Friday, July 1, 2016

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Gutenberg and post-Gutenberg literature contains communal dreams, shared myths or archetypes.  And it is distinguished by the mythopoeic color of its creators, their ability to sense what already existed in the popular mind, rather than by any unique vision or ability in executive skills.  For this reason popular works of literature tend to pass immediately into the public domain.
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As a matter of fact, one of the distinctions between popular and high literature can be made on the basis of this, as Edgar Allan Poe, in a review of James Fenimore Cooper, pointed out.  There is a certain kind of book, he wrote, which is forgotten though its author is remembered (High Literature); and there is a certain kind of book whose author is forgotten though the work is remembered.
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It is a characteristic of popular literature that it changes its medium because it never really belonged to any medium to begin with.  Popular Literature is not "words on the page," as some critics would have us believe.  Like all literature, it is finally, essentially, images in the head.  Once its images pass through words (the text is transparent, downright irrelevant) into our heads, such primordial images, or archetypes, or myths . . . can pass out again easily into any other medium. . . . They still retain their authenticity and the resonance of feeling that was originally connected with them.
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But in the realm of Popular Art, overt and conscious ideas could not matter less.  What matters is the stirring up of the collective unconscious, the evocation of closely shared nightmares of race and sex: the drama of protecting little sister against the rapist, whoever she may be and whatever color: Black/White, White/Black.  You can mix them and match them and it makes no difference in popular appeal.  Is it white innocence assaulted by black bestiality?  Is it black innocence assaulted by white brutality?  The audience loves it in any case.  And this leads me to my final point about popular culture:  It is neither good nor bad--it is beyond good and evil, as we define the terms, in whatever culture we may live.
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Maybe, then, just maybe it is possible for us to say that the value of popular literature, like the popular arts in general, is that it joins together at the level of the unconscious people who are, on ever conscious level, in this post-industrial society divided.  Our religion divides us, our politics divides us, our attitude toward education divides us: the only thing that holds us together is Kojak, Star Wars, Rich Man, Poor Man. . . . All literature--all art--is the same. . . . When I think of the books I have loved best in my life, I realize that what I admire in them is what I love in pop art at its most gross, flagrant, vulgar, brutal and unrefined: the mythopoeic power of the author.  Never mind his ability to instruct and delight, to create beautiful, elegant, architectonic forms to teach those thins which we think are important for the future of mankind.  Instruction and delight are optional . . . What really moves us to transport--what Longinus calls "ekstasis"--taking us out of our heads and out of our bodies, out of our normal consciousness is the ability of all great books, great pop books, great elite books, to turn us again into savages and children; and releasing us thus from bondage not merely to the restrictions of conscience or superego, but to consciousness and rationality, which is to say, the ego itself.
--Leslie Fiedler, "Giving the Devil His Due"

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