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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, August 9, 2017



The three phenomenal domains of my NUM-theory operate in what I deem an archetypal sense. Different artists are drawn toward images and tropes that promise, or at least suggest, different types of freedom. What Joseph Conrad deems to be artistic freedom relates to the perceived rigor of the naturalistic, while J.R.R. Tolkien associates freedom with marvelous creations like green suns. Yet both, as much as "heavy thinkers" like Gaster and Schopenhauer, are alike in searching for the formula that gives them a sense of transpersonal fulfillment-- which, in the last analysis, is what all persons, of all races and creeds, desire when they speak of their need for freedom. Yet it is a freedom that is only possible in terms of perspectivism and pluralism-- and any creed that takes a different stance is merely seeking the fulfillment of some favored group or groups.

The same "sense of transpersonal fulfillment" applies not just to "phenomenal domains," but also to any conceivable pattern of human belief or behavior.

For instance, I gain a sense of fulfillment from the patterns discussed by Northrop Frye in his critical work ANATOMY OF CRITICISM, wherein he schematized the whole of literature in terms of four mythoi, which he in turn based on the four seasons. My fascination for the wide applicability of this system does not necessarily make me think that it can necessarily explain everything, but for a critic of my inclinations, it's a damned good starting-point. Ditto the above-referenced insights of Theodor Gaster, a strong influence upon Frye, who also favored a quaternary pattern, though he was oriented on understanding the different emotional affects brought forth by different religious rituals:

First the rites of mortification, symbolizing the temporary eclipse of the community. Next the rites of purgation, by which all noxious elements that might impair the community's future welfare are eliminated. Then the rites of invigoration, aimed at stimulating the growth of crops, the fecundity of humans and beasts, and the supply of needed sunshine and rainfall throughout the year. Finally, when the new lease is assured, come the rites of jubilation; there is a communal meal at which the members of the community recement their bonds of kinship by breaking bread together, and at which their gods are present.

I've been wondering whether or not modern-day critics are even capable of thinking in these terms, however; of seeing emotional expression at the heart of all literature. As I'm sure I've said on many occasions, the only patterns recognized by most pop-culture critics is one of political ideology. Marx is the primary instigator of this pattern, and indirectly led to most of the common tropes of Marxist thought: appropriation, "the culture industry," and so on. These are, in contrast to the pluralism I advocate, positions of elitism, in part because they favor a view of art that depends on ideological correctness, and that such a view is dispensed by an educated elite that seeks to control the emotional expressivity of human beings.

Nevertheless, I don't doubt that the elitists have currently won the day, for most pop-culture criticism is unable to think outside the box of ideology. While one can find online references that give popular characters the status of "myths," there's no serious conversation about the intersection of religious myth and any kind of fiction. I can easily imagine that, for an ideological elitist, the elegant patterns observed by Frye and Gaster would seem mere arbitrary categories. I freely admit that my appreciation of the myth-critical patterns stems from my own subjective preferences, though I think that in the long run myth-criticism offers a broader perspective of art than ideological criticism. Yet I can't deny that the ideologues are also motivated by a "sense of transpersonal fulfillment" when they get the chance to point the finger at the latest sinner against ultraliberal politics. Most recently I discussed this pattern in SKINNY BUTTS AND ALL, where I observed how the cited critic's response to perceived racism was to do noting more than indulge in racist slights against the supposed oppressors.

At the same time, it may be that the ideologue's sense of fulfillment is confined to what Aldous Huxley called "horizontal transcendence," as I discussed in TRANSECENDENCE WHAT AIN'T SUBLIME. Here's Huxley on defining this pattern of transcendence:

In order to escape from the horrors of insulated selfhood most men and women choose, most of the time, to go neither up nor down, but sideways. They identify themselves with some cause wider than their own immediate interests, but not degradingly lower and, if higher, higher only within the range of current social values. This horizontal, or nearly horizontal, self- transcendence may be into something as trivial as a hobby, or as precious as married love. It can be brought about through self-identification with any human activity, from running a business to research in nuclear physics, from composing music to collecting stamps, from campaigning for political office to educating children or studying the mating habits of birds.
Huxley only mentions political activities as one example, but I think it's inarguable that all such activities represent a "cause wider than [one's] immediate interests." Marxist critics would of course have little interest in Huxley's concepts of "upward transcendence" and "downward transcendence," since these would, like the works of Frye and Gaster, involve some validation of religion as an essential aspect of humankind's expressivity. It would be interesting, then, to explore the works of an ideologue like Noah Berlatsky, or one of his myrmidons, for the purpose of seeing how they represent proper human fulfillment as it's represented in fiction, since those expressed ideals would probably present a mirror-image of their own ideas of transcendent fulfillment.  Maybe in a Part 2--

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