Four Seasons: Variations in American Vitalist Film Comedy
by Paul H. Grawe and Robin Jaeckle Grawe
© Institute for Travesty, Comedy, and Humor Studies 2018
Fall Vitalism: Rocky
From an agricultural perspective, every season from early winter to late summer is dominated by thinking forward to the harvest, recognizing that minor harvests including the small grains have been taking some thought throughout the growing season.
But then comes fall and with it a fundamental inversion of thinking which gets disguised in the often frantic hard work of harvest. What has happened is that thought has moved from nurture to exploitation. The plants that have been a constant care are now ruthlessly harvested, cut off, and efficiently run through preliminary steps or even final steps of processing like shucking, pickling, and canning. Space is carefully allocated for various kinds of storage, questions of transportation and logistics whether on the farm or between farm and market become as or more important than any of the nurturing care that preceded it in determining a successful crop. In many senses, the idiosyncrasies of weather become at least a little less important and the idiosyncrasies of the economic system and other human problems of much work in limited time become much more central.
Incrementalism becomes central to the consideration of these human problems: how can we modify human behavior to eke out that little bit more that is still available to harvest? As a result “final harvest” becomes a phrase with great poignancy, and in subsistence economies, the final harvest often proves itself to be the difference between starvation and moving on to the next year.
The modern, non-agricultural world has found that it can do quite well ignoring these problems, simply picking up groceries at the supermarket. But we mention the challenges of harvest here because the inversion of thought in the fall agricultural season is reflected in the inverted thought of Fall-variant Vitalist Comedy. Quite typically, the fall inversion of thought has a somber quality about it. As suggested above, fall is a serious time of year when survival itself is presented in that little extra that can or can’t be harvested and stored. This somber quality leads many critics not to recognize the underlying comedic similarity between Fall-variant and other seasonal Vitalist Comedy or to insist on new descriptors like dark or somber comedy.
We in no way mean to disparage such sub-generic definitions. In fact, Paul’s earliest critical work was a definition of somber comedy (Grawe, P, Sombre Comedy). The Fall variant of Vitalist Comedy is not quintessentially, not technically, dark comedic. Fall-variant Vitalist Comedy may be darkened, but so may other seasonal variants. The Sound of Music, for example, even as a Spring-variant Vitalist Comedy is darkened by the Anschluss, Nazism, exile, and an approaching second Great War. On Golden Pond is darkened by approaching senility, but also by great physical limitations and threats and by a parental lifetime thus far lived in frustration with a child who nurses bitterness against at least one of her parents. Yet On Golden Pond is best analyzed as a Summer-variant Vitalist Comedy. Fiddler on the Roof is seriously darkened by Russian pogroms and displacement, that displacement being to America only by the grace of God. However, Fiddler is a Winter-variant Vitalist Comedy.
This then becomes a major theoretical conclusion in itself: Vitalist Comedy can coexist with either light or dark comedy. And dark and light comedic forms can be represented in every Vitalist season. Sub-genres of comedy easily overlap as legitimate, sustainable analyses.
We turn then to one of the great surprise successes of Hollywood, Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky. Part of the surprise in 1976 was Stallone himself, only a few years before a starving young actor, now become not only a star but a choreographer, director, and patron for other credited family members including his dog, Butkus.
Another part of the surprise was one of the first uses of Steadicam photographic technology in filming running and fight scenes, notably the iconic scene of Rocky running up the stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
But the biggest surprise was that a film that cost approximately $1.1 million to produce went on to box office receipts in the neighborhood of $120 million in the United States alone and allowed Stallone to be writing and starring in five additional Rocky movies over the next quarter of a century.
Rocky is about a southpaw boxer with a mediocre record of wins to losses but a more impressive number of KO’s. Now 30, he is definitely on the way down, fighting at the Ascension Athletic Club where the winner’s share, before taxes and other costs, is well under $100. To make ends meet—and from the look of his squalid one-and-a-half room apartment, ends barely meet—Rocky is a collector-enforcer for a local loan shark. It must be some consolation that he is well-known and respected in the equally squalid North Philadelphia neighborhood.
