...--   CRITIQUE, p. 174.
Nevertheless, even though Lewis's principal project is to justify the Christian narrative of Revelation-- thus committing Leibnitz's fallacy of "intellectualizing phenomena"-- Lewis's logical deduction of a "sheer jump" that takes one from simple fear to more complex emotions of dread and awe is even more meaningful in neo-Kantian terms.  Here's Cassirer once again, emphasizing the growth of the expressive function in human beings as the Great White Way to understanding existence in a manner far beyond that of "dogmatic sensationalism:"

"Whatever we call existence or reality, is given to us at the outset in forms of pure expression. Thus even here we are beyond the abstraction of sheer sensation, which dogmatic sensationalism takes as its starting point. For the content which the subject experiences as confronting him is no merely outward one, resembling Spinoza's 'mute picture on a slate.' It has a kind of transparency; an inner life shines through its very existence and facticity. The formation effected in language, art and myth starts from this original phenomenon of expression; indeed, both art and myth remain so close to it that one might be tempted to restrict them wholly to this sphere."-- Cassirer, THE PHENOMENOLOGY OF KNOWLEDGE, p. 449.
Interestingly, another Google search using the terms "Cassirer" and "jump" yielded an essay asserting that Cassirer often regarded poetry as a case where "the spark jumped the gap" between real experience and cultural expression. 

Having drawn Lewis into a neo-Kantian corpus which would probably have horrified him about as much as being associated with Freudians, in my next essay in this series I'll explore a few more aspects of the interaction of the Meta-Iso Wars as expressed by Lewis' figures of "tiger," "ghost," and "god."

Monday, November 7, 2011


Philosophically speaking, what does it mean to be a metaphenomenalist?  Or, for that matter, an isophenomenalist?

In my conclusion of the Metagodzilla-Isoghidrah Wars, I clarified that in terms of taste, anyone was free to prefer whatever phenomenality one might prefer.  As a pluralist, I'm bound to recognize (to cite another of my old essay-titles) that "anything that can be done well is worth doing."  If Joseph Conrad does his best work within an isophenomenal conceptual framework, where all the "marvels and mysteries" are only mankind's vain imaginings in the face of a materalistic universe, then that's worth doing.  If J.R.R. Tolkien does his best work within a metaphenomenalist conceptual framework-- specifically dealing with metaphenomena within the "marvelous" category-- then that too is worth doing.

In my QUICK HAWTHONE POST I cited two longish quotes by Hawthorne in which he justified his practice of the form he called "the romance."  In contrast to Tolkien's focus upon marvelous metaphenomena, Hawthorne showed a perennial fascination with metaphenomena in the "uncanny" category, though of course Hawthorne never used this term.  Slightly after the lines I quoted from A THREEFOLD DESTINY, Hawthorne adds:

In the little tale which follows, a subdued tinge of the wild and wonderful is thrown over a sketch of New England personages and scenery, yet, it is hoped, without entirely obliterating the sober hues of nature.
Despite the fact that Hawthorne, as much as Conrad, values fidelity to "the sober hues of nature," I'd venture that his "tinge of the wild and wonderful" has a very different character than Conrad's "marvels and mysteries."  In the quotes I provided from Conrad here, it's clear that those "marvels" are intrinsically derived from, and thus entirely dependent upon, the world of sensory experience: of "effects of the visible and tangible world."  Hawthorne's statement above, though, never implies that "the sober hues of nature" are the sole source of his "wonderful tinge."  At the same time most of his works avoid the outright presentation of either the marvelous or the naturalistic: Hawthorne always seeks the uncanny, the liminal space between the two opposed states.

That said, because Hawthorne gives the world of fantasy its own identity, I deem him closer to Tolkien than to Conrad.  Many literary critics would dispute this, deeming Hawthorne and Conrad together within the corpus of canonical "literature" while Tolkien occupied a vague category of "paraliterature."  Nevertheless, such allotments are usually made by critics given to focusing on the rendering of isophenomenal reality as paramount, and so would be opposed to my statement in the Meta-Iso Conclusion:
In both its "uncanny" and "marvelous" manifestations, however, the metaphenomenal stands free to delve into the depths of what Kant calls the "productive imagination."
The isophenomenalist is usually indifferent to any concept like that of the "productive imagination," in that he's already committed to the proposition that all that we imagine derives from sensory experience; what Kant calls "reproductive imagination" and what Conrad calls "my consciousness of the marvelous."

It's certainly a beguiling enough proposition.  For me Freud was one of the great challenges.  Because his theory seemed to work so well for some works of literature and so poorly for others, I concluded here  that his theory was best seen as a example of "reproductive imagination." I added that such a theory could be adequately subsumed by a superior theory that took in both productive and reproductive forms of imagination, such as that of Kant, and to some extent the theory of Carl Jung.  The same formulation applies to Todorov, whose Freudian underpinnings slanted him to state that fantasy could only be judged in terms of "the real."

