Friday, December 6, 2013

Center Point Construction: Coleridge, Tezuka, Conrad, and Coppola

This one's going to take awhile; it's got 5800 words, plus several tables. You might want to have some snacks ready and make sure the cell phone's been silenced.
Yesterday I declared the psychological “revolution” in literary studies to be stillborn. Neither the cognitive poetics born of the so-called cognitive revolution nor the Darwinian literary criticism born of evolutionary psychology has yet delivered a new criticism. Nor, for reasons I explained in the post, do I expect them to deliver a robust and insightful new criticism any time soon. As currently constituted, those psychologies can tell us something about the bricks and mortar of our texts, but they can say nothing about the designs.

This post is about design, one particular design that I call center point construction. I describe it – and that’s all I do, describe it – as I’ve found it in four texts, four texts of very different kinds: 1) “Kubla Khan”, a lyric poem, 2) Metropolis, a Japanese manga narrative, 3) Heart of Darkness, a novella, and 4) Apocalypse Now, a motion picture. That the last two should share the same formal armature, to borrow a term from Lévi-Strauss, is perhaps not surprising. But the form I’ve found in both of them has not, so far as I know, before been described in either of them. That the same form can be found in two other texts that differ as much from one another as either in turn differs from Heart of Darkness or Apocalypse Now, that seems worthy of our attention.

A psychological model that could account for the same form in those very different realizations would thereby be one of considerable interest. For it would have to deal with radically differences in temporal scale and presentation medium. I am willing to leave the creation of such a model to the psychologists: evolutionary, cognitive, and neuroscientific. While they’re working on that I plan to be describing more texts, some having center point construction, but others based on different organizing principles.

After some preliminary throat clearing I go through the texts in order: “Kubla Khan”, Metropolis, Heart of Darkness, and Apocalypse Now. I’ve collected references to more detailed work on these texts at the end of the post.

Beyond “Kubla Khan”

As I’ve written in several posts, it was my early work on “Kubla Khan” that sent me down the path I’ve been traveling for the last four decades. However, I’ve always had a problem “selling” that work to others. “Kubla Khan” seems to be a one-off poem; there’s no other poem quite like it. Thus, however interesting its structure, it’s difficult to generalize from that work.

So, the poem’s got an interesting structure, what of it? It’s only one poem fer chrissakes!

Things began to open up a few years ago. The late Mary Douglas got me interested in ring form, where texts are organized like so: A, B, C…X…C’, B’, A’. The last episode mirrors the first, the next to last mirrors and second, and so forth around a central episode. While the two movements of “Kubla Khan” are symmetrical about a mid-point, they don’t appear to have other features of ring form and the poem as a whole doesn’t have a ring form.

Then I discovered that Osamu Tezuka’s manga, Metropolis, has a ring form. And, though it is a narrative not a lyric poem, it shares an important feature with “Kubla Khan.” It has an emblematic ending. Just at the first movement of “Kubla Khan” ends with a line that is an emblem for the whole poem – “A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!” – so Metropolis ends with an image that can stand as an emblem for the entire narrative – the central character, Michi, in effect becomes transformed into a statue.

What if I analytically decomposed the form of “Kubla Khan” into different elements such that each element is a formal device that can perform certain functions? Maybe those different devices can be found in other texts.

“Kubla Khan”

“Kubla Khan” is a poem that Coleridge presented to the world as an incomplete record of an opium-induced vision. This sport of mind, however, turns out to have a rigorous and symmetrical structure. I’ve laid them out in detail in “Kubla Khan” and the Embodied Mind and in outline in STC, Poetic Form, and a Glimpse of the Mind. There’s no need to plough into the details here.

The basic finding is that the poem’s two movements – and there ARE only two, not three or four, stanza groupings which have variously appeared – share the same part-whole structure. As the second movement is somewhat shorter than the first (half the number of lines) its structure is not so fully developed. But the basic structure is there. That structure is symmetrical about a center point, hence I call it center point construction.

This tree represents the first movement, encompassing 36 lines:

1 tree

Notice the triple branchings, indicated in red. That same structure recurs in the second movement, encompassing 18 lines:

2 tree

Notice that the last line of the first movement – “A sunny-pleasure dome with caves of ice!” – is repeated, with only slight changes, in the center (of the center (of the center))) of the second movement – “That sunny dome! Those caves of ice!”.

