Friday, June 12, 2009

Domino Theory: Not Your Average Pizza

determinism--a literary equivalent of quantum mechanics, in which all dramatic events have an antecedent; the causal basis of story; a system or philosophy in which chaos or random event is marginalized, a domino theory of event.

By its very nature, story is a series of responses to a stimulus. An individual experiences an awareness of some emotionally charged stimulus, attempts to interpret it, builds a personalized system about it, then moves on to other tasks at hand. When the emotionally charged stimulus seems challenging in extreme, perhaps even to the point of becoming a threat, the individual seeks counsel, choosing a laundry list of advisers such as friends, clergy, psychologists, psychiatrists, philosophers. This is the analog of going to a dentist on the occasion of a pained tooth. The habit of consulting has a long history in the human condition. That habit is a driving force behind the decision to consult the writer, who has his or her own philosophy and has created an ensemble of characters to dramatize that philosophy.

Readers seek escape, understanding, transportation, identity, and companionship in story, thus they approach story with a curiosity that asks, Will this narrative interest and involve me? Writers have the intuitive awareness of how to invite a segment of the reading public into the forum of their story, knowing also that the reader's curiosity will engage to the point of wanting to know more relevant details about the characters in a situation and the situation itself.

By providing some system, some codification of the chaos, for himself, the writer provides primal assurances and comfort for the reader even while potentially disturbing him with a dramatization of the consequences that result from story. As sure of the outcome as the reader becomes while reading Billy Budd, the reader assures himself that he will behave differently under similar circumstances. By experiencing John Yossarian's sense of futility and frustration with the rock and hard place of war and wartime bureaucracy in Catch-22, the reader understands more intimately his own feelings of futility and frustration and is better equipped to engage the chaos about him in his everyday life.

Hint: Significant dramatic events in a story cause the reader to be on the alert for the consequences of those events. Lenny's early responses to stimulus in Of Mice and Men trigger the ultimate consequence. The poignant execution of Candy's dog by Carlson becomes another causal trigger that has payoff in Lenny's fate. George Milton, the bright, down-on-his-luck protagonist, becomes a consequential and ironic embodiment of the title of the novel, which came from a poem by Robert Burns, warning that the best laid schemes of mice and men gang aft agley and leave us naught but grief and pain for promised joy.

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