Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Candidates Debate

No, not those candidates; that is no real debate. I mean the elemental candidates, the ones who influence narrative and story. I listen to those debates about once a year, particularly after sounding off about them in classes to students who, so far as I can tell, are more amused and taken by my passion than for the cause of the passion.

My favorite candidate for the longest time was character because the choice of characters influences the thrust and personality of the narrative or the drama. Then it became the character-driven story because although I have written plot-driven novels and short stories, they don't come easily and I spend more time thinking about them than I am comfortable doing.

From character-driven story, the tide shifted within me to voice, the overall attitude and tone of the material at hand. Besides admiring the voice of a handful of favorite writers, I was drawn to the voice of favorite musicians. Parker and Davis and Gillespie and particularly Coltrane had developed voices that were at once reaching and assertive, confident in their statements and the things that composed their statements. I wanted to sound like that. I was particularly taken with the fact of Coltrane agonizing over the need to do long solos and wondering how to get out of that mode, and of Davis telling him the best way to address the problem was to take the instrument out of his mouth. That made sense too, and so brevity became a shibboleth, but now my favorite candidate is point of view. Who is relating the narrative and why? What special quality does an unexpected narrator bring to a story? Why always pick the most articulate or, indeed, the most sensible?

There is some morbid and wonderful fascination in watching the presidential candidates of both parties setting forth their talking points because that is a reminder that with one or two exceptions, none has a significant grasp of story principals but instead rather a tendency to think in made-for-media sound bites.

What do you think of the immigration problem?

Bigger fences and don't forget to look for hidden tunnels.

And what about the looming economy crisis?

Americans should be allowed to buy more assault rifles because doing so is good for the economy?

What about a woman's right to choose?

I support free-market boutiques and ethnic cafeterias.

By listening to these individuals who would lead us through the next critical years, we are hearing a retreat from the level-headed application of logic and empathy to problems and we are distancing ourselves from the men and women who in past years have set noble ideas and sentiments before us with clarity and appropriate restraint.

It is no wonder our reading and writing skills are on the ebb, waning from under our standards and perceptions. It is no wonder that our cultural icons are athletes, popular singers, and ecclesiastics, all bent on amassing audiences and using some form or other of human growth hormone to enhance performance.

We have been lured from such moral high-ground as the literary adventures of the past to such rousing questions as wondering if Barry Bonds took/takes steroids and whether God--you know, God--wanted Mike Huckabee to lead the Republican polls. No question that both these issues have collateral implications for those of us who, for instance, have youngsters looking for advantage in their sport of choice or those of us who like the idea of an overriding authority figure who is frequently pissed at the thought of losing adherents to reality television.

A number of my writing chums and clients complain about the number of books being published each year and the declining number of persons who read them. There are some frightening implications, one being that more of us are being put off by the available rant and screed and agenda about us ; like writers the world over an throughout time, we are turning to the one trustworthy source available to us--ourselves.


R.L. Bourges said...

the biggest advantage of my past six weeks of struggling with the phone company was this: no tv for the whole duration. And since it's now on the third floor, you have to REALLY want to watch something to do so.
Sound bytes and jumbled tv images assaulting the brain reminded me of one of my young neighbors in Florida, dropping in to see me and saying: "it's so QUIET here" - but you could tell she found that a little bit creepy, considering she lived in a 5-television household, all of them blaring at the same time.

lettuce said...

what?..... God? you mean, God?