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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...

Friday, May 29, 2015


In the previous essay I stated the reasons that I disagree with Tim O'Neil interpretation of Marvel Comics' "we're the underdogs" myth. Here I'll address an aspect of his essay that speaks to "why people read popular entertainment at all."

Conspicuously absent from O'Neil's essay is any coherent reason for why Marvel enthusiasts became so, um, enthusiastic about their reading-matter, apart from O'Neil's claim that they bought into the "myth of the underdog." If one prunes away everything related to that theme, one winds up with these statements:

Marvel was what cool college kids read - literally, your older brothers' comic books, not like those staid Superman magazines you read as a child.

Marvel was cool and the books were better than National - and all their later imitators - and all that was true, at least for a while. 

Marvel was the place where a few crazy middle-aged men had accidentally created a counter-culture incubator, as the company became increasingly dominated by younger men (and even a few women) who had grown up reading the books and very much wanted to be a part of the clubhouse Stan had built.

Perhaps because the main point of thes essay is to point out the gulf between Marvel's underdog-myth and the reality of their unethical dominance of the market, the third of these statements glosses over the fact that a lot of "younger men" invaded the New York comics-companies that weren't exclusively in love with Marvel. Archie Goodwin was one of the first comics fans to turn pro, but by all accounts I've read, he was primarily an EC fan, and his first substantial contribution to the comics-medium came during his employment from 1964-67 with Warren, which company was in essence reviving the spirit of EC with its horror and war books.  Jim Shooter was another early emigrant to the New York publishing-world, but he broke in to that staid DC world, and though he later became a Marvel head honcho, arguably he brought to Marvel a regimentation akin to that of his former boss Mort Weisinger.

So it wasn't just the charm of Marvel that lured all those Young Turks to New York; it was a fascination with the possibilities of the comics medium. Both DC and Marvel had hardcore business reasons for employing all the young folks, of course; the publishers and editors cared primarily about making money, not giving people creative freedom. The sales of newsstand comics had dipped critically following the conclusion of the national Bat-Fad, and publishers were clearly seeking to tap markets less chimerical than the younger juveniles who had remained comics' primary demographic for the last thirty years.

But even if one could prove that Marvel alone was crucial to pulling in the "cool college kids," what made Marvel Comics cool in the first place? Given that older juveniles had long scorned comics as "kid stuff," what made Marvel "better than National," as O'Neil says?  Saying that Marvel's creators excelled at "being both more primitive and more sophisticated than their rivals" really says nothing of substance.

An easy answer would be the gimmick of "heroes with problems," but this has always been an oversimplification, even when Marvel creators themselves used it. What Stan Lee seems to have conceived was the potential of bringing a particular type of drama to the superhero genre. Significantly, it worked for superheroes far better than for Marvel's western and war books, in part the American audience was already used to seeing quasi-adult drama in the cinematic versions of those genres. I don't buy into Stan's myth that he simply wanted to do comics-stories "for himself;" the bottom line was always Stan's concern. Perhaps, having worked well with Kirby and Ditko on the SF-horror books, which allowed for a greater emphasis upon dramatic intensity, Lee was simply trying to find a formula that would make his superhero books sell modestly better. I'm sure it was a surprise to him, as to Kirby and Ditko, to find themselves being championed as "hip reading" on various college campuses. And Lee was quick to seek a way to capitalize on the enthusiasm, briefly branding a handful of 1965 comics as "Marvel Pop Art Productions" in order to feed off the vagaries of the highbrow art-world. 

The fact that I term Lee's editorial approach a "formula," though, does not mean that I think it was only a gimmick. There's a species of Lee-criticism in which it's asserted that Stan Lee's only contribution to the Marvel Universe was that of hype, and O'Neil's essay suggests that position with his insistence that Marvel became a success via its "clubhouse" approach. I've frequently argued that neither Jack Kirby nor Steve Ditko seemed consistently interested in the "heroes with problems" formula either prior to or subsequent to working with Stan Lee, so that my verdict is that Lee primarily evolved the formula, though not without many false starts, stumbles, and outright bad stories.

I take the position that the only way any cool college kids would have bought into the Marvel Universe would have been if they were convinced that they were getting a slightly more sophisticated-- but still fun-- version of the superheroes with which they'd grown up.  And it was actual talent, not hype, that convinced them that Marvel Comics were more than kid stuff.

One of Northrop Frye's most trenchant observations on popular literature was that it provided a "window" through which one could view Jung's archetypes in pure form, as opposed to seeing those archetypes reflected covertly in the scenarios of fine literature. In this "pure" archetypal sense (one might also say "primitive"), Marvel comics of this period were no better or worse than the contemporary works of DC, Dell or Charlton. But Marvel found a way to persuade older readers that there was some dramatic heft to be derived from stories of spider-men, thunder gods, and giant green-skinned monsters.  

As noted before, O'Neil is less concerned with the aesthetics of Marvel Comics than with the poor ethics of the company. I have no doubt that Marvel's representatives have committed many evil acts in its long existence, as is the case for most if not all large companies. However, evil is not the exclusive province of big companies, nor has ethical merit ever been a viable factor in determining the quality of art.  

The expansion of Marvel's business plan to gargantuan proportions concerns O'Neil far more than I. To paraphrase Captain America regarding the Red Skull: "You're the most evil man of all time... But then, someone has to be. If it wasn't you, it would be someone else."  I don't disregard particular acts of evil as irrelevant, but then, I don't think their presence nullify all claims to virtue, either-- mine being a perspectivist concept of morality, as I've detailed in this essay.

Thursday, May 28, 2015


Most online comics-critics prove themselves stunningly ignorant of the medium they critique, so there's some pleasure to be had from coming across a critical essay where the author knows his stuff, even if in the end I disagree with him.

On the blog THE HURTING, Tim O'Neil offers "Excelsior," a scathing look at the heritage of Stan Lee's Marvel.  While I don't validate O'Neil's arguments, his straightforward summation of Marvel's publishing history from the Golden Age onward provides a refreshing contrast to the hyper-ideological Marxmallow writings I've so often encountered on this subject, as noted here.

Still, even at the essay's outset there are some ideologically-informed problems with "Excelsior." O'Neil does not focus upon the many-splendored and usually opposed narratives of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, but he leads off his essay by reprinting a highly problematic statement from Jack Kirby, in which Kirby painted himself as "saving" Atlas Comics at a time when Stan Lee was helpless to do anything about it. Significantly, O'Neil links this Kirby-quote to a Wikipedia article, which also quotes Gary Groth saying that some of Kirby's hyperbolic statements should be "taken with a grain of salt." Given Groth's history in the matter, wherein he generally promoted Kirby's narrative over Lee's, he's certainly no adoring fan of Stan-- so if even Gary Groth disputes Kirby's hyperbole, this might not have been the most balanced way to begin the essay.  And no, stating that both men had "motivations" for proffering/denying the story isn't good enough.

