“It’s not what happens to people on the page; it’s about what happens to a reader in his heart and mind.”
My concerns here are primarily selfish. I’ll be the first to admit: most of my daily engagement and preoccupation exists entirely within a two foot radius of my head. I am suspicious and fearful of the noises that come from outside my apartment. I have only a strange, hazy impression of events that have happened in the world. I don’t know who most people are. I remain hesitant and disinclined toward investigating these items further than what is socially compulsory when assaulted by such information. I do a lot of nodding.
I have no interest in pinning anything down. I’m not the pet-owner scolding or rewarding particular techniques or aesthetics, and definitely not the consumer’s shitty, meddling older unmarried aunt suggesting advice on which books to buy. Christ, I’ll hardly address entire stories. All I’m asking is on a word to word basis: what does this sentence do? How is this story told and what does this do to us? Nothing I say here should be taken definitively. I take very little responsibility for most things I have and will say and by no means should I ever be considered correct. What I hope to offer are descriptions and definitions in the sense of expansion; rather than claiming standards or proscriptive rules for stories to follow, I hope to complicate and question how we experience and understand written language, what these words do to us and how that affects our interaction, understanding and engagement with the world. I also just really get off on this, watching words play. Look at them! See how they’re doing that? All that friction from rubbing up against each other, the tease and tension in the restraint of a page break – gets me all hot and bothery.
There are particular ways of looking at stories that interest me, though I am also intrigued by the way stories happen to us in our daily existence; how they come upon us, striking into our afternoons, when they bubble up in our intestine, farting out of us in the course of a day. How we take them with us, using them to guard ourselves from the assault and titillations of existence, how they ease existence into us or bring its small simplicities smack to our skulls. I’ve got two main issues going on right now twisting the cushiony folds of my underwear brain all up in the cracks of my synapses:
1. The dynamics at play within the relationship of the reader to the narrator of a story – how this relationship is created by the story, how this relationship affects our reading (experience and understanding) of a story, and how we take this dynamic, these particular experiences of seeing and knowing, into our daily encounters with the world. This investigation will of course take into consideration the distinctions of third versus first person, a narrator’s tone, attention, approach toward its subject, etc, but is mostly looking at how the epistemology of seeing and knowing in a story affects the ways in which we see and know our own experience, how these dynamics play out in terms of how and what we know of the world.
2. The contention or basic rule of fiction that in order for a story to be successful, to be considered a ‘story,’ the main character must undergo change, that something must happen through which the end of a story exists as a distinctly different circumstance from the beginning of a story – that this happens within the content of a story. Gardner takes this up in ‘The Art of Fiction,’ and there are many proponents of this prerequisite working, thinking, writing today. But there are also stories and writers whose concern is not toward revelation within story, but where the site of revelation exists outside of the story, between the reader and the story, the reader and the author, inside the reader’s head. I hope to articulate these distinctions and hack some clumps of thought away from the monstrous impasse where these schools collide against each other. I am not in favor of championing either one or the other, but the question eats away at me. Is it maliciously manipulative for a story itself not to manifest change along with the reader? Is an intellectual experience of a story inherently unsatisfying – if a reader is only led to an understanding rather than through an experience, do we disengage from one another? Do we inherently need a narrative force to guide us toward meaning?
A note on style
I am perfectly aware that most of my prose flagrantly appropriates and mishandles the syntax, style, tone, word play of the writers I here engage with. I also fully acknowledge that they do this much more successfully than I do. The stylizations here are impulsive whimperings; my trembling giddy star struck heart pitter pattering all over the place. I consider this mimicry as an act of love and longing, the flirtation of my speech bumping its stubborn head up against the author’s prose shoulder, sniffing, shoving my nose in it, rolling over for a rub on the belly. Oh, and I tend to be vulgar, sometimes. You may, as a reader responding to my constant obscenity, need to just calm down. It’s okay – you’re not supposed to take my expressions literally. I will not actually impose my person on any non-consensual animate or inanimate being, or force anyone to watch this sort of thing, in real life.
I would like to thank and acknowledge here the guidance and support of the magnificent Christopher Kennedy, without whose assignments and responses to my responses none of this would have come about, nor would I feel compelled to reveal any of this to anyone else.