Ovidiu Aniculăese: ”Cartea pentru cei mulți”
Universitatea “Al. I. Cuza” Iasi
Facultatea de Litere
Profesor indrumator: prof. univ. dr. Stefan Avadanei
Doctorand: Ovidiu Aniculaese
The Book for the Many. A Cultural Study on
the Popular Novel in Postmodern America
As a cultural product, the American popular novel is directly determined by such factors as the living tradition, the elements of post-industrial civilization active in the society, the high-brow culture and the forces of the new mass culture.
Suspended from history, America has been very conservative about its core values. Within the living tradition, there are concepts like that of America as dream land connected to the reflex of suddenly materializing all dreams and ideas, a drive for action and practical existence. Within the context of the abandonment of European ideology, the mass of people becomes the only acceptable leader and judgment criterion, one of quantitative nature. The equalitarianism and tolerance apparent in the society are merely ways to perform a deeper American value, that of conformity and integration into a system with no other norms than the majority.
Unlike other cultures, America saw its tradition restored and reinforced in the post-modern era. Tolerance becomes a tool for the equal annihilation of all different ways of life, while relativity is used as a generalized tendency of accepting nothing as valid. What remains valid is particularly instability and diversity as signs of accepting nothing , all within the materialistic consensus, the reign of technology, itself transitory. Individualism completes diversity in the effort to render the community powerless through a consistency of sand where each grain can only strive for regimentation. The destroyed community is taken over by the organization state, which only acts on a material level.
The high novel is the only form of public expression that could have challenged the popular novel and movie. In this period, artists were both integrated and isolated within society. Their perceptive nature made them seem particularly alien and hostile to the masses, as they publicized cultural crises, spiritual emptiness, anxieties and an atmosphere of destruction which, although relevant for all Americans, were not felt by them. Moreover, revolutionary artists were painfully out of place in a culture of restoration and even tight control such as this one, especially since social criticism was taken over by the media. The inner-oriented writers, bent on fabulation and locked in their own process of creation, their sophistication ran against the smoothness of established American writing and also against the interests of common readers. Therefore, from the point of view of the common reader, the high novel was at this time a sum of failures and renunciations, a surrender of authority to the benefit of the popular novel.
To counter the possibly dissenting spirituality in each individual, culture makes use of desublimation – commandeering spiritual needs by redirecting them, giving them material destinations chosen from society. Spirit is thus confiscated rather than just redirected. Man gets apparent satisfaction through products with surrogate value. For a naturally dissenting group, that of young people, an especially elaborate tool took shape: youth culture. The new culture, with technology at its core, contains dissent groups and trends (art, religion, etc.) by tolerating and absorbing them at the same time. Mass culture is the prevailing phenomenon as related to technology, a homogeneous atomized society and to the new type of mass man, well integrated, with no possibility of dissent and leading an artificial life (perverse, against nature). Authors of cultural products are themselves trapped in conformity, following an interplay between cultural requirements and audience demands.
The escape provided by mass culture and that of Romanticism differ by the realm in which they take the audience. Mass culture becomes merchandise, drug and social-cultural glue.
Popular fiction uses all other established forms of expression to borrow some of their popularity, but it differs from each of them. Folk art arises genuinely from below, from the people, whereas popular fiction comes from a technological entourage, from an artificial “above”. Established high art is the most plagiarized, although it differs from popular fiction as much as revolution and control do. Finally, avant-garde is copied by popular culture, because of the popular appeal of novelty, yet one provides true innovation while the other only takes it over after it has become widely publicized and is no longer a risk. Like all art forms, popular fiction implies the concept of standard, but, unlike them, it uses it as formal recipe artificially imposed by audience expectations rather than as vision or sign of a way of thinking on the part of the writer. Finally, popular fiction differs from mediocre high-brow art through its aim. Whereas, mediocre art unsuccessfully aims for the truth, our popular fiction is a deliberate lie and an attempt to confiscate one’s spirit.
Among the effects of the domination of popular culture, one notes people’s isolation from reality and from genuine art, a transfer of cultural power to the media, a leveling and regimentation of people. The latter will also feel positive toward contemporary culture and negative or indifferent toward reality.
To conclude, American post-industrial culture evolved in such a way as to particularly favor the firm establishment of the popular novel.
A Popular Past
Popular fiction was first born in America, in the 18th century. Among the factors that led to this were mass literacy, the colonists’ loose ties with their European folklore, their reservations about high-brow literature and their initial rejection of other forms of entertainment. The emergence of the novel as an art form in the 18th century only served to give shape to the above factors.
