Featured Post


This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Tuesday, October 6, 2015


The primordial image has one great advantage over the clarity of the idea, and that is its vitality. It is a self-activating organism, endowed with generative power. The primordial image is an inherited organization of psychic energy, an integrated system, which not only gives expression to the energic process but facilitates its operation.''-- Jung, PSYCHOLOGICAL TYPES, p.. 447.

I'm printing this Jung-quote less than a month after my previous use of it, because I think Jung hit on exactly the distinctions between what I'm now calling the "underthought" (the domain of image and metaphor) and "overthought" (the domain of dialectical ideation). The two are distinct in their operations, and yet, as Jung and others have asserted, they tend to be interdependent as well. It's possible to create a somewhat engaging narrative in which one of the four potentialities reaches consummation-- Ditko's "Static" serial, examined here, is my best example of a story which tries to be about nothing but ideas-- but I believe that Ditko's "overthought" in that case would have been much improved had he allowed his imagination to range a little further, as I think it did in the story "Destroyer of Heroes," which still pursued similar dialectical themes of personal responsibility,

Jung implies that overthought and underthought (as I'm calling these abstract operations) are mutually dependent. That's an attractive notion, but I prefer just to say that they TEND to be interdependent, and then only in narrative. Certainly artists can produce phantasmagorical images that are entrancing for their own sake, without any input of conscious ideas, as one derives from surrealists like Yves Tanguy--

-- though many art-critics will generally prefer their images interlaced with idea-content, as in this Picasso.

In narrative, the tendency is that ideas need a free flux of metaphorical images to give the ideational figures the semblance of life. At the same time, without the structuring principle of discursive ideas, a lot of metaphors tend to disperse into meaninglessness; an "inconsummate paegant faded," so to speak.

Of the various myth-comics I've cited so far, some are like fever-dreams that suggest yet do not fully elaborate some dialectical theme, such as Steve Gerber's "Tower of the Satyr."  The ideational content is slightly overwhelmed by the flux of metaphor, but it isn't non-existent, and can be teased out into the light of day with a little myth-critical amplification. In contrast, a few works, like the Ditko BLUE BEETLE tale cited above, seem to have highly intellectualized the flux of images. The Chichester-Johnson JIHAD is as rich in images as the Gerber work, but admittedly some were created by other authors (just as Marvel's Man-Thing was not created by Gerber), and even the ones original to the opus, like villains Alastor and Chalkis, have been subjected to a great deal of rational thought, in order to distinguish them from the other principal players of the Hellraiser-Nightbreed crossover.

The processes I've called "fever-dream" and "intellectualization" correspond to Jung's dual concepts of "directed thinking" and "fantasy thinking," which I discussed in more detail here. Too often, however, literary critics are, as Northrop Frye pointed out, overly attached to those forms of literature that present them with "imaginative allegories" about life, the universe and everything-- and the majority of comics-critics have followed this line of thinking as well.  Thus in the world of elitist criticism, a work with even a mediocre intellectual approach will win approval.

In my choice of myth-comic and null-myth this week, then, I'll pick examples of comics that have been esteemed across the board for their intellectual content. One of them, according to my lights, succeeds in finding a balance between overthought and underthought, while the other puts across only the most mediocre level of intellectual ideation as a result of the author's inability to consummate his potential for image and metaphor.

No comments: