Friday, October 24, 2014

Power Plays

Among the many ways power may be seen and experienced, consider latent energy brought into play to effect some kind of work.  In order top do so, the energy has to be transformed from latent to active and direct.  Thus power becomes a force being exerted to accomplish a desired result.  Or effect.

In the dramatic sense, power is a considerable mass of influence used by one individual to direct another.  Power is also the potential for influence over a group by another group, an organization over un- or dis-organized individuals.

Some power is measured in terms of theoretical horses, the effect of one horse doing X amount of work within a specific span of time.  When you were first introduced to the subject of physics, you recall taking pleasure in being able to understand how power related to specific acts, the amount of energy required to lift or move or push an object of X weight over a distance of Y in Z amount of time.

When you were exposed to the subjects of drama, psychology, motivation, conscience, and ethics, you were thrilled to realize how something as insignificant on its face as a nod or lift of an eyebrow could induce character X to do Y.  

This became more fascinating yet when you realized you'd been nudged, urged, threatened, wheedled, coaxed, and driven by conscience to do certain things, not do certain others, and to lie about things you did or did not do.  You were on to something.  You knew it had to do with power.

Somewhere along the way, you began to observe how implied and expressed power drove story, in effect caused story to do X amount of work on characters Y and Z within the framework of an act or a chapter or an entire short story or an even longer narrative such as a novella or a novel.

A scene may well begin with Character A having some degree of power over Character B, which proves useful in Character A ordering Character B to do something with the reasonable expectation that Character B will comply.  Watching such activity as a reader or audience, you find yourself growing uncomfortable on behalf of Character B for the plight in which Character B appears trapped.  You also dislike Character A for bullying, for undue use of power or influence.  If this circumstance is orchestrated well by the author, you begin in time to resent Character B for not taking a stand.

By happenstance, plan, or pure guile, Character B discovers a way to bring Character A's influence to an abrupt end.  We delight in seeing the realization come over Character A; what was once power is now trivial.  What once produced results and the atmosphere of subservience is gone.  This change of power is a major factor in certain types of humor, where the dramatic effect is reached when Character A can no longer gain the bully's advantage and now topples before our eyes.

Parity does not keep story going for long, unless, before our eyes, we see collusion and conspiracy to impose levels of power.  How quickly the shift of parity and a comfortable system of power shifts in the opening moments of Macbeth.  How quickly Shakespeare dramatizes a shift in power between he who was once Prince Hal and Prince Hal's mate of the carouse and roister, Sir John Falstaff.  What a complete, utter shift of power:


    My king! my Jove! I speak to thee, my heart!


    I know thee not, old man: fall to thy prayers;
    How ill white hairs become a fool and jester!
    I have long dream'd of such a kind of man,
    So surfeit-swell'd, so old and so profane;
    But, being awaked, I do despise my dream.
    Make less thy body hence, and more thy grace;
    Leave gormandizing; know the grave doth gape
    For thee thrice wider than for other men.
    Reply not to me with a fool-born jest:
    Presume not that I am the thing I was;
    For God doth know, so shall the world perceive,
    That I have turn'd away my former self;
    So will I those that kept me company.
    When thou dost hear I am as I have been,
    Approach me, and thou shalt be as thou wast,
    The tutor and the feeder of my riots:
    Till then, I banish thee, on pain of death,
    As I have done the rest of my misleaders,
    Not to come near our person by ten mile.
    For competence of life I will allow you,
    That lack of means enforce you not to evil:
    And, as we hear you do reform yourselves,
    We will, according to your strengths and qualities,
    Give you advancement. Be it your charge, my lord,
    To see perform'd the tenor of our word. Set on.

Even after so stern a reprimand, Falstaff tries to maintain the fiction of the past, but the damage is done.

The physics of drama and story were there all along, requesting your indulgence.  Power is action, not mere discussion of it.  Power is the ghost of the king, directing his son, Hamlet, to avenge his death.  Power is Hamlet agreeing to do so.

All these years, there before you, waiting to be heeded.  You tried to listen.  You wished to listen.  But you were as distracted as Odysseus' sailors when they heard the singing of the Sirens.  You heard attitude, tone, description; you allowed yourself to intervene as the writers of past centuries did in the good faith of following the conventions of their times, where the author could, with the wave of a hand, bring the story crashing to a halt for a paragraph or two of brilliant writing.  Hello Aldous Huxley.  Hello, Thomas Hardy.  Hello, George Eliot.

You were in with the best of company, but you were dazzled by their brightness and the conventions of their day.

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