Friday, May 17, 2013

Ambiguity

During one long stretch of time, story ended with a number of loose ends being tied, often as a build-up to the even more symbolic union of marriage between two characters from differing backgrounds and attitudes.  Thus the comedic ending, the bringing on stage of compromise, peace, accord. all of these perfect endings for sermons or tales with embedded and symbolic morality.

Some readers who may have been neutral developed a thick, questioning hide, suspecting how real life could supply only so few comedic endings in comparison to the more immediate vagueness and uncertainty of ambiguity.  How long would the combatants in a feud remain without squabble?  How long would the good guys continue winning merely because God or Right or Moral Probity were on their side?  And what about, How long can we get away with ignoring the darker sides of the human condition while trying simultaneously to imply that dark side stories produce dark side persons while bright side stories produce god-fearing, respectful sorts?

Such endings became targets for men and women who saw through the propaganda, who refused to drink the metaphorical Kool-aid, that flavored sugar powder to which one added water and ice cubes to accomplish the kind of drink a young person would enjoy.

Except that now, young persons seem to have become another metaphor, the tail, wagging the dog.  For the better part of fifty years, YA literature has been the go-to place for encounters with major moral, social, and emotional boundaries.  YA novels have supplied considerable weight to arguments being expressed by persons of good heart and mind, searching for something beyond mere answers, pushing at boundary and envelope, and tradition, or any other barrier that might get in the way.  The object of the search more often than not has been discovery, perhaps even enlightenment.

For the moralist and fabulists, endings were rigid in their optimism and sense of obligation to some higher power than the presumptuous brain we are most of us equipped from birth onward.  From YA novelists and beyond, we begin to see stories based more on the uncertainty, fragile nature, and vagueness of contemporary life.

Writers producing materials they intend for a yet more sophisticated audience have been notable in their focus on the YA novel, introducing characters and themes representative of a number of contemporary dart boards.  We hear them from time to time as they discuss the growing awareness of YA readers, and we see from them a near unified front relative to a major modern narrative aspect, the thrust of ambiguity.

Ambiguity is uncertainty in action and embedded in the surrounding landscape  as that lack of confident awareness relates to motive.  Ambiguity grasps on to modern story, reflecting the contemporary arguments in all their often complex splendor.  When the arguments appear a bit too staged or managed, readers will be sure to become suspicious, asking for the fairness of ambiguity rather than absolutism.

  These arguments take most of us away from story and plunk us in among the angry, the frustrated, and those trying to claim moral highground by backing a well-lubricated campaign of  religion.

You take sides with those who believe ambiguity is a vital presence because it both allows and then forces the robust reader to make choices, assumptions, and commitments.  You want the reader to own his or her vision of the story being read, and to imagine a deep argument with the author of the work regarding the meanings of the most ambiguous aspects of the story.

The clearer and cleaner the ending, the more dramatic shortcuts the writer has taken.  The more wiggle room for the characters, the more the reader will begin to suspect the author of having hit a buried treasure of potential embarrassment to all sides competing in the story.

If the ending seems too clear, don't trust it.  The moment the ending provokes you to say, "Wait a minute.  What about all that propaganda?" the greater the probability the writer has created a universe with close ties to reality.

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