Monday, 23 February 2015

Causal narratives

The outlook of a classicist aesthete is that all events in a work of literature must be causally determined. They would also argue further by saying that literature must also follow the same spatial and temporal laws as the real world. Any divagation from these spatial, temporal and causal laws is a divagation from literature itself. You have not produced a novel or a story in the true sense of the word - you have produced a Frankenstein monster.

Should this really be the case? First of all, we don't even perceive reality in a logical way. We are, in the Kantian sense, limited by our 'possible experience.' We have to limit ourselves to what we know. If a writer were to depict 'the thing in itself' - i.e. direct experience - he is actually being disingenuous. All exercises in naturalism are failures. You cannot methodically recreate the entire of reality. As thinking subjects, we experience bits and pieces of reality. Our impression (or 'phenomenon') of reality is coloured by our idiosyncrasies and our own personality. When I perceive reality, I don't see all causal changes in space taking place. Literature should therefore focus on the subjective perception of reality - the individual perceiving space in time. Even efforts at naturalism end up producing the same thing as it is impossible to recreate a total impression of reality or even society.

Literature, then, should not follow this classical assumption. It can assiduously break these assumptions. Works of literature can even follow different spatial, temporal and casual laws of the real world. Objects can move randomly across different points in space; there can be temporal ellipses; events can occur without being causally determined.

Dreams aren't narratives. They are just random images which we later later construe as narratives once we are awake and lucid. Can't novels replicate the kind of irrational processes experienced in dreams? In dreams, all of these classicist laws are broken. Dreams have always appealed to writers since antiquity. Whilst in texts from antiquity dreams appear to be divine interventions, in modernist literature they heighten the sense of subjective consciousness and 'apperception' ('individual experience').

There can be other frameworks. For instance, in Juan Rulfo's Pedro Páramo, all the characters in the novel are dead. As a result, a universal clock which determines time is lost. All we have are vestiges of memory which appear. These aren't causally determined - events from different epochs appear at different points of the narrative. The novel is like wandering through the ghost town of the book - as you roam about, different ghosts seize you and divulge their past experiences.

The novel I have started (and which I really hope to dig my teeth into once term is over), Planet Zhelanie, also has a different framework. All spatial and temporal laws are determined by the consciousness and memories of the individual. Moments which appear evanescent in fact last for millennia. Events are either sequential or circular. They are rooted in time rather than space. It is a vindication of Berkelian idealism.

Causal narratives, then, should be rejected. The most stimulating thing about literature - especially novels - is that anything is possible and that anything can happen.

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