A significant portion of the detailed analysis is devoted to showing how that final line of the first movement is a distillation of material in the first two major subsections: ll. 1-12, and ll. 13-30. The first is visuo-spatial in articulation and driven by Kubla’s will (that is, his decree) while the second is audio-temporal in articulation and driven by the fountain’s eruption into Xanadu (which is, as such, beyond the scope of Kubla’s will). Lines 31-34 perform a first distillation while and lines 35 and 36 perform a second distillation. Since it is line 36 that is carried forward into the second movement, I have called that the emblem.

This gives us three structural elements in the first movement:
1) Center point construction.
2) Something happens in the center that is an intrusion into a world ‘defined’ by an action in the beginning.
3) There is an emblem at the end that in some way encompasses the whole.
The second movement is like that as well. The center point construction is obvious in the diagram. The emblem from the first part is the intrusion. The poet whose speaking didn’t really produce it; but it’s there nonetheless – I say a great deal about the verbal trickery involved on this point in the embodied mind essay.

And the final two lines are emblematic, but the emblem’s compass is not simply the second movement, but the whole poem. Not only does the first movement emblem bring a distillation of the first movement into the second movement but so does the line, asserted of the poet: “His flashing eyes, his floating hair.” The flash in the eyes picks up the sunny dome imagery while the floating hair picks up the water imagery. The penultimate line – “For he on honey dew hath fed” – transmutes the dome/eyes into a melon and the sunny/flash into the color of a honeydew melon. That all becomes further transmuted into the milk of Paradise, which the poet is said to have drunk. And the poem’s final word, Paradise, rhymes with the final word in the first movement, ice.

So, we’ve got three structural features we’re looking for in the other texts – center point construction, center intrusion, and an emblem.

Mary Douglas on Ring Form

Before we consider those texts, however, I want to mention Mary Douglas’s work on ring forms, as that is what has made all this work for me. As I explained in my post, The Ring Form Challenge, she spent the last decade or so of her career working on ring forms and in 2007 she published a short book of summarizing synthesis, Thinking in Circles: An Essay on Ring Composition, Yale University Press, 2007. As one would expect, she talked about ancient texts – Iliad, the Old Testament – but also Agatha Christie and Tristram Shandy.

In the third chapter, Douglas formulate a set of seven features she found diagnostic of rings, as follows (in somewhat truncated form, pp. 36-37):
1. Exposition or Prologue: There is generally an introductory section that states the theme and introduces the main characters…

2. Split into two halves: If the end is going to join the beginning the composition will at some point need to make a turn toward the start…

3. Parallel sections: After the mid-turn the next challenge for the composer of a ring is to arrange the two sides in parallel…When the reader finds two pages set in parallel that seem quite disparate, the challenge is to ask what they may have in common, not to surmise that the editor got muddled.

4. Indicators to mark individual sections: Some method for making the consecutive units of structure is technically necessary…

5. Central loading: The turning point of the ring is equivalent to the middle term, C, in the middle term of a chiasmus, AB / C/ BA. Consequently, much of the rest of the structure depends on a well-marked turning point that should be unmistakable…

6. Rings within rings: As Otterbo pointed out, the major ring may be internally structured by little rings…

7. Closure at two levels: By joining up with the beginning, the ending unequivocally signals completion. It is recognizably a fulfillment of the initial promise…The final section signals its arrival at the end by using some conspicuous key words from the exposition…Most importantly, there also has to be thematic correspondence…
I want to carry these forward in the rest of this post. But first I want to score the two movements of “Kubla Khan” against them.

The first thing to note, of course, is that I AM scoring those movements individually, not the poem as a whole. The poem as a whole DOES NOT exhibit ring form, or the reduced (or more general, depending on your point of view) form that I’m calling center point construction. But the two movements do, and it’s important to allow for that.

And, in a way, Douglas does so with her sixth feature, rings within rings. She wants to allow for a ring form text that has one or more components exhibiting ring form. But surely the question of whether or not the whole text is a ring form is independent of the internal structure of any of its constituent elements. One is not going to deny ring-form to the whole if it doesn’t have at least one constituent that is ring form. Nor, by similar reasoning, does it make sense to deny ring form to a constituent part if the whole does not have a ring form.