O'Neil's theme statement appears quickly enough, though:

This was the myth you bought into when you became immersed in the books. They were hip, they were happening, they were cooler than Brand X. Marvel was what cool college kids read - literally, your older brothers' comic books, not like those staid Superman magazines you read as a child. Marvel Comics was on the verge of world domination, and Stan was the man with the plan.
It was an attractive myth because everyone but young children knew it was just that - a myth. Marvel was cool and the books were better than National - and all their later imitators - and all that was true, at least for a while. But they remained stuck playing the role of perpetual underdogs even after the reality had shifted.

Here's a place where exact quotes would have been appropriate. On one hand, O'Neil states that "Marvel Comics was on the verge of world domination," which is certainly how I remember the Marvel of those days, with Lee's constant affirmations that the 1960s began "the Marvel Age of Comics." I also remember Lee playing the "underdog card" a time or two, particularly when he tried to argue that comic books were just as good as any other medium. I recall that at one point he even claimed that many comics of his time were better-written than contemporary television shows. Whether one agrees with this statement or not, or deems Lee's statement to be more hype than honest estimation, it certainly shows that Stan did portray comics in general, and his company in particular, as underdogs who always had to prove their worth, as against those media that had always earned their cultural cachet.

However, a point I think O'Neil misses in the above quote is that there are two distinctly different ways for fans to regard underdogs.

Some fans are "wide status seekers." They follow a given creator-- writer, artist, actor-- when he starts out to find his creative footing. These fans cheer the creator on as he gains widespread acclaim, and feel validated when he gains it.

Other fans are "wide status rejecters." They too begin following a creator from the beginning, but they want that creator to retain an edge that separates him from run-of-the-mill entertainment. This isn't to say that these fans don't want their favored creators to prosper, but they want him to prosper in this "edgy" manner, gaining a particular status by making his own rules rather than conforming to those who confer "widespread acclaim."

Robert Crumb would probably serve as the exemplar of the latter creator. It's hard to imagine a Crumb fan who would have faulted Crumb when he shunned working for Marvel or DC, or for having refused to submit to Marvel's "underground magazine" COMIX BOOK. To have "sold out to the man" would have removed Crumb's edginess in the eyes of "wide status rejecters."

Stan Lee, by contrast, has probably been mendacious about many things. But I don't think he ever pretended that he didn't want to obtain the same cultural cachet enjoyed by books, films and television. It's also my impression that most Marvel-boosters followed the pattern of the "wide status seekers," and that they wanted others to validate Marvel Comics as something that deserved special attention. Though in a larger sense they were right-- Marvel does occupy a unique place in the history of American comics-- they were certainly naive in thinking that outsiders could see past the juvenile elements of 1960s Marvel Comics.

I speak as one who harbored an analogous naivete. In my youth I was not an exclusive Marvel booster; I wanted to see the medium of comics, or at least what I knew of it, boosted in the public eye. I knew that there was just as much junk-entertainment on TV as there was in the comics, and I was aggrieved that comic books remained the whipping-boys of other media simply because the medium had so often marketed its efforts toward juveniles. It took another fifty years for the medium of comics to gain a cachet of sorts, though one that was filtered through the media of films and television shows, while the comics themselves remained "underdogs" in the sense of being a form of entertainment pursued only by a specialized niche.  So, to the extent that I ever believed that comic books might be enjoyed by the average American reader, I was certainly a "wide status seeker." I did not cherish the idea of either the medium or any particular company remaining a little-known underdog just for the sake of being edgy. Ironically, it might be argued that even with the movie-TV cachet, the comics medium itself remains an underdog, albeit not a particularly "edgy" one.

So I reject O'Neil's thesis that there's a significant gulf between "the role of the perpetual underdogs" and the supposed reality behind it all. Long before Marvel Comics even existed, there was nothing new for creators to draw attention to their "underdog status" as a means to promote themselves. Arguably, this was the primary rationale of the highbrow literature of the 20th century: "Look at me: I'm difficult but rewarding, and only a few people are smart enough to dig my scene."

I also disagree with other aspects of the essay, but those will have to wait for separate consideration.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015


I made it a point to see the Stan Lee Q & A panel when I visited Houston's Comicpalooza, and I'm happy to report that the session was a veritable Algonquin Round Table, filled with all manner of trenchant commentary and perspicacious observations.

No, of course I'm lying. Even for someone like myself, who has defended Lee on many occasions, the event amounted to nothing but an insubstantial schmooze-fest, with the famed Marvel editor fielding various softball questions from a predominantly young group of fans-- many of whom, I suspect, have had only nodding acquaintance with Lee's actual writing. And of those who may have read some of his signature Silver Age comics, I further suspect that they never read anything but his best-regarded Marvel work. I'd bet none of them were hardcore fans, who took an obscure joy in finding how Lee's 1940s "Jack Frost" demonstrated his early liking for Everett's anti-social Sub-Mariner character, or who groaned at some of Lee's lamer attempts at late 1960's "relevance." None of them, at least, asked about any of his specific comics stories. Most of the questions pertained to the recent Marvel movies, or, on occasion, about the Marvel cartoons of the 1980s. Lee, with customary forgetfulness, had no recollection that he'd done voice-overs for the 1980s SPIDER-MAN cartoon, and a question about an online comics-studies course, to which he'd lent his name, drew a blank.

It's almost axiomatic to note that Lee looked and sounded great for a man in his early nineties, and showed considerable mental agility in knocking back the softballs, at least when he knew what the questioners were talking about.  I'm sure that he managed to recycle many of his verbal routines from earlier sessions like this one, particularly all of his comments about his new career as the King of the Cameos. The joke about trying to get the Oscars Committee to institute a "best cameo" award drew one of the hour's biggest laughs.

Given that Lee didn't have an interlocutor on the level of, say, Mark Evanier to hold his feet to the fire, he was able to spout a lot of the same "foxy grandpa stories" he has always spouted for a general audience. In the essay cited, I defended the principle of such stories, and I still maintain that when some uninformed mook asks Lee how he created Spider-Man, the mook is probably happier to get a story about Lee seeing a spider on the wall than a long recitation of the very involved path by which the Spider-Man concept came into Lee's hands. On a side-note, this particular story may be one of Lee's oldest "foxy grandpa stories," since I can remember hearing him toss it out for rerun episodes of the 1970s SPIDER-MAN teleseries on the Sci-Fi Channel.

