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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, July 1, 2017


In my most recent film-review I wrote:

From time to time I've debated, like many others on the web, the question as to whether or not all works in the tradition of the "alternate history" fall into the domain of what many call"fantasy and science fiction"-- or, as I term said domain, "the metaphenomenal." I plan to write another essay for my theory-blog soon about the reasons why INGLORIOUS BASTERDS is an example of a purely isophenomenal "alternate history" film, so I'll dispense with any detailed theoretical justifications in this review. However, like some of the naturalistic films I've reviewed here, BASTERDS is relevant in that it uses many of the same tropes one would find in an "uncanny" version of an alternate-world narrative, such as (to cite a quick example) Philip Dick's THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE.

I've written next to nothing thus far on the formal considerations of the "alternate world" concept-- from which, I should say, I'm excluding any narrative that involves overt marvelous phenomena, such as time-travel or even futuristic extrapolation. For example, Orwell's 1984 is such an extrapolation, in that its developments are predicated on what has already happened in historical time. Ward Moore's BRING THE JUBILEE, often considered a pivotal "alternate history" novel, would also be inapplicable since the protagonist does travel in time.  For that matter, now that I've read a summation of HIGH CASTLE-- which I had not re-read in some time-- it too would not qualify, given that the alternate-world Nazis have colonized other planets, so that book also uses a "marvelous" trope. A truly "uncanny" version of an alternate-world scenario could have no broaches in causal coherence, only in intelligibility.

At the end of the BASTERDS review, I gave one example of such an anti-intelligible film, RED DAWN.  DAWN is not commonly regarded as an "alternate world" story, but I view it as such because the script portrays a world in which nuclear war does not ensue as a result of Soviet forces invading the United States. Rather, DAWN chooses to focus on only one aspect of the conflict: that of American teens, nicknamed "Wolverines," who battle the Soviets using the tactics of aboriginal Americans and of so-called "mountain men." Their struggle parallels that of the "Basterds" in the Tarantino film, but the approach is radically different in terms of phenomenality.

As I've said in numerous previous essays, what determines the nature of the phenomenality of a given narrative is the type of affect that the narrative dominantly evokes. Rudolf Otto and C.S. Lewis have been my primary guides in formulating my most current schema for both the sympathetic and antipathetic affects appropriate to each phenomenality:

THE NATURALISTIC-- antipathetic aspect FEAR, sympathetic aspect ADMIRATION

THE UNCANNY-- antipathetic aspect DREAD, sympathetic aspect FASCINATION

THE MARVELOUS-- antipathetic aspect TERROR, sympathetic aspect WONDER.

In recent essays like PENALTY FOR THRESHOLDING, I centered my argument upon the idea that works of "the uncanny" had a greater effect of "strangeness" than those of "the naturalistic" because the former were more allied to the literary principle of artifice than the corresponding principle of verisimilitude. This describes adequately the way in which narratives can take on the semblance of being "larger than life" but artifice alone is not enough to explain the process, which must be grounded in the pluralist conception that art and literature are primarily expressive in nature.

INGLORIOUS BASTERDS contains a great deal of artifice in the ways that its plot continually references film-history. However, even though the writer rewrites real-world history, that rewriting comes about due to factors that broach neither coherence nor intelligibility. The Basterds are the closest thing to an anti-intelligible element in the movie, and yet the emotions they inspire-- physical fear to their enemies (best embodied in the figure of the "Bear Jew"), and admiration to the viewers who identify with their history-changing exploits.

In contrast, the Wolverines, while they have no greater resources than the Basterds, achieve the sense of bringing dread to their enemies and inciting fascination from the audience. I would say that this is because Tarantino's heroes are firmly rooted in the here-and-now, while those of John Milius are an attempt to recapitulate the warrior-feats of early American history,  both "white" and "red."

I've subsumed the subgenre of the "alternate world" under the trope I've named "exotic worlds and customs." It might not prove to be the most elegant fit over time. Usually this trope has been used for exoticism found in cultures far from modern post-industrial society. However, on occasion I've also detected the use of exoticism in contemporary societies, as seen in my reviews of such naturalistic films as THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN  and THE SPIDERS, and certainly there have been times when the "exotic custom" has stemmed from a person or persons who comes from an exotic land as he, she, or they encounter the contemporary world.

This may not be all I have to write on the subject of "artifice and the affects," but for now I'll close by stating that in one sense the "alternate world with no marvelous elements" bears a certain resemblance to the narrative world conjured forth in the "delirious dreams and fallacious figments" trope. Certainly, the viewer of BASTERDS is always aware of the "real world's" dissimiliarity from the film's world, just as Alice retains her memory of the Way the World Ought to Be even while meandering through the uncanny terrain of Wonderland. "Fallcious figments" are even closer in structural nature to the idea of the alternate world. Most "figments" are meant to appear briefly and to be ignored as irrelevant to a narrative's diegesis, though occasionally one encounters a comic world in which everything is thoroughly distanced from reality, the best example (from films thus far reviewed) being LITTLE RITA OF THE WEST.  A uncanny use of the figment-trope, but one which profits from drawing upon ludicrous versions of dread and fascination, would be MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL.

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