Rocky’s companions in squalor are his goldfish, Moby Dick, and his two turtles, Cuff and Link. He bought Cuff and Link at the pet shop where a very shy 30-year-old Adrian works and sells supplies like turtle food to Rocky without ever looking up. Adrian’s extreme shyness challenges Rocky because he is definitely taken with Adrian, who also happens to be the live-in sister of his friend, Paulie Pennino.
Rocky, it should be emphasized, is not one of life’s brighter bulbs, which he freely admits. Confronted with the challenge of Adrian, however, he has been creative enough to make friends with as many animals in the pet store as possible, including puppies and Butkus, a full-grown bull mastiff. He also is at pains to have a ready supply of lame jokes and quips, most of which are barely intelligible. Rocky is not much of a talker to begin with, and his inarticulation is compounded by his ghetto accent, fight-swollen facial muscles, and inherent gentleness that comes across as mumbling.
The first half of the movie is thus taken up with much-drawn-out scenes of Rocky obstinately forcing his way into Adrian’s attention with only a brief fight scene intervening that emphasizes Rocky’s brute strength when provoked. His friend, Paulie, who works in a wholesale meat locker, repeatedly complains about working conditions and pesters Rocky to help him to something better in the loan-shark business.
The early scenes of Rocky plunge us into a dark world in a way that is unmatched by any of the other films considered in this book. Yet the film presents a surprisingly artistic and sympathetic portrayal of dead-ended life in America’s white urban ghettoes. It is to the film’s credit that it undertakes this extended artistic exposition of the failure of American dreams in Philadelphia, the capital of the First Continental Congress, and in 1976, celebrating the bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence.
And it is that bicentennial celebration that turns the film around. World Champion Apollo Creed is coming to fight in Philadelphia on New Year’s Day to commemorate the bicentennial. Unfortunately, his opponent has broken his fist, and no reasonable contender is willing to fight on five weeks’ notice.
Creed himself is one of the bright boys of sports. He is in essential agreement with Rocky that boxing is a loser’s game, and he has the public-relations talent to make that point part of his shtick: don’t be a dope, use your head, learn to carry a briefcase, don’t take a boxer as your role model. Rocky’s lifestyle is the epitome of what Creed is talking about.
But being bright, Creed is not about to cancel the fight. The PR of the bicentennial is too great. And so Creed comes up with the great American idea, to give some unknown boxer a shot at the world championship. Carefully studying the records of Philadelphia-area losers, Creed comes up with Rocky as the ideal fall guy. Rocky’s one drawback is that he is a southpaw; southpaws make right-handed fighters look awkward and throw off the rhythms righties have spent years perfecting. But since Rocky isn’t expected to survive the third round, Creed considers this a minor consideration.
When Rocky is approached, he declines the invitation being much too realistically humble to think he can be any match for the champ. Only his dim-bulb patriotism allows him to acquiesce.
And since the acquiescence has been dim-witted, Rocky goes into training with his best imitation of the physical rigor of high professionals. He forgets that he needs a manager, but fortunately the gym proprietor, who has made life miserable for Rocky for six years, recommends himself. Manager and boxer come to terms, centering on an honest understanding that the manager has turned his back on Rocky because Rocky had some innate talent but that in his manager’s opinion he has wasted it to become a street enforcer. Just as honestly, Rocky has pointed out, “It’s a livin’,” and in that inarticulation is the street wisdom of broken dreams. Living comes before prospering, comes before development of innate talent. Losers can be talented people. But staying alive can use up potential quickly, and life can be severely down-sloping, even for the young.
As the fight date approaches, we as audience get to see both the strenuousness of training and its potential effects on Rocky’s body, for if Rocky has a grade-school mentality, he also has the gift of a natural fighter’s body. It is that reality that informs the iconic run up the Philadelphia Museum stairs.
