Saturday, March 21, 2015

Something or Somebody Changes

Change plays a critical role in the orbit of a dramatic narrative. No matter how tempting the narrative at the outset, you don't have the sense of being inside an actual story until you pick up enough hints that something and/or someone will change.  Only then are you "in" for the full experience.

Once a short story or novel has nudged you beyond enjoyment or entertainment, into the territory where it has meaning, an entire new dimension appears. You get the tingling sense of a hidden meaning wanting to emerge.  That meaning can be understood and made to fit into some sense of order.

Now, you can feel your senses of excitement and participation expand to a point where you not only anticipate change, you grow eager to meet it, wherever it may be waiting in the wings.

That was the more complete version of your relationship to short story and novel.  A more reductionist version admits to a story needing hints of the potential for a change that may been seen or felt by the reader, one or more characters, or reader and character.

You like the way the short story often makes it possible for the reader to know things while the characters remain innocent or are only just beginning to get the suspicion something is about to happen, might well happen off the page.  Might even happen off the page and in the reader's imagination.

A short story is a house, cantilevered on the side of a Hollywood hill when an earthquake temblor begins its spasm.  A novel is a such a house or building when the earthquake's movements begin to register on the Richter Scale, dislodging chunks of dirt, gravel, and rocks.

Time to wake up Heraclitus for a few thoughts about the physics of change.  True enough, as he observed, one cannot bathe in the same river twice.  In similar fashion, one cannot read the same book twice; the reader has changed and along with that change, the book has changed.

A book can sit in a shelf somewhere, unread for years.  Even though the book has been fixed in print, it ages in an interpretive, cultural sense, in its aloneness growing ahead of itself and meaning, or being lost in the evolving tide of human behavior and attitudes.  

A book such as Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter still contains aspects of the thoughts, emotions, and humanity of its characters, but most modern readers would immediately recognize they were embarking on a trip to a distant past.  A play such as Antigone would require even more thought and cultural placement to cause its embedded emotional codes to have contemporary resonance.

You'd do well to add another notebook to your library of notebooks.  This one would have two categories, as well described by Yes and No as any others.  Yes, a list of short stories and novels as candidates for rereading yet again, and No, a list of short stories and novels once thought likely candidates for Yes, but not consigned to No, as in not for You.

At this point in your perspective, there is no way of predicting the intellectual and emotional effects of these sorts of changes, either upon you or the stories and subjects of your focus.  A work you once found daunting or tedious or irrelevant in the past could, simply because of the aggregation of experiences and senses delivered to you, afford you great pleasure and insight.  A work you once carried about with you rather than allow it out of your sight could well make you aware of your own evolution in ways that you could not anticipate.

Time here for a few moments with the half-full and half-empty glass metaphors.  Consider the succor, wisdom, amusement, flights of imagination, plateaus to reach for you've experienced in all your years of reading.  If any given rereading of a book of significance should let you down, your disappointment would still be tempered by the actual pleasures and their memories.

It comes to you now to wonder if  RLS's Treasure Island could have the capacity to disappoint you now.  You know of the times in the past where it transported you to the places you needed to be and, in the case of this title, beyond where you needed to be.

Never mind.  You have instead to consider at hand a library of change, which is the most complex and engaging quality of all.

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