Monday, March 11, 2013

Good Cop-Bad Cop, Absentee Landlords, and the Rashomon Story within Us

Easy to see the family resemblance between a short story and a novel.  Of equal ease, seeing the genetic traits between the essay and the longer thesis.  If, by happy chance, the latter two should happen to use the characteristics of the former, the outcome is another nod to the vigor and diversity of the dramatic family.

Story genes do run deep.  In recognition, works of nonfiction having as part of their genome strong presences of conflict, reversal, surprise, dialogue, and a discernable tempo have a better chance of approval among individuals who read for information, entertainment, and transportation to places and situations they've never visited before.

The common denominator of fiction (story) and nonfiction (reliable progression of ideas) is emotion.  Neither fiction or nonfiction is free of potential for that most dreaded literary presence known as boredom.  Each has a better chance for survival if it puts some individual concept of popular belief into the interrogation room, then brings in the well-known team of interrogators, the good cop and the bad cop to apply some tough questioning.

We root for the good cop to win because we have already experienced enough cynicism in our dealings with Reality to expect the bad cop to find a last-minute way to snatch a tainted or corrupt win from the jaws of honesty.  Yes, Virginia, there sure is a Santa Claus.  He lives in a world where the innocent are often convicted because it is a political convenience for the bad cop, the bad prosecutor, and the bad judge.  Such a world is the cynic's world of equal opportunity.

Sometimes, through ignorance or lazy standards of convention, the bad cops win in fiction, which comes forth flat and uninteresting, and in nonfiction, where the result presents information with a high potential for being interesting and exciting, then presents them in dry, orotund shades of boredom.

The message becomes clear to those who push fiction and nonfiction into the interrogation room:  All narrative is bundled information.  In fiction, the information has its origins in emotion.  In nonfiction, the information is based on fact and the writer's vision and arrangement of those facts.  Better by all accounts for the writer of nonfiction to work feelings and differences of opinion into the work.

In some large and kind way, the guiding force of story and of narrative belongs to the Rashomon tradition, a story set in medieval Japan, in which a woodcutter and a priest are joined by a commoner to whom they relate varying visions of a murder and a rape, or perhaps a seduction and a suicide.

There is much to be learned from reading the Rashomon story and, indeed, from watching a filmed version of it made by the noted director, Akiro Kurisawa.

We who read with passion and write to capture the lightning in a bottle that is story work our way to the individual realization that all memorable writing is somehow wrapped about the armature of self-interest.  We see what we wish, infer from the hidden depths of our emotional storehouse, impute in some direct ratio to the degree of the passions that govern us even when we are unaware of their presence, meaning some of our passions and responses are the literary equivalent of absentee landlords.

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