The evolution of the mass novel has been shaped by developments in the material culture such as the various inventions, products and methods of production that gradually led to the appearance of cheap books, distribution developments such as free mail delivery, the use of supermarkets or distribution through commercial movies, as well as developments in consumption such as the occasional placing of people in the situation of enslaved faceless postmodern readers: soldiers in the Civil War and World War II gave significant impulses to popular reading even after the end of those conflicts.
Ideologically, popular novels throughout history illustrate their role of reflecting contemporary culture rather than genuine reality. 18th century stories of witchcraft illustrate the fascination and hysteria generated by poor contact with the spiritual world, while those of Indian captivity show propaganda for the Puritan ideology and cultural dictatorship, but also the striving for credibility of the novel. Because of popular resentment for fiction, the actual start in popular fiction was given by imported books such as those of Samuel Richardson. Didactic fiction was not offensive at the time, as it expressed contemporary culture. Sentimental novels took advantage of contemporary religious revival and gave women compensation by dramatizing permitted freedom before marriage. The patriotic novel of adventures took advantage of rises in nationalism and the cavalier spirit of the Old South, while the wilderness adventure novel of the Cooper kind speculates a popular nostalgia for Jeffersonian agrarianism in superficial romanticism. The novel of revelation relies on the appeal of novelty, but also on the muckraking fashion. 20th century America is already alienated enough to require historical novels as escape and be dominated by them, whether they deal with a romanticized past or an openly imaginary one. The same reason made room for action and western novels, showing the Americans’ yearning for self-assertion, but also popular beliefs such as those of social Darwinism. The religious novel provided simplistic and naïve melodrama for frustrated minds, but also served to build the war morale in the 1940’s. however, in consumer societies such as that of the 20’s and the one from the 40’s onwards, there was little room for religious novels and more for hedonistic books of sexual descriptiveness. For the first time, the strongest compensation agent, sexuality, is needed to maintain balance in the masses. Yet, sexual descriptiveness was not fully acceptable in the real world, therefore books had to attribute their soothing content to distant settings. The same spirituality ridden world called for another extreme compensation or destination for desublimation: crime, in association with deduction and practical ingenuity. The genre also performs propaganda for the new “law and order” type of society. After World War II, the popular novel excels in a literature of retrieval, a part of the cultural totalitarianism of the time. In the novels, women take on the old mother-housewife role, while men seek individual achievement and entrepreneurial success, yet with less repressive touches after 1955. gradually, it is consumption that is asserted as a key value and the return of sexual descriptiveness is a sign of it. The new novel of revelation unveils exotic details from forbidden or appealing areas such as the organization, big business, government, all due to a complete institutionalization of society by now. Whether in the entertainment world, politics or business, these novels target successful people less as models than with envy and even slander, only to voice popular frustration at failing to obtain success in the old American way. The spy novel deals with another public frustration, that of denied information and denied action. Based on the new value of professionalism, this genre also reflects popular preoccupation with imminent chaos and insecurity. The same are dramatized in the horror novel, only to a higher degree of intensity, coming as a response to higher dissent from the public in the 60’s. The sentimental novel now uses sexuality, but also financial and detective adventure as a way to meet women’s need for liberation.
The absorption of these genres by cinema and television blurs the distinctions between them and the intellectual sophistication of the new audience makes their content heavier and more complicated.
Whether more or less openly, the popular novel has worked throughout its history to preserve the particular culture that produced it and make up for its shortcomings.
The Common Face of the Popular Novel
The various elements composing a popular novel have meanings only within the cultural context that produces them. The narrative universe is a historical product rather than one springing from the writer’s mind, as the book itself is produced by the cultural system and the audience as a whole, rather than on a personal level. The key feature of that universe will be distancing, whether in terms of time, space, class or culture. This distancing differs from the one used in genuine art by aiming at a sensation rather than a statement and also a stereotypical production rather than an original one. Experiencing this universe, readers virtually satisfy their need for transgression, for otherness, interpreting the experience as escape, although it provides strong sensation, therefore entrapment in the same material dimension. This deception blocks people’s access to genuine alternative experiences.
Characters are the most popular element in the popular narrative. They are interesting, striking in a straightforward way, with unusual lives. Their description is brief, scant but impressive, relying on one major feature. Although, for identification, heroes have much of the dull stereotypical mind of the common man, they are also generally impulsive and irrational; followed in action, they will help the reader burn their own unwanted energies and not, as many believe, stir them to actual irrationality. By having the leading heroes carry the ideal values of contemporary culture to success, the popular novel resembles Northrop Frye’s mitos of summer, on of plenty and triumph, which serves well its propaganda purposes. However, while medieval romance staged a genuine struggle between good and evil, the popular novel stages a false exaggerated opposition between two sides only for the sake of drama. Negative heroes are not the true opponents of common men and the post-industrial culture, but simply hateful creatures. As thinking is not an issue, good character always have some obvious connection and they never let the reader down, conveying diffuse optimism.
