Monday, September 28, 2009

The Distraction of Images

You know all about the other shoe dropping, not so much from living in apartment complexes as having been resident in a hotel or motel from time to time.  The person in the room directly above you removes one shoe and lets it fall to the floor with a thunk, waking you and keeping you awake as you anticipate the resolution, the thunk of the other shoe dropping.

On occasion in a classroom, you've even milked the analogy by extending the individual in the room above you to be a centipede, thus the dropping of more than two shoes.

In real life, as opposed to metaphorical life, story life, composition life, it can take time for the other shoe--whatever it might be--to drop, adding to the sense of suspense, anticipation, and general chaos in real-time life, where either so much is going on or nothing is going on, thus another distraction among the many.  (Story sorts out the chaos, much in the manner of a conspiracy theorist selectively discarding facts that might mitigate the conspiracy theory.)

In real-time life, you frequently scan books on acting technique and philosophy, in search of yet another form of circumstance by which you may bring some measure of authenticity and theme to your growing vision of How Things Work.  Even if your vision is of a genteel absurdity, nevertheless there has to be ways of demonstrating this absurdity without the need to lecture the characters or, even worse, the readers, while still maintaining a balance of plausibility.  This aspect of events seems the most consistent in the things you've written since you were about eighteen, at which point you'd decided that the formula-based story was beyond your means (you later refined that to being beyond your interest).  Although you are not as devoted a fan of Raymond Carver as many of your writer friends and, increasingly, your students are, the thing you admire most about him is his ability to convey that sense of plausible absurdity, of things having stretched as tightly as a pair of wrong-sized shoes bought in desperation at a thrift store.  You loved the shoes but size was an issue.

So you come across an acting book exercise in which the student is conveying a sense of being cold.  How, you wonder, would Philip Seymour Hoffman demonstrate cold?  And the very act of visualizing an actor you admire performing such a task brings images to you.  The images are so intense that you need to stop because of the distraction of images; you don't want to lose the insight here, which is that although the dramatic situation has to convey an emotion, the place where the situation occurs has to convey at least a sense--sight, sound, touch, temperature--if not an emotion.  Thus do you have a character in a situation, which is to say a focused, confrontational encounter with opposition, simultaneously responding to the setting.  Bingo!  Counterpoint.  I don't have time to be hungry now; I've got to cope with this!  Screw being too hot in here, I've got to make a decision.  It is literally a double bind, which has to create tension.  Hamlet, driven by his need to extract revenge from his uncle, sees his uncle in a vulnerable position and now becomes aware that he might exact the ultimate revenge by killing his uncle, thus settling the score.  But the uncle is saying his prayers, and if Hamlet were to kill his uncle while he is at prayer, the uncle will take an all-expenses-paid trip to Heaven, which is the farthest thing from Hamlet's intent.

True enough, were you to turn this musing in for an essay on the SAT, it would be returned to you with a stern note about topic sentences.  But what do they know about story?

1 comment:

Querulous Squirrel said...

Ah, double binds. Was raised on them. My favorites.