Friday, 21 May 2010

note on mystery, coincidence and narrative

Ben Osborn sent me this on my birthday. Partly, i think, because he knew it was my kind of thing, and partly because he couldn't get away with putting it in the essay he was writing:

'The narrative of the mystery story is always dependent on coincidence, in the form of clues and leads. These objects, events, and characters are incidents separate in time and space from the crime itself, but they and the crime occupy the same epistemological incident. As such, they form a co-incidental (coincidental) detailing of the event. In the mystery story, for the sake of thematic economy and narrative unity, everything is potentially a clue. The paradox of this is that, within a predetermined narrative, there can be no coincidences: that is, as long as there is a controlling authorial or narrator-voice, everything is presented within an overall narrative structure, and thus nothing can be considered coincidental. This paradoxical relationship between narrative and reality is called realism.

MASHA. But what is the meaning of it?
TUZENBACH. The meaning… Look, it is snowing. What is the meaning of that? (Pause.)
(Chekhov, Three Sisters, Act II)

Tuzenbach’s rhetorical question in Chekhov’s Three Sisters says two things which add up the same sensation and thus the same meaning: pantheism or nihilism. Nihilism says that snow falls without meaning, i.e. everything occurs without meaning: pantheism says that the universe exists, which is a meaningful existence, i.e. everything has a meaning, everything is holy, and everything is God. Within a narrative structure (that of a conversation) this sensation is inevitable: anything and everything that occurs within that narrative structure will affect it simply by occurring; thus, either this event is meaningful, or the whole narrative structure is meaningless. How to respond to such possibility? Pause.

Pause. That is, be silent, wait. Tacet, as John Cage’s 4’33” instructs its musicians. Let other things happen, and experience them.'

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