Archive for the ‘poetics’ Category

Here’s the thing about nerds – and please know that I’m including myself in this, maybe as the worst of us all, the monster is within me, &c.: we all know at this point that there are nerds. Nerds are people who like weird stuff, and sometimes display a socially-unacceptable level of enthusiasm for our weird stuff. We dress up in costume for Harry Potter book launches or sign our emails with Star Trek quotes or what have you. But I think everyone also knows that there are nerds, and then there are nerd nerds: the kind of guys that you hope never show up to a conversation about any topic, because despite our enthusiasm and our granular knowledge of every little bit of a topic, we’re fucking terrible.

We’re the Comic Book Guys of the world, the Um, Actuallys, the Technically Speakings of the world. You all know us and I think that, even though we talk a big game about bullying, I think we maybe know, deep down, that when we do that kind of shit we deserve a little bit of the pejorative muck that still sullies the word “nerd.”

So, what I’m here to do is to present my Unified Theory of Being a Nerd, and then (maybe more importantly), I want to talk a little about the two major attitudes towards the world that it causes, and why these things are bad, why they should be rejected, and a little bit about how to quarantine them.

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I saw this movie the other day.  It…could have been worse, I guess, but it also could have been better.  On the one hand, I guess if you’re going to use the Comanche as a plot point, it’s nice that the war is started entirely by greedy white guys, and propagated by a white guy who can’t admit that he did anything wrong.  That’s a step forward.  On the other hand, a hundred Comanche get massacred and it doesn’t have any bearing on the story at all, the Lone Ranger just wants to rescue that lady, Tonto just wants to get his revenge.  No Comanche massacre was required for either plot OR story in order for that to happen.

It’s especially galling because let’s be real, that entire movie was just a set up for an amazing 20-minute railroad battle climax set to Hans Zimmer’s orchestration of the William Tell Overture.  And that part was great!  It was fantastic!  But also literally every single minute before was interchangeable plot filler.  I heard that they were going to have werewolves in it originally, I wish there had been werewolves.  That’s the thing about this movie; if you’d taken out the Comanche massacre and put in some outlaw werewolves instead, it would have been exactly the same movie.

Anyway, I’m not going to talk about any of that, or even about why did Johnny Depp play Tonto, or any of it.  Instead, I’d like to take a few minutes and talk about Frame Stories.

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I think the way to describe the “best” narrative – that is, the narrative that, regardless of its content, is the most structurally-sound, streamlined, well-put-together – is that it is both unexpected and inevitable.  While watching it, you can’t predict the outcomes of the events you’re seeing onscreen, but once you’ve seen it and you look back on it, you realize that it couldn’t possibly have happened any other way.

What I think is interesting about this is that it seems to describe two different modes of appreciating a movie, so what I’m going to do is assume that this is (as it intuitively seems) a correct assertion, and proceed from that to elucidate what I think are the two fundamental elements of narrative.  Some of this is going to seem pretty obvious, but just because a thing is obvious doesn’t mean it isn’t worth exploring a little bit.

Those two elements are Plot and Story.

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“Describe” actually literally means something like “draw a circle around.”  That’s why, in geometry, you don’t draw a circle, you describe one.  I want to play a kind of a game in which we use the word “describe” very literally – so, when we talk about “describing an idea” or “describing a person”, we have to find a way to say it as actually drawing a circle around something.  And the attendant implications of that circle are that it is both real and arbitrary at the same time.

If you think of a piece of paper, and on a piece of paper there are a bunch of dots, and some dots are red, and some are blue, and some are green.  You could draw a circle (here “circle” is being defined very loosely) around only the red dots, and then you could say, “look, there’s a red object on the page!”  Is that true?  Well, yes, kind of.  I mean, there are red dots on the page, those are real.  And the circle is certainly real, you just drew it.  There is, in that respect, definitely a red object there.  But at the same time, you could have also drawn a circle around all the blue dots, and made a blue object – so, we could say that there’s one real object (the red one), and two more potential objects – the blue one and the green one, since those dots are still there, they’re just waiting for you to draw a circle.  But really there’s more than that, because you could have drawn a circle that included one blue dot for every red one and said there’s a purple object, or a circle that included all the dots and said “here’s an object I call ‘dots’”, and those would be equally real.

Real in the sense that they exist; arbitrary in the sense that you could just as easily have drawn a circle around something else.

So, the first step is imagining some nonsense. 

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Cara Blouin

Telling one “ordinary” woman’s life story as an epic performance experience is the kind of stunt I can really get into. There are lots of big-I Ideas in it about who can be considered a viable protagonist, about theater as a means for personal exploration, and also at what point it veers into self-indulgence. The scale has theatricality. There is something great about the idea that so much time and effort could be dedicated to not only taking apart, but also to presenting one life story to an audience.

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braak

Harry Potter just turned thirty-three.  Threat Quality Press has received THIS exclusive outline for the next seven books of his adventures.

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HERE IS THE RULE:

You cannot justify the existence of a thing in a story by arguing that it is a necessary consequence of other elements in that same story.

Why not?

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