The narrative is usually one of action rather than of character or idea. Unlike art, the popular novel makes little difference between story and plot, leading to a low degree of processing and, implicitly, of signification for the text. The principle that unifies the whole material is that of shock; in its spirit, narrative episodes are acceptably born out of nowhere and are organized in a mere vision of agglomeration, of piling sand rather than building pyramids. The same principle makes speed become crucial to the narrative. Descriptive interludes only come to avoid immunity to shock or even to prepare bigger shocks. Therefore, what is enjoyed is the rough content itself rather than its organization or the larger context of episodes. One narrative episode gives fruition through itself and is forgotten quickly after its end to the benefit of another episode. While it is impressive, the popular event needs to ensure its validation by a stern degree of verisimilitude. It is not otherness that it uses to impress, but the mere charm of the fact, be it intense or interestingly detailed, taking the role of fetish. That fact can also take on the form of feelings unleashed, yet it differs from the one Romantics used to offer for liberation, since it only serves the production of sensation. In that spirit, the entire narrative material is direct and unambiguous, favorable to maximum effect and minimum processing for the reader. Genuine problems may be included, yet merely for their drama potential, without being taken into any depth of analysis.
The style is not determined by intrinsic creative motivations, but by extrinsic ones, related to culture and is thus unfit. Generally, popular novels mimic the style of social realism, but only for the sake of ensuring verisimilitude rather than to actually seek the original purpose of truthful observation. Other popular style landmarks such as those of modernism may be mimicked for their respectable aura. The narrative interlude is usually unjustified from the viewpoint of the text, but required by the management of shock response. Dialogue holds a large stake in the text, ensuring easy reading, which also makes it unambiguous, immediately lively and dubiously impressive, laden with popular wisdom to validate it. The vocabulary is fashionable but never elevated, rich in clichés and rewarding through its elsewhere unlicensed vulgarity.
Overall, stimulus is the final point of the popular novel experience, but its effect is meant to be as temporary as it is strong. While Aristotle would encourage the use of the same physical and emotional sensations only to purge them from the human mind, the popular novel cultivates them to induce weakness, soft receptivity and passivity as well as to enforce uncritical thinking. Although there appear to be radical messages in the book, they are always associated to the fictional world of the novel and have only compensatory end. Devoid of artistic message, the popular novel only delivers impression. Conditioned by its workings, the common man will be led to take all fictional experience in the same way, therefore even to consume art itself as kitsch.
Popular narrative genres
The various existing popular genres address different categories of readers so as to produce more personalized satisfaction and manipulation.
Whether mainly sexual or sentimental, the erotic novel deals with sexual relationships, including family and friendship and therefore addresses readers with female psyche.
The narrative universe must seem truthful and be exotic at the same time. Consequently, it involves elements women are familiar with, but which are also physically striking. The house – or castle, farm – is either rich or filled with unusual, rare or famous items. Related elements include parties and all glamorous objects connected to the, clothes, famed tourist hotspots and also places of pastoral nostalgia. Passages describing them often fit badly in the narrative context, but the reader is used to enjoying sections in isolation rather than to looking for connections.
Characters are the most appreciated narrative component here. The lead couple have striking qualities. Their occasional doubtful actions are carefully justified so that their portrait can remain spotless. The narrative dramatizes a period of traditionally acceptable freedom in the life of the heroine, but the latter strikes out as the only one who dutifully supports the values she inherits, thus remaining the most traditional figure in the book, while the most popular. She claims to follow her heart, but her sentimentalism is incoherent. As conservative, she becomes subdued in the traditional woman’s role who receives attention and care from the “patriarch”. The hero stands out through his particular masculinity, be it physical, emotional or social. He is rough, domineering and a representative of mainstream culture. Any figure who fails in those features falls to the status of secondary character.
Secondary characters are define according to their contribution to the love story: they are extremely good if they act in favor of it and bad if they work against it. These characters also serve to better highlight the heroes’ qualities, often by contrast. Altogether, popular characters are unreal figures, bundles of loose impressive features, arbitrary bearers of stereotypical ideas and catchy half-truths. The ideas they carry are either meaningless or known to the majority of readers, therefore only acting as leveler.
