Daily Archives: February 1, 2011

Quote of the Day: “Uninformed nonsense mixed with brazen bullshit”

Glenn Beck, once again, peddling lies and paranoia about Egypt.  As with Palin, it never stops.

Conor Friedersdorf, conservative, in the Daily Dish:

As I’ve said before, lots of Glenn Beck listeners aren’t in on the joke. Unlike Roger Ailes, Jonah Goldberg, and every staffer at the Heritage Foundation happy hour, they don’t realize that the Fox News Channel puts this man on the air fully understanding that large parts of his program are  uninformed nonsense mixed with brazen bullshit. When a Fox News host tells these viewers, “I’m not going to treat you like you’re a moron,” playing on their insecurity about other media outlets talking down to or lying to them, they take it at face value. What sort of callous, immoral person allows these viewers to be played for fools?

Picture of the Day

Cairo, yesterday

Protesters are gathering in the streets again today.  There are concerns that if there is to be a violent government backlash, it may come very soon.

Hourly updates available at the Dish.

The Formula of Romance

The Axis of Awesome: Forty four-chord songs in five and a half minutes

I have always been inspired by Frye’s work, and his Secular Scripture in particular has been instrumental in how I conceive the romance. My studies have focused on a small detail from Frye’s theory of romance. In The Secular Scripture, he writes:

One can, of course, understand an emphasis on virginity in romance on social grounds. In the social conditions assumed, virginity is to a woman what honor is to a man, the symbol of the fact that she is not a slave.  Behind all the ‘fate worse than death’ situations that romance delights in, there runs the sense that a woman deprived of her virginity, by any means, except a marriage she has at least consented to, is, to put it vulgarly, in an impossible bargaining position.  But the social reasons for the emphasis on virginity, however obvious, are still not enough for understanding the structure of romance. (CW 18, 49-50)

Something about this notion never seemed right to me.  I could agree that virginity served only a structural purpose, but I was left wondering how it could be structural when it only referred to female characters.  Why was there not a male virgin in romance?  To this end, I have written a dissertation on the subject.  I have surveyed well over one hundred romance novels that include virgins, and I have developed something of an anatomy of male virgins in romance.

While laying out this dissertation, however, I was reminded of the issue of “formula,” because romances are of course “formulaic.”  That is, all romances follow a narrative and must have so many key characters, episodes and so on.  Indeed, many critics of romance note this.  Pamela Regis, for instance, argues that there are eight key requirements:

Eight narrative events take a heroine in a romance novel from encumbered to free. In one or more of the scenes, romance novels always depict the following: the initial state of society in which heroine and hero must court, the meeting between heroine and hero, the barrier to the union of heroine and hero, the attraction between the heroine and hero, the declaration of love between heroine and hero, the point of ritual death, the recognition by the heroine and hero of the means to overcome the barrier, and the betrothal. These elements are essential. (30)

Even with these eight elements, however, romance is remarkably varied. Harlequin Publications, for example, produces romances that have varying levels of eroticism and sexuality — and even a NASCAR setting, for those looking for one.  But all romances evidently possess Regis’s eight requirements.  So the question becomes: why do literary critics in general look down upon formulaic fiction?  In many regards, it seems that sticking to and following the formula presents its own challenges, including, how does any writer make a formula new?

So, with this in mind, I am posting the video above to illustrate the point: just four chords can produce forty different pop songs for the purposes of a single comedy bit.  Why shouldn’t eight elements of an expansive literary formula produce any number of romances?

Mary Shelley

Maybe the most iconographic moment from the 1931 film adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

On this date in 1851 Mary Shelley died (born 1797).

Frye in “The Times of the Signs” cites Frankenstein to make a point about the responsibility we bear and the potential we possess with regard to the world we make.

When Blake or Morris or D.H. Lawrence attack or repudiate our technological culture, therefore, they are really saying that if man is too lazy to mould his world according to his real beliefs, and tries to abdicate his responsibilities by trusting to some kind of automated progress, he is actually releasing the most sinister and vicious impulses in himself, and the end of it is logically either the total destruction made possible by modern physics or, far worse, the unending tyranny made possible by modern communications.  Hence the preoccupation of so many writers with the themes of mad scientists and parody Utopias like 1984.  One thinks particularly of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, whose monster is popularly supposed to be a symbol of man’s enslavement to the mechanisms he has created.  Actually, the monster is portrayed with a good deal of sympathy; the many references to Milton’s Paradise Lost in her own story make it clear that the real theme is the responsibility that man takes on when he recognizes the extent of his own creative powers.  If what he creates is monstrous, merely viewing it with horror is hardly enough.  The moral of such fables is that man can never avoid the challenge to examine his own beliefs, his desires, and his visions of society at every step of new discovery.  The future that is technically possible is not necessarily the future that society wants or can accept.  To be fatalistic about this, to assume that whatever can happen must happen, is the way to develop “future shock” into coma.  (CW 27, 355)