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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...

Saturday, April 8, 2017


The lyrics of this traditional folklore song adjure the listener to bid "begone" to "dull care" in favor of song and dance.

I prithee, be gone from me, Begone! dull care, You and I shall never agree. Long time hast thou been tarrying here, And fain thou wouldst me kill, But i' faith, dull care, Thou never shall have thy will.

However, an awful lot of modern literature is devoted to embracing "dull care" as an indication that the author is able to accomplish the "tough-minded" task of representing reality-as-it-really-is. This is more than simply an attention to verisimilitude. Rather, it is a philosophical rejection of the idea that the world can ever transcend what various authors have termed "the dull round of existence."

By the criteria I introduced in VERTICAL VIRTUES PT. 2, "transcendence" of a purely horizontal, non-sublime nature can occur in naturalistic works like Mitchell's GONE WITH THE WIND. Of course, WIND, though not in any way sublime, is focused on portraying the life of Scarlett O'Hara as intensely interesting. In JOINED AT THE TRIP PT. 4, I mentioned another work of naturalistic phenomenality-- J.M. Coetzee's DISGRACE-- though not in a direct one-on-one comparison to GWTW. But I will make such a comparison now: DISGRACE is the sort of work that is dedicated to telling a dull story, for the apparent purpose of showing reality as dull, the better to contrast said work to the excitement of escapist fiction.

Now, my ruminations on the different forms of transcendence obliged me, in COMPENSATION CONSIDERATIONS PT.. 4, to refine my earlier concepts of the two forms of the sublime, in order to locate both forms within more general principles" the "combinatory-sublime" with a "combinatory mode" and the "dynamic-sublime" within a "dynamicity mode." I have also stated that works within the uncanny and marvelous phenomenalities inherently possessed greater potential for combinations than did the naturalistic. However, though the principal use of both phenomenalities is to evoke different forms of "strangeness," there have been many attempts to vary this dominant approach. In COMBINATORY-GLORY, I said that "not all works in the marvelous phenomenality are equally able to inspire the affect of the combinatory-sublime." My proximate reference was to a traditional folktale, "The Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was," because even though the tale shows its protagonist encountering assorted fearful monsters, the creatures don't really inspire the sublime sense of "strangeness" because the story's focus is upon the tale's main joke: that the young man overcomes all these monsters but learns "fear" (of a sort) from a woman.

That said, the folktale does not offer what I'm seeking: a narrative that manages to undermine the potential of the combinatory-sublime appropriate to the marvelous, just as DISGRACE fails to evoke even the limited horizontal transcendence possible in naturalistic works of art. I haven't reviewed too many metaphenomenal works that fully embrace "dull care," but I have encountered such works in "arty" prose science fiction or fantasy. Some examples would include Samuel R. Delany's novel TRITON and Kazuo Ishiguro's THE BURIED GIANT. These two novels have a few of the virtues of Mitchell, but they tend to favor the vices of Coetzee. I also regard both novels, like DISGRACE, as inconsummate works, by reason of their tendency to "overthink the overthought."  But if nothing else, the Delany and Ishiguro works serve to illustrate that not all works in the marvelous phenomenality necessarily deliver the appeal of the combinatory-sublime.

At the same time, just as GONE WITH THE WIND delivers on "horizontal transcendence" in marked contrast to the failings of DISGRACE, there are certainly uncanny or marvelous works that lack vertical transcendence (a.k.a. sublimity) but manage to produce some level of horizontal transcendence, thus taking advantage of the more general pattern of the combinatory mode. Ishiguro's earlier SF-work NEVER LET ME GO, while also devoted to "dull care," at least benefits from a better handling of interpersonal relationships, though nothing comparable to the level of Mitchell's accomplishment.

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