The narrative as such is built on the element of human relation, used as fetish. Such relations are just as valuable for the popular experience whether they are positive or negative. Conflicts are always of sentimental nature and are artificially built to show no way out, to yield greater drama. However, they are mostly unjustified, relying more on stereotype and superficial judgment than on character or real-life plot. One main device in enhancing drama is that of emerging barriers against love. They serve the reader’s need for intense emotions and can be all the easier juggled with as they are artificial and do not send a truly relevant pessimistic message to the reader.
The erotic sensation is just an important a component as sentimentalism. The sexual initiation of the heroine carries conservative connotations, but saving her virginity for the hero serves even more to produce powerful sensation. The highest concentration of sexual descriptiveness is in the unique love-making scene between the two mainly because the whole novel is a sensation experience and there would be no other way in popular fiction to mark such an crucial moment in the plot.. Yet, the use of pornography has no establishment defying implications. The larger plot follows the heroine from freedom through rebellion and insecurity to integration. The narrative contains little action, would-be lyrical passages with bombastic metaphors to mark “magic” episodes such as the love-making scene and long dialogues, which become the main tool in pushing this relationship plot forward. However, the dialogue itself is limited in the material dimension. The vocabulary includes exotic words relate to women’s interests: home, food, flowers, clothing, etc.
On the whole, the erotic novel gives women the strong illusion of human relationship only to cure them of that need.
The spy novel relies mainly on action. The narrative universe draws its exotic character from an atmosphere of professionalism and from depicting a scary communist – or otherwise hostile – world. The setting is very briefly depicted as gray and professional, conducive to action. However, there is no local color, since that setting is manufactured and exaggerated. The narrative universe plays little role since, unlike the erotic novel, this genre seeks mobility rather than a homely protective effect.
Relation to action defines characters as main or secondary, good or bad. Sentimentality is rejected by main characters, as it would involve stability, therefore inaction. Women are rarely involved and even then only to help with the operation. Action also imposes ignoring morality as hindrance, but it fits well with the popular idea of the struggle for survival. This ensures nothing but a higher effect of that intense action throughout the novel. Finally, the best excuse for the rule-breaking hero is his professionalism. In accordance with post-industrial culture, this becomes the ultimate criterion in parting good characters from bad. The spy novel becomes a form of direct propaganda for the technical values of contemporary culture. Yet, the hero is a marginal figure, apparently a revolutionary. In fact, the hero takes on that role only to be able to offer unhindered virtual compensation to the reader. Just like the heroine of erotic novels, he becomes reintegrated in the end or dies if that is no longer possible. Moreover, the hero fights particularly for maintaining the status quo and, apart from the actual operation, he behaves like a common man. The anti-hero seeks to destroy the state of fact and is politically and intellectually against mainstream America.
The narrative content includes above all danger as an incentive to unhesitating extreme physical developments. Such an extreme situation becomes credible in the context of popular “law of the jungle” thinking and also of contemporary paranoia about security. Revenge is also widely used as stirred by irrationality and leading to physical violence, therefore, a perfect producer of sensation. Generally, violence is cultivated in all possible ways, yet the reader is not led to use it in real life, since he consumes it as drug. As real-life event, violence is only acceptable as a professional necessity and a punishment for non-professionals.
Actual narration is complemented by monologues of the hero, which are not used as personal input, but, through the reasoning and deductions they contain, as revelation on their professional world and insight on imminent danger. The motor of these monologues, logic, is a key criterion in evaluating relationships and actions in the novel.
The plot aims to maintain the reader’s interest. It opens with a physically shocking event – as all inner sections do – and juggles the balance of force between heroes so as to keep the conflict at high degrees. The narrative stays opaque as to its future development so as to keep suspense high, on the grounds that suspicion produces more sensation than certainty. Finally, reading works like solving a puzzle of various narrative lines coming together in a unified picture. Finally, artificial twists and turns in the plot are used to prevent complications, dead ends or the slowing of pace. Realism and even logic are expendable in this true experience of sensation. Narrative interludes include character biographies preparing the reader for the action role he is going to witness. Dialogue is focused on action, but produces, catchy displays of reasoning or information rather than authentic debates. Like the narrative, dialogue is ambiguous and cryptic so as to produce high anticipation.
On the whole, this experience soothes men’s frustrated need for physical self-assertion and for intellectual exercise, but it also maintains insecurity and weakness.
The horror novel dramatizes the interaction of the coon an with the aggressive uncontrollable unknown. Based on feelings, it addresses women and teenagers.
The narrative universe includes an atmosphere of vague spirituality, incoherent but overwhelming. The actual setting is packed with physically repellent details based on reader stereotypes. However, the world set on stage is not fully spiritual, but the intermingling spot between the material and the unknown one. With an actual setting at the margin of civilization, the juxtaposition between two world, this situation enacts a permanently imminent invasion of our world by the unknown, with a huge emotional potential. Thus, the horror element is not necessarily a spiritual kind of monster, but any unknown entity. For a higher impact, the book will include the depiction of an exaggeratedly normal world to serve as contrast and as victim.
The characters follow the same principles. The hero illustrates that fearful intermingling by being marginal in the society and culture, therefore slightly alien and a credible candidate for the adventure into the unknown. For stronger impact, the victim is made to be more vulnerable than the reader would be. However, again for contrast, the victim shares the foreground with an extremely reasonable and moderate character. This figure will fight for normality and safety. Whereas this particular character is a witness, there are also stereotypically normal characters involved in action only to react violently to the hero growing “alien” and to fall prey to the monster before the hero, thus increasing terror. The monster may be in human shape, in which situation he will display discrepancy or abnormality. The hero himself undergoes physical changes throughout the narrative in the direction of the monster type of features. In animal shape, the monster has extreme size and strength, but retains a typically human vulgar and aggressive character. As in the erotic novel, the characters’ personality may change arbitrarily only to justify strong conflict. Otherwise, all characters have a foundation of popular human stereotype.
The narrative material is tailored to contradict common perceptions about the physical reality. However, it only acts at the level of sensation, not at that of revolutionizing thinking. The element pervading all episodes if the unusual, the unworldly, yet with no moral implications. The plot organizes this material so as to give the reader a privileged perspective, all the more frightening, but not more conducive to deep understanding. The reader not only understands the danger very early, but also experiences more horror at the sight of the unsuspecting victim. The reader’s knowledge can come from early information or from flashforwards / flashbacks and even from the suggested association of different narrative lines. More tension also comes from significantly slow narrative just before crucial moments and from following the gradual discoveries of the reasonable witness. Generally, the plot evolves from the hero being intimate with normality to their intimacy with abnormality. Unlike other genres, the horror novel never ends on an optimistic note. The style appears to be symbolic, but is in fact still limited to the material-sensational level of mimicked realism. Would-be symbolic passages only produce an effect of vague oddity and impress through the same physical shock. Impression is also extensively sought through exaggerations, unusual associations or reference to common man’s “sore spots”. However, the issue is abandoned as soon as the effect has been produced.
Dialogue is reasonable, but does not bring into debate the actual source of terror, lest it should decrease its impact on the reader.
On the whole, the horror novel reminds the common man of his vulnerability and neutralizes his energies by directing his fears at them and suggesting normality as the only salvation.
The novel of revelation lures the reader to the landmarks of contemporary culture and thus addresses more active people.
The narrative universe is impersonal, developing at institutional level. Rather than an impression of intimacy, it gives the feeling of power and success. To be appealing, the narrative world is selected from areas normally with restricted access, whose inhabitants are privileged. The tradition that usually characterizes this world only emphasizes its exclusive nature. Most importantly, it has its own secret code of thinking and behavior. Thus, although close geographically, this world is socially remote. However, the would-be spiritual code of this world is too incoherent to become a model, impressing only by its odd physical differences. Moreover, this obscure religiousness of a strange world spares it the limitations of morality. The narrative universe also impresses through size, social impact, unknown details, etc.
The characters are similar to those of the spy novel in that their main quality is professionalism, associated to mobility and they are often contrasted to unprofessional authorities and to unskilled common people. Another category of negative figures is that of foreign characters. Subjectivity and personal life is what can make heroes fail in this narrative.
Like in the spy novel, the plot relies on the emergence of danger, which is enhanced by being wrapped in mystery and gains substance through its clear reference to the reader’s world. The source of that danger is human subjectivity, but is not analyzed in any depth.
Like in the horror novel, the plot makes sure that the reader is sooner and better aware of the danger than the hero and the narrative also slows down before crucial moments. An important version of this narrative is the disaster one, relying on popular paranoia.
The second narrative ingredient is power. The dramatization of an unprivileged hero’s accession to power is of high value to the frustrated reader. Common man’s stereotypes about the powerful and the privileged are confirmed. An intense effect on the reader is guaranteed by the lack of complexity of the narrative. If genuine problems are dramatized sometimes, it is only because they are well-known, a matter of cliché in society and nothing new is conveyed to the reader.
