I’m starting work on a talk that’s meant to be heard rather than watched. It will build on my illustrated What To Do talk to create an aural version of the repetition of diagrams spanning the text. The relationship between the subject of the text and its structuring principle will be much the same as in the original talk: that is, the structure is the subject, and the difficult thing is to devise narrative stories that pull the structure down into the semantics and grammar of the text. There must be multiple stories, which could either be fiction or non-fiction as long as they’re each internally cohesive so that the repetitions aren’t too obviously contrived. I’m not sure about this yet.

For instance it might be better if the repetitions were real rather than contrived. Analogy is when things look or behave the same but have completely unconnected roots. The stories should perhaps be analogous: a handful of separate stories which share whole sections of matching text. Each time a section is repeated in a new story it is redefined by its new context. (The opposite of analogy is homology, when diverse things begin similarly but look or behave differently on the present surface – though you can still hope to trace the correspondences back.)
In its final few pages Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman contrives a satisfying analogy. Just before the end of the book the narrator/protagonist begins to describe in detail the very same scenario he had navigated a hundred and fifty pages ago, with the very same awe and disbelief he’d felt the first time round. Here are two excerpts, first pp. 54-5, then pp. 204-5. It’s nice to read them both in full because of the way the correspondences slide in and out.

policeman-54-55

policeman-204-205

On pages 56 and 205 there are identical sentences that particularly interest me: “The whole morning and the whole world seemed to have no purpose at all save to frame it [the police station] and give it some magnitude and position so that I could find it with my simple senses and pretend to myself that I understood it.

In the first instance of that sentence, the morning in question was had magical quality: “very beautiful and happy in a dreamy drowsy way” (p.44) – “a new and a bright day, the day of the world. Birds peeped without limitation and incomparable stripe-coloured bees passed above me on their missions and hardly ever came back the same way home” (p. 45). Thus framed, after a lazy nap and a happy encounter with some “droll customer”, the police station is another strange and magical curiosity.

When the sentence comes again on p. 205, “[t]he night had passed away and the dawn had come with a bitter, searing wind. The sky was livid and burdened with ill omen. Black angry clouds were piling in the west, bulged and glutted, ready to vomit down their corruption and drown the dreary world in it” (p.203-4). In a frame like this, what had been trippingly curious the first time round becomes dreaded and heavy and slow. The words are just the same but they fall with different weight.

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