Well, “Kubla Khan” has two constituent parts each of which has a structure that looks like a ring form. So let’s treat them as such. Here is how I score the two movements:

KK ring-score

While I suppose one could count Coleridge’s preface as a prologue or exposition for the poem as a whole, it doesn’t really serve the function Douglas has in mind. So the movements don’t exhibit that feature, though it might make more sense to say that the feature isn’t really applicable (NA = not applicable). The two halves requirement is tricky, which is why I’ve allowed for NA. Each movement clearly turns at the middle, in some sense of ‘turn’. But I wouldn’t describe it as a turn back toward the beginning; hence the ‘no.’ Though I’ve not discussed them here, there are strong section indicators, which I discuss in some detail in the embodied mind paper.

Central loading gets a strong yes. Those intrusive elements, the fountain in the first movement and the emblem in the second, are unmistakable, and the clearly divide each movement in two, before and after. And – another feature you’ll have to read about in the longer paper – the rhyme scheme picks out the central sections.

It’s this central loading feature more than anything else that I’ve got in mind when I talk of center point structure. We’ve got central loading and a sense of a change in direction once we move through the center. But center point construction, as I have been thinking about it, doesn’t require parallelism between the sections that occur before and after the center. That difference is why I think of center point construction is being weaker, or more general, than ring form.

That leaves us with one other feature, closure at two levels. To be honest, I don’t know quite what to do. On the one hand, I’m not quite sure what Douglas means. That is compounded by two other difficulties. Her criteria are designed for narratives, not lyric poetry, and this particular lyric has been packaged with a preface that claims the poem is incomplete. Hence it cannot have closure.

For reasons that I’ve explained in those other two papers, I’m willing to toss Coleridge’s disclaimer to the winds – and I’m by no means the only critic to do so. The poem IS complete and the emblematic endings for the two movements give them strong closure, though it’s not the kind of closure Douglas seeks in narratives.

The upshot of this is that I want to say that the two movements of “Kubla Khan” exhibit center point construction, but not ring form. I further regard ring form as a special, more restrictive case, of center point construction. Just how this will work out in the long run I cannot, of course, predict.

Douglas set out those seven features because she feels that we need guidelines in conducting such analysis. On that she is correct, and the more explicit those guidelines, the better. But she also says of those features, which she abstracted from “long ring compositions” (p. 35):
They are not rules in the sense of there being something hard and fast about them. Breach carries no penalties, but insofar as they are commonly observed they are like rules. They are responses to the technical problems of coming back gracefully to the start. Other technical problems arise out of the solution adopted for circumventing the first.
Just so, we are dealing with solutions to technical problems. What were are looking for, in the long run, are the mental mechanisms in which those technical problems arise. These features I take as clues about the operations of the underlying mechanisms. The more examples we can describe, the more richly we will have characterized the operational behavior of those mechanisms.

What is important going forward is that we are clear in the considerations we have in mind as we analyze and describe texts. That’s why we need a checklist. It tells us what to look for and gives us a way to reason about specific cases. As long as we explain what we are doing, we should feel free to modify the checklist.

Tezuka’s Metropolis

It so happened that I’d become interested in manga and anime at about the same time I was corresponding with Douglas about ring form. I noticed something in Tezuka’s Metropolis that suggested that this text, a graphic narrative, might exhibit ring form. Before I recount that analysis, however, I would like to say a little about the text and its author.

Manga is a Japanese form of graphic novel that originated...well just when it originated depends on how you calibrate such matters. Just when doesn’t really matter to my analysis. The form has antecedents stretching several centuries back into the history of Japanese book making, but the current form didn’t really take off until after World War II. That’s when Osamu Tezuka began publishing his work, which is the single most influential body of work in the genre. In the 1960s he turned to anime, that is, animation.

Tezuka’s best-known manga series centers on a beneficent young robot named Mighty Atom (鉄腕アトム, Tetsuwan Atomu), which became Astro Boy in the English-speaking world. The stories appeared periodically between 1952 and 1968 and were eventually collected into a 23-volume set. Before there was Astro Boy, though, there was Michi. Michi is the focal character, though not really the protagonist, of Metropolis, which appeared in 1949.

The plot is a bit complicated, but we need to know the basic story. Duke Red, master criminal, orders Dr. Lawton to create an artificial being (jinzo ningen in Japanese), using a particular statue, The Angel of Rome, as a model. This artificial being, named Michi, is made of synthetic cells and, as such, is different from electro-mechanical robots (robboto in Japanese). Though this is not known at the time of Michi’s creation, his/her viability depends on the existence of omothenium radiation, from a device created and deployed by Duke Red – this is very important so you should remember it; it’ll return in a eight or ten more paragraphs. As for my gender equivocation (“his/her”), one of the features of Michi is that he/she can be male or female depending on the setting of a certain switch. Michi also has superpowers; he/she is very strong and can fly. This that and the other happens and Detective Mustachio and his nephew Kenichi decide to investigate. They are the protagonists, Kenichi in particular – the text, after all, was written for young boys, though many adults read it. The whole story is framed by a brief discourse on biological evolution delivered by Dr. Yorkshire Bell, who also appears within the story itself at the beginning, the end, and in the middle.

