Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Journeys, Written, Inner, and Outer

With a few notable exceptions, younger protagonists tend to be outward and oriented to action while older protagonists tend to be more inner and reflective.

Holden Caulfield was notable for his innerness, but he, as so many of Salinger's characters, young and older, is close to some kind of break.  Gregor Samsa has, by virtue of his metamorphosis into a beetle, gone inner.  Huck Finn trod that fine line between inner and outer, and for three-quarters of his eponymous venture, represented his author at the top of his form. The one place where Twain appeared in complete form was the near memoir, Life on the Mississippi.  

You hereby venture that Huck Finn, for those first pages, was a fantasy memoir, of Twain using fiction to rewrite his own upbringing, a theory that makes even more sense when you account for reasons why he brought Tom Sawyer back at about the place where things began to fall apart.  Tom was a mischief, and before you reached the stage of your own life where you were able to attach other meanings and interpretations to things, you envied and wanted to be Tom.  You wanted to be that carefree mischief of a boy who would begin to morph into recognizable respectability.

Dangerous as it is to attribute direct links between the behavior of characters and the attitudes and behavior of their creators, Charles Dickens's Pip, that other remarkable first-person narrative, was in some ways Dickens himself, led through a turmoil of class distinctions, social ups and downs, and financial flights.  Poor Pip was manipulated by The System, as personified by Miss Haversham.

For the longest time, you did not wish to spend time with characters much given to thoughts and inner reflections.  You wished movement, action, and story where action and result led to outcomes rather than story where questions and inner investigations led to change.

Only when lead characters began to stumble over their own naivete did you begin to see the pattern throughout your entire reading where you could with some reason question the intelligence of the character.  Only then did you begin to suspect yourself of being a naive reader who had, somewhere along the way begun to wish to include himself among published authors who entertained.

This last wish brought you the trouble of hoping to entertain to the point of neglecting some of the physical essentials of craft.  Artists have an understanding of what distorted horizons and perspective will do to the eye of the observer.  Musicians have an understanding of what dissonance and discord will cause within the sensitivity of the listener.  If you could entertain, you reasoned in your naivete, you could intrigue the reader into remaining.

The result of such reasoning led you to examine stand-up comedians who quite often became so desperate to entertain that they had to resort to bullying their audiences.  Living in the same part of town as Jonathan Winters, you were able to see this dynamic over a large span of time, wherein he literally trapped tourists, holding them hostage in what at first appeared to be an improvised performance for them alone, but after a while, the entertainment was gone, the tourists had the look of frightened rabbits, waiting for their chance to dart for safety, away from the constant patter, the growing intensity of Winter's genius gone amok, his rhetoric becoming more frantic, all the while funny, but out-of-control.

Withhold, you told yourself, each time you saw such antics.  Withhold rhetoric and outcome.  In particular, withhold the sense of being driven.  Rely instead on the sense of being amused, concerned.

Do not, you warned yourself, write for an audience because an audience as such is an angry mob, waiting to happen.  Write instead to amuse yourself.   It is one thing to hold an audience in place with rhetoric and dramatic device, it is something entirely different to cause an audience to care about fictional characters and to see you as the filter for those individuals, whom the audience believes more than it believes you.

There were times, say the 60s and 70s of the past century, where the audience wanted to be led past the conventional stop signs, into the back alleys of profligacy.  You often followed those audiences in the things you wrote and read and wished for.  Giving audiences what they want is not always going to provide good results nor is giving yourself what you want a guarantee of anything better emerging.

Audiences are drawn to characters who want things.  As someone who himself wants things, you understand this attraction.  You want many things, story among them.  You want story that is neither overt in its comfort nor inconsiderate in its wish to disturb and provoke awareness.

You particularly do not want the calculus where the troubled genius of someone like Jonathan Winters approaches true artistry as his anger evades its guardians and comes storming forth.  Humor is a lever, toppling pretense and undercutting the foundation of the moral high ground.  Humor can and does cause us to laugh at our individual self and the behavior of the self when alone and in society.  Humor thus can make us aware of being uneasy.  Twain, even at his angriest, had this ability.  His humor lights the darkened caves of your own anger and frustration.

This leads you to the awareness that laughing at yourself is the surest way to begin any journey of reflection and understanding.

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