Saturday, April 27, 2013

Must you dance/Every dance/With the same fortunate man?

You often find your way to open the door to a story that seems locked with the key of a single, simple word.

The word needs to show immediate potential.  When you see or hear the word, you know it works.  Variations on the theme of intrusion are such words:  intrude, intruder,intrusive,  You can visualize a wedge, forcing its way into a medium of resistance that begins to give before your eyes.

The more you think about the word and its meaning, the more it seems to have been coined with story in mind.  A story may appear to be moving along at an intriguing pace, setting characters after goals and moral agendas coming to bare-knuckle street fighting, but a significant intrusion will cause the story to reach greater significance and staying power.  Sometimes an intrusion with the apparent inanity of a shift in point of view in the narration, say Nick Carraway taking over the narration of The Great Gatsby, can lift the narrative to even grander implications and ironic heights.

When you heart someone say, "I don't mean to intrude," you understand that the speaker does in fact mean to remain present, at the least a nuisance or distraction, but often a deliberate shift in atmosphere, behavior, and protocol.

When in real life or story, a character asks, "Am I intruding?" you have just received a clue that the asker is at the very least aware of a situation in progress, and with a probability of wishing to put himself above that situation.  And what does that tell you about he or she who does the asking?

Intrusion signifies an inappropriate presence, often deliberate but no less an irritation or trespass  had it come about in any degree of innocence.  The trespass can be on an overall sense of morality, a specific landscape, a meeting in progress, a conversation.

Stories are supposed to begin with some stasis or accord or system being interrupted, often by a discovery (which can be counted as an intrusion) or the arrival of a stranger (who makes a discovery), or the reaction to a stranger arriving

Countless stories do in fact begin with the arrival of an outsider, intruding on a previous stasis.  Sometimes the outsider arrives to take the place of someone or, even more to that subject, to replace someone.  On occasion, the intruder is a predator, the proverbial wolf in sheep's clothing, or the equally intrusive and dangerous fox in the chicken coop.  Sometimes the intruder/intrusion is death, either personified or presented as the specific death of a stated person, animal, tradition, or belief.

The imaginative writer, William Gibson, introduced in his short story "Burning Chrome," the concept of intruding in another form of reality he named cyberspace.  Ever since, hackers have intruded, trespassed on our cyber presences, bringing intrusion into the viral world as well as the world of Reality and the world of story.

Intrusion is the reminder that nothing lasts for ever, that some things have relatively short times in which to flourish before being terminated.  The inappropriate presence of intrusion is objectified in story and reality as an intruder.  William Faulkner's 1948 novel, Intruder in the Dust, by its mere title, suggests the dynamic at work.  The thematic intruder is an African-American character in the South who is an intrusion on the white concept of what an African-American male should be.  Racial issues also serve as intruders.  See how the word "dust" in the title suggests strife, perhaps even overt racism.

See also how calmness, stasis, and accord are the equivalent of targets of opportunity for the thugs and muggers of story, waiting to be waylaid in a convenient back alley, more often than not within the first few pages of a novel, the opening paragraphs of a shorter story.  What comes next is what academics call the destabilizing event.  Something happens to cause the reader some concern for the welfare of a character.

In quite generalized and equally specific ways, story depicts Reality, which is often quite boring, being intruded upon.  Think Emma Bovary's life being visited by two intruders, a painfully repetitious boredom and the arrival of her romance novels, which offer her some tenuous way out of her daily life with Charles Bovary via a series of adulterous liaisons.  In Joseph Conrad's novel, Lord Jim, one of Conrad's favorite narrators, Marlowe, is beset by the title character from time to time for assistance from moral and physical problems in which he has become entangled, thus a more benign form of intrusion, but by no means an undramatic catalyst.

An intrusion of any sort is a stranger in the midst, a potential danger, an undifferentiated menace.

The human intruder is also a trespasser, another word and term for someone being somewhere she or he should not.  Writers may on occasion inject as little as a single word, sometimes many sentences or even paragraphs of intrusive material in a manuscript under way.  Some modern writers, often highly successful ones who are seen by their publishers as a valuable commodity, fail to edit technical intrusions from their work, diminishing their own past excellence and frightening away the potential new writers necessary to maintain their critical status.

In some cases, a negative presence intrudes upon the sensitivities of a writer, causing him or her to believe their work in progress is lackluster and that any past successes were due to some accident wherein the wrong writer is being given credit.  Of course the reverse of this is true, you know one such case of an author who has parlayed a series of books to publication, all too willing to believe in their genius where their reception among readers does not support his beliefs.

You intrude upon the grunt-like progression of Reality with notions, ideas, beliefs that might change some aspect of some discipline or physical vision.  You make decisions to act, decisions not to act, and decisions to invoke on a manuscript the age-old Latin phrase-in-a-word stet (let it stand, let it be.  Okay as is.  Don't fuck with it.  Some of these decisions are intrusions against an established order or intrusions on carrying out change.

On occasion, you intrude or trespass upon the turf of good sense, better judgment, and higher moral principal.  In a theatrical, ensemble case kind of logic, you have played the part of the intruder and the intruded upon.  You cannot say which role you prefer or if, on consideration you like either, although you do relish the idea as a writer and teacher of intruding on the landscapes of indolence, inaction, tyranny, stupidity, and intransigence.

You appear--perhaps only to yourself--to own the ability to intrude better with humor than seriousness, although the joke of that assessment may be lost on you, which makes it one of the most intrusive ironies of all.

You are no stranger as writer, editor, or teacher to finding the doors of story locked before you, your job now to gain entrance.  The key you carry with you in all three avatars is the key of intrusion.  Start with the most outrageous intrusion you can inflict on the story, then put it to work.  "I don't mean to intrude,"  you tell the locked door.

But of course you do.

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