Descriptive presentations are unfit in the context, while ambitious monologues turn melodramatic, all resulting in an unfit style subject to the need for shock. Dialogue is impersonal, while the vocabulary abounds in specialized terms.
On the whole, the novel of revelation offers the reader the opportunity to identify with power, while stimulating integration into contemporary culture.
The historical novel offers escape into the sensational under the mask of historical revelation. It addresses less culturally involved readers such as women.
Contrary to appearances, the narrative universe is one of family life, revolving around emotions. The grand nature description passages serve as projection of exaggerated emotions and, like all else, have nothing to do with genuine history.
The heroes are fictitious, for true historical figures would be harder to manipulate for popular purposes. They bear no mark of the mentioned historical period, apart from a few stereotypes commonly attributed to old times. Yet, they do bear modern stereotypes for the sake of enabling the reader to identify. The most important advantage given by the historical background is that primitivism and adventure are made to be credible in any degree. In either of the two directions set by the erotic novel, sentimentalism and eroticism, the historical hero must excel. Not accidentally, the main character is a woman.
As for the narrative as such, although the larger level shows a historical plot, detailed reading shows common popular ingredients arranged for the only end of drama and sensationalism. For credibility, some accurate historical data are mixed with the larger bulk of popular load. Despite the extreme circumstances, no observation on human nature is sought through this experience. The style suffers heavily from exaggeration.
On the whole, although only by means of sensation, the historical novel provides escape to different settings, people and actions, surrogates of otherwise denied life.
The religious novel uses common nostalgia for faith to produce an exotic experience, but the narrative is essentially of the sentimental kind.
The setting is one that would not put off religious feeling, therefore far away from contemporary civilization, often in the countryside. For the sake of simplistic intensity, the distinction between good and bad characters is extremely clear-cut, pervading all issues. The hero’s initial lack of faith in God is only used for greater drama in the narrative to follow. Action falls more in the realm of relation than in that of adventure.
The religious content as such is basic and teaches nothing to the reader, but it moves him. The plot takes the hero from participation in a corrupt world to integration in the Christian community. The style is often melodramatic as the text fakes the revelation of unique feelings. The religious plot has a strong character of propaganda, since it incoherently bids for submission, hard work, passivity and other religious values convenient to the post-industrial culture.
Through its vagueness, the religious novel takes the reader to a dead end, otherwise burning a surplus of feeling in that reader.
The science fiction novel has a brand that can be considered as popular, yet is denied by experts in the field. This popularized version uses typical popular means while promising the experience of the exotic world of science.
The narrative world is forged for higher effect: simple and unusual. For accessibility, the reader is given basic scientific information, but he is also impressed with an incoherent array of very sophisticated terms and issues. Finally, the setting itself highlights the grandeur of science by its shabby underdevelopment, used for contrast; on the other hand, we also have technological and experimental sites to which access is a privilege.
The kinship with the novel of revelation is also applied at the level of characters, who are privileged and powerful in their field. Furthermore, professionalism is a key value and disaster comes from subjectivity. Finally, the SF hero is also exotic through his little oddities.
The material shows no genuine concern for science, even on the part of the reader. Ingredients include the usual danger, disaster, alien paranoia as support, while the motor of the plot is always investigation. Tension if finally obtained by exposing the helplessness of science. The style is reserved, not melodramatic, but often packed with logical incoherence, while the vocabulary is mainly accessible.
The science fiction novel is at best a sterile intellectual exercise, otherwise inducing confusion and insecurity while it quenches thirst for adventure.
While they address different kinds of reader and use different material, the various popular novel sub-genres practice the same desublimation and lead the reader to the same passive confused integration into contemporary culture.
The popular novel consumer
Popular culture deals with the three components of the common man’s personality, the self, the ego and the super-ego. The actual personality of the writer, an intermediary between man and culture, is irrelevant.
With the collapse of old institutions of moral authority, the common man finds no other valid replacement but himself. Man’s ego becomes the power center of gravity. Yet, this is utopian at culture level and it is only few strong intellectuals who retained that power at the cost of utter alienation. On the contrary, the common man has a weak ego which is tightly manipulated by post-industrial culture, the most powerful culture ever, with the benefit of a balanced well-adapted psyche. Therefore, the common man does not share the free intellectuals’ anxieties and alienation. He is adaptable and normally functioning within society, but that happens only because of the culture itself being reflected directly in his ego. In the common man, there is a super-ego acting on behalf of the ego too. The postmodern super-ego is not only not personal, but it’s also not very repressive, so not directly efficient against the id: common man no longer has sets of moral principles to control the unconscious, since the post-industrial world has discarded them. That means that more un-inhibited instincts need satisfaction which could not be given in the real world. Th ego becomes a standard one, worthless for man’s basic instincts of self-preservation and self-assertion, which leads to failsafe regimentation. Man could also suffer from acute anxiety and insecurity now that he only has a weak ego to manage his subconscious. That is why he enters a relationship of masochism with his super-ego, culture itself. Man abandons himself to culture, accepting abuse from it only to also get protection.
