Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Uses of Power in Story

The major factor of power governs most dramatic narrative, beginning in story where the narrator is young, living with parents or in some state run organization, extending into adulthood, when the focal character is an employee or in some manner or other reports to another adult.

In some cultures, professional associations, or orders of a spiritually based hierarchy, the recognition of power is an integral part of the maturation process.  This leads to an exaggerated extreme here of an individual, regardless of gender, rising through the ranks, as it were to become recognized as a tribal elder.  

Instances of individuals growing through childhood and into maturity without having to recognize some external power are rare:  the occasional emperor, tribal chieftain, but in the Western cultures, and certainly in F. Scott Fitzgerald's short story, "The Rich Boy," even the young scion of a wealthy family experiences some time under some thumb of power.

The good news here begins with the awareness of power as a universal social force, which carries over into the world of story in plays, narrative epics such as Beowulf, Gilgamesh, The Iliad and The Odyssey, and historical fiction such as Ivanhoe.  Tales of power are ubiquitous and inspiring, resonant with the tingle of giving voice to things under cultural lock and key. 

Many of the more modern dramas deal with clashes of power in ways that have become cultural archetypes.  Notable among these, the plays, A Doll's House, Hedda Gabbler, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and what many critics have come to regard as America's finest play to date, A Streetcar Named Desire.

Of the many variations on the theme of generational power is the version in which a parent exercises parental power by deciding to place a child in a private school, a parochial school, or home teaching rather than send the child to a public school.  Either choice sends the child for some time--perhaps for life--into a predetermined arrangement of facts, information, and propaganda.

Through the merest of chance, your parents caused you to begin your education in California, supplement or augment it in the East, expand upon it in New England, then subject it to the standards of the State of Florida, which at once delivered a favor to you although at the time the package seemed more a surprise or confusion.  It was, however, enough,  Text books and the guidance of teachers in Florida contributed directly to you beginning to understand how urgent it was for you to question authority if you were to have any sense of comfort.

By the time you'd returned to California, floundered through junior high school and high school, then embarked on the tsunami wave of a university where different cultures, political points of view, and academic departmental rivalries clashed with the collision of students bent on discovering if it was true what was said about the mead halls in Beowulf, you were ready to interact with a diverse population of peers who had in one way or another been caught between the rocks and hard places of culture.

The aftereffects of revolution are as chaotic as the revolutions, themselves.  You needed space to assimilate the remains of the cultures awaiting you as you inched toward adulthood, one can of beer at a time and to discover the presence and effects of power in the literature you took in as though literature were the cups of GatorAde so freely available at half and whole marathons.

To date, your fondest uses of power in story have to do with an individual by some discovery of ripening awareness, discovering she or he no longer in in the thrall of an individual, a system, a culture, an institution, indeed, a family.  You dote on those brief moments of awareness when the individual who once held power comes to realize his or her acolyte no longer recognizes the need, the obligation, or even the tradition of the hierarchy of power.

You no longer own me, the newly anointed seem to say, often in coming of age novels, or mainstream adventures.  The voice filling the page is the voice of coming of age to discover the uncreated conscience of being.

Good luck and all to that.  Power stories do not always end well.  They end up with the awareness that we--you among them--have to keep close monitor of the self, lest it become as cavalier as the targets it attempts to satirize or bring down using the anarchist's battering ram.

If someone is going to have power over you, you want that power to be as close to you as possible.  The last thing you want is the absolute need to walk into a Twelve Step Recovery meeting, introduce yourself to the assembled host by admitting your addiction, and saying you have no control over you life because of----fill in the blank here.

The writing life is a constant struggle to get in the first place, then be able to call up at will the power to listen to the universe, then put down on a screen, somewhere close to a save button.

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