I posted this elsewhere recently, but I was discussing it with a friend today and realized that much of it has some debt to ideas that emerged while reading Dan Barber’s On Diaspora. I’m thinking here in particular about his articulation of reverse causation. These days I’m far more interested in novels & poetry than I am philosophy, but I don’t think this latter day interest comes at the expense of philosophical influence. Perhaps the following post (in the form of a letter to a nameless recipient) bears this out.
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I apologize for the gaps between our correspondence. And though it will serve as no adequate excuse for such silences, your informant told you correctly: I am currently writing a novel. Or, if not writing, dwelling on the writing of a novel. Or, if not a novel, something whose ambitions are matched only by its remaining largely unread.
I’m holding out hope I can make my minimalistic plotting work. As you know very well, I’m far more interested in consequences (and the responses to consequences) than I am plots, which tend to be too forward-focused and linear for my taste. Consequences realign not simply our perception but our experiences of the past, as much even as they create an imagined future. Dare we go so so far as to say that the present is spent mostly negotiating the indistinguishable boundary between responding to these things past and anticipating those things to come? If this is so, could it be said further that consequences are a violence in & against the occurrence of the moment?
Once we get into the language of violence, and thus of conflict & of tension, we’re into the territory of story. If that is the case, how does one “tell” a story? We may tell of a story, much like we might read or write about conflict or violence, but I’m less sure our plots are up to the challenge they set for themselves of capturing (even as a journalistic snapshot) the experience to which it lays claim. This might be a more convoluted way of reiterating the idea that realist fiction is never as real as it claims.
Story, I am suggesting, is not told; it is experienced – and the only means of this experience, in writing anyway, is through the occurrence of language (which is to say, style). This is all quite abstract, I admit, and one’s stylistic efforts tend to require a bit of compromise if you wish actually to be read, but I firmly believe that when one’s reach too often meets one’s grasp, one’s efforts are likely not worth the time of others.
For my story, I’m interested in conjuring the Gothic South I never so much lived as I read & heard about while growing up in the domesticated suburbs of the New South. I’ve been re-reading Flannery O’Connor and William Faulkner for inspiration in this regard. The tale at present consists of three brothers, with all their unspoken rivalries and inarticulate animosities. Each brother, though, separated in a variety of ways and degrees, are incorporated in & by the consequences of his siblings’ actions & inactions (those real & imagined, interpreted & anticipated). This tension between separation and incorporation is sharpened by a sudden act of physical violence with, at least in my present telling, no immediately discernible reason or meaning, to which the brothers must agree in their response. This agreement, I might note, is what we tend simplistically to identify as “effect”.
Is, though, the one(s) who commit violence (in this case, one of the brothers) necessarily the cause of their violence’s effects? Vengeance, arguably, is no more or less an effect of violence than forgiveness. Or, for that matter, death is no more or less an effect than survival. Effects are born of agreements, broadly understood, and my story will be “about” such a coming to agreement. This “coming to agreement,” however, though certainly a part of the plot is also the very stuff that cannot be circumscribed by plot. As in my claim about the depiction of violence, this agreement, because it too is a kind of violence, is one that I hope readers might more readily experience in the language of its arrival rather than in its narrative depiction.
But I’m sure I’ve said too much. For you & me alike on the matter.