Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Character as Lab Rat

  In the midst of a conversation between classes today, when you felt yourself much in need of coffee and were in short order supplied with a generous and foamy latte, you were seized with the notion that you were setting characters into situations where they were confronting problems that concerned you, were in fact your surrogates set forth to face and respond to problems you felt were so pernicious and divisive as to be unsolvable.

This meant to you that you were not after the overarching solution to a problem as nuanced as, say the Arab-Israeli conflict or even the various proposals such as the One-State Solution or the Two-State Solution.  And what about the Balkanization fracturing the United States as liberals, conservatives, moderates, collide in attempts to negotiate their way through broad constitutional issues, social issues, and the matter of governance in general?  

Your stories and longer works are not designed to take these matters on, nor do you feel attachment to novels that do, suspecting them of having a greater appetite for political propaganda than they do for drama.  Novels such as A Passage to India or The Heart of Darkness, or even The Raj Quartet are hard come by, more often than not requiring some extraordinary setting such as Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land to remove the potential patina of the specifics of global politics.

Your interests lie in the dramatic activities of individuals who are set in some activity against social and cultural turmoil.  And this brings you to your point here:  You are seeing characters as laboratory animals, mice and rats mostly, bred and or modified for placement in particular dramatic mazes so that they may be watched to see how they behave.  

This is no easy thing to acknowledge or to cope with on any level because it is a tacit admission that you do not believe you write to attack and solve larger issues, rather you write to observe and then attempt to portray with some notion of affording as much dignity to these literary lab rats as you possibly can because they are, however abstract, representative of people you have chosen to observe.

Cold and clinical as this may make you seem, it also advances the argument of what you are looking for when you sit to argue with such craft as you have.  You are deliberately plaguing individuals with doubts, uncertainty, naivet√©, possibly even ignorance, then placing them in stress situations which by their individual natures bewilder you as well.  From them, you are seeking scenarios of behavior—not absolute solutions, because such things are, you believe, beyond the realm of possibility.  You want what you have advocated for some considerable time now, negotiated settlements with the Cosmos.  This goes well beyond Rodney King—remember him? —and his plaintive wonder if we can’t just get along together.  This extends to a greater recognition that we are all of us outsiders, still carrying along in the backpacks of our younger psyche the young desire to belong, then the degrees of rebellion and cynical engagement we’ve faced along the way, arriving now at a place where we wish deep, satisfying relationships with mates, friends, colleagues, family.  This is a place that begins with the individual self, a self who knows and understands the nature of being an outsider.

Being an insider begins with having understood the lonely integrity of being outside, understanding the nature of the outsider, understanding the insider who resides within so that, when the occasion arises, he can check his outsiderness at the door, enter the big tent, then share for a time in the family reunion before returning to the outside to take refreshment. 
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