Saturday, December 27, 2014

Out of Many, One, or Visa Versa

The more you favor something small, say a drop of water or a grain of sand, the more you begin to appreciate the largeness of potential for that small something.  Thus the drop of water becomes an ocean. A grain of sand extends from being an irritation within your moccasin to an entire swath of beach or dune of desert.

Meditation on such extractions of detail from larger part leads you to explore that most delicious metaphor, the synecdoche, where you have joined legions of writers whose views of evocation you embrace.  

In such metaphor, a body feature such as a mustache or eyes of a particular configuration or color become the entire host or hostess, a soupçon of concision will allow you to put the dinner tab on plastic, and one word, standing for an entire concept, will serve as warning to a loose-moralled friend to watch out for the law.

The opening of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novella, The Rich Boy, lays the potent matter of the synecdoche before us with typical Fitzgerald éclat: 

"Begin with an individual, and before you know it you find that you have created a type; begin with a type, and you find that you have created--nothing. That is because we are all queer fish, queerer behind our faces and voices than we want any one to know or than we know ourselves. When I hear a man proclaiming himself an "average, honest, open fellow," I feel pretty sure that he has some definite and perhaps terrible abnormality which he has agreed to conceal--and his protestation of being average and honest and open is his way of reminding himself of his misprision."

Say what critics and scholars will about Fitzgerald, you have found none who accuse him of flimsy or one-dimensional characters.  All seem to come from a recognizable social class, alive with the politics and cultures of their time and place.  Whether it is Bernice of the story "Bernice Bobs Her Hair," Dick Diver of Tender Is the Night, or Charlie Wales of "Babylon Revisited," Fitzgerald's characters all seemed caught up in their attempts to quell some raging inner feud with a regime of discipline that was losing its rigor.

Through synecdoche, the writer can and does convey individuals, the human condition, types within the human condition.  We are caused to see fictional characters not only in the context of a particular story but emerging as well from the cadre of individuals we see in our days out in the streets, shops, offices, and vistas of Reality.  

Even more appropriate, through synecdoche, we see individuals in Reality and characters in our reading in context with those remarkable appearances we conjure in our own narrative creativity.

Your own reasons for haunting coffee shops include the need to have an ambient noise to focus over in order to compose, and also the opportunity to experience what you call random synecdoche, the absorption of the human experience through the speech, gestures, and behavior of one or more individuals having their own coffee and, indeed, their own outing.

Only this morning, at one of your favored haunts,you witnessed an elderly couple who drew your attention because they so reminded you of your own parents.  He was once tall, now a bit hunched in the shoulders, his gray hair a riot of cowlick anarchy.  Her gray hair had the neat, etched look of serious time in a beauty salon.  Their affection was a continuous banter, with no long silences, even as their conversation turned toward Alzheimer's.

"When it is my turn,"  he said, "I will forget I kissed you good night and have to come back for seconds."

"Will forget,"  she said.  "Will forget.  You do forget."

"And all these years,"  he said, shaking his head through an emerging smile.  "All these years, I thought I remembered."

They were making fun of the thing each no doubt feared would come to pass, and for you they become that couple who stay married through the years because they are the segment of society who in real ways renew their choice each day they are together.

Synecdoche is a filter to squint through to see the details of life about you, and through those details, the universe begins to describe itself in ways you never could.

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