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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

DISCOURSES WITH DEAD MEN

At the beginning of last year's THE QUANTUM THEORY OF DYNAMICITY, I said:

From the beginnings of this blog I've maintained that a narrative's "mythicity" inheres in its ability to focus on *symbolic discourse;* which is another name for the author's use of narrative to explore the way his (or her) symbolic representations interact with one another.

It occurred to me that I ought to refine this a little. While the statement by itself is not incorrect, it neglects one of the author's main reasons for "exploring the way his (or her) symbolic representations interact with one another," and that is for the purpose of communicating to persons other than him/herself.

For commercial writers, it goes without saying that the main purpose of writing any sort of narrative is to make money. Robert Heinlein famously boiled down the author's purpose by saying, "Let's not kid ourselves; we're fighting for [our readers'] beer money." This brass-tacks statement isn't all that well exemplified by Heinlein himself, since he established himself from his earlier works as a writer primarily invested in one type of fiction, whose works always followed his personal conception of ethics. Indeed, Heinlein's career seems almost "artsy" next to the practiced cynicism of the genuine formula-writer, who may toil under a number of pseudonyms, writing whatever the market will bear at a given time, be it hard-boiled crime or ladies' Gothics.

At the other end of the spectrum. we find a smattering of works produced by authors who had no expectations of circulating them to a general public. at most showing them to selected acquaintances. Shelley's play PROMETHEUS UNBOUND is a "closet drama" in that it was never meant to be performed on stage, though of course it did see book publication. Franz Kafka published very little of his writing in his lifetime, and ostensibly told friend Max Brod to destroy his works after Kafka passed-- which Brod chose not to do. Shelley and Kafka may have desired acclaim at one time or another, but patently both wrote certain works that were more about pleasing themselves.

So any artistic narrative always has this dual potential: it can be produced for a wide audience, or for the author alone. Psychic mediums notwithstanding, artistic narrative-- which term here subsumes also music and the visual arts-- is almost the only way that artists can keep "talking" with people long after the artists themselves are dead. To some extent non-fictional narrative shares some of the power of the arts, but artistic narrative seems to hold much more power to remain relevant to audiences born long after the narrative was originated.

Though my writings on "discourse" go back at least to 2008, I began writing about the topic more frequently in essays like QUANTUM THEORY because I found that the word had applications beyond what I call "the mythopoeic potentiality." Though I have generally focused on the ways in which "super-functional" elements in a narrative interact, I've also come to the recent conclusion that one cannot escape the use of elements that are more purely functional, if only for purposes of contrast. I alluded to this aspect of narrative most recently in GOOD WILL QUANTUMS PT. 4, stating that characters who are "simple" rather than "complex" can provide an audience with much-needed diversion. Indeed, one may observe similar phenomena in real-time discourse. What speaker, having delivered a monologue on something of Great Import, does not seek to "lighten the mood" with a joke or two?

I'll note in conclusion that some of the most interesting literary discourses to have taken place came about because an audience wanted more of something that a given author never meant to pursue. If (a) an author decides to do a "one-off," after which (b) the audience says, "We want more," and (c) the author complies by giving them more, then--

Who then is in control of the discourse?

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