But as New Year’s approaches, Rocky takes a long, late-night run in which with all the mental acuity he can muster he calculates the odds. And what he comes up with, shared with Adrian, now his room-mate, is that he cannot win.
And that means giving up a foolish dream. But Rocky is wise enough to know that he needs something with him when he gets into that ring. And so in frank realism, he sets himself the goal of staying in for the full fifteen rounds. If he can do that, he will have won; he will have shown himself that he is not “just another bum from the neighborhood.”
Others have tried to set realistic goals as well. The odds-makers agree with Creed: Rocky shouldn’t last more than three rounds. Effectively that sets up for us as audience an understanding that showing up for Round 4 will, in fact, be a victory for Rocky. An incremental victory will be gained if he shows up for Round 5.
The last third of the film is the fight itself, which Creed, dressed in Uncle Sam hat and vest over his patriotically multi-color trunks, inaugurates in a self-vaunting PR extravaganza. Joe Frazier even comes out of retirement to make a guest appearance for his fellow Philadelphians. As Joe shakes Creed’s glove, Rocky comments, deadpan, “They must be friends.”
The fight, in fact, goes beyond three rounds. Early on, the over-confident and somewhat off-balance Creed is doing a masterful job on Rocky with sharp left jabs only for Rocky to land one overpowering left which floors Creed for the first time in his career. In this bittersweet final harvest of a loser’s career, Rocky can claim an unexpected “first.” Shortly afterward, he can claim another first, for the first time in 45 fights, he has had his nose broken.
The fight is emblematic of the artistry of the film. Obviously, the fight has little dialog. This isn’t new; minimal understandable dialog has been the character of the film throughout. One of the few intelligible lines is Rocky’s response, having been told by his trainer that his nose is broken, “How does it look?”
Creed’s manager, having long since recognized the dangers of a man who refuses to fall under Creed’s awesome attack, urges Creed to abandon every purpose except to knock Rocky out and go home. Yet Rocky stands and keeps returning for another round. By late rounds, each an incremental victory, Rocky’s physiognomy is virtually beyond recognition; he has demanded to be cut simply to drain blood away from his eyes so that he has some slight vision.
But Creed has also been taking punishment. Rocky invented one great training technique: he went to Paulie’s meat locker and beat up on sides of beef, training in his to-the-body strategy which is the only possible way for him to counterattack. Despite an overwhelming number of hits to the head, Rocky has several times landed impressive combinations to Creed’s chest and stomach. Now in Round 14, yet another against-all-odds explosion of to-the-body ferocity breaks one or more of Creed’s right ribs as the bell sounds ending the round.
Round 15 thus has two fighters both of whom are willing to kill his manager if he throws in the towel. Creed must fight one-handed, his right entirely employed defending his ribs. Rocky may not be able to see his antagonist, much less fight him.
Rocky stays standing through the 15th round. In fact, he loses the fight by a split decision. Police and reporters swarm the ring, surrounding Rocky with questions about rematches and his feelings during the fight. Rocky decisively stretches for one last victory. He has achieved his goal, stayed standing the fifteen rounds. But what is important to him is Adrian, for whom he calls over the madhouse of the arena.
The thought process of fall, the incremental striving for the future’s needed provision, is thus ironically epitomized in one of the slowest-minded heroes.
Close inspection also shows that Rocky throughout has made exemplary use of the Fall formula of vitalist humor techniques: Langerian Tenacity, Re-presentation, and the Gladness Impulse or Spirit of Awe. Of these, none is more obvious than the omnipresence of Langerian Tenacity. We have already said that Rocky’s great asset is his fighter’s body, a body capable of incredible endurance, tenacity, and self-punishment for training effect.
We noted repeatedly in earlier discussions that Langerian humor typically evokes smiles rather than loud laughter. The momentary Tenacity humor of Rocky can easily evoke grimaces and groans, tempting us to think that we are not responding to humor at all. Stallone the artist, however, provides a clear and compelling Tenacity joke early on from which we move to the grimmer Tenacity jokes of the prizefight itself.