In the next part of this series (which will at last explain the title) I'll consider in greater depth the tripartite theory of "fear, dread, and awe" that C.S. Lewis presented at the outset of his nonfictional work THE PROBLEM OF PAIN.  I haven't explicitly written on Lewis since this 2010 essay, but though I part with him in terms of the "solution" he gives to his PROBLEM-- that of Christian hermeneutics-- Lewis is almost as important as Kant and Jung in having helped me formulate my entire NUMtheory.


Thursday, November 3, 2011


I'm mulling over some further thoughts regarding the way the three categories in my NUMtheory relate to the idea of the sublime-- which I regard as essentially homologous to the sci-fi fan's "sense of wonder." More as a resource than anything, here are a couple of Hawthorne's quotes regarding the literary genre he called " the romance:"

""I have sometimes produced a singular and not unpleasing effect, so far as my own mind was concerned, by imagining a train of incidents in which the spirit and mechanism of the fairyland should be combined with the characters and manners of familiar life." -- Opening lines of short story THE THREEFOLD DESTINY.

"If the imaginative faculty refused to act at such an hour, it might well be deemed a hopeless case. Moonlight, in a familiar room, falling so white upon the carpet, and showcasing all its figures so distinctly, -- making every object so minute visible, yet so unlike a morning or noontide visibility, -- is a medium the most suitable for a romance-writer to get acquainted with his illusive guests. There is the little domestic scenery of the well-known apartment; the chairs with each its separate individuality; the centre-table, sustaining a work-basket, a volume or two, and an extinguished lamp; the sofa; the picture on the wall,--all these details, so completely seen, are so spiritualized by the unusual light, that they seem to lose their actual substance, and become things of the intellect. Nothing is too small or too trifling to undergo this change, and acquire dignity thereby. A child's shoe; the doll, seated in her little wicker carriage; the hobby-horse,-- whatever, in a word, has been used or played with, during the day, is now invested with a quality of strangeness and remoteness, though still almost as vividly present as by daylight. Thus, therefore, the floor of our familiar room has become a neutral territory, somewhere between the real world and fairy-land, where the Actual and Imaginary may meet, and each imbue itself with the nature of the other. Ghosts might enter here, without affrighting us. It would be too much in keeping with the scene to excite surprise, were we to look about us and discover a form beloved, but gone hence, now sitting quietly in a streak of this magic moonshine, with an aspect that would make us doubt whether it had returned from afar, or had never once stirred from our fireside."-- THE CUSTOM-HOUSE.

I'll be saying more about "this quality of strangeness and remoteness" in relation to my take on the nature of "the uncanny," especially in comparison with Lewis's statement, "With the Uncanny one has reached the fringes of the Numinous," which I quoted in this essay.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Given that I've stated of Ron Marz's decision to kill off his character Alex--

"I support his right to come up with a story in which a supporting cast-member is horribly killed simply to advance a particular plotline"

--but also stated that I didn't think his story was very good-- it behooves me to mention a couple of times when support-cast members were killed to reasonably good effect.

I've mentioned that I didn't like Gwen Stacy's death in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #121. That's not because I thought the character was indispensable to my enjoyment of the magazine, but because I felt that that the writers during that period-- not just Gerry Conway, but also Stan Lee in his last 10-20 Spidey-scripts-- made her death predictable by virtue of failing to expand on her character beyond the usual cliches. I think now that it made sense to kill her from an editorial standpoint, but still dislike Conway's hamhanded execution.

In contrast, Stan Lee himself "put a hit out" on one of the characters introduced in the early years of John Romita's tenure: Captain George Stacy, father of Gwen. Like Gwen, George dies in a senseless accident, but Lee gave him a heroic death. When a rooftop-fight between Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus causes heavy bricks to plummet to the street below, Stacy perishes in shoving a small child out of the way of the debris.

Now, to some extent this is more palatable than Gwen Stacy's death because it is a heroic death. However, what I like best about the event is not just that the death was heroic, or even unexpected (certainly more so than daughter Gwen's), but that it became a new source of narrative avenues, allowing for a good amount of "my-sweetheart-hates-my-superher0-alterego" melodrama.

Another example-- perhaps more appropriate to the theme of senseless deaths-- would be Iron Man's 1960s girlfriend Janice Cord. Janice, introduced in IRON MAN #2, remained a regular support-cast member for the next 10 issues, only to meet an untimely end in IRON MAN #22, when she was caught in a crossfire between Iron Man and his enemy Titanium Man. Janice Cord hadn't been in that feature as long as Gwen Stacy had appeared in SPIDER-MAN, and thus it's quite possible that she, like Ron Marz's Alex, was intended from the start to be a sacrificial lamb. Scripter Archie Goodwin does allow her a Last Moment as she dies in Iron Man's arms, almost recognizing him as Tony Stark before she succumbs. Still, she was a pretty conventional character, having little identity apart from being Tony Stark's girlfriend, and so in a sense one might state that she most "came alive" in the intersubjective sense when she suffered the fate of a disposable support-cast member.