Also represented was the familiar tale that his publisher-- the name "Martin Goodman" never passed Lee's lips-- forced him to stick the initial Spider-Man story in a soon-to-be-axed anthology title. This is probably not the whole truth-- various fans have shown evidence that Goodman may have initially authorized a SPIDER-MAN title, and then backed out of the notion-- but whatever Goodman's reason, it probably wasn't simply that he "didn't like spiders."  But again, given that Goodman is not exactly known as a paragon of publishers, it's not overly troubling to see him used as a standard "dopey boss who takes the credit." And one of Lee's routines even had him admitting that when he became publisher, Lee ended up doing the same things Goodman had ordered him to do.

I was surprised that Lee did not include one of his most circulated grandpa-stories: that he was on the verge of leaving comics in the early 1960s, and that his wife talked him into doing comics his way-- thus making possible the "Marvel Age of Comics." If he truly hasn't reeled that one out for a long time, it could be because it reflects a bit too much negativity about the wonderfulness of working in the comics.

His most interesting (to me) statement came when a fan asked a predictable enough question, as to which of the Marvel movies he liked best. Lee may well have been asked this question many times before, so it's quite possible that he was recycling his answer as well. It's also likely that the answer was informed by the desire to avoid praising any film-franchises not owned by Marvel Studios, such as those of Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four.  But whatever his covert reasons, Lee claimed that his favorite Marvel movie was the first CAPTAIN AMERICA film, largely because he admired the "movie magic" that made it possible to put hunky Chris Evans' face on the body of the shrimpy actor playing pre-transformation Steve Rogers.  Opponents of Lee would seize upon this as an admission that Lee knew he wasn't as stunningly original as the guys who really created the Captain America concept. I would take the statement another way: that a small part of Lee is still a fan, and that part, when set apart from business considerations, still loves a great story idea.

If I'd had a chance to ask Lee a question, mine would probably have been, "What's it like to be regarded as the Walt Disney of the 21st century?"  For that was clearly how the couple-hundred fans regarded him. They didn't know particulars of his career or personal accomplishments: they only knew him as the keeper to the gates of wonder.  Granted, Disney ascended to his gatekeeper-position a lot earlier in life than Lee did, and Lee might never have got there, at least not to so many people, had it not been for the help of the movie-industry. And some might feel that the chief gifts of both men was their skill as entrepreneurs, rather than as creators. Nevertheless, they were both at the very least "point-events" around which the myths of a century coalesced. So, yes, corny grandpa-stories and credit-controversies aside, Stan Lee still deserves the love.

Saturday, May 16, 2015


I said at the end of PLAYING WITH FUNCTIONS that I'd seek to find examples of the four potentialities that might be more accessible than the novels I cited (GONE WITH THE WIND being the only one of the four that is widely read these days). But it's occurred to me that since I revived the concept of the potentialities alongside the Langerian concept of consummation, adapted here with application to literary merit.

I chose "potentialities" as the term for these four types of relationship between literary elements because such elements are not "given," like physical elements. The author is, as Tolkien rightly says, a "sub-creator," and for a work to succeed with respect to any of the potentialities, a significant number of readers must feel that all or at least most of the proper elements are well enough assembled that the work feels "finished," which is the definition of the adjective "consummate," But when the audience feels that the work is "unfinished" in some way-- i.e., "inconsummate"-- the result is audience dissatisfaction. Of course, "consummate" and "inconsummate" will never replace common terms like "good" and "bad," or even "cool" and " sucky." But I believe that they are not only more accurate with respect to the vagaries of taste, the dichotomy allows one to explore the potentialities with a somewhat more objective eye.

I've stated in a general way that most works are dominated by a particular potentiality, but here I want to state that my principle of centricity applies to the potentialities as much as to mythos. In JUNG AND SOVEREIGNTY I stated:

 One of the key features of my ongoing theory is the notion that every coherent narrative, even if it contains elements of all four of Northrop Frye's mythoi, only one of the mythoi dominates the narrative.... I find it interesting that even though Frye does not invoke Jung's four psychological functions (sensation, intuition, thinking, feeling), Frye's "logic of dominance" (my term) mirrors the logic Jung uses to assert that only one of the psychological functions can be dominant when it is in a "conscious" state. 

The same logic pertains to the potentialities. In FOUR BY FOUR I used Dave Sim's CEREBUS as an example of a work dominated by the potentiality of "the didactic." (And though I've never stated it outright, its overall structure conforms to the mythos of the Fryean irony.) The same "logic of dominance" pertains to both. CEREBUS contains elements characteristic of the drama, the comedy, and the adventure, but overall the elements of the irony dominate. And like all works that are primarily about "thinking," its potentiality is dominated by the didactic. Elements of the kinetic, the dramatic and the mythopoeic are all present, but they don't inform what Frye would call the "total vision" of the work.

Now, since Sim was a superlative (if problematic) artist, even the "inferior potentialities" are generally well executed, even if they are "side dishes" to the main entree. So in none of my four categories do I consider Sim's work "inconsummate."  In contrast, if a work seeks to craft even a side dish, and does so in an unsatisfactory manner, then the work is inconsummate with respect to that potentiality. For instance, in this essay I judged that Mark Millar's WANTED fails in the domain of the dramatic. Dramatic relations are certainly not the focus of WANTED, but since Millar fails in this department as much as he does in the centric area of WANTED-- that is, the sensation-oriented "kinetic"-- then in these two areas the work is inconsummate.

Similarly, Millar botches any mythopoeic elements that might have been inherent in his proposition that "this is what happens when the villains win." So WANTED is inconsummate with respect to those three potentialities.

But is it fair to view WANTED as having failed in the domain of the didactic? Millar isn't really dealing with abstract ideas at all; he doesn't even bother to lend any intellectual rationalizations to the characters' actions. I would probably judge the potentiality of the didactic to be inconsummate as well, but in a different way than the others. It's not so much "tried to run the marathon and failed to complete it" as "didn't even show up at the starting-post."

ADDENDA: I should add that it's certainly possible for an author to use one of his non-centric potentialities in a minimal fashion, yet still prove satisfying and thus "consummate" with respect to that potentiality. Spielberg's RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, like Millar's WANTED, is primarily intended to evoke the audience's thrill in pure kineticism, and so like WANTED, the other three potentialities are all used to a lesser extent. Yet whereas WANTED fails to support its extravagance with any hint of abstract concepts, RAIDERS evokes didactic concepts-- like modern man's indebtedness to ancient history-- to a degree which is satisfying even though it remains even more minimal than the film's dramatic and mythopoeic components.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


Not the artist alone but every creative individual whatsoever owes all that is greatest in his life to fantasy. The dynamic principle of fantasy is play, a characteristic also of the child, and as such it appears inconsistent with the principle of serious work. But without this playing with fantasy no creative work has ever yet come to birth. The debt we owe to the play of imagination is incalculable." (Jung, PSYCHOLOGICAL TYPES, 1921, page 63.)
I regard sensation as conscious, and intuition as unconscious, perception. For me sensation and intuition represent a pair of opposites, or two mutually compensating functions, like thinking and feeling. Thinking and feeling as independent functions are developed, both ontogenetically and phylogenetically, from sensation (and equally, of course from intuition as the necessary counterpart of sensation).-- more Jung.