That frame gives us the outermost segments of the narrative (Prelude and Coda), which I have identified according to where the action takes place:

Metropolis Ring

Lots of stuff takes place in the greater Metropolis area, segment 2 (Greater Metropolis), leading Detective Mustachio to the underground complex of Duke red, segment 3 (Underground). There he gets into a life-threatening situation and Tezuka brings that story line to a screeching halt, leaving Mustachio on the brink of death. We join Kenichi above ground in a world centered on children, a schoolroom and a home; that’s segment 4 (Child’s World). Kenichi goes to his home and there discovers a book Dr, Lawton had written which explains the secrets of Michi’s construction. Kenichi now knows Michi is artificial (we’ve known all along) and bi-gendered (which is new to the reader as well). We are now into the segment 5 (Revelations), which is the central element of our ring.

No sooner does Kenichi read the book than Michi exhibits his (it’s male at this point) superpowers by flying – another revelation. Meanwhile Dr. Bell is conferring with the Chief of Police and they learn that strange things are happening all over the world, giant rats, man-eating grasshoppers, pumpkins the size of a house, and one or two others. More revelations. The world’s out of joint! It’s those omothenium rays, but we don’t know that at this point.

Then the story starts to turn back. Things and stuff happen in Child’s World (segment 4’); Mustachio evades death and escapes from Duke Red’s lair (Underground, segment 3’). More things and stuff in Greater Metropolis (segment 2’), including a fight to the finish in which Kenichi is, reluctantly, pitted against Michi and wins, miraculously. Finally, Dr. Bell delivers the last word (segment 1’, the Coda, p. 162): “Perhaps, might the day not come when humans also become too advanced and, in actuality, as a result of their science, wipe themselves out?”

Here’s how I score Metropolis on Douglas’s criteria, that is, the six that I’ve decided to retain.

Metropolis ring-score

Though Dr. Yorkshire Bell’s opening disquisition on evolution doesn’t quite perform the task Douglas sets for the exposition – it doesn’t introduce the characters – it does set a theme, so I’m going to give Metropolis a Yes on that. The physically different settings serve to demarcate sections. Further, there is a temporal anomaly that bounds the three central segments. The third segment ended with Mustachio on the brink of death. The story then moves forward in time with the next three segments, two in Child’s World enclosing the central Revelations. And that, in turn’ means that we’ve got to move back in time to rescue Mustachio. It’s that temporal anomaly that alerted me to the possibility of something interesting – ring form perhaps? – in this text. So, definitely Yes on section indicators, and on central loading as well. The center is well marked and it contains critical information, information about Michi’s anomalous state and the anomalous state of the world.

The story does have two halves: yes. Once Kenichi knows Michi’s secret, and we all know that the world is out of joint, Kenichi and Mustachio can set about putting things right. But I don’t think we have parallel sections. What runs in parallel are the settings; but I’ve been unable to detect any strict parallels between the events in those settings. That’s no.

And we certainly have closure on two levels. Dr. Yorkshire Bell delivers the final word, and there’s the last scene in the main story, which delivers an emblem.

As I indicated in the summary, Michi was constructed in the image of a statue, The Angel of Rome. At the end of the story, when she’s fighting Kenichi to the death, she is dressed like the woman in that statue. But why, you ask, was she fighting Michi in the first place? It’s complicated. Let’s just say that he/she was confused, angry (with good reason), and leading a robot rebellion. That’s why Kenichi had to fight her, to protect the citizens of Metropolis from the rebellion. She loses the fight, despite her super powers, because Kenichi had succeeded in destroying the machine that created the omothenium rays. When the rays were gone, Michi’s synthetic cells started to die and she dissolved into nothing. As that happens Dr. Bell is delivering a radio broadcast in which he tells Michi’s sad story – and it is sad, believe me, but I don’t want to devote a couple hundred more words to it in order to convey that. That turns the public in her favor and classmates from school streaming to the hospital room to wish him well – Michi was male when he was in school, so that’s how they think of him.

