Monday, September 21, 2015

Opening Sentences, Deconstructionists, and Rolling Stones

The search for the right opening line for a story reminds you of a joke once told you by a nun about a drunk, looking for the keys to his car in a parking lot at night.   Someone sees the drunk lurching about the halo of light cast from a bright, overhead lamp.  "Shouldn't you be looking in the area closer to where your car is parked?"  he asks the drunk.

"Can't see too well over there,"  the drunk replied.  "At least I can see over here."

You remember the joke well because that is you kind of humor.  Given the nature of your past conversations with the nun, you believe she understood your fondness for the type of humor.  There is also the matter of her having at one significant time in her life been an editor, where other literary and textual equivalents of the drunk's lost car keys were the objects of a search.

There is a sense of cosmic absurdity about the joke, an invitation to laugh at the enormity of any kind of search for any kind of key, whether it is a key for the ignition of a car or a key to some understanding of some problem related either directly to life or in analogy to life with references to a narrative about life.

Although it may seem an other matter altogether, you once got into a wine-fueled discussion about Homer, The Odyssey, and, as a consequence Odysseus, with a Deconstructionist, whom you recall at one point saying in a loud enough voice to stop several conversations about you, "There is no goddamned text, don't you see?"  

This outburst came as no surprise to you; Deconstructionists, even more sober ones, are convinced there is no text.  A brilliant riposte would have been, "Then you also deny the existence of Godot."  Because he was a Deconstructionist, he did not think this was so brilliant.

This also puts you in mind of the story about the Dali Lama's visit to New York and his being shown a sidewalk hot dog cart, which he approached.  "Make me one with everything,"  The Dali Lama told the server.  Recognizing the Dali Lama, the server shook his head, then bowed.  "You already are,"  he replied.

There is a parallel between opening lines and absurdity, a shifting from the world fraught with massive, random event to a story, where the sentences are lined up like a row of dominoes, placed close enough so that one falling domino knocks over its neighbor, which in turn repays the complement by tipping the domino in front of it.

"Once upon a time--" won't do it any longer, although it still carries strong associations by implication that a story is to follow.  Were you to corral some innocent, then regale her or him with "once upon a time," you might well see the result, which is this audience saying, "Yes?" or perhaps even "And what happened back in that time?"  

An opening line is a lever of sorts, tipping or arranging events in a way that even a Deconstructionist can see ahead to a row of fallen domino tiles.  The more inherent irony or other forms of mismatched intentions can be fit into the opening sentence, the more equivalence of dramatic mass is brought into being.  Thus the comparison between an opening line of a story or the beginning line of a subsequent chapter in a novel--no matter who the point of view belongs to.

An intriguing opening line assumes its own, boulder-like mass and an eager willingness to begin to roll, whereupon it will gather no moss, which allows us to equate moss with the bane of all story, which is boredom.  "Call me Ishmael" allows no room for boredom.  Big and ponderous as Moby-Dick is, "Call me Ishmael," its opening line, has already begun to roll, has barely given you the opportunity to move to the aide, lest it run over your toes.  Ah, too late; you've followed the momentum, and there is scant moss for several pages to come.

You'd have done well to begin yesterday's notes with an opening line that did not come until the paragraph immediately preceding the penultimate.  "I don't imagine,"  Stan said, "There's anyone who can make better salami and eggs than me."

In one quick swipe of the narrative pen, you have surprise, hubris, curiosity, and a fair chance of the reader opting for the second sentence.

The opening line rushes you down the hill from detached observation to the full plunge of involved curiosity.

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