Sunday, August 30, 2009

personally, i think it really happened


A ways back, Scriblerus and I were having a conversation (over Facebook chat) about a particular Buffy episode (6-17, Normal Again) which he'd hated. And I was saying, sure, I hear you, the first time I saw it I hated it too, because it's EASY to hate, it's a juvenile hacky Twilight Zone-esque (Shyamalanic?) fuck you to the viewer, but if you can get past that hate, it feels like some of the best work Sarah's ever done, and furthermore, the central conflict in it takes place in a realm which dovetails with one described in secret at the end of episode 6-3. In other words, though it's structured like a standalone, the character has the chance to work through long-repressed issues, so it becomes a pivot point for the season.

So you know, blah blah blah, and he was saying, you should be in academia, you're really good at finding meaning in stories. But reading through Elegant Complexity (the study of Infinite Jest) made me realize just how awful I am at it. Over and over Carlisle would point out how a detail was selected for thematic resonance and I would feel dumb for assuming that was just how that world was. Not that I missed it, I just took it literally.

Then I thought about it some more and I realized there's a psychological motivation for my literal taking. When I'm watching a film, it's a created world. There are humans who transmit emotion which I absorb and they would continue to do so if I weren't watching. So it feels okay to pontificate, to dig deep, to "unpack", because you can always return to that unblemished surface level, which somehow apparently resembles a suitcase.

But when I'm reading a book, those characters only live when I've decided to breathe life into them, when I can believe they're thinking humans (whereas with film I don't need to believe in them, they're just there). If I were to break down a novel into an argument, it would become merely that, dull and didactic. Of course I know that characters can be both things at once, can be walking contradictions of representation and verisimilitude - but it's difficult mentally for me to simultaneously see both sides, like singing while treading water.

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