Friday, November 26, 2010

"Our Tragic Universe"

"We only need fiction because we die."

"...aphrenia, the perception of meaningful connections where in fact there are none." -- Scarlett Thomas

(A key concept for fiction. But while the word is real, the definition appears to be, itself, fictional:

"Aphrenia - uh-FREE-knee-uh - Aphrenia refers to a slowness of thought, or (more precisely) a stoppage of thought. Patients with Parkinson's Disease often report that while they're off their meds, they find that they think at a snail's pace, or not at all. Likewise, some patients with severe dementia have presumably lost the ability to think (though of course we can't be certain since we can't really ask them). This distinction is vital--aphrenia is not an inability to express thought, but an inability to think. Though Parkinson's patients sometimes suffer from a slowness of thought, others think just fine, but cannot express their thoughts because of their movement disorders. The former have aphrenia; the latter do not, and must not be mistaken for people who have completely lost the ability to think or understand what's happening to them.)

"I'm not saying you're lying. But you are good at stories -- you won a special prize for telling stories, didn't you? It's not a bad thing to be good at telling stories, and in some ways everything we tell is a story, but sometimes it's good to remember which parts of the story we tell are true, and which parts are made up." (OTU 130)

"You know, what's really sad is that [Rebecca] and Christopher don't understand that the spirit doesn't age. You're the same person at sixty-five as you are at twenty-eight, really, with more or less experiences, and more or less wisdom." (OTU 227)

"There's also the Fiction Paradox, or the paradox of fiction. Why is it that we get scared reading a ghost story, for example, when we know it's just a story? Why does fiction have any emotional effect on us at all, considering that we know it's not real? Why, when re-reading a book, or watching a film for the second time, do we still have the the same emotional reactions we did the first time around?"

"That's not a paradox," Rowan said. "That's just life." (OTU 253)

"You can use conventional structure without letting it take over. You can still find ways of being original -- not just in how you use formula, but actually original. You can put two new things together, or ask an important question. It's hard, but not impossible. In fact, Chekhov said that writing is all about formulating questions."

Andrew raised his eyebrows. "You didn't mention that on the retreat."

"No, but that's because on the retreats I'm trying to to show people how to write genre novels. But even then, the story-structure is just the container. The container might be strong and reliable and familiar, but you can put whatever you like inside it. It's the space that's important. There's no reason why you can't put something unfamiliar in a familiar container. Or lots of unfamiliar things. But you can't seal the container at the end."

"Like a boat rather than a plane?"

I laughed again. "I was thinking of a tea cup, but yes. Exactly." (OTU 278-9)
Thomas is another writer whose first three books were series mysteries. (Her last was billed as School of Dick brain-frak science fiction.) In fact, OTU could be read as an "8 1/2"-ish fictionized memoir by a novelist struggling with the transition from writing genre works to producing "real novels" -- not convinced there's any real difference yet wandering off into the underbrush every time she tries to venture out without an easy-to-follow map supplied by a genre.

Excellent first-person stuff here.
In Devon I attempted my first novel (Dog and Clowns – still in a drawer somewhere) and, after ringing round randomly, got some interest from an agent. She thought the novel needed some work so being young, impulsive and a bit of an idiot I wrote another one instead – a crime novel that I thought was more likely to be published. I soon found myself in London signing a three-book deal for the Lily Pascale series of novels. Writing these novels was fun, and taught me a lot about plotting, but also showed me that formula fiction is a pretty shallow thing to write and that ‘being published’ is not the same as being a real writer. ... The real, as every writer knows, doesn’t make good fiction. But fiction must somehow take its bearings from the real, and in the end have a bearing on it.
Hard to imagine where this exercise has left her, or where she can go from here. More an extended philosophical dialog than a novel, "real" or otherwise, OTU is likely to be unbearable to people who don't find the ins and outs of "narrative theory" endlessly fascinating.
Fictionless fiction, I realized, was what all realist writers, including me, wanted to create: something super-authentic and and with so much emotional truth that none of it seems like a story at all. (OTU 342)
Adam Roberts via Tulk:
In "Picture This," one of Blondie's better songs, the female narrator begs the listener to imagine certain things:Picture this, a sky full of thunder.
Picture this, my telephone number.
Now that I'm in my crusty middle-age, I tend to take that couplet as an ironic juxtaposition; for, after all, the cosmos—its vastness, its sublimity—has no interest whatsoever in individual human dating troubles or crushes. But when that song came out, and I was young and easy beneath the apple boughs, I suppose I took it differently. It seemed to me then to embody a straight-forward truth: that the turmoil in my heart at asking a girl out and the turmoil in the sky as the thunderheads clashed and storm possessed the heavens—these were, somehow, the same thing. Because they were both iterations of a kind of intensity. Except, of course, they weren't. Except of course, my crusty middle-aged perspective, being less illusioned, is also less mendacious.

And that's my point. "Our Tragic Universe" juxtaposes the celestial significance and the small-scale emotional bumps in non-ironic and wholehearted fashion. That means that readers smart enough to appreciate its intelligence and young enough not yet to have developed calluses on their organs of feeling will find this novel to be one of the best of the year. Besides, who listens to Blondie nowadays? You're more likely to be into Lady Gaga.
"Men·da·cious adj \men-ˈdā-shəs\ : given to or characterized by deception or falsehood." Rather like fiction, in other words. "Ever since there have been stories," Roberts allows, "people have understood that life is not like stories and, consequently, that stories are not really like life." But he nevertheless seems a bit (shall we say?) uncomfortable with the concept.

No comments: