13 January 2008

6 i have no point

in grad school, our preceptor always maintained that every piece of writing had to have a point. not just a central thesis, but that it had to hinge upon something that was in some way applicable to the modern world. because otherwise people wouldn't be interested. because apparently people are stupid.

so you couldn't just say, "a rose for emily" and the virgin suicides employ startlingly similar narrative devices. isn't that neat? or hey, jackie was totally a groundbreaking fictional character! rather, you had to say, startlingly similar narrative devices are employed in both stories as a harbinger of modern voyeurism frequently found in the life of the fast-vanishing interconnectivity of small communities like the one in which you grew up. or jackie as fictional character irrevocably altered the course of modern media, which has, in recent years, resulted in the ubiquity of the celebrity magazines that we're all reading on the way home from work.

in other words, you had to beat the reader over the head.

i never liked this. i'm one for subtlety. and i like to believe people are a little bit smarter than that. which is why i did a creative thesis and why i prefer biography. every life has a point, but it's a big picture point. in biography, the convenient conclusion is death. it's not we've almost reached the end of what i've got to write, so i am now going to sum up the many things i think i was trying to say lest you are a fool and cannot discern them yourself.

maybe this is advantageous for some. maybe there are people who genuinely need a convenient conclusion. personally, i think it gets writers in trouble. it leads to mind-wander and it fucks things up.

a few months ago, croftie and i went to see a production of sarah ruhl's passion play. it was a long ass play, but at the first two intermissions, we were really enjoying it. it was clever and brilliantly staged. there were some elements we didn't love (fish periodically, inexplicably paraded across the stage and the full-frontal shot of christ seemed a bit much), but we liked it overall. then came the end.

in the final six minutes of a 4-hour play, we were given five different conclusions. one would have sufficed, five was downright indulgent. croftie and i spent the entire rest of the week puzzling over that play, and it always came back to the end- to the points- which is where it all went wrong. ultimately, i think we would've gladly taken pointless over a hodge-podge.

to me, the story holds the point. if something is well-researched and well-written, the point is there by default. yes, you can tell a story without a point (an "empty story"), but if it's a good story, it's got one. it may be subtle, but that doesn't mean it isn't there. it doesn't mean we need the writer to tack on fifty pages of point-making to be sure we didn't miss it.

to make all this rambling applicable to the modern world- lest people lose interest- i finished the ghost map yesterday. i loved the ghost map, pages 1-228. i did not, however, love the end. because suddenly, a story that elegantly twisted and turned its way through the streets and sewers of london became a clunky, heavy-handed treatise on nuclear terrorism and the avian flu.

i felt betrayed, because that was not the point i had imagined we were making. we were talking about how cholera had changed science, cities and the modern world. we were tracing the footprint of an epidemic from one single baby's dirty linens to the contamination of a well to the intestines of hundreds upon hundreds of people. "the nuclear problem" never entered that picture. and it need not have.

that was my only point. there is no convenient conclusion.


Meggie said...

Spiderman, Spiderman... Would you like to see another picture?

oline said...

are you on drugs?

Meggie said...

Nope. I have gotten to talk to my husband every day since THURSDAY! I'm on a high that's all natural!

And I did tell you to open that picture in private. I warned you!

oline said...

that warning did not come soon enough.

Les Savy Ferd said...

one more reason not to like birds? because they ruined the ending of your latest read, albeit unintentionally and through the poor choices of the writer?

hey hey, let's leave birds out of this, shall we? suddenly, i'm at war with myself. i bet i'll win. but it will be a Pyrrhic victory.

Linda said...

Damn, baby.