Friday, April 1, 2016

One Man's Meat Is Another Man's Poisson

You believe confrontation in the face of desire is a standard framework for story, thus it was no surprise for you to have answered the way you did when recently confronted by a serious student who questioned your "almost constant reference to a story being a series of parallel lines."


A vegan, you said, forced to share a table with an avid meat eater in a crowded restaurant at noon hour rush. There you are, both diners wanting something. Food.  Each wants to be fed. Each has time constraints and aesthetic boundaries. At the least, each of the two will consider the choice of any specific meal an affront to his or her standards.

Each is in the same restaurant. The restaurant is crowded. The restaurant has an adventurous and extensive vegan menu; it also has a lunch special steak sandwich. Each of the participants represents parallel lines, converging as they must to turn the narrative from concept into story. 

One possible way to cause the parallel lines to converge has already been accomplished: the two diners, strangers to one another, are forced to share a table, which is in effect the first of a series of destabilizing events necessary to engage the story, then cause it to develop. What could go wrong next? How about, the waiter inadvertently serves the steak sandwich to the vegan and the vegan's quinoa salad to the meat eater?

Let's look at a few other effects of the parallel lines. A middle-aged man has understood, perhaps without using the clinical terms, that he is borderline bi-polar. "Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; " he tells us in the first paragraph, directly after introducing himself to use, "whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off- then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. "

Fair enough; he recognizes the need to get away--to "get to sea" ASAP, which he does, signing aboard the whaler Pequod, which sets a parallel line in place. The Pequod is captained by a men who is also possessed by an agenda, that being to track down and kill the enormous white whale who was responsible for the loss of an earlier ship and, as well, one of the captain's legs. We also know of the captain that he was until his encounter with the whale, an adherent of the Quaker faith,which is both contemplative and predicated on non-violence.

Here are the two parallel lines of engagement. The two men, aboard the same craft, each experiencing the accoutrements of his quest, giving us in the process a binary of existentialism as it relates to the relationship of man with Reality. 

Well before you embarked on your own first voyage upon the Pequod, you were aware of the outcome, made even more personable to you because of your mother's erroneous and, typical of her, romanticized apercu of the work, which you cannot help recalling and smiling at most times you think of the novel. 

"Moby-Dick," your mother told you when you were about six or seven, and showing an interest in reading, "is the story of a great white whale who swims about the earth, from ocean to ocean, doing good deeds." You cannot reread this work too many times, nor in so doing, experience so much of all you find dear about story and all you would edit out as being distractions to your participation within story.

Another remarkable set of parallel lines is to be found in a book you first read at age ten, involving a young boy who is running away from a manipulative and abusive father, thus forming a significant narrative line which carries him through the entire course of events, leaving him pretty much as the narrator Ishmael was left in Moby-Dick.The runaway narrator meets another runaway, a man running away from the condition of abuse known as slavery, wherein he was seen as a chattel, as property rather than as a person.

All three examples you've given here, one of your own invention and two often referred to as major candidates for the most memorable and splendid of all American novels to date, demonstrate the effect of the parallel development of characters driven to act on an agenda. In your more fanciful and possibly even frivolous example as well as the latter two, the story achieves its stature from the dimension of seemingly disparate characters pursuing the same devoutly hoped for outcome.

When you are engaged in composing stories from the concepts and circumstances that appear before you,the need arises to identify those parallel lines of which you have spoken here, to call them to your attention and, if they should happen to be missing, to make sure you have inserted them.

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