But he’s dissolved to nothing. What to do? Kenichi has The Angel of Rome statue brought into Michi’s hospital room. People then come into the room where they gaze in wonder, shake the statue’s hand, and weep (pp. 161-162). The female statue, on which Michi was modeled, has now become an emblem for Michi and his/her story. The narrative has a definitive ending.

Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now

I’ve already undertaken considerable work on both Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now. These two posts are most directly relevant: From Heart of Darkness to Apocalypse Now, and Lévi-Strauss and Contemporary Myth: Heart of Apocalypse. For deep background, consider these working papers: Heart of Darkness: Qualitative and Quantitative Analysis on Several Scales, and Apocalypse Now: Working Papers.

Conrad uses a subtle narrative strategy. The story opens on a boat in the Thames with five men on the deck, the narrator, who is nameless, Marlow, who does the bulk of the talking, and three others. Marlow tells the others how he traveled up the Congo to find Kurtz and bring his ivory back. And the narrator conveys that to us, making occasional interruptions in Marlow’s narrative.

One of those interruptions frames what turns out, at 1502 words, to be the longest paragraph in the story. The bulk of that paragraph is a précis of Kurtz’s story and includes incidents both long before Marlow’s trip up the Congo and incidents that occur after the point in the trip where Marlow gives us this history.

That point is the one place in the story where we see violent conflict. Men on shore attack Marlow’s boat and his helmsman is hit and killed with a spear. It is into the act of telling that incident that Marlow gives us, for the first time, Kurtz’s background. The helmsman hits the deck bleeding, Marlow gives us Kurtz’s background, and then he pushes the dead helmsman overboard.

This is the center point of the story and occurs in the middle of the three sections of the narrative. Marlow ends this digression by weighing the helmsman’s life against Kurtz’s and Kurtz comes up wanting. Conrad has written this passage, and previous ones, so that Kurtz is both metaphor and metonymy for Europe and the helmsman is both metaphor and metonymy of Africa. Between the length of the paragraph and its position in the overall narrative, a digression from a death, it is strongly marked. For all these reasons I’ve called this paragraph the nexus.

This diagram depicts the narrative structure:

HD narrative strategy 2

Note that the diagram is misleading in one respect. The text does have a frame tale, the words of our anonymous narrator. As I’ve indicated, he interrupts Marlow’s narration at various points during the telling in addition to giving us his own opening (several pages) and ending (a short paragraph).

Here’s how I score Heart of Darkness:

HoD ring-score

The narrator’s introduction basically sets European involvement in Africa as our theme but, like the prologue to Metropolis, it doesn’t introduce our characters: Exposition, yes. Once we’re through the nexus paragraph and Kurtz himself is now in view, the story obviously has changed direction. Kurtz is no longer this mysterious figure we’re going to see, maybe. We’ve now seen him and there’s little mystery left. From this point forward we’re trying to make sense of it all rather than trying to figure out who or what Kurtz is: Two Halves, yes. The text is clearly divided into three sections and the nexus is clearly marked in the middle and is itself strongly marked: Section Indicators, yes; Central Loading, yes. But I don’t detect any obvious parallelism between events before and after the nexus: Parallel sections, no. As for closure, once Marlow has lied to Kurtz’s fiancé about Kurtz’s final words, thereby lying about Kurtz himself and his life, the story reaches a final grim closure: Closure at 2 levels, yes.

As we already know that the form of Apocalypse Now is highly similar to that of Heart of Darkness, let’s fill in the table now and take it from there. You will notice, however, that I’ve added two question marks:

AN ring-score

Let’s take one of the question marks first. Film, by its nature, is filled with section indicators. The shift from one shot to another is as obvious as the shift from one sentence or one paragraph to another. Scene changes are made obvious by, well, the change of scene. We were in the boat, now we’re in shore; we were on one boat, now we’re on the other one; and so forth. And it’s quite obvious when we shift from one group of scenes, say the helicopter attack and aborted surf escapade, and another group of scenes, the trip into the jungle to get mangos when all of a sudden a tiger attacks. That accounts for the yes on Section Indicators. But the film isn’t doesn’t have obvious major divisions that are comparable to chapter divisions in Heart of Darkness nor is the central scene, the sampan massacre, marked in any formal way comparable to the temporal anomalies and narrative interruption attending the nexus paragraph. That accounts for that question mark.

