Friday, October 31, 2014

Right Back Where We Started from Only Different

You are fond of a logic or story or event that turns back on itself, in the process revealing something not apparent the first time through.  Your awareness of this almost makes you want to argue it through to the state of near axiom and the tingle of pleasure you first experienced when you heard the subject uttered by a favored philosopher, Heraclitus.

"No person ever steps in the same river twice," he said, "for it's not the same river nor is the person the same."  In another context, he said, "there is nothing permanent except change."

He is one of the many individuals to whom you return, are in fact drawn to revisit, because of your previous experiences, in which you saw or learned something you'd not seen or considered before.  Another is the Italian, Giambatista Vico, who speaks of  creation and invention rather than mere observation.  Put them all together and for you they spell out the fact that being is a matter of creating and action rather than the more passive observation.

All this leads you to check back to see how things of interest to you have evolved, how you have evolved with them or perhaps been distracted from the rate of evolution you seek.  Thus this:  The things leading you to storytelling included interesting characters and what at first seemed like a conversational narrative voice.

True enough, the voice sounded conversational because the author was in effect telling the reader the story.  Of equal truth, a number of the things you read at first were written in the nineteenth century and the early parts of the twentieth century.  Some of these writers attracted you for reasons you could not explain for some years, until you started reading even farther back in time, back to the days when hardly anyone could read.  The then equivalent of the ebook or Kindle reader is the storyteller, who doubtless memorized the text, improvising such flourishes as he or she thought might urge an extra piaster or two from the audience.

Since those days, while the shape of story has remained in relative constancy, there are changes in the way things begin and how they are resolved--or not--at the end.  More visible are the changes in the approach to narrative, for at least two reasons.  More persons are able to read, among them individuals who are even more attuned to the nuance of detail and subtext than other readers, who persist in remaining more literal.  

Visual media such as motion pictures and television have added their personalities of story, causing dramatic writers to shift their way of presenting dramatic information through action rather than description, by subtext and irony rather than characters engaging in the kinds of dialogue you've come to call reader feeder.

With the passing of the years, readers have had much less need for the kinds of openings to be found by authors such as Thomas Hardy and Henry James, who, for all they had much to say about behavior and custom, felt the need to describe these intricacies in their narrative style, to make sure we got it.  They were in effect giving us stage directions, but these directions ran over the edges and into reasons for personality and behavior.

Each time you return to old friends, you notice how, among them, there were those who not only saw the human condition in ways that moved you, they were more adept than some others in conveying the information through their stories.  

For a certainty, D.G. Lawrence had strong, sometimes overpowering opinions, but for the most part, he was willing to give them to his characters, to allow them to convey through action and spoken intent rather than have them stop while he emerged to explain.

Jane Austen, for all she was pushing for a few philosophical ends in which her beliefs about marriage as a partnership should emerge, was another pioneer in stepping aside to allow her characters to do the presentation.

As you write this, you are now rereading a man known for his command of language, his storytelling skills, and the powerful focus of his moral judgments.  He is still well within the canon, where, when he is spoken of, it is always said with respect that English was not his native language.  He is Joseph Conrad, and the work you are focused on is something you may well be looking at for the last time.  The Confidential Agent.  Were it not for the depictions of irony and naivety getting out of hand, you might not have returned this time.  But the impressions from the past were there and you find it on one of your course syllabi, and so you better come back to see what you can rise away from its narrative voice from the past.

Only in recent years have you made the connection between your tastes in story and music.  A few moments with a work from either art and you are swept back into the time of its composition, or nodding with the familiarity of the contemporary.

The book or story or song or concerto or improvisation is not the same as it was the last time you read it or heard it, but then, neither are you.

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