Sunday, May 1, 2016


When you used to brew your coffee using the elegant Chemex device, you'd begin by pulling a large, circular leaf of filter paper from its container, fold it into quarters, then insert it in the upper cone, prior to measuring in freshly ground coffee. 

The next step became pouring a measured amount of boiling water over the grounds, then waiting for the water to work its way through the filter paper, taking with it the aromatic essences and oils, leaving the dross clinging to the filter paper.

If you'd not moved along in preference to having your coffee in its espresso form, you'd still be using the Chemex device because of its performance and its aesthetic appearance. Chemex coffee is quite companionable. 

To someone who drinks a good deal of coffee, the Chemex system has the ability to allow making enough to last for most of the day with less chance of the brew turning rancid.

Chemex is in so many ways the essence of simplicity. William of Occam would have appreciated it: Glass, filter paper, water, ground coffee. The key element here is the filter. A similar effect is to be had with computer programming, in which a given program filters out undesirable codes and random elements, allowing only a specific filtrant, not unlike Chemex coffee.

When the matter shifts to narrative and to the dramatic narrative known as story, a filter provides a specific result of its own, a sense of who is bringing the narrative or story forward, what qualities and characteristics are allowed to seep through, and which are intercepted. 

In most instances, narrative thought of as nonfiction is run through a filter whose job it is to block out unreliability. You remember your times working at the Associated Press, where the narrative without a by-line was held in the highest esteem. You were told by the editors that such a story reflected the essential nature of the Associated Press, which was the nature of trustworthy presentation of known information,

The by-line is a different kind of filter, in effect removing a layer or two of objectivity in favor of allowing more obvious opinion. This brings us directly to the by-line in fiction which, by its very nature, has prevented more objectivity from leaching through and, in fact, enabling bias or astigmatism or perhaps even color blindness.

Part of the act of revision involves coming to terms with what kind of filter to use for producing the narrative at hand. Do you wish to block the naivete of the narrator or let it come through? Do you wish to filter out reliability and, thus, let the dramatic information come through the senses of an unreliable narrator? Or perhaps you'd prefer to let one or more of your narrators have to deal with a particular bias they will have to cope with during the arc of the story.

If you educate yourself to include this concept of filtration when you reach the examination and revision stage, you'll be taking a step toward arriving at a purer view of the narrative or story at hand, wherein the colorblindness, which is a physical variant, or a bias, which is an emotional one, is the filtrant least likely to turn rancid.

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