In the third essay of the series THE ONLY DEFINITION OF ART YOU'LL EVER NEED, I started from Jung's proposition that art should be fundamentally defined as "play," but that so-called "serious art" and "escapist art" respectively would have to be separated out as "play for work's sake" and "play for play's sake."

From this secondary proposition I articulated, in JOINED AT THE TRIP PT. 4, a schema for assigning merit to each of these art-modes. By the design of this schema, both "good serious art" and "mediocre serious art" would be equal in terms of being "play for work's sake," that is, the narratives of serous art are designed so that the author can put forth some sort of ethical or moral argument. Yet, perhaps paradoxically, I stated that the superior "serious narrative" was one which successfully incorporated elements of play into its "work-oriented" theme. William Faulkner's LIGHT IN AUGUST possessed a "work-oriented" theme comparable to that of J.M. Coetzee's DISGRACE, but Faulkner's novel succeeds on more than one level because the author allowed some elements of play to leaven his serious theme.

Similarly, I stated that even though both Mitchell's GONE WITH THE WIND and Dixon's CLANSMAN were escapist works, ruled by the principle of "play for play's sake," of imagining the world as one might like it to be rather than as it is. Of these two works, Mitchell's was superior because I could discern that she had incorporated elements of work into a "play-oriented theme." I viewed the verisimilitude that Mitchell conferred on her character-types to be one such element of work, and as such one that seems to have been deficient in THE CLANSMAN, though I admitted that I made this judgment purely from viewing the D.W. Griffith film.

But what, a hostile critic might ask, does it really mean to speak of "elements of play" and "elements of work?"

Just as I endorse Jung's opinion with regard to the "dynamic principle" underlying all creative work, the father of depth psychology also provides the answer to this question.

Not mentioned in the second Jung-quote above is that Jung also divided his four functions into two distinct categories: "the irrational," sensation and intuition, in that no rational meditation is needed for them, and "the rational," thinking and feeling, which both require what Jung calls "reflection."

Given my endorsement of these divisions of the human psyche, I found myself applying these to literary qualities.  In a rough way I was influenced by Gerald Mast's 1984 work of cinema-theory, FILM/CINEMA/MOVIE, in which he argued for evaluating films in terms of both "the mimetic" (the film's ability to reproduce verisimilitude) and "the kinetic" (the film's ability to make the audience feel sensations within their imagined experience). So far as I know Mast's theory was not followed up by later film-critics, and I may be the only one to do so, even though I thoroughly re-interpreted his duality into a quaternity of what I called "potentialities," as stated in FOUR BY FOUR:

The KINETIC is a potentiality that describes the relationships of sensations.
The DRAMATIC is a potentiality that describes the relationships of discrete personalities.
The THEMATIC is a potentiality that can describe the relationships of abstract ideas.
The MYTHOPOEIC is a potentiality that may describe the relationships of symbols.
(I will henceforth substitute a new name, "the DIDACTIC," to replace "THEMATIC," which word is too easily confused with its more commonplace literary usage.)

I also cited two very brief examples as to how given works in the comics medium might emphasize one or another of the Jungian functions/ Phillipsian potentialities, with a concomitant de-emphasis of the others:

I might attempt to use Jung's function-terms to assert that Dave Sim's cerebral CEREBUS privileges the function of "thinking" more than any other, and that Frank Miller's SIN CITY privileges the function of "sensation." But though it's easy to make such an assertion, it's less easy to demonstrate its truth through textual examples.

I don't plan at this time to develop the theory of the four potentialities, since it's difficult to isolate the operations of each function from the others. But my hypothetical answer to my hypothetical hostile critic would be:

"The elements of play" are those that invoke the irrational kinetic and mythopoeic potentialities of the narrative.

"The elements of work" are those that invoke the rational thinking and feeling potentialities of the narrative.

Again, to a hostile critic, these refinements would still not resonate, but to pursue the concept further, I'll return to the examples cited in JOINED AT THE TRIP PT. 4.

What "realistic" elements are held in common by LIGHT IN AUGUST and DISGRACE?  Both novels are organized around scapegoat-characters. In the Faulkner novel, the character is Joe Christmas, a man who may or may not be half-black, who becomes the lightning-rod for white-black relations in 1930s Mississippi. The same is the case for the Coetzee novel, where the character David Lurie, a white man in South Africa, generates a white-black conflict based in the heritage of European imperialism. Neither novel emphasizes the irrational function of sensation, and so their potentiality for the *kinetic* is mutually nugatory. However, Faulkner's comprehension of the mythopoeic relationships of his narrative far exceed those of Coetzee.

What "escapist" elements are held in common by GONE WITH THE WIND and THE CLANSMAN? Both novels are organized around the sufferings of a community, oppressed by the liberation of slaves in the Deep South. That greater community is boiled down to the sufferings of a particular white family: the O'Haras in the Mitchell narrative, the Stonemans in the Dixon narrative. In both novels one solution to the South's oppression is the formation of a vigilante group, the Ku Klux Klan, though this solution is the main thrust of Dixon and a side-plot in Mitchell. Neither novel is strong on the "abstract ideas" necessary to support the rational function of thinking, and so their potentiality for the *didactic* is mutually nugatory. However, Mitchell's narrative finds its strength in the potentiality of "feeling," given that it manages to conjure forth a rich tapestry of character interactions, an arena in which Dixon's story cannot compete.

All four of these examples, of course, depend on one's having read the novels. In the coming months it may be possible to provide more extended applications of this theory-- a conflation of the work-play dichotomy and the four potentialities-- to media-works that are, at very least, easier to assimilate.

Monday, May 11, 2015


PROFILING: The use of personal characteristics or behavior patterns to make generalizations about a person, as in gender profiling.-- Dictionary.com

The title of this essay references a work that is no longer well known, and which I myself never read: John F. Kennedy's 1957 non-fiction work PROFILES IN COURAGE. My title thus may be a forced pun in that it must be explained. Still, the sentiment behind the title best describes my revulsion at the lack of courage evident in Aaron Kashtan's essay "The End of Comic Geeks," in that he resorts to profiling the only group a psuedo-intellectual can easily get away with attacking: what the author calls"straight white males."

Kashtan begins by accepting a stereotype of comics fandom that he fails to prove, but accepts as a given, just as a hardline conservative would accept that all welfare recipients are sponges:

In comics, for example, the comics industry has a notorious history of excluding women and younger readers - and there is a persistent and largely accurate stereotype of the comic book store as a man cave. 

