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

Wednesday, December 14, 2016


Before getting into the last of my current meditations on the nature of literary dread, it occurs to me that I ought to supply a definition for the term "superordinate," as used by Jung in his (translated) quote about "superordinate ideas"-- particularly since I've usually validated Jung's approach over that of Freud and his "physiological factors."

word that includes the meaning of more specific words. For example, “vehicle” is the superordinate of words such as “car” and “truck.”-- Macmillan Online.

In the passage I originally quoted,  Jung does not get into the standard contrasts between "the concrete" and "the abstract," but elsewhere he regarded Freud as a reductionist while his own approach depended on the "amplification" of meanings."Superordinate," then, means looking for an abstract formulation that designates a greater order within which a phenomenon fits, as opposed to finding a base phenomenon toward to which a phenomenon can be reduced.

Now, though I prefer Jung to Freud, the latter's focus on "physiological factors" can be stimulating, and the same applies to his followers, such as James Twitchell.

I came back to Twitchell because the other week I was meditating on the nature of the "threshhold experience" that takes place when a given trope is transformed from its naturalistic potential to an uncanny actuality. I've said many times that the various uncanny tropes, while being no less defined by causal coherence than their naturalistic kindred, manage to become "anti-intelligible," thus comprising a phenomenality midway between the naturalistic and the marvelous.

But what does it mean to become "anti-intelligible?" My meditations at the end of EFFICACY, MEET MYTH includes this observation:

....while I would still support this basic construction [of the "death-trap trope"], I would not emphasize the fact that the "death-trap" is "improbable," but that it is an extreme example of "literary artifice." That artifice would exist even in a story where a given trap was justified in some quasi-realistic context, and does exist even in Dickens' naturalistic version of a "birth-mystery plot." But even within the context of "myth as artifice," the concept of a "mythopoeic purpose" lying behind said artifice is still applicable, even after the concept of probability has gone down the tubes.
What the Batman death-trap and the Dickens "birth-mystery plot" have in common is not a presence or absence of probability or verisimilitude, but the fact that they call attention to their status as fictional creations, thanks to their having been so frequently used over the years. "Artifice," while not exactly a principle in itself, stands counter to "verisimilitude," which is dependent on the author's observations about the workings of the experiential world.

For whatever reason, while I was thinking about the nature of literary artifice-- which I do not deem to be identical to "myth," as Northrop Frye did-- I thought of James Twitchell's attempt to define his brand of "horror" as a set of Freudian tropes. In JUDGING DREAD PART 2 I quoted the author's association of horror with the idea of "creeping flesh," and thought something along the lines of, "If 'creeping flesh' is the ideal physiological factor that underlies Twitchell's summary concept of horror, what would be a 'superordinate idea' that might support a Jungian concept, not just of horror, but all forms of metaphenomenal literature, both uncanny and marvelous?"

Oddly, though Twitchell isn't that invested in semiology, he says:

The art of horror is the art of generating breakdown, where signified and signifier no longer can be kept separate-- p. 16.

This language-based metaphor describes not a physical interaction, but that of two abstractions of language, locked together in an eternal dance in which it's almost impossible to know one from the other. This is also the nature of both verisimilitude and artifice, since as Frye observed, literary narrative needs both.

Thus, when I say that Norman Bates is an uncanny psycho while Christopher Gill is a naturalistic one, I am saying that Norman's status as an artifice has assumed greater importance than his potential verisimilitude, and that this sense of artifice-- apart from how much *mythicity* he may incarnate-- is what makes him "anti-intelligible," more "signified" than "signifier."

More on these matters later, possibly.

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