Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Way of All Flash

Although there have been considerable patterns of evolution in the story from the times of pre-written language to the latest edition of some literary journal, the intent has not evolved significantly--because there has been no imperative for it to do so. Literate or not, most of us have some measure of verbal story to tell. Critics will ask us, sometimes for good reasons, for whom the story is intended. (We must not be too hard on critics. They are the literary equivalent of schoolyard bullies we must suffer. Indeed, some of us will become critics, as it were passing along the bullying tradition.)

My own take is that whatever it is we do, we do it first for ourself; it is our own candle in the darkness. We tell ourself a story to set the sensory input in place. We may proceed from there to tell it to others, as a cautionary take. Or as revisionist history. Or as an opportunity to have the final word (knowing there is no real final word), which is to say having satisfaction, however belated.

Also in the rear trunk, packed along with my own take on our needing to tell the story to ourself first, is the added baggage of my belief that much of what we do during the course of any unit of time is to process an incredible amount of sensory input, some of which we have committed to muscle memory because we have bee doing it for so long. I expect a good number of writers to agree with me on this point I'm about to make: We have become writers to teach ourself what it means to be a sensate individual, struggling for survival in a particular culture. After it becomes muscle memory, we are more or less screwed because it is not the easiest way to make a living at it. One saving grace is that any number of men and women who do it better than us are able to make some kind of living from it. (Are there such things as unsaving graces? If so, one of them is that an even greater number of men and women who do it less well than we do nevertheless seem able to make a good deal of money from doing it.)

Writing for one's self is seen by non-writers as self-absorption, possibly even solipsism. On investigation, some of these non-writers will be revealed not to give a damn about where they stand on something so basic, for example, as the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, the given being that they are Americans in the first place. Some non-writers would give a great deal to have something to give a damn about beyond, say, the rivalry between the Yankees and Red Sox or the Celtics and Lakers, or is Leonard Di Caprio better looking than Daniel Day Lewis.

Tragedy for the ancient Greeks is related to hubris among the ruling classes. Tragedy for modern wannabe writers is the absorption not in self but rather in tabloid culture wars, formulae of the massmarket as opposed to risks of self-discovery. Tragedy for modern Greeks is Lean Cuisine instead of a serious roast lamb. When you reduce tragedy to cultural expediency and massmarket expectations, humor becomes tragedy sped up.

Just today, someone I've known and admired for nearly thirty years (I first met him after having reviewed his breakout novel) claimed to be growing progressively smarter, making me realize I have for some time been growing progressively dumber, a condition that has nothing whatsoever to do with Alzheimer's or attendant woes but rather from the increased awareness of how little I in fact know and how much factually deficient material is set forth as though it were fact, and, damnit, how much of the latter I have come to accept as though it were fact. From these shadows comes the need to tell myself stories, Aesop's Fables of the twenty-first century, cautionary tales, tales that impart wisdom if not fact. Fact is data verifiable by individuals of all ages, both sexes, many if not all cultures. Wisdom is a way of looking at fact, a lens or set of lenses which allow those who will take the risk of looking at fact without distortion.

Trouble is, reality may be a more serious distortion than fantasy. We'll need a shaman to test this out--a shaman called a writer.

1 comment:

Wild Iris said...

I too know more and more about less and less every day, which I find quite relieving. Not having my head stuffed full of facts leaves quite a lot of room for stories to grow.