Naturally Kashtan has no interest in the proximate causes behind the purported market-dominance of straight white males (henceforth SWMs). A halfway-intelligent critic would have noted that comic books of the post-direct market phase became concentrated upon superheroes because only superhero fans were significantly loyal to the medium. Once the mass-distribution venues for commercial comics died out, most readers of all the other genres-- particularly the romance comics that once attracted a large audience of "browsing" readers-- simply sought their entertainment in other media. But for a critic like Kashtan, the only thing that matters is the verboten attempt of the SWMs to build a "man cave" that excludes women. I'm convinced that this is the real sin of the SWMs in Kashtan's eyes, for though he mentions "younger readers" in the above quote, his only proofs of the SWM's retrograde behavior are both focused on the maltreatment of women, real or imaginary. Nothing more is said about the marginalization of younger readers, though it would seem obvious to anyone with a non-childish mind that this too came about because publishers were seeking an audience with a dependable income-- in contrast to the "younger readers" who largely deserted the comics medium even before the medium lost its mass distributiion venues.

There follows a summary of alleged SWMs on the rampage in the worlds of gamer culture and science fiction, Kashtan seeks to find in comics a comparable "backlash from white men who are afraid of losing their dominant position."

Kashtan gets very slight points for admitting that comics fandom has not experienced any backlashes as "drastic" as those of science fiction fandom and gamer culture-- though I've had my reservations about the latter.  However, since his case would be non-existent without some examples, Kashtan comes up with a couple, both of which I consider nugatory.

The second-cited of the two is the Janelle Asselin fracas, on which I've commented in detail already here. The first-cited is even less impressive, in that Kashtan provides a dumbed-down version of the controversy over the Rafael Albuquerque cover to BATGIRL #41. As most fans know, the artist pulled the cover from DC Comics-- which makes me wonder if he got paid a "kill fee" for his work-- because he didn't want to be a lightning-rod for the controversy, "whether the discussion is right or wrong." There is, in Kashtan's world, no possibility that those fans who campaigned for DC to go ahead and use the cover might have been concerned with artistic freedom in the face of political pressure. In Kashtan's world, where it's fair to profile SWMs but nobody else, this brand of advocacy can only be "fanboy backlash," devoted to keeping the medium "as the private property of men."

Note that at this point Kashtan isn't invoking his demon "straight white males," but only "straight males." I suppose that any objection to attacks on white people will be deemed as a defense of "white privilege" by superficial ultraliberals, but it ought to be deemed as a corrective to the ultraliberals' excessive and illogical arguments. As I stated before, I have no problem with the hypothesis that most or all of the respondents to Asselin's survey were probably straight males, although of course females may also make violent threats, as we've seen from the Whedon-tweet affair. (Significantly, while Joss Whedon has denied that the threats were the reason he left Twitter, he also specified "I have been attacked by militant feminists since I got on Twitter.") Still, as I mentioned in a previous essay, there is absolutely no way to know, in the absence of any arrests and identifications, that any of the persons threatening Janelle Asselin were white. This is a convenient fiction found in Kashtan and many other HU writers, whose idea of promoting inclusiveness is to resort to unjustified and unprovable racial profiling.

Another good one, HU. I'm sure this won't be the last of your bird-brained efforts at prosecuting the "war for social justice."


I won't go into a lot of detail excoriating the idiocies of the hardline feminists who allegedly chased Joss Whedon off Twitter. However, here's a refutation of these clowns that I wrote for the Classic Comics Forum:


I have a view contrary to [what some critics have called] the Smurfette Principle. 

The first is that, to some extent, the two AVENGERS film are victim to the same problem that dogged the earliest issues of the comic book: what do you do when you've got a group with at least four heavy-hitting heroes? We don't know exactly why Stan Lee chose to dispense with the heavy-hitters and try to sell the title with "Cap's Kooky Quartet." But since Lee's bottom line was always to sell more books, I'd speculate that he knew he couldn't really exploit the Marvel Approach to Character Conflict by using the team-up schema that worked so well for DC. Therefore Thor, Hulk and Iron Man were cast out to allow for more latitude in character-conflict, and for a time the group's biggest hitter was Giant-Man/Goliath, who didn't have his own feature any more and so could enjoy all of his dramatic arcs within the sphere of the AVENGERS comic. 

Unlike Lee, Whedon didn't have a choice: the AVENGERS movie-franchise was always meant to follow the pattern of DC's Justice League, exploiting the big-name heroes in both their own features and as part of a group.  So Whedon had to include Thor, Hulk, Iron Man, and Captain America (who's not precisely a heavy-hitter but does have an impregnable shield). Hawkeye and Black Widow were spotlighted in their first appearances through connections with SHIELD. They would eventually provide, within the AVENGERS film-franchise, a contrast to all the top-level super-powers, in that Hawkeye and the Widow were closer to ordinary mortals. This is pretty much the same function that "low-powered" heroes like Hawkeye and the Wasp served in the AVENGERS comic-- or, if you prefer a LEGION parallel, Bouncing Boy and Dream Girl.

So if you've got a team of super-gods for which you, the writer, have to provide a credible challenge, you can't take time out to figure, "now how can I come up with something for non-powered Black Widow to do, that allows her to shine?" A single story in a comic can give a low-powered hero a featured position while the big stars are sidelined. A high-FX film like ULTRON can't do that; the low-powered heroes, both Hawkeye and Black Widow were never going to get featured positions. 

And that's why I become so torqued off at people like Whedon's critics. They're not thinking about whether what they want is do-able within a particular context; they JUST WANT IT.

Now if the group had written in She-Hulk and given her nothing to do-- that would be the Smurfette Principle.

Thursday, May 7, 2015


One more quick observation on the subject mentioned in my last post:

It occurs to wonder, why would NB be so intemperate about an offhand post that did not directly assail the pro-feminist beliefs of the essay under discussion. My post on the subject of the Asselin-CBR imbroglio wasn't even a matter of playing devil's advocate. It was on the level of "crossing a T" with respect to the reportage of factual news.

Yet, in a thread referenced here, I made copious direct comments in express opposition to another poster's ultraliberal views on race, as well as those of NB himself, and NB never threatened me with deletion.

I theorize that NB's attitude re: feminism is rooted in the "Sir Walter Reflex," a reflex that comes into play only when a male debater thinks that he is acting in the defense of womanhood.

I didn't name the reflex, but I witnessed it before while responding to another "hit-and-run" excuse for a critic, Chicken Colin. In his Sequart hatchet job on one of my essays, he tried to claim, falsely, that Kelly Thompson didn't need him to defend her. Yet when Thompson chose not to engage me in prolonged debate, the Chicken attacked my analysis of Thompson's essay in terms that were, like NB's, oriented on painting me as a male chauvinist.

