Sunday, May 13, 2018

Unity, Discipline, Joy: here we go...


"Aristotelian Unity": our subject, today.

It is often in mind as I press, erase, press, and re-press in this clay. And not just in mind: it comes out of my mouth, in conversation about 'story' and 'structure', etc. And, every time—every time that your humble scribe says it, uses these words to articulate what he seeks ever day (fails, every day) to achieve—he's a little bit anxious he's making stuff up.

Brief research reveals that this is not the case. These words, "Aristotelian Unity", essentially mean what I mean by them.


To spare those who'd rather not click links (and who would? what would that mean? to prefer to click links?), the key idea is to create
a whole, the structural union of the parts being such that, if any one of them is displaced or removed, the whole will be disjointed and disturbed. For a thing whose presence or absence makes no visible difference, is not an organic part of the whole.Source!
Your humble scribe—Reader, hello, that is me!—spends most of his energies trying to do this. Failing, as noted above, to do this. Cutting and slivering pieces of text; realizing some recent addition does not "help"—that it, in fact, obscures things for the Reader (that's you! hello, again: thank you for reading). That in fact what he's done, and done over and over, is added where reduction was what was required; it's always well-intentioned, not some deranged narcissistic expanse (we'll discuss "world-building" some other day, friend; believe it). But my frequent discovery is that, in the efforts to make something clearer, I have instead simply added more words / phrases / ideas, in a tale that is already quite full of them, thank you. So the whole challenge, the whole challenge, becomes distilling the scope and complexity of events, of this tale that the g*ds demand be pressed into clay, with an efficiency and directness that serves story and you — Reader; since you are of course the whole point of this thing.

It is hard. I'm not good at it, yet. (Getting better?)

But what's interesting to me, here and now—

since all of the rest of my time's spent attempting this—

what's interesting here/now is:

"But sometimes it sucks."

To be clear, it does not "suck"

because it is hard. Things don't suck

cuz they're hard; they are hard

cuz they're hard, and you suck

(perhaps; in that moment; wutever)

if you let that fact beat you.

No, I'm interested in how, why, and when this "Aristotelian Unity" that I (and so many others) have praised and reified as a lodestone of narrative creation just actually is a bad idea, on the merits. The thing I'm concerned with is stifling joy.

What about joy, Aristotle? Hm? HUH?
What about "geeking out" (awful term, but you get it)?
What about undisciplined excursuses into world, character, context?

When everything, everything is tight and constrained, it seems you must run the risk of creating a story that feels, to the Reader, that way: tight, constrained. A work that is empty, that lacks the sprawling joyful wantonness of—

no. Wait.

Already, I have to double back on myself. These "feelings" I reference: they're not yours. They're mine. Confusing the two is the same awful mistake that the actor may make — thinking the performance is good if/cuz she feels it. For some actors, I'm sure we all know some examples, feeling it is indeed a magnificent tool by which they achieve what in fact is their goal: making us (the viewers) feel/see something. So this is the same thing: how "I" (humble scribe) feel truly does not matter. All that matters is how you (Reader) feel, read, receive.

BUT, infusion of joy is a real thing, as well. It seems far from far-fetched—in fact, ex ante, it seems probably true—to suggest a connection between how the writer writing the work feels about it and how that work is then received by the Reader. We've all read, seen, experienced stories that were loose, sloppy, lacking in sense or direction, deficient (in our view) in important respects...but still very enjoyable. "Good", if you will. Because they were animated and enlivened by this joy, and that sense itself was itself quite infectious, and of course therefore trumped all our small, who-cares quibbles.

And the reason this concern seems, to me, worth expressing is that it's presumably beyond my control. There are many things that your humble scribe tries to, if not 'control', at least 'manage': diction and cadence and vowel-sound, line length; character, choice, decision, action. Words. But, presumably, in each of these things there are manifestations I cannot control. Ways in which—and this is, of course, also thrilling—my mind, heart, and state are laid bare for the Reader. It is not hard to believe that my internal state—and, specifically, the extent to which I do or do not allow a sense of abandon, of "f*ck it: keep that part. it's fun"—is conveyed to you, Reader. Subliminally (or not). That it manifests itself in every aspect of words that I press, erase, press, and re-press in this clay.

Given that, might it be that

this unrelenting 'disciplined' dedication to "Unity"…

might it not be depriving you, the Reader, as well?

Or is this whole thread just weakened justification? That's a real question, because—to be totally honest—every time I review work of hours, days, weeks, reading over some section that was hard to create... is good. It is better, for you. I am sure.

No matter how it felt or was, for me. Doing it. Good or bad. Sticking tight to this discipline goal, 'unity' has always, always meant the thing has got better.

Joy, freedom—

they're there! They are there, from the discipline;

they don't need themselves to come into being. They need work, to create an experience for you.

I'm not at all sure what solution this frames. I think that, predictably, it frames none at all.

Keep allowing flights of fancy, word plays, ideas and side-bars and scenes chapters irrelevant; or overwritten, overdetailed, whatever. Do them as necessary

then cut them away. Keep lashing the words and the work into the shape that lives somewhere inside it, obscured by excess.

And take joy, and hope that it's joy some will share, at each contour and line of that shape you reveal.


Or, not.

Just keep trying.

It's all you can do.

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