Friday, April 13, 2007

May the Farce Be with You

Physicists have been identifying and measuring subatomic particles for some time now, looking for predictable behavior they can catalog with the same detail and certainty Aristotle employed in his examination of drama, narrative, and verse in Poetics.

It is comforting to learn how matter behaves; it is inspiring to predict how animals and people will behave, then achieve some measure of accuracy in our predictions. So far,we have tried a number of diagnostic tools on humans, including religion, political science, and psychology,but these disciplines, while helpful to a degree, leave much to be desired. Just as quantum physicists search for a unified field theory that will provide acceptable answers to any questions, we look for a way to understand ourselves in ways that will help us face existential problems that beset us.

The scientist has had frequent recourse to accelerators, devices that speed particles to unbelievable magnitude, then cause them to collide with one another or with some rough analog of flypaper, on which they become imprisoned and vulnerable to change.

The artist has another approach. In writing, the accelerator is recognized as a poem, a short story, a novel, perhaps even an essay, because essay means a test or trial,, doesn't it? And that begins to sound almost like a hypothesis, which most grant-writing scientists appreciate. If my hypothesis is correct, they say in the application, then we will have learned X, which we dearly need to know, curious species that we are.

In the linear accelerator of story, we take two or more elements known as characters and find ways to speed them up, cause them to collide, then note the results. Sometimes the speeding device is comedy, which is humor in a big hurry. We can make almost anything seem comic if we speed it up. If we enhance the vibratory rate of tragedy, we often get humor, which helps prove out that humor is dramatic in nature because tragedy is much more tragic if the dramatic elements of Poetics are in place.

Farce comes from forcing dramatic events to the point where the reader begins to understand that the people involved in this drama have surrendered any pretense at being taken seriously, but they still think they're at war.

I have spoken of story as being life inside a crucible, which wasn't a bad observation for its time, but life inside a linear accelerator has more of an edge. Understanding the way things work, even human behavior, requires an edge, which means the writer has to apply more then heat to the crucible; the writer needs to force the issue to the point where there is no going back.

When there is no going back, there is is a rush to get the collision out of the way, the victims pulled from the wreckage, and the results cataloged, so that the reader can see that these characters are no different than we who apply the kinds of force to ourselves and others that come from our own unique periodic table of elements, our chemistry, if you will, our valence.

If a reader is not made to anticipate a collision, that reader will go to a place where a significant collision can not only be anticipated, it can be found, the wreckage strewn about the landscape with an energetic and irreverent abandon.

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