Friday, September 25, 2009

The Writers' Psychosis Test

Where, you ask, does story begin?

Story begins at the precise moment stasis ends.  Story begins when a hand, be it the hand of God, the Author, or a character tips the fine-but-chaotic balance of seemingly ordinary clutter, tilting it toward something somebody or some system wants.

How would you account for a something (as opposed to a someone) wanting something?

In espionage-type novels, say those of Eric Ambler or John Le Carre, human characters may want something, information or money or a sense of political satisfaction, perhaps even sexual favors that might not otherwise be attainable.  Nevertheless, the system governing espionage has wants that trump what humans want.  The system wants human borders to become secondary; the system wants an apparent result that covers the real goal which is balance or stasis; the system wants always to remain one step ahead of the players.  In any kind of novel involving institutions, whether they are States, universities, retirement home facilities, or those synecdoche-type abstractions such as The Law, or Justice, or even Poetic Justice, the institution wants to demonstrate that it understands its work force--humanity--better than humanity understands itself.

How about, then, someone wanting to beat The System (whatever System it may be)?

Same thing applies; one or more characters believe they have found a way to cheat, defeat, or otherwise bring down the system.  That's the tipping point, the beginning of, say, Dog Day Afternoon.  That's the point at which things begin happening that may be interpreted to mean there are external agencies such as Kismet/Fate.

But you don't think Kismet/Karma/Fate apply, do you?

No, I don't, but that won't stop some persons from believing with the same intensity as I disbelieve that they are up and in operation.  Remember, when story is in progress, the Cosmos may appear to be taking sides.  Events are triggered that may be read just as tea leaves may be read or the entrails of fowl, or the toss of yarrow sticks.  The attribution of events in The Iliad, for example, can be seen as intervention of The Gods, or The Fates.  Those were "invented" before political science and sociology or psychology.  

You are not, then, cynical or by any stretch a nihilist?

Absolutely not.  If you need to label me, perhaps absurdist is a good place to start.  At any given moment, absurd things are happening, triggered by absurd people.  Other equally absurd individuals see these events and believe they are cataclysmic or thematic or prophetic or perhaps even representational.  At the moment, there are, for instance, members of the U.S. Congress representing Midwestern states, drawing absurd conclusions to events.  In a year or two, these individuals will largely be forgotten, but they will have had some effect on the universal tolerance for the absurd.  Yet another absurd person, once the House majority leader, is attempting to reinvent himself as an Elvis Presley-type dancer on national television, and yet another former congress person, himself a House majority leader who resigned in disgrace, trying to rebrand himself with absurdist pronouncements.  No matter that all of these happen to be Republicans; many Democrats are equally lunatic.

If you were to take an individual who had become a professional writer, then remove only the physical acts of their writing and the arrival of their work in books or journals, their behavior would seem to fit behavior commonly described by experts as lunatic or absurd or even psychotic.  There is risk, a necessary element in every story, in becoming a writer, increasing exponentially with each passing year the wannabe writer stays at the craft.  The risk involves training one's self into the psychotic landscape where voices are heard, time is warped, reality refracted, and absurdness or absurdity becoming the ruling force.

And yet you admit to being a writer?

Not sure if that question came from you or one of the voices I hear.

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