Thursday, November 20, 2008

Things That Go Bump in the Night--and Daytime, Too

In a sense extending well beyond metaphor and hyperbole, we share membership in the chiropractic, massage-related manipulation of reality, stretching, kneading, pounding it to fit our will. So focused and intense is our desire that we want others to see reality as we see it, going so far as to contrive ways to make our version, our interpretation the most trustworthy, dramatic and, as a result, the most desirable reality of all.

Those of us who become writers of story are willing to undergo the initiation by fire of the Aristotle Poetics, which, as Moby-Dick does with whales, tells us more about story than we want to know. After all, Aristotle, by all accounts a control freak who probably color-coded his togas, was merely setting forth and describing the various forms while Ahab was motivated by sincerely felt grievances. Each individual had a universe, a particular reality. What shapes those realities is the difference between chiropractic and massage, the difference between Texas chili and bean stew, the difference between barbecue and backyard grilling. My own observation that neither of these pairs of opposites is wrong takes into account that there are fierce forces on either side of the argument, infusing the discipline of story telling with some kind of predisposition, some attitude or agenda.

If you approach story with too much agenda or ardor, the resulting reality will be propaganda, which reduces itself under the light of investigation to a desire to control by fear. If you approach story with too much attempt at balance and logic, the result will seem like cafeteria food, largely overcooked and under seasoned.

It can be instructive to listen to writers of nonfiction, including academics, as they discuss the concepts for their works. Some of the works, logic- or intellect-bred, have within them the ability to excite because they are expanding on previously unmade connections or relationships, while others seem to be propelled because of an awareness that the thrust or thesis of the work has general merit as well as specific merit for a specific group of readers. In comparison, writers of fiction reveal as their starting engine a sense of injustice, a desire to pick out a target then pursue the target, often with such results in mind as revenge or humor or an exposure of some other individual's or group's communal concept of reality.

Each of us who offers forth a fictional landscape is also offering an idiosyncratic universe where certain behavior or its lack, certain morality or its lack, certain expectations or their lack step forth from the shadowy world of the quotidian,reminding us for the millionth time how vulnerable we are, our own universe sent out to play, put in orbit where surely it will collide with other orbiting universes.

We are often vulnerable to collision, even more so to delusion. The person who bumps into us and possibly even causes an irritation if not an injury is merely enacting his own delusion, which, if it differs from ours, defines his index of sanity as compared to ours. In some cases this deluded vulnerability explains why so many of us depend for our sense of happiness and identity on the outcome of a sports event or why our interest in celebrities trumps our interest in self or immediate friends. Celebrities, we appear to be saying, represent what we wish to become--and would if we had the ten or twenty thousand spare hours with which to perfect some ability resident even now within us.

We are equally vulnerable to the sophistry that my universe is better than yours, can beat yours, knows more, is more green or prudent or spiritual or artistic or any other denominator you wish to use to maintain the sense of separateness.

When we write, we articulate and send our universe into orbit. When we read, we are kin to those spectator particles lurking in the linear accelerators, speeding toward a collision with another particle, a collision from which we will have been changed and energized, ready to move forth in orbit again for the next bumpy ride and its resulting collision.

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