That the sampan massacre marks a turning point IS quite obvious. It’s the first time we see Willard kill anyone and it’s the first time boat crew have been involved in a fire fight, one that ends in several deaths. Their relationship to the war has changed. And, shortly after this point the boat crosses into Cambodia and is therefor in legal limbo. That gives us YES on Central Loading and yes on Two Halves.

Most of the events before and after the center point are not in obvious parallel. Three crewman die after that point – Clean, the Chief, and Chef – but I can’t see any obvious and specific parallels to events that happened before the center. On the other hand, Willard and the boat crew are witness to Kilgore’s largely successful attack on a village, an attack that gives them access to the Nung River, which they take into the interior. We could set that in parallel to the Do Lung bridge incident, where the American forces do no more than hold their own against Viet Cong assault. In the first case the Americans are the aggressors and succeed. In the second case the Americans are under attack and are unable to repel the attack.

That is the kind of parallelism Douglas had in mind. But whether or not it is sufficient to score a yes for parallels isn’t obvious to me. Nor does it matter very much at this point since the heavy loading on the center point and the clear existences of two halves is pretty much enough to make this a case of center point construction.

As for exposition and closure, it’s yes on both counts. The introductory montage sets a thematic mood, if you will, and pretty much establishes that we’re operating outside the normal order of business, whatever that is for war. And some of the imagery prefigures the film’s final scenes, including the glimpse of the Buddha’s head that is the final image in the film. While the film’s ending warrants further discussion, I don’t think that discussion is needed in order to score a yes on closure. Willard has accomplished his mission and, at the same time, regained a sense of being connected to the world, which wasn’t the case during his drunken binge in the opening monologue.

And that final image of the Buddha’s heard brings up the question of the emblem. That isn’t something Douglas had identified as typical of ring forms, but it has figured in my discussion of “Kubla Khan” and Tezuka’s Metropolis. It was, as I’ve already indicated, the realization that both “Kubla Khan” and Metropolis had an emblem that suggested this current strategy of generalizing over my “Kubla Khan” description. That strategy is simply to treat aspects of the form as independent elements, which can recur in other texts independently of one another.

Thus, while “Kubla Khan” consists of two movements, each exhibiting center point construction, none of our other texts – Metropolis, Heart of Darkness, and Apocalypse Now – is so structured. Each of them exhibits center point construction over the whole text. And each of them has an emblem as well. We’ve already seen that in Metropolis. Now we need to find emblems in the other two texts.

The Buddha’s head has emblematic value in Apocalypse Now, where it also merges with head shots of Willard and of Kurtz. We first glimpse that Buddha’s head in the opening montage (at about 0:02:25). The real action in the montage, of course, is Willard. We first see just his head, and it’s upside down – a little Brechtian Verfremdungseffekt, an image that’s repeated through out the montage. The final 10 minutes or so of the film show us Brando’s head in close-up – when he’s reading aloud, when he’s being killed, when he’s dying (in profile) and utters “the horror! the horror!”. We also see Willard’s head in close-up, this time upright, and with blackout camouflage makeup. Just before the end Willard’s head merges with and separates from the Buddha’s head, which ends the film. That image, of course, is taken from Heart of Darkness, where it shows up near the beginning and in the final paragraph.

But that image doesn’t have emblematic value in that text, or at least it’s not the main emblem. That’s verbal, a phrase that occurs twice in the text, though in slightly different forms. It’s there at the beginning of the nexus – “My Intended, my ivory, my station, my river, my—“ – and in the course of Marlow’s account of Kurtz’s deathbed ramblings on the boat: “My Intended, my station, my career, my ideas—these were the subjects for the occasional utterances of elevated sentiments.” The phrase itself links Kurtz’s personal affections to his work, and thus his relation to his Intended to Africa, while its repetition helps bind the text together, as do the emblems in our other texts.

The emblem in “Kubla Khan” ¬– “A sunny pleasure dome with caves of ice!” – binds the first movement to the second. The emblem in Metropolis – the statue, The Angel of Rome – also serves to bind the early part of the text to the very end. The same with the Buddha’s head in Apocalypse Now and, of course, the phrase in Heart of Darkness.

* * * * *

And so we end, not where we began, but close to it. We have four texts, each exhibiting center point construction and each having an emblematic element. While two of the texts have a close genealogical relationship – Apocalypse Now is in part based on Heart of Darkness – those two are also quite different in kind as one is a prose narrative and the other a motion picture. And both differ from the other two, one being a lyric poem (“Kubla Khan”) and the other a graphic novel (Metropolis).

