Friday, September 12, 2008

Further clarification of Poetic Fiction/Narrative


Ok guys, I know most of my readers would rather see exciting progress pics than read more of my blatherings about poetic fiction, but this is what's happening right now in the Realm of Darkstrider. I get on these obsessive kicks, and for a while my mind cogitates and broods over these concepts, slowly simmering the stew until it's done. And right now, this is what's cooking. I need to get it down before it slips away forever, and I'll share it with anyone who stops by. Hold out your bowl and wooden spoon, and I'll ladle some out.

I've been reading more Gene Wolf. Got 2 books - The Doctor of Death Island and 5th Head of Cerberus. Cerberus is by far the better book IMHO, consisting of 3 novellas that interlink together to tell a single sprawling story, each part being written by a different character. Island is a collection of short stories, of which I only really liked a couple. The ones I like are the ones that deal with his obsessive themes - the nature of humanity (explored through variations of cloning, mutation, artificial beings, robots, and various other false humans) - the elusiveness and kaleidoscopic nature of memory and its often surprising clarity, family drama in the vein of Shakespeare or Homer, and the difficulties and occasional joys of communication between people. I probably missed a few too.

These are the same themes explored by the Absurdist playwrights and by other great writers of the modern era. He also uses a sophisticated and unusual technique for telling his tales that reminds me of a particular strain of modern films... particularly the New Waves (French, German, Italian Neo Realism etc) and their American progeny like The French Connection, The Graduate etc. There's a certain terseness, cutting directly to the important parts and not over-explaining and smoothing things over for the slow students the way Hollywood films tend to do. In the films I mentioned, there are abrupt, almost shocking cuts from a slow silent scene to a noisy, fast moving one. Elision I believe is the word.... compressing elements together and extracting what's unnecessary. Trusting the viewer to be able to fill in the blanks, or better yet to follow the real storyline without needing extraneous details that they've become used to from so many lackluster films made to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Personally I enjoy films that are just a bit challenging like this, though hopefully they actually do seem to make sense if you delve into them and don't just end up a hopelessly confused mess. Sometimes Wolfe's writing leaves me behind, but I always get the definite feeling that further work on my part would bring me up to speed. And that's something I also want to discuss here....

Reading more of Wolfe's stories helps to explain things you might have missed. Many of his short stories deal with issues that he later compiled (in different form) into the masterwork Long Sun series. 5th Head of Cerberus in particular, and the story Hero as Werwolf from Doctor of Death Island. The character from the central novella in 5th Head bears a close resemblance to Severian in fact. And the more of his stories I read, the more the mysteries begin to clear up. But not entirely yet, thank god! That mystery is a big part of the appeal of his work.

His fiction is what I call Poetic Narrative. I've spliced the two (normally exclusive) terms together to describe a type of story I'm drawn to. If you look at the block of white text just to the right, where my About Me section is supposed to be, it's Martin Esslin's extremely enlightening description of the way Theater of the Absurd works. Very different from the much more familiar narrative structure we see in 99% of Hollywood movies. Rather than arranging things in an easily comprehensible timeline and following a clear storyline, it presents pieces of the "poetic image", in no particular order, and it's the job of the viewer to put the puzzle together and try to figure it out. But there are stories that do something midway between the two, which I'm referring to as Poetic Narrative. These would include films like Mulholland Drive (and just about anything by Lynch), Paris Texas, and Marketa Lazarova. I could name more, but these are the examples that spring to mind (and the ones I keep using, I know). They use the elision as was done in the New Wave films, but unlike the more hardline Absurdist plays, there's still a narrative to follow. From what I know of Absurdist plays, the idea is to completely mix up the order and the logical flow of ideas, scramble them like puzzle pieces in the box that the viewer must then piece together in order to create the "poetic image". Only then does it make sense.

This kind of gamesmanship is obviously only for the hardcore viewers, who love to be challenged and don't care to be entertained. I don't class myself in that camp, and I want to make appealing films that at least 40% of the normal viewing audience would actually enjoy even if they don't fully "get it". I enjoy Wolfe's books, even though I know there are levels that fly right over my head. The way he writes them, you don't need to fully solve the puzzles to reap enjoyment, though that level is there if it's something you feel compelled to do.

I don't know if I've really said anything new here, I thought I had more. But at least I've clarified some of the ideas that have been whirling through my cranial cavity (and hey, I don't just write these things for you guys you know.... I might need to look in here later to remind myself of something!) I was also going to include my newly improved analysis of the differences between Street of Crocodiles and Madame Tutli-Putli, which has yielded much better results since my studies into Theatre of the Absurd, but that feels like a completely different topic that deserves it's own post, so I'll do it separately and make 2 posts right after each other (well, it might make up for so much down time on my blog lately... a bit of a bonus to my readers for their patience). See ya then! (though you probably read that post before this one, if you didn't completely miss this one thanks to my inconsistent posting habits! ... And if you did, then who am I talking to anyway??!!)

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