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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...

Thursday, January 12, 2017


The long-term applicability of the concept of the artifice-mode is that it finally allows me to formulate a solid rationale for all of my declarations that such-and-such a character was "larger than life," like this one from my review of EYES OF A STRANGER:

EYES debuted in theaters at a time when psycho-slasher films were still in ascendance, but this film's killer has little in common with the more colorful fiends of the period: he isn't deformed, wears no distinctive mask or clothing, and uses no special gimmicks or bizarre methods to commit his murders-- all in spite of the fact that one of the writers credited with the EYES screenplay also worked on the seminal 1980 FRIDAY THE 13TH.  Nevertheless, for all the naturalistic touches here, the script does give the villain a larger-than-life quality that confers a sense of dread to the proceedings.

I later contrasted this psycho-film with NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY, where I said of the killer-- who does have a minor "gimmick" in his ability to disguise himself--

Gill proves a far more more consummate actor than Kate, for his gimmick is to assume various disguises in order to get the older women to let him into their apartments, whereupon he kills them. Yet, despite this disguise-skill, Gill never inspires the "dread" that I look for in uncanny psychos, even of the mundane sort that appears in EYES OF A STRANGER. Everything about Gill, as well as his functional double Brummer, is easily explained by Freud's emphasis upon "physiological concepts," as Jung termed them.

But "physiological concepts" are just a specific example of the 1968 film's adherence to pure verisimilitude, of its attempt to minimize the role of "artifice" in fictionalizing the real story of the Boston Strangler. I described this tendency in Part 1:

an author's focus upon verisimilitude means that he automatically seeks to limit the potential "affective freedom" of his work, in favor of a "cognitive restraint" based in his own acceptance, and that of his potential audience, of all the rules of consensual reality.

I may have on occasion connected "affective freedom" with the author's ability to generate discourses of symbolic complexity, but if I have done so, this would be a mistake. "Affective freedom," rather, stems from the author's intention to privilege the tropes from the domain of literary artifice over tropes that signify adherence to worldly verisimilitude, and that freedom can be found in any uncanny or marvelous work, regardless of its symbolic complexity, a.k.a. "mythicity." Indeed, I have rated both EYES OF A STRANGER and NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY as "poor" in terms of their mythicity, but the former is uncanny specifically because its author(s) show a greater appreciation for the inherited tropes of slasher-fiction, while the authors of LADY do not.

Sometimes that appreciation does not even take the form of any single trope that can be definitely nailed down. I recently labeled the 1987 film THE STEPFATHER as uncanny, and this psycho in this movie is, like the one in LADY, a chameleon who changes his appearance in order to ingratiate himself with his future victims. I also rated STEPFATHER as poor in relation to mythicity, but although there's a little more of an attempt to psycho-analyze the killer than one sees in EYES OF A STRANGER, there's also a sense that the Stepfather's madness is something outside the boundaries of a reasonable world. Neither Christopher Gill nor Jerry Blake wear any truly bizarre disguises a la Norman Bates, and their methods of murder are fairly mundane. But Blake's madness is "larger than life" because his creators, unlike those of Gill, seem far less preoccupied with proving that the killer's madness is typical for madmen of his type. Thus Blake's creators privilege "affective freedom" over "cognitive restraint."

In short, when in future I use the term "larger-than-life," it will be applied to narrative entities and situations that *seem like* (see POWER AND POTENCY 2) they are greater than life, even though they are not greater in a cognitive sense. Such things become "anti-intelligible" because at the core they are more aligned with the domain of artifice--the home of both stereotypes and archetypes-- than with the domain of verisimilitude.

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