Getting up at 4 in the morning, still half asleep, Rocky moves to his refrigerator only six feet away. He puts a glass on top of the refrigerator. We watch him from a camera angle just off the shoulder of the glass as he opens the refrigerator. And then we watch through the glass as he breaks an egg in it. And then another egg in it. In fact, we watch as he breaks six eggs, yolks intact. And then, of course, we watch him chug it!
Agreed, this isn’t guffaw humor. It is Performance vitalism that most of us would refuse to try to imitate. And egg by egg, it is also Tenacity vitalism. If for us it doesn’t produce at least a gag as he lifts the glass (remember the importance of gag lines), we simply are a very poor audience to view Rocky. Rocky gives us one of the more grimly memorable Tenacity jokes of cinema.
The two runs up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art are immortal in film memory and often allow people to think that Rocky was the first film to use Garrett Brown’s Steadicam technology. Much more important to our argument, they are both smiling scenes, the first more tenacious than the second because there is much more obvious pain in the accomplishment. The second stair run is transformed to Performance vitalism, the result of the Tenacity we have already approved over and over with our smiles.
Rocky’s meat locker technique is similarly tenacious; this time we smile the first time, though partly for the Langerian Creativity in the idea. But by the second time through, once we have witnessed Rocky’s bleeding hands after the first beef encounter, it is Langerian Tenacity that has taken over. And that Tenacity is underscored by Creed’s trainer watching a video and intently recognizing how badly they have underestimated the opponent. We are supposed to smile as Creed’s trainer recoils.
The last third of the movie is pure Langerian Tenacity. This is grim humor, increasingly grim along with increasing incremental victories in later rounds. Gallows humor works with some of the same principles, and this humor is balanced against all the grimness of North Philadelphia that has earlier engaged our attention.
What we can easily overlook, however, in our ambiguous enjoyment of Rocky’s holding out through yet another round of pummeling, is the tenacity of Adrian. Occasional camera shots of Adrian’s steady calm back in the dressing room, her faithfulness to Rocky’s decision to attempt to go the distance, and finally her strenuous attempts to fight through the crowd to join her love in the ring elicit the smile of Langerian Tenacity which without her would be only a shudder.
It is, in fact, the Langerian Tenacity that has allowed some to dismiss the film simply as another boxer flick and others to see it as one of the ultimate tributes to a sport that was old when the imperial Romans admired it. In popular reviews, the great question of Rocky becomes simply whether it is that great fight film or is instead a love story. As in Shakespeare’s multi-plotted comedies, the answer is, of course, that Rocky is both and in the both, more than the sum of its parts. Shakespeare does it with inimitable poetry. Rocky does it in mumbled monosyllables.
Along with Langerian momentary Tenacity, Fall-variant Vitalism also relies on Re-presentation, virtually to the exclusion of other Regain forms.
We are originally introduced to Rocky as a loser, a man who fights so ugly that the crowd throws rotten fruit at him and his opponent. He will be re-presented to us as a greater type of loser when we learn his occupation, and re-presented again when he turns out to have a soft streak that doesn’t break thumbs gladly. He is re-presented as light on brainpower when he can’t be sure he is remembering his locker combination, having only used the same locker for six years.
By this point, the Re-presentations have essentially reached nadir, and, in fact, are already becoming ambivalent; refusal to break thumbs is some redemption, agreeing to follow orders over conscience quickly muddies the waters.
The pet store creates more complexity and more ambiguity in yet a new Re-presentation which is at least consistent with his naming turtles Cuff and Link and a goldfish Moby Dick. Rocky may have a slow mind, but it moves forward. His attempts to interest Adrian re-present him as a befuddled lover, and again as a man committed to forward motion.
As already indicated, we eventually see him as a man of extraordinary training Performance and ironically as a man with the Creativity to name himself the Italian Stallion and to invent meat tenderizing as a training technique.