The only thing that separates NB and CC is that even though both are equally oriented on defending womankind from the Evil Chauvinists, NB at least engaged me a few more times than the utterly cowardly Chicken.

I won't even get into the extent to which the views of Dave Sim-- as incoherent as they were-- were assailed not for their incoherence but for their failure to support an unquestioned ultraliberal narrative.


Yes, it's time for another round of that overly familiar game show, "Someone on the Internet is Wrong."

Don't get me wrong: I support free speech, no matter what sort of ultraconservative or ultraliberal tripe it may produce. The tripe this week comes from my most frequent source of the ultraliberal variety, Noah Berlatsky. I'm sure that this won't be the last time he spins some web of ragged logic for me to rip apart on this blog. However, this week will almost certainly be the last time I'll say anything on his blog, for which small favor I'm sure he'll be grateful beyond all words-- or rather, all deletions.

I've tried to minimize comments on Berlatsky's blog because, as I said recently, there's never any genuine discussion there, just endless citations of the "right" way of political thinking.  Given the mindset of the blog's owner and his contributors, I made my infrequent posts there not for any profit--  I knew I wouldn't get many persons from that community checking out my blog, and even if I had, I don't participate in Googlebucks or whatever it's called anyway. I just did it to furnish myself with subjects on which to expatiate here. Usually I've dealt with impersonal critical principles, but this time-- it's personal.

Well, personal and boring, even to me. But needs must when the devil drives, etc.

So the other day I scanned a HU essay with an apocalyptic title, "The End of Comic Geeks?", by one Aaron Kashtan. I didn't read it in depth, though I soon encountered the phrase "straight white men," a standard trope in the diatribes of over-politicized, and therefore bad, critics. I had no thought of engaging with Kashtan or his editor on this particular article of faith.

I did, however, notice one item in Kashtan's essay that was presented as yet another "article of faith," though it actually should be governed by "burden of proof," and it regards the Janelle Asselin Imbroglio from April of last year. Kashtan first referenced the TEEN TITANS review with which the incident began:

Asselin was hardly saying anything controversial here. It’s pretty obvious that this cover is not only terrible but also misogynistic. And yet just for pointing out this obvious fact, she was not only criticized but threatened with rape. At the same time that she published the article, she released a survey on sexual harassment in the comics industry, which is also a significant problem, and some unfortunate trolls discovered this survey and filled it in by posting rape threats against Asselin. According to CBR proprietor Jonah Weiland, “These same “fans” found her e-mail, home address and other personal information, and used it to harass and terrorize her, including an attempted hacking of her bank account.” And according to Jonah, many of the fans in question were regular participants on the comicbookresources.com message boards

I had commented on the matter myself more than once. particularly in the essay DANCING ON THE DWARF.  In that essay I expressed my reservations about the Internet news-community having reported Wieland's allegations as fact. These allegations imply that Wieland had indubitable information on the identity of these fans, which, if true, should have led to the arrest and prosecution of said fans. I was not able to find any evidence of such an investigation except for what Asselin wrote about her unsuccessful attempts to get the law or her bank to trace the culprits. My DANCING blogpost still contains a viable link to that Asselin post, in which she describes her reasons for believing that all of her persecutors were comics-fans; evidence which I hope any jury would deem circumstantial. I chose to point that out to Kashtan and the readers of the Hooded Utilitarian.

Did I rant and rave to the HU readers that they were mindless dupes of a FemiNazi hoax? Hardly. I confined myself to making a very mild objection to reporting Wieland's allegations as unvarnished fact.

Though you [Kashtan] have quoted as printed Jonah Wieland’s view that CBR fans attempted to hack Janelle Asselin’s account, it should be noted that this was not decisively proven. This was not for Asselin’s lack of trying, but unless she’s written something new about the matter, I understood that in her last word on the subject amounted to circumstantial evidence. I print this excerpt from my blogpost on the subject, which mentions the title of the only related Asselin post of which I’m aware.“This Janelle Asselin blogpost, entitled “An Explanation No One is Owed,” clarifies that Asselin (a) was unable to interest the FBI in the investigation of the rape threats that appeared on her online survey, and (b) had only circumstantial– though not improbable– evidence that one or more of her harassers had been complicit in the attempt on her bank account."

Here is Noah Berlatsky's response, delivered as if it were a general statement of his personal priorities. Since no one else on the thread has demurred against any aspect of Kashtan's pro-feminist narrative, it's clearly directed at me, though Berlatsky did not have the stones to address me.

You know, on second thought, there’s no particular reason to tolerate extended MRA nattering by random passersby on this thread. So…yeah, I’ll just delete that stuff. Fair warning. 

Berlatsky clearly chose this tack to discourage engagement, not just in the sense of a direct argument but in any continued postings. As soon as any administrator shakes the "delete" club, it's axiomatic that he would rather have the source of disturbance just go away entirely. Berlatsky is so eager to have this happen that he not only describes a mere two paragraphs as "extended," he decides to label me as "MRA." This abbreviation can mean either "Men's Right Activists" or "Men Run Amok" (the latter may or may not have evolved from the former). There's no knowing what NB really meant, given his history of posturing, but to be charitable, let's say the former was intended.

To "natter" is to jabber about unimportant matters. One would have to deduce from this that NB does not regard as important the question as to whether Jonah Wieland's allegations have any hard evidence to back them up. To be concerned with such niceties, it seems, gets in the way of the pro-feminist narrative that NB has put forth in roughly the same terms as those of Kashtan. Therefore, any counter-narrative must be the work of someone trying to protect the image of men from the complaints of women.

I'm sure that if NB read my blog, he'd manage to seize on something that he considered proof of this
opinion. But it takes a major mental leap to take the statement that Wieland's assertions lack hard evidence, and turn it into a defense of innocent fans-who-think-it's-funny-to-make-rape-threats.

This, of course, I have not done. In the above essay I referred to them as "scumbags" and expressed no doubt that comics-fans had assailed Asselin's online questionnaire about the comics-industry, since no one but comics-fans would have any interest in such a survey. But despite Asselin's circumstantial evidence, there are a lot of illegal hackers out there who routinely seek to break into bank accounts, and that fact should be out there, even if it does weaken the desired narrative.

So it's not about "men's rights;" it's about "burden of proof." Kashtan could have written roughly the same thing about the rape threats on the survey, and I would have said nothing. I would have liked to have pointed out that there would still be no evidence that all of the perpetrators are necessarily "straight white men," that Black and Latino men have their own history of woman-bashing. But I probably would not have bothered to point that out to someone who invokes the scapegoat of "straight white men" in such facile terms.

