Wednesday, 17 January 2007


I'll probably be hitting this topic many times.
I should start by quoting extracts of discussions I have had with Peter Cox (a man who is much, much wiser than I):
Me: Would you say that an author's ability to elicit a strong emotional response from the reader is of primary importance?
Peter: Yes. But it’s also the ability to anticipate and control that response that really sets a strong writer apart.
[Full discussion here.]

Peter: What I’m really talking about when I refer to “emotion” is any emotion… positive, negative, fear, horror, you name it. It’s the failure to produce an emotional response that leads to calamity.
[Full discussion here.]

Now I'm bound to consider any conflict that might exist between this idea and McKee's idea of the imperative of story.
I've just finished reading William Burroughs' Naked Lunch (do check out the link; he had a remarkable life).
It is the most disturbing book I have ever read. There's a peculiar irony in the fact that I looked forwards to moments of drug abuse because they were the brief respites! Imagine Dante meets Bosch meets de Sade. And then some.
Curiously, there is little discernable plot (at least to my immature eyes) and much of the book is written in a drug-fuelled gibberish. (I really intend to try out Burroughs' cut-up technique some time because it creates obscure wholes from unexceptional parts, revealing highly imaginative sentences.)
The book succeeds in stirring very strong emotional responses - of that there is no question.
But, assessed in terms of story ... I wouldn't know where to begin. There are many recognizable techniques in there, and his similes are on a par with Kiran Desai's. I don't know - I can't say that I took anything much away from the novel apart from a deeply disturbing experience - a glimpse through the gates of Hell.

Is it not enough to simply give the reader an emotional experience from words?
How important is the story in actuality?
I can look at Rothko's No.15 (above) and take an emotional response from it, and that's all I need. I can discern no narrative from it. Furthermore, I could imagine that, were the painting imbued with a narrative, the narrative might contaminate my emotional response (which is pure).
Lots more thoughts to come.

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