It is, however, the fight itself that most re-presents Rocky. He enters the fight a many-sided chump, stupid enough to think he is part of a fight rather than part of a theatrical production, stupid enough to think that Frazier and Creed are necessarily friends to greet each other in the ring.
The consistent jabbing successes of Creed in the first rounds re-present Rocky not merely as a boxing incompetent but also as a boxer who did need a manager—and still does. Especially in his squared off stance, Rocky helps the fight look a tad less awkward, but, of course, at the cost of making himself that much more a chump for jabs to the head. He thus becomes re-presented as a man without enough brain to be knocked unconscious.
At the same time, Rocky’s unlikely success in knocking Creed down has a repeating sense of ambiguity in Re-presentation: he is presented as a boxer with an enviable record of having floored the world champion at the same time that the blow itself is one of the most ungracefully awkward in boxing history.
And so it goes.
But before finishing the fight, it is important to notice that Re-presentation is not centered in Rocky alone. In fact, Adrian goes through her own series of Re-presentations. The film is extraordinary in its ability to change Adrian from less than a wall flower into a maturely beautiful woman. It also moves flawlessly through Re-presentations that suggest Adrian as both a deeply feeling and an insightfully intelligent person. And in one of the most telling remarks Rocky is allowed to make, she is re-presented as his complement, as he is hers.
It could be argued that to some extent Adrian is also re-constructed, from a shy, unconfident loner to a shy but faithful partner to Rocky. Her Re-construction is simultaneously minimal and momentous, for it makes all the difference to Rocky. At the same time, her Re-construction, instigated by the entrance of Rocky into her life, points back to another Rocky Re-presentation, the encourager of others to respect themselves.
Even minor characters get re-presented. Butkus is originally presented as just himself, the bullmastiff that in theory we introduced as Langerian Tenacity in a snapshot (see Chapter 2). He is also caged tenacity. Later, he is re-presented as assistant trainer for Rocky’s fitness runs. Paulie moves from sympathetic loser to uncontrollably jealous destroyer of his own world to incongruously successful PR man.
Concluding the Re-presentations of the fight, each succeeding round presents Rocky as a new kind of winner simply because of the number of the round. In the final moments, he is re-presented once more by one of three judges as the winner against the world champion, a judgement which is blurred almost to the point of inaudibility. Yet even before that, he has already re-presented himself as a man who doesn’t care because his mind is set on Adrian as the far greater value.
For all that he goes through, Rocky is not re-created or re-constructed. This is not a coming-of-age film or even a growing-into-maturity film. Rocky makes it through by pulling together the strengths of character and understanding he already had: tenacity, patriotism, love of community. His tenacious love for Adrian, which pulls him through the fight, is an extension of his tenacious attempts to win her in the early part of the film, not a Re-construction but a Re-presentation of that tenacious love.
Even Philadelphia itself is strongly re-presented in Rocky. It is, of course, the birthplace of American liberty. It is re-presented as the city of broken dreams. Successively, it is a brawny seaport, a set of monumental buildings re-presenting a privileged past, and a PR extravaganza exploiting historical connotations.
Tenacity and Re-presentation are thus everywhere in the brutal artistry of Rocky.
We move then to the Spirit of Awe. In the triad of Fall vitalist humors, the least explicable in Rocky is Awe. And yet the Spirit of Awe, even in a subtle but powerful sense of Gladness, is indubitably present.
Awe is present in Philadelphia, for Americans the birthplace of the nation. It is present in the bicentennial of the current world champion of democracy, boasting in its accounting the longest series of regularly-scheduled elections in history.
Awe is evoked in the monumentality of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and other public buildings as well as in its local-color memorialization of the good, bad, and downright ugly that is Philadelphia 200 years after Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and friends finished their manifesto that “All men are created equal.”
But Rocky is also awesome at many personal levels. Awesome in Rocky swallowing eggs. Awesome in all the grimnesses of training, Awesome in the Steadicam techniques but especially in the Steadicam view of punishment in the ring.
