Sunday, January 19, 2014

Reality in Story: Analog or Digital

Within the large circus tent of philosophy, there are a number of isms or ways for examining considering the universe of cause and event that have strong ties to storytelling.  

Among these is the less considered by important one called determinism.  In a country such as ours, you'd be open to think determinism should go stand over there, with the lawyers and legal philosophers.  American law has a demonstrable association with determinism.  Well back toward the days when you knew you were interested in law but had no wish to become a lawyer, you were familiar with the term "precedent-setting-cases," which meant laws and legal traditions in this type of legal philosophy were based on decisions and conditions from past decisions.  Frivolous and notional as some decisions might seem, they were part of an evolving history.

You could say of determinism that it is a vision of reality in which things , decisions, actions, and affairs owe their genesis to things that happened before.  You could say that almost anything you chose as a starting point had some backstory, some source of evolution, some antecedent.

In similar fashion, you could say--and have--that story is determinism in action,  An event takes place because of something that happened in the past.

You could say--and have--that an early draft of a story is analogous to a dog, chasing its tail.  After you get down all the relevant activity or beats, you begin the process of bringing the story out of the conceptual mode, into the place of birth, where it is given the  equivalent of a pat on the behind via the act of publication.  Then it is sent out into the world, where it is not only a live event, it has within it the potential for influencing other events or short stories.

So far as you can determine with minimal research, publication date for James Joyce's story collection, Dubliners, was 1902, which means those stories have had one hundred twelve years to effect subsequent short stories, you could yourself suggest some subsequent stories that could have been influenced by Dubliners, and you can say that they had some effect on some of the stories you have written.

This is an aspect of why determinism is so important in story telling.  If, for instance, Nathaniel Hawthorne had not become overwhelmed with doubts on the day of publication of his short story collection, Mosses from an Old Manse, then withdrawn them from publication, only to represent them a year or so later as Twice-Told Tales, we'd have had a science fiction/time travel event with reality.  Edgar Allen Poe might not have seen, read, then reviewed Twice-Told Tales with his own observations that more or less described for a hundred years or more the form, shape, and intent of the modern short story.

Living as you do now, with much less room for books, within a nevertheless expanding collection of them, you have a pile set in one corner for the more scholarly and philosophical approaches to literature.  A week or so ago, you had to risk--and lost--the potential for a large pile collapsing as you tried to pull Georg Lukacs's The Historical Novel from a place close to the bottom of the file.  A recent acquisition spoke of a critical approach which got you to thinking of Lukacs and as well as a longtime favorite, Erich Auerbach's Mimesis.  The new title, The Antinomies of Realism, scholarly to the point where it requires a different kind of reading, has sent you down lines of investigation with the notion of devising a new course at the university.  

Something else about the book was itching at you.  Coult it have been?  Was it worth risking the topple of the books in a pile to see?  The critic writing the introduction to The Historical Novel is Frederic Jameson.  The author of the new book, The Antinomies of Realism, fresh from Amazon, is Frederic Jameson.  Both books are about the novelist's ways go capturing reality.  Auerbach's Mimesis, is about the attempts to portray reality through history.  The word, mimesis, is about imitation of reality. And yes, Leslie Fiedler's Love and Death in the American Novel is in the pile, and yes, Fiedler, Auerbach, Lukacs, and possibly even Jameson are Marxist in their orientation, and so, to a great extent, are you, although the other writers are academics and you are you.  There is even a book in the pile from your pal, Ernest Sturm, who is an academic, but not you.

Each time the books in this pile topple when you seek to remove one for some moments of consultation, you wonder if this arrangement of scholarly books in such a pile is a deliberate attempt to cause you to think twice, perhaps even three times, about removing a title.  Scholarly writing is different from other sorts; it is slow, ponderous, deliberate in its argumentativeness and, yes, determinism.

You spent six years in scholarly publishing, groaning at some of the texts you had to read, groaning and requiring quantities of ale because of the texts you had to edit.  Are you, by making such materials difficult to access, saving yourself from the need to shift your sensitivities away from the presentation of scholarly information and toward the presentation of dramatic narrative?

 In many ways, there are traces of determinism in Reality, ratifying the potentials of evolution and growth.  But story builds the triggers of determinism for a purpose, to keep us engaged, interested, throughout, alert to possibility.  Story wishes us to experience--here comes anothe word--a simulacrum of Reality, but when we read story, we have the hopes that our story reality will have more focus, more triggers, less distraction than our daily reality does.

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