May 05, 2009

What is concealed and what is revealed

Albert Greiner as Oedipus in an 1896 version. Image courtesy of wikipedia.

A few years back, El Cabrero went on a jag of reading bizarre works of literary theory. One little volume that was kind of fun was Mythologies by Roland Barthes. In it, the author attempted to explain the inner semiotic meaning of things like fast cars, professional wrestling and even strip tease.

He argued that what gave the latter its power (at the time anyhow) was what was concealed rather than what was revealed. I guess I'll take his word for it.

It does often seem to be the case that things left to the imagination have greater power than things explicitly shown. In Greek tragedy, for example, all kinds of nasty things happen. Oedipus gouges out his own eyes, Agamemnon is butchered in a bath tub, Pentheus is torn to pieces by a group of frenzied women led by his mother.

But one difference between ancient tragedy and modern gory movies is that this kind of action takes place offstage. But this doesn't diminish the effect; if anything, it increases it.

Aristotle believed that tragedy should produce a powerful and cleansing emotional reaction in the viewer (it works for the reader too) by producing both pity and fear. But it wasn't necessary to show everything to do this:

Fear and pity may be aroused by spectacular means; but they may also result from the inner structure of the piece, which is the better way, and indicates a superior poet. For the plot ought to be so constructed that, even without the aid of the eye, he who hears the tale told will thrill with horror and melt to pity at what takes place. This is the impression we should receive from hearing the story of the Oedipus. But to produce this effect by the mere spectacle is a less artistic method, and dependent on extraneous aids.

Some things are perhaps best left to the imagination. It occurs to El Cabrero that the makers of slasher movies have neglected their Aristotle.

THE STATES AND THE STIMULUS. A new report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research warns that spending cuts at the state and local level could blunt the stimulus impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

WORKERS OF THE US, REUNITE? Here's an article on the possible re-unification of the AFLCIO and Change to Win labor federations.

FIGHTING THE NEW DEAL. Here's a book review of Invisible Hands: The Making of the Conservative Movement from the New Deal to Reagan.


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