People, especially people who were not used to literary criticism, but were used to the harsher realities of America at the beginning of its third century, talked about the film in awe, often in hushed awe—and still largely do. Sydicated columnist Leonard Pitts recalls, “I wish I could experience again that first surge of Wow! . . . . People in the theater were yanked to their feet, cheering.” Hollywood simply recognized it with an Oscar as Best Motion Picture in 1977.
Rocky evokes a Spirit of Awe for the survival of American democracy even in the squalor of current Philadelphia, a grim Spirit of Awe for the tenacity of a loser fighter who nevertheless knows what it is to care and to love. And as alluded to above, there is Awe in a film existing so consistently at the polar opposite of the articulateness which is routine to theatre over centuries or even millennia, achieving so much that is truly creditable and truly artistic.
And thus we come to the question of dynamis. Rocky changed people. Pitts reflects:
It is axiomatic that there are moments when art imitates life. But there are also moments, rare though they are, when art impinges life, when it affects you and you find yourself different after the experience than you were before. “Rocky” was one of those moments for me.
That Rocky had dynamic qualities, that is, that it could move people and particularly move people who lived closer to the base of the social pyramid than to its apex, has never been within the realm of competent doubt. It was, in Pitts’ words, “a battle cry for the underdogs, losers, and misfits.” Some audiences, particularly audiences closer to the apex of the social pyramid, have been embarrassed by the dynamic, embarrassed by the strong feelings elicited by these loser nobodies named Rocky and Adrian and their improbable relationship to the celebration of the Bicentennial.
When we look at the triad of Fall vitalist humors, the overwhelming presence of each of the three makes a strong Fall dynamis almost inevitable.
But what is the character of that dynamis? Isn’t it strange that there can be such a universal consensus that there is a strong dynamic and yet little comprehension of the nature of that dynamic?
As in every other film within this larger study, the dynamis is generated in part from comedy itself, a dynamis derived from a patterned action, in this case a patterned action of repeated successes within a steeply downslope reality, action premised in original, irreparable inadequacies, in Rocky, in Adrian, in everything in their neighborhood. It is repeated success of tenacity and perseverance but also of community love.
Rocky’s respect in the community is a sign of love, of community solidarity. There is a jarring irony in The Ascension Athletic Club staging its boxing contests under a gigantic mural of Christ offering the cup of communion, a mural no one has bothered to whitewash and no one has dared to deface. Yet this mural is the opening symbol of that communal solidarity. Rocky’s care for a teenage girl’s reputation and his humble self-criticism in expressing that care seems entirely gratuitous, until we realize that it is one of the most disguised and the most eloquent of the repetitions of this love of community.
Rocky’s success is his community’s success. He is one of those specially blessed people whom everyone likes and respects, everyone wishes well, even when like his manager-trainer they scold and abuse him. And Rocky and Adrian’s successes are celebrated with the survival success of their community.
In that aspect, Rocky follows a very strong American theme. Put another way, part of the full dynamis of Rocky is an American dynamis separate from anything that might be called comedic dynamis.
Long ago, Americans decided that they would all hang together or hang separately. Long ago Benjamin Franklin, the greatest scientist, the greatest rhetorician, and the greatest political scientist of his age joined with other forward-looking American patriots and sealed it for all of them in the single phrase: all men are created equal.
Rocky takes place just a little way from Independence Hall. We should not forget that it is also just a little way from Valley Forge where a small band of losers stayed in the fight through a long winter with a victorious, world-class opposing army perhaps camped literally on Rocky’s doorstep.
With all this at stake, for Americans Rocky would be either shamelessly exploitative of the Bicentennial or an enduring monument to it. No doubt, that has a great deal to do with its American dynamis.
And thus, the dynamic of Rocky as Vitalist Comedy is not the full dynamic but rather no more than a third dynamic element complementing the dynamic from Comedy generally and the dynamic from the American odyssey.
As in all Vitalist Comedy properly so-called, Rocky’s vitalist comedic dynamic component is a much more clearly-felt dynamic than the dynamic of formal comedy in general.
