Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Apologies and Defenses

An apology is an expression of remorse or regret for some error of behavior.  A defense is some form of protection against an intrusion or strategic attack.  In many social situations where enthusiasm or temper motivate an individual to overstep the boundaries of civility, an apology becomes, depending on its weight of sincerity and recognition, a passport to mutual conversation.

There are times in academic circles when a candidate defends his or her thesis against reasoned and informed attack from peers or superiors.  There are times where many of us feel the need to defend a social or ethical position, also an intent, as in explaining "I only meant..." or "It was only meant in humor."

Such behaviors are common coins of social currency among the human species, each in its way carrying varying degrees of appropriateness in a wide range of contexts.

The value of each tactic is diminished when used as though a ticket to irresponsible behavior, a get-out-of-jail-free equivalent, a cover for significant, empathetic behavior among one's peers, superiors, and underlings.

When apology and defense appear in story, dramatic results suffer.  This is where art comes in.  The gifted storyteller wishes not only to transport us to a landscape fraught with relevant social and moral issues but to disturb us with a vision, possibly satirize an accepted aspect of conventional wisdom or behavior, or shock us with one or more devices such as irony, grotesquery, or exaggeration.

Writers such as D. H. Lawrence and Aldous Huxley go into the attack mode where certain conventions have become their targets, reducing these conventions through a combination of exquisitely drawn characters and representative conflicts which leave no wiggle room or equivocation.

You are a devoted enemy of the trope "I meant no harm.  My only purpose was to illustrate."  For your own part, you are willing to risk harm.  So, in your opinion, have a good many writers of all ages, men and women who were and are willing to put their commitments on the line each time they design a story where the reader is as likely to emerge disturbed as the principal characters.

A significant reason for turning off the thought processes in the planning and arranging of elements in fiction is the removal of the appearance censor.  This gatekeeper wishes the author to sound detached, objective, removed, an unbiased observer, a true referee who has no stake in the outcome.

There are such authors and their major strength is their ability to report situations and circumstances with the sincerity of a high school debate club individual who has been able to argue and discuss the salient points of an argument from both sides.  Such contests have their value, but the value relates to intellectual balance rather than emotion-based outcome.  At some point, feeling-based intent is more revelatory, more indicative of the human condition than the intellectualized aloofness of civilized debate.

Apologists sometimes employ more irony than they imagine, beginning their arguments with a self-deprecation with intent.  And what intent:  to cause us to tell them how we appreciate the modesty, assuring them all the while that they have nothing to apologize for.  Apologia pro Vita Sua, John Henry Newman's apology for his life, seems a classic case in point.  The work was a passionate defense of his religious beliefs, a defense that combines the intent of apology with the intent of the defense.  However much you might disagree with his logic and elaborate defenses of his faith at a time when Catholicism was a serious issue in England and however much the 1860s time scape may have differed from the current one, you'd have been much more a fan of Newman were he have chosen another title.  The word apology in this title hints at his playing for the role of the humbled martyr.  You are put off more by those implications than the logic of the inner text.

Story and personal memoir walk the narrow cusp of allowing the facts, circumstances, and responses in the narrative to convey the intent of their creation.  On either side of the cusp are those arid wastelands of sermon, screed, accusation, and vituperation.  The memorable ones achieve recognition through their deft precision, not their protestations of faith or their rambling litany of conviction.  The slightest hint of apology or defensiveness become the literary equivalent of lead weights sewn in the seams of a narrative.

Believe it.

Invest in it.

Investigate it.

Present it.

But do not apologize for it, because you will have reworked and revised it enough times to have come to feel comfortable with it and a part of it.

Being defensive about it is a similar way of yanking the rug from under it.  If the work has been revised enough, the logical dust will have been edited out, degree by degree, leaving you with a lucid vision that could stand in its own defense, without any need for you to describe the things you already presented in context.

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