However, as culture is abstract, absent at individual level, it could not provide the security coming from a real partner, so it uses its products, such as the popular novel to perform such a function. The psychological search for safety accounts for the popular reader’s taste for standardization or his keen identification with strong assertive heroes.
Therefore, culture uses popular novels to perform the functions of the lost ego. More than repressing the instincts of the unconscious, it gives the unconscious satisfaction in a more efficient way than a healthy ego might do. The popular novel is there to deal with man’s unconscious.
As a consequence of artificial life within culture, man only experiences the principle of pleasure in real life, a self-erotic state. Common man is in a state of sleep, since reality is obliterated, yet the unconscious demands to experience the principle of reality (difference, excitation) too and the popular novel is there to provide that experience. Indeed, evidence indicates that the popular novel experience is like a sleep experience, a hallucinatory one, fit to address the unconscious. The excitation provided in this way is much more concentrated than that of normal life only to compensate for long frustration. On the other hand, these books also give compensation for the artificial principle of pleasure that society offers.
The theory of the narrative for the unconscious is also supported by one’s denial of the reality of popular narrative truthfulness when one is not its reader and by the lack of content hostile to the unconscious such as moral restrictions (super-ego).
The popular experience is also tailored according to the psychological type, be it animus or anima, thus avoiding unconscious energy turning into a destructive one?! Introvert people, although less numerous than extravert ones, are less dependent on culture, therefore less vulnerable to the popular novel. Post-industrial culture acts even there, by encouraging the forming of new extravert individuals. The popular novel is particularly addressed to the utterly neglected unconscious of extravert readers.
The extravert thinking type finds contemporary life to be limiting his freedom of action and finds solace in the adventure of spy novels and in the power illusion of novels of revelation. The extravert feeling type seeks proper stereotype relationship and finds compensation in the standard feelings of erotic novels. The extravert sensation needs a great input from the senses and will benefit from the danger, but also the sensation excitement of various popular novels. The extravert intuition type will find soothing in the detective plots of many popular novels. The above are direct ways of compensating for unconscious needs that the standard ego finds only slightly unacceptable, thus imposing them to be altered before consumption to the form of derivatives.
More culturally subversive needs involve the risk of causing neurosis or psychosis, so the popular novel fakes the defense mechanisms of those diseases only to ensure man’s good psychic health. Thus, neurosis mechanisms such as projection, regression, sublimation and rationalization become literary devices. The first one prevents man’s natural destructivity from becoming either morality or violence in real life by dramatizing them as projected on a secondary character. Regression normally happens after brutal contact with hostile reality, but here it only involves the reader virtually turning back to the stage of protected girl or to that of free pioneer. Sublimation involves converting taboo contents to completely different forms or into different realms. Finally, rationalization involves inventing reasonable explanations for fantasy produced by the disease and, in our case, by the novel.
Other defense mechanisms are reproduced in the popular novel, such as masochism itself, perfectionism and narcissism, all in response to the imminent feeling of insecurity.
On the whole, the popular novel addresses the unconscious to manipulate and restrain it because it is the only side of man’s personality that cannot be confiscated by culture but is too powerful to be left uncontrolled.
From Novel to Film in the Popular Culture
Novel and film differ greatly in form. While literature is conceptual and unveils aspects hidden beneath the superficial appearances, also transfiguring the realities reproduced, film is doomed to direct and exact reproduction, concrete recording. Furthermore, film is a narration always in the present, not allowing the viewer to detach from it, to enable esthetic distancing, whereas the latter is very much the case in literature. Conceptual art forces the consumer to become active in processing the text, whereas the screen image is the same for all and the narrative runs at the exact same speed for all, excluding meditation or subjective perception.
However, as the novel was popular, legitimate as a form of expression and ready-made, screening has been a popular option for a long time.
Moreover, compared to the popular novel, film is not only valid, but a more efficient and successful form. Film is the popular novel of the next era in American culture. It only offers sensationalism, exoticism in a more direct and concentrated form and, thus, serves the hallucinatory purpose better. Arguably, the popular novel retains a value superiority, since it allows for accidental freedom of thinking, of interpreting the text to be deeper than it was intended to be. Furthermore, some readers may be disappointed with the screening of a novel, as they are attached to formal aspects of the original text.