NB's response is a masterpiece of doublethink; of seeing what he wants to see. In ultraconservative terms, it ranks with the petty furor of people who don't like to hear "Happy Holidays" usurp "Merry Christmas."

So, assuming that NB keeps his word to delete any post of mine that he finds objectionable, here's my farewell post to HU-- always assuming that it will be deleted as promised.

Well, since no one would make such an absurd post without intending to use it as an excuse to get rid of an unpopular poster, I take Noah's dubious word that what I now post will be read only by him, and will be gone by morning.
Yes, Noah, it's your blog, so if you want to say that the sun rises in the west, or a statement about a lack of hard evidence constitutes a defense of Men's Rights, then you can make those definitions. They're chickenshit definitions, and it's a chickenshit way to justify getting rid of someone who disagrees with you, but you have every right to be chickenshit.
Kashtan, same to you. 
ADDENDUM: As of 6/9/15 Noah Berlatsky has stated that the "MRA nattering" remark was not directed at me, but at a poster who had been deleted. This does not invalidate all of the rhetoric regarding Kashtan's essay and other related matters, but I acknowledge that I may have been somewhat precipitate in my response.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015


To sum up the arguments for the previous three installments, with an eye toward concluding this line of thought:

In Part 1, I asserted that one might view the manifestations of sex and violence within fiction as sources of 'violence" that served to propel and thus create the narrative. This extra-diegetical "violence" is the one referenced in the title of the essay-series, and I probably should have given it another name, to distinguish it from diegetical violence-- perhaps "disruption," in line with the Frank Cioffi quote cited in Part 1.

In Part 2, I chose to explore the real-world alignment of sex and violence with the proclivities of, respectively, the females and males of the human species, as dictated by biological development.  Yet I specified that biology did not entirely define destiny; that it was possible for either real-world sex to perform a bouleversement with regard to dominant proclivities, a turnabout which would be the subject of Part 3.

In Part 3, I referenced an earlier essay-series in which I had investigated a similar bouleversement in the works of two of the philosophers who have influenced me. I did this in order to keep this line of thought distinct from my own meditations on a parallel turnabout, formulated by me alone, though other critics have certainly discussed similar archetypal figures, notably Camille Paglia. I termed these archetypes after a couple of their appearances in Greek myth: "Adonis, the Loving Man" and "Athena, the Fighting Woman." I then digressed to the subject of assigning merit to these-- or any-- archetypes when they appeared in fiction. This was the point at which I attempted to elucidate a meaning for the "sacred and profane" in my title, which, when extended from its Durkheimian definition into the realm of fiction, translates to something more like "widely significant and not very significant." This line of thought will be expanded on in a separate essay. I concluded the essay by stating that I would explore the "two turnabout archetypes" in terms of the ways they enhance the Bataillean concept of "narrative violence," henceforth "disruption," the specific source of the narrative's conflict, which as specified here may manifest in the mode of the dynamic or the mode of the combinatory. Since I've already critiqued several individual comics-stories for my "1001 myths"series, I'll draw upon two of those for my examples.

This essay on NEW MUTANTS #62 is one of the few occasions on which I dealt with a figure that conforms to the Adonis archetype. This character is the semi-villainous character of Manuel, who in this story forms a romantic connection of sorts with the character of Amara, one of the featured members of the titular group. "To Build a Fire" is a two-character story, dealing with the way in which Amara and Manuel attempt to survive in the Amazon rainforest. I noted in my analysis that Manuel's psychic persuasion-powers were "stereotypically female," while Amara's power-- the ability to manifest volcanic flames-- is far more potent. There is a conflict of dynamicity present, in that both teens are in danger from the jungle's denizens-- a signal irony, since Amara wants to preserve the jungle, refusing to use her power to create a signal-fire (hence the title). However, the primary conflict is of a combinatory nature, in that it deals with the "war between men and women," and the suspense is not so much "will the two teens survive" as it is "will they make sense of their feelings about one another?" In contrast to Amara, who possesses a kick-ass "male" power, Manuel's only influence over Amara is his male charm, enhanced by his mutant power-- though Manuel fits the Adonis mold in that he's strikingly handsome. He verges away from the male superhero mold in that he frequently evinces cowardice and selfishness, but this reversal is precisely what the story needs to bring forth Amara's own growth of consciousness.

For the archetype of the Fighting Woman, I cite this essay on RED SONJA #1 from-1977. This story takes particular interest for its inversion of the folkloric opposition of "the virgin and the unicorn," which in its usual telling claims that a wild unicorn will lose its wildness in the presence of a true virgin, and will lay its horned head in the virgin's lap. The SONJA story deals with a deep soul-bond between a unicorn and the titular swordswoman Red Sonja, who is not a virgin but has chosen to preserve her sexuality as if she were. She's also a swordswoman specifically because she was raped by men, which is an action that the story's villain Andar wishes to commit, in a figurative sense, upon her friend the unicorn. In this narrative the elements of the combinatory are certainly present, given that it belongs to the freewheeling genre of sword-and-sorcery fantasy. However, the archetype of this version of "Athena, Fighting Woman" is dominantly involved in a conflict of dynamicity: Sonja and her magical horse-friend against the depredations of a character whose name suggests a Greek word for "male."

Obviously, since I defined both stories as possessing a high mythicity, both of these stories would meet my criteria for being "consummate." I have not yet decided whether or not I'll try to come up with similar stories which would show these archetypes in an "inconsummate" form. Such stories would be by definition forgettable, and the only good reason to describe them would be to rail at their faults. So I may elect to allow this early CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN story to remain my go-to example of the inconsummate.


Just a quick note on matters diegetical and extra-diegetical:

I've repeatedly referred to fictional manifestations of "sex and violence" as "affects" because that's what they are in an extra-diegetical sense. For the audience of a given narrative, they are narrative events that are meant to generate strong, if purely gestural, emotions in that audience.

WITHIN the narrative, however, these manifestations are not only not "fictional," they are activities that function diegetically as instrumentalities, as per this definition:

a thing that serves as an instrument or means to an end

More on this later, possibly.

Monday, May 4, 2015


In the WHAT WOMEN WILL essay-series-- which I referenced in Part 2 of this series-- I chose to focus upon two cultural and fictional archetypes, the Compassionate Man and the Barbarous Woman. These archetypes, whose appeal derives from their reversal of default characterizations of males and females, were directly derived from the works of the two 19th-century philosophers most associated with the concept of "the will:" Schopenhauer and Nietzsche.