I should say more, particularly of a methodological nature. But this post is long enough. I’ll leave those remarks for another post.

* * * * *

More Analytic and Descriptive Work on These Texts

“Kubla Khan”

“Kubla Khan” and the Embodied Mind, PsyArt: A Hyperlink Journal for the Psychological Study of the Arts, November 29, 2003.


Dr. Tezuka’s Ontology Laboratory and the Discovery of Japan. In Timothy Perper and Martho Cornog, eds. Mangatopia: Essays on Manga and Anime in the Modern World. Libraries Unlimited, 2011, pp. 37-51.

Tezuka’s Metropolis: A Modern Japanese Fable about Art and the Cosmos. In Uta Klein, Katja Mellmann, Steffanie Metzger, eds. Heurisiken der Literaturwissenschaft: Disciplinexterne Perspektiven auf Literatur. mentis Verlag GmbH, 2006, pp. 527-545.

Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Hey Wm:

    Who do you keep calling "a,b,c...n...c,b,a" a ring form? It's chiasmus, and if you need another name for it, it's a mirror form.

    From my POV, a ring form would be one that began "c,d.." and wound up either "..a,b" or "..b,c" -- without necessarily being chiasmic / mirroring itself. As in...

    "a way a lone a last a loved a long the" ... "riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay"

    You might even call the whole idea a "commodius vicus of recirculation".


    1. I'm simply following Douglas's terminology. & she regards chiasmus as a particular, small scale, case of a ring. It makes sense to me. You should read her book.

      As for what you're calling a ring, do you have more than that one example? Well, I can think of a second, Samuel Delaney's Dahlgren, which pulls that stunt in obvious imitation of Joyce.

      The fact is, this is a rather obscure intellectual niche without much action. If I succeed in opening it up, well, then we'll have some real terminological squabbles, coupled, I hope, with some actual substantive issues.

      At the moment, the way I see it, we've got center point construction as the most general form and rings and chiasmus as two varieties.

    2. Or we could adopt a term from counterpoint and call it retrograde.

  3. Hello, Wm:

    You write that Tenzagu's Metropolis "ends with an image that can stand as an emblem for the entire narrative" -- and if that's indicative of a good place to check for "ring form" then Tarkovsky's Nostalghia would be another. Its final image, as you almost certainly recall, showed the little country house with its nearby trees and dog (emblematic of Andrei Gorchakov's Russian life) within the bare walls of the abbey of San Galgano (emblematic of his exile in Italy):


    Your comment that Douglas "regards chiasmus as a particular, small scale, case of a ring" is interesting. I once read an entire book on Joseph Smith's use of chiasmus in the design of Mormon Temples -- the set ups for the Aaronic and Melchizadek priesthoods mirror one another, each with its own pulpit, etc. Locating chiasmus in architecture probably enlarged my sense of something that (eg) in the OT is typically a few words long -- "By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth".

    You ask: "As for what you're calling a ring, do you have more than that one example?"

    I haven't been looking in "long form" works -- but the satisfaction of parallelisms, matrioshka nestings and reversals as forms of closure in the very short forms (mainly tweets) I have been examining bear, I suspect, some measure of relevance to your own explorations:

    This I love: "Or we could adopt a term from counterpoint and call it retrograde." Or perhaps "in contrary motion".

  4. You are, I assume, familiar with that Baroque oddity, mirror composition? A single line is written on a sheet of score paper and set between two musicians who face one another over it. They then play the music from their particular orientation. The line is thus its own retrograde inversion and, when so played, sounds in counterpoint w/ itself.

    Regarding "chiasmus in the design of Mormon temples," you should read Mary Douglas, Leviticus as Literature (OUP 1999). On p. 233 she has a diagram with the following caption: "Leviticus projected on the grand plan of the tabernacle." So, as you indicate, those Mormon temples are designed according to ancient tradition.

    As I said in some post or another, this great anthropologist spent the last decade of her life studying such things, but mostly in ancient texts – she also has a book on Numbers. Within the academy the study of such things seems to be mostly the province of those disciplines that study ancient texts and folklore. It doesn't have a very high profile. That you should find such structures in such distinctly modern texts as Conrad's and Coppola's is not on anyone's agenda. I'm sure Douglas would be pleased with those results; I know she liked the Tezuka.