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

Friday, December 9, 2016


At the end of one of Colin Wilson's books-- probably MYSTERIES, though I have not hauled it out to check-- I recall that he made a gender statement that would be utterly unacceptable with modern readers. Paraphrasing from memory, I believe that Wilson typified women as being "close-sighted" in that they tended to be concerned with immediate reality, while men tended to be "far-sighted," concerned with making long-range plans.

I would imagine that most people can think of examples in which this or that person does or does not conform to the generalization. I'm not interested in the gender statement as such, but only in the contrast of "close sight" and "far sight." These formulations, which are abstractions of the human eye's capacity for both types of visual perception, dovetail fairly well with my notions of the way the literary experience works for readers, as I noted here.

It may be that my revised versions of overthought and underthought will in future serve me as shortened forms for the respective effects that "the function of thinking" and "the function of intuition" have upon literary narrative.  I concluded in REFLECTIONS IN A MERCURIAL EYE PART 3   that both myth-critics and ideological critics were in a similar unenviable position as far as converting the majority of readers to pursue more abstract readings of texts. Most readers quite logically are concerned with lateral meaning, which takes in both "the function of sensation" and "the function of feeling"-- and in truth, the abstractions of both overthoughts and underthoughts are only possible when constructed on the foundation of concrete experience. 

Plainly, what I call a work's "lateral meaning," glossed with a combination of two of Jung's psychological functions, is confined to what sort of things happen to the story's characters (sensation) and how they feel about those developments (feeling). The function that Jung calls "intuition" finds expression through the author's sense of symbolic combinations, which provides the *underthought* of a given work, while the function of "thinking"finds expression through the author's efforts at discursive cogitation, which provides the work's *overthought.* It's possible for a work to be so simple that both its underthought and overthought amount to nothing more than cliched maxims, like "good must triumph over evil," but even the most incoherent work generally intends to engross the reader with some lateral meaning.

A further comparison of the two forms of "sightedness" extends to my terms of the two types of will in literature: "the idealizing will" and "the existential will," on which I descanted in the 2013 essay APES AND ANGELS:

First, "existential will" lines up with a focus upon immediate reality:

This will I'll term the "existential will," because it is a will to remain attached to all the affects that call up everyday sensory existence; our feeling of being inextricably a part of the physical world.

While "idealizing will" lines up, not so much with "long range plans," but with ideals that have a sweeping, long-range applicability to humankind as a whole, whether those ideals serve "good" or "evil:"

This will I'll term the "idealizing will," because it seems obvious to me that any "idea" to which a subject becomes emotionally attached becomes an "ideal."
By the power and glory of the transitive effect, then, a given work's lateral meaning may be said to incarnate the "existential will" of all of the characters combined, who are inextricably focused upon their own interests within the diegesis. The work's underthought and overthought, whatever their quality of expression, would then incarnate the "idealizing will" of the plot-action as a whole: that which often receives the cumbersome and inaccurate term of "the theme." I've tended to speak of the two types of will in identifying characters within the diegesis as being heroes, villains, monsters, or demiheroes. However, here I'm addressing the dual ways in which the reader interacts with the text: identifying with the characters' travails within the diegesis even as he may (sometimes) seek an extra-diegetical meaning to the entire narrative, and so the two types of will have a different function when applied to the possible reactions of the reader rather than the functions of the characters.

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