Thursday, January 22, 2015

Buzz Words, Code Words, and Flim-Flam

When you walked away from the university, you did so with the belief that it was for good.  Sad farewell, and all, but time to set forth into an unknown that was yours and yours alone.

There were  few or any limitations to your unknown, other than a a plan to pursue the writing career you'd set your heart upon.  You hoped this plan would lead you to a life in which for the most part you wrote things, took time to read and engage other things, then set forth to write other things, most of them exploratory and/or contentious.

Least of all did you expect to return to the university, either the specific one you worked your way through, or any other. Nor did you, nearly twenty years later, assume any of the things you'd done in the interim--the kinds of no upward mobility, high risk jobs many writers take--would lead you in that direction.  

One of your favorite writers, for instance, worked as a hot tar roofer, while another spent time as a gandy dancer. This is not to digress into accidental vectors, which you have spoken of before, nor of Fate, nor even of some unconscious desire to return.  You were as surprised to be back as anyone in your immediate circles of friends and family.  You even surprised some of those who were to become your faculty mates. 

A man who was to become your first department chair, said at one point in your hire, "Of course you'll be using E.M. Forster's Aspects of the Novel as your text, so I'd better inform the bookstore."  To which you replied, "Of course."  You knew who Forster was, but you had no idea he'd written anything beyond A Passage to India.

All too soon, you learned that Aspects of the Novel was in fact a series of lectures given at a university, which made you suspicious--until you read the work, then read it again.  Since those early days, Aspect has been on the recommended list in any number of sylabi for any number of coursers given at any number of colleges, a fact that is oblique in addressing your subject here, which came to you earlier in the day while reading a review of a new book by a literary critic.

The triggering event was your encounter with the term "free indirect style," which is often intended as a synonym for "free indirect discourse/"  You consider both designations academic or literary theory terms for "interior monologue," which you've heard and yourself used in university classrooms.  Interior monologue does not set your own sensibility sirens to jangle; it is a direct, useful term for an important narrative tool.

When a character uses interior monologue, he or she is performing the simultaneous tight-rope-walking act of filtering the narrative of the story, while making it seem as though these observations are an integral dramatic path into the story, led by the character, with no noticeable help from the author.  In proper context, "This would be a good place to start" can be seen as interior monologue.  

The line is rendered as though a character, one filtering the story to us, is thinking it.  You could see yourself using the sentence in this manner.  "How, she wondered, to begin such a daunting task?  She picked up one of the file folders. This would be a good place to start,"

These paragraphs are intended as a growing rumble about academic and literary concoctions of terms, which you view as attempts to create a language similar to street languages devised by children, which allow them to communicate information they do not wish to share with parents or other authority figures. 

In its way, academic and literary terms remind you of the famed British rhyming slang your great pal, Digby Wolfe, tried to teach you, and the language used by carnival workers, allowing them to do the same thing in front of "marks," those who were "not with it," or of the family of "carneys," those enterprising men and women who sell adventure for twenty-five cents at the time of your presence.

There are, you argue, enough straightforward terms in the world of story, without adding conceptual filters.  In addition, there are enough differing voices and approaches to storytelling to keep the medium at full flourish for hundreds of years. Deconstruct- ion.  Post-colonialism.  Gender theory.  Marxist theory.  Feminist theory.  Modernist.  Expressionist.  May you all flourish, but let's not forget the basics, beginning with characters who itch and writhe with the pent-up desires to go somewhere they've not been, or who discover a treasure or secret, or who have a sense of some restriction not being fair.  Then they set off to do something about it.

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