Monday, July 21, 2014

In praise of non sequitur

In praise of non sequitur: you can call everything or anything a story, just don’t require that it makes sense

This is a reflection inspired by the #CLMOOC #CLMOOC14 Make Week #6 and tomorrow's Twitter Chat on the meaning of Story


When folks try to define story, they usually get to “beginning|middle|end” pretty quickly. Even if it takes them a while, that’s usually where they’re going. The most generous (liberal in one of its many pejorative senses [hate that word “liberal,” never did mean much {sort of like tolerant, implying that I know I'm right and I know you’re wrong but I won’t correct you out loud this time because I'm such a nice guy} and ever since liberal got that “neo” in front of it, it means even less]) definers of story allow as how there are these weird folks who sometimes like to put the end at the beginning or even in the middle, and shuffle around the other bits, and we need to acknowledge that there are these sort of “exceptions that prove the rule,” but all us sensible folks know that there’s really no call for weirdness, and we’ll just go on with how things are supposed to be and let the freaks hang out in the corner where we mostly ignore them.

There are the occasional reconstructions here and there which break down around attempts to distinguish fiction from nonfiction, or one genre or medium from another, but the sense/nonsense divide is the key one at which these systematizers balk. There’s a deep rebellion against these constraints that comes from the struggles of the unprivileged to make sense of their world on its own terms, rather than in terms of the framework of meaning which the dominant culture assigns and recognizes. The most common “end” to a classically defined “story” is some kind of moral or ethical or at least practical takeaway. It may not be a scriptural lesson or a self-righteous precept for conduct, explicitly, but at least the reader is left with a nugget of wisdom or judgement they can store and re-use. A bleak life of struggle for material existence or a constricted life, oppressed by exclusion and limitation through the prejudices of others, may have precious little to teach others, but its chronicler had better try to find that pearl, or no one will care.

Sometimes, though, that’s all there is, the description, the immersion in another’s world, a catalog of experience without construct or artifice. And why exactly is that not story?