Adapting a novel means obtaining a successful form out of an imperfect one. The need for popularity (maintaining a well-known pleasure, the guarantee of satisfaction) forces directors to choose the method of transposition in screening a novel, making as few changes as possible to the original text. Of the two reference levels, that of the narrative and that of the screen, the former will be subordinated to the latter in the newly created film. Adaptation will be affected by the contrast between the novel’s linearity and the novel’s spatiality. Thus, material from the novel will be transposed if it can be overlapped in the same film frame. Often, material will be selected for the movie or abandoned according to how it fits the actors starring. Similarly, the setting chosen for the film may be incompatible with some original text. Finally, text aspects tightly connected to written language will be abandoned for not being able to materialize at screen level.
Changes undergone by the narrative during screening may be followed along Barthes’ classification of narrative functions into distributional and integrational. Within the first category, nuclei, representing main episodes, are usually transferred as such, since they open up new ways of developing the narrative. Still, as a film script is not intended as an impartial summary of the novel’s episodes, some of those are eliminated for not contributing to the new plot or for not being appealing at screen level. Even whole secondary narrative lines may be eliminated, both for economy of space and intensity of unitary effect. The film’s need for action, as relevant on screen, puts to disadvantage erotic novels, which are usually adapted into partly adventure films. Some episodes are rendered in more detail on screen simply for allowing for sensational, unusual or dramatic effect at screen level.
The second kind of distributional functions, catalyzers, include petty actions which serve to enrich the reality of the narrative. Sadly, they have no particular impact or use at screen level. They are often used as pause from stimulus or to induce anticipation before tense moments, like long descriptive passages are used in the novel. Like the latter, catalyzers serve in the film to create atmosphere.
Integrational functions serve in the novel to create a deeper context for the narrative. Those that include data and concrete information are often transferred in the script, but those that refer to character or atmosphere are usually replaced with means specific to the screen level. Thus, film uses actors’ appearance and gestures or even episodes for characterization, only to make the latter more impressive, though lower in quality. For atmosphere, film may use light manipulation, camera focus, color intensity or black and white film.
As for narrative perspective, film is strictly omniscient, with no subjective perspective possible. When film perspective is limited to what the hero experiences, through his eyes, we are dealing with limited conscience perspective, but only in a sensation-oriented way. Otherwise, the ca[era itself is the omniscient narrator, perfectly credible.
The plot itself is shortened, simplified and rearranged for the sake of stronger effect. Episodes making the climax can be glued into a more efficient single nucleus or some episodes can be changed to converge toward the same climax. Dialogue is cut when too long or speculative. Still, it is used to convey character confrontation or to shock through their content.
Film is a considerable step toward perfection in terms of hallucinatory power. It has become independent, but looks to the doom of all technology: turning obsolete.
The American Popular Novel in Romania
At world scale, Romanians fit the role of the American common man: they are a passive community living a masochistic life dependent on a hostile world culture.
Romanians have been characterized by passive resignation, fatalism, reliance on luck. The religiousness and withdrawal into one’s inner world which determine the above features may have been lost during the cultural crisis of modernity, which has left Romanian culture fatefully vulnerable to authoritative influences such as the American one. This weakness has been favored by the creation of gaps in our culture after the disintegration of folklore. In this way, negative energy release valves have been lost. The communist regime excelled in repression rather than cultural valves, while it helped in the creation of Romanian mass men.
To these cultural valve purposes, foreign products would serve well only if they come from a country regarded as exotic, which is truly the case for America. It if remote enough and yet related to Romania through its European core.
Political censorship stopped or delayed the translation of American novels after 1947. Those that were accepted were deemed either critical enough of the American society or safely apolitical. With the slight opening after 1963-64, books previously deemed decadent started to be translated, including detective novels, western novels and later spy or erotic books, for which Romanians proved to be emancipated enough. As for novels of revelation, the Romanian reception has been mixed, due to their occasional political implications. The horror novel may have been rejected as too decadent, while the religious novel may have met resistance from the ruling doctrine of dialectic materialism. However, the opening after 1989 was more than the direct result of the fall of political restrictions. It was a cultural opening due mainly to the dramatic invasion of Western type mass culture through the booming mass media. The explosive consumption of American mass culture has also been a strong reaction to a long inhibition ending abruptly. Conservative in America, this phenomenon ensures no change, therefore no progress in post-communist Romania.