Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Discovery in the legal sense means the sharing by both sides in a proceeding of potentially incriminating or exculpatory evidence.
In the literary sense it means an awareness that someone, some place, some organization, or some thing is more or less than it seems.

Discovery in real life is another, more complex matter. It is a truth universally recognized that discoveries made by others are more substantive and revelatory in nature than one's own discoveries. In fact, one's own discoveries are quantitatively of lesser magnitude that the discoveries made by others. Others, we believe, know how to get out of problematic situations while we are limited to knowing only how to get into problematic situations. This of course speaks poorly of one's own ego supplement, hence the rationalization that it sometimes seems that way, even to the detriment of one's actual accomplishments. In some landscapes, our accomplishments are as difficult to live with as our lack of them. People about us seem to be discovering, inventing, using things in ways we could not have anticipated, their discoveries clearly enhancing the lives and humors of others. So far as our own discoveries, they are the equivalent of elephants in the living room. Why would you want to do that? What is the purpose of your discovery? Will it cure anything? Can a profit be made from it? Had you not better spend your time finding discoveries that have some potential for profit? In other words, discovery becomes a leveling instrument attacking a culture.

In yet another rationalization, we comfort ourselves by reflecting that nearly everyone has this sense of awareness that others are discovering the same thing.

Fortunately for us, there is the discovery that as writers, our output is based on the wrappings of fact, myth, and urgency about armature of discovery. In nonfiction, the essay, for instance, the discovery is the realization of some tangible conclusion brought to light by comparison, contrast, and sometimes plain old bombast or stylistic mayhem. In fiction there is always the comes-to-realize moment where one or more front rank characters weigh in on evidence, then act on it, or have no control over their actions because of some compulsion or flaw. There is also the discovery a character makes as a result of research, or the accidental encounter with information that pulls the rug from under a long held assumption or belief.

Story is based on what persons find out, even to the point where no character within the story discovers anything, but the reader does. This is called irony; it is you getting even, leveling the playing field, entering a conspiracy with readers who may be complete strangers, in which you collude against your characters by withholding the discovery from them. Thus have you played out through your characters the sometimes present feeling that everyone in the real world is one or two discoveries up on you.

By setting two or more characters on a dramatic collision course to the point where we cannot see the solution, we are of course engaging in the kinds of introspection that will have become second nature to us. The more severe we make the consequences, the more risk we attach to the moral choices we force upon our characters, the more we build the toolkit of discovery within ourselves and the more compelling the process, the creating process, becomes.

At first this seems risky business that must be approached with caution and thought, but as we progress, we see caution and thought brought out of the closet for the traitors they are. By reading the work of others, those writers who have grasped the process of the craft, the more we are willing to set sail with no final destination in mind, only for the discovery. Closure is related to discovery in the sense that some discovery is made but possibly it is not completely understood, something like the translation of instructions that come with the gadgets that were assembled in non-English-speaking countries.

Discovery is not absolute, although setting forth on the voyage is wired-in behavior.

Sometimes the best we can plausibly achieve is a negotiated settlement, where the plausible discovery becomes the fact that we do not always get what we want, even if we get some of it, we don't get it when we want it, there may be large parts of it that baffle us and everyone else who sees it.


Anonymous said...

This makes me want to ask what the discovery was for you. Or maybe you've written it but I haven't discovered it yet.

lowenkopf said...

Marta, the discovery for me was the disconnect between what I had been taught and the things I learned by experiment, by failure, the occasional success, and the ongoing need to keep testing, trying, standing up to individual responsibility.