Friday, 3 January 2014

Fiction Again, Without Holes.

We watch a film in which a man has intermittent chest pains. But this comes to nothing. No heart attack at the crucial moment, no psychosomatic explanation (so that they disappear when he’s resolved some embedded psychic trauma). And so we object. Not of course because it’s implausible that a man might have intermittent chest pains. It is of course unremarkable in the real world that a man has intermittent chest pains without this issuing in a denouement. But as a film - or any fictional world - we want the chest pains to be an aspect of the story not just of the man per se. And attributes and characteristics, in this sense, within a fiction, are confiscated from the individual and given over to the story. In real life, attributes are often accidental, contingent, leading nowhere; in fictional worlds, we want them to be symbolic, or narrative-led. The qualities of the individual are merely a support to the story.

When we look at someone across the tube carriage, a man scratching his nose, reading the FT, we see facets of a person who will doubtless remain unknown to us. When we read of such a man in a fictional world it looks, superficially, as if something similar is happening. But the facets of the man are in fact facets of the story into which his features collapse. Similarly, with objects: The facet of a vase described in a fiction should not be confused with the facet of a vase we see in a room, the facet of an object which is only partially known to us, for it is, rather, a single facet of the ongoing story, the fiction, which is laid out before us in its entirety and conceals nothing. The facet of the vase is a facet of, for example, the protagonist’s aristocratic taste, purity, melancholy, or a whole number of things assigned retrospectively or contextually by the rest of the fiction. 
In short, we don’t read the attributes of, say, Sherlock Holmes as we would attributes of an individual with unknown properties, as we do when we look at someone across the carriage from us on the tube. We see attributes like “the cold analytical mind”, the pipe smoking etc as attributes of the story. The story in this sense has no gaps - the thin man’s crooked smile, the blueness of the vase, are not partial aspects of the vase  and the man respectively, they are aspects of the story, which has no gaps at all because all its parts - sentences, descriptions etc – are laid before us in their entirety.
The story unfolds as a plenum, with no holes, only surplus elements, like the man’s chest pains, that do not feed the story.


  1. i read the ft - in fact, i've had a couple of letters published there

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