Here, though, I'm concerned with following through the logic established in Nietzsche's assignment of the attributes of males and females as "will" and "willingness"-- which I in turn translated to the statement that the dominant attribute of males is violence, while that of females is sex. The Barbarous Woman, as represented by myth-figures like Athena and Ishtar, still applies to this dichotomy. However, the Compassionate Man-- represented by wise, caregiver-males like Osiris and Ea-- does not epitomize the male as a sexual being, though arguably both this archetype, and the substitute I'll shortly discuss, both depend on what Frank Herbert called "the force that gives" (see the WOMEN WILL series for details).

The turnabout myth-figure here would be rather "man, the lover," but it would have to be a type distanced from the notion of man as a dispenser of violence. In other words, though mythic and fictional characters ranging from Gilgamesh, Heracles, Don Juan and James Bond are known for scoring in epic proportions, their success with women is strongly predicated on the males' ability to fight. "Man the lover" would be represented by types like Adonis, Paris (despised in THE ILIAD for being only a "warrior between the sheets," or words to that effect), and the title character of the 1977 French film THE MAN WHO LOVED WOMEN (but not the ghastly 1983 American remake of said film by Blake Edwards).

So, for the purpose of this discussion, the archetypes that most fundamentally reverse the standard attributes of males and females are "Adonis, Loving Man" and "Athena, Fighting Woman." Both archetypes, despite going against the expected grain, sustained religious roles in archaic Greece and indubitably appeared in many, if not all, human cultures to some degree. And since one can also say this of the default gender-roles, then all four types have been "sacred" at some time or other-- which is my way of finally working back to the title of this essay-series.

At the same time, they have all had "profane" manifestations as well, if one accepts Durkheim's concept of the sacred and profane: that the former is devoted to the concerns of the group while the latter revolves around the concerns of individuals. Of course when dealing with figures from fiction, where one does not assume the unquestioned reality of supernormal personages, "sacred" and "profane" would assume a different meaning.

It would not depend on the fictional figure being actually popular with a large group of people, any more than sacredness in religious myth depends on this factor. for as I pointed out here, some figures of religious myth are clearly directed at "small enclaves or sub-societies."

More promisingly, I would say that for fiction the closest parallel between "sacred" and "profane" is the dichotomy proposed by Susanne Langer, which I in my turn have tweaked for my own uses. In fiction, to be "sacred" is to be consummate, in that the narrative's symbolic discourse has succeeded in promulgating some discernible meaning. In contrast, narratives that do not succeed in promulgating meaning through symbolic discourse would be profane in that their potential meaning is not activated, and is thus both profane and inconsummate.

In Part 4 I'll explore the two "turnabout archetypes" in terms of their relevance to Bataille's concept of "narrative violence" as referenced in Part 1.

Saturday, May 2, 2015


Will and Willingness. —Some one brought a
youth to a wise man, and said, " See, this is one
who is being corrupted by women!" The wise
man shook his head and smiled. " It is men," he
called out, "who corrupt women; and everything
that women lack should be atoned for and improved
in men,— for man creates for himself the ideal of
woman, and woman moulds herself according to
this ideal."—" You are too tender-hearted towards
women," said one of the bystanders, " you do not
know them ! " The wise man answered : " Man's
attribute is will, woman's attribute is willingness,—
such is the law of the sexes, verily 1 a hard law for
woman ! All human beings are innocent of their
existence, women, however, are doubly innocent;
who could have enough of salve and gentleness for
them ! "—"What about salve ! What about gentle-
ness ! " called out another person in the crowd, " we
must educate women better ! "— " We must educate
men better," said the wise man, and made a sign
to the youth to follow him.— The youth, however,
did not follow him. -- Nietzsche, THE GAY SCIENCE.

My re-interpretation of Nietzsche's "will and willingness" would not quite fall into the trap of viewing men as entirely active and women as entirely passive. Yet Nietzsche's dichotomy does apply in a more specific biological sense: male humans are biologically positioned to specialize in violence (a rough analogue to Nietzsche's "will") , and female humans are biological positioned to specialize in sexuality (an analogue to "willingness," up to a point).

I specify "humans" here since my main concern is human expression of its own propensities and limitations. Yet the biology doesn't start with human beings, but applies to the majority of humankind's nearest simian relations. With some exceptions, the so-called "great apes" follow the example set by a majority of birds and other mammals in that most male apes possess greater size, about 25 percent larger than the females. This gives the biggest ones a generally greater capacity for imposing their will, either on females or on other males. Meanwhile our nearest DNA-relations, the common chimpanzees, seem to have stolen a march on their earlier relatives by becoming experts in sexual promiscuity, in a "willingness" to indulge in sex for purposes not entirely defined by procreation. (Their relatives, the so-called "bonobo" or "pygmy chimps," go even farther, as noted here.)

Classical evolution's explanation for such modifications is that they just happened, either by random gene selection or equally random mutation, and were then preserved because they proved useful, or at least not a hindrance, either to immediate survival of the organism or general survival of its species. I've touched on the evolutionary theories of Stuart A. Kauffman in a four-part essay series, beginning here, which suggest that there may an element of "choice" in such modifications, perhaps one rooted in the quantum mechanics rather than classical physics. On this basis I would suggest that some modifications may not be entirely random: that they are prompted by a species' need for that modification, even though the species cannot cognitively know how to articulate that need before it is fulfilled, nor can they keep the modification from having all manner of unanticipated consequences.

If there is any truth to the idea of a "non-conscious modification," then male animals' acquisition of greater size and physical strength is a direct consequence of the males' desire to achieve dominance, both over other males and over females. This would be the logical counterpart of a theory that is taken much more seriously by evolutionary biologists: that "woman made herself." To be sure this theory is only applied to human females: to my knowledge there is no consensus that female primates were responsible for the intensification of their species' sexual nature. However, as far as I know all biologists credence the notion that at some point the human female perfected what Lynn Margulies called an "anatomy of deception"-- banishing outward signs of estrus, which in my opinion would have preceded the actual cessation of estrus. There is no universally accepted theory as to how or why this occurred, though the most popular idea seems to be that the human female gained power by making herself more unpredictable-- that any male desirous of fathering progeny might have to devote more time and attention to a given female in order to be sure of producing said progeny.

While no one can prove, with the data beloved by empiricists, that "men are the masters of violence, and women the mistresses of sex." the dichotomy nevertheless informs the basis of much human culture, even if one need not quite view woman's "willingness" as being something as passive and "moulded according to an ideal" as Nietzsche does. Additionally, the dichotomy, while biologically and culturally dominant, is not determinative of the full range of male and female capacities. I have suggested the potential for a *bouleversment* of gender-roles in WHAT WOMEN WILL PT. 3, where I spoke of these reversed roles as "the Compassionate Man and the Barbarous Woman." While I don't renounce anything I said in that essay, for the purpose of further examining the role of sexuality and violence in fiction, I'll come at the same topic from a slightly different angle in Part 3.