And the dynamis we feel from Vitalist Comedy is a surge, a rush of life and its energy.
But with such extensive use of the Fall triad of humors, Rocky also has a Fall-variant component to its dynamic. We will more fully define Fall dynamis after we have considered Life with Father and Forrest Gump in the following chapter. However, we can make some tentative and partial observations based on fall’s inversion of thought and the Fall triad of humors.
Like fall, the dynamis of Fall Vitalist Comedy has an inverted character compared to the dynamics of Spring and Summer variants considered earlier. Spring and Summer vitalism have an almost inevitable forward-looking component: in Spring’s case, looking forward to a new world which has suddenly come into existence; in Summer’s case, looking forward to yet another round, yet new challenges and new transformations, new rebalancings and new reconstructions with the knowledge that it has all happened before. This is even the case when the Summer-variant comedy in question is On Golden Pond with protagonists staggering with lost memory and strong physical limitations.
But Fall Vitalism does not have an unequivocal forward vision. Often it has no forward vision at all. In that respect, Fall Vitalism moves toward tragedy as traditionally conceived. Fall is an end of things, a final effort in which one may put in herculean effort for that last incremental unit of harvest. But then it is over.
And with the harvest over, either there is enough for another year or there isn’t. A Fall dynamis has a strong element of final accounting about it. It is the do-or-die time. And the dynamic that goes with it is a surge, but a surge to get the work done and to get to the final, bottom line. Rocky is the emblem of such a mindset and dynamic feel: let’s get into the ring, let’s make the final effort, let’s hope for the best result.
One can hope for the best result. But by the time fall comes, most of the accounting can be done on the back of an envelope. Disaster of not bringing in the harvest at all is still possible. But the high side, the maximum harvest is fairly evident. Rocky and Adrian have a very clear sense of the high side of what is possible.
And, therefore, the dynamic associated with that extraordinary life is likely to have a grim determination element in it as well as a realism more focused on the limitations reality imposes but nevertheless putting its energy into a clear direction of effort and incremental accomplishment.
The dynamic of Fall Vitalism, emphasizing its final accounting, thus becomes for the audience an incipient urge to add it up, record it, and deal with it. The final account includes all the broken dreams and promises of the past, but with it all considered, all written down and recorded, it finally doesn’t matter. What matters is that the account has been finished and in the final write-up, survival is possible. Only then is it time to begin to consider where to go from here.
Considering the triad of vitalist humors involved in constructing this dynamic, especially with Rocky as a model, the relationship of technique to dynamic result should be easy to grasp.
The Fall variant rests squarely on Langerian Tenacity. The sense of fundamental limitation and yet necessary effort for final incremental gain virtually requires tenacious effort, tenacious mental resolve, and tenacious spirit. And thus the dynamic has a much deepened sense of determination, especially once-and-for-all determination.
The Fall variant rests squarely on Re-presentation. The world re-presents itself with all its limitations clearly before us, and we are forced to re-present ourselves in order to make those last incremental gains. Typically we have to re-present ourselves not to waste effort in previously affordable self-delusions. And ultimately, every Re-presentation having been considered, we must move on into yet another, but unknown Re-presentation. And thus, the dynamic of Fall Vitalism has a definite feel of getting real, getting down to the nitty-gritty—and then moving on.
The Fall variant rests squarely on Awe. Awe is the response to knowing what little we can count on at the same time that we are resolved to keep at it because failure to keep at it is the surest of defeats. Awe mocks our smallness including our very small powers in facing an immeasurable infinity. But mature Awe is also an Awe that, having faced reality, hitches up its belt and makes the effort. The Fall dynamic has thus a David and Goliath feel, an incipient rush of girding up loins with a solid knowledge of why one is in it.
All these technically-directed aspects of dynamis—once-and-for-all determination, getting down to the nitty-gritty of life, grimly knowing why one is in it—together suggest that the typical dynamic of Fall-variant vitalism will be an incipient rush that feels especially mature and calmly determined as it moves ahead toward an unknown “next.”