Friday, 11 May 2007

Assimilation and Accommodation

During a most insightful conversation with my son the other evening, he was telling me about some of the kids in his class. One lad, according to my son, is very smelly and nobody wants to hang out with him. I suggested to my son that maybe this lad's parents didn't run him many baths. My son replied that this lad should have more baths anyway.
Clearly, my son is aware of his own responsibilities; he understands that parents are fallible and that he can control his environment. All exciting stuff and another step towards independence.

Jean Piaget referred to two processes used in adaptation: assimilation and accommodation.
Loosely speaking, in assimilation the individual attempts to apply what they know to their surroundings. This can result in a square peg through round hole scenario. Accommodation is about fitting into one's surroundings - adapting as required.
I see a lot of human nature on my commutes each day. It never fails to astound me how few adults are willing to accommodate their surroundings. They will spread themselves over two seats on the bus and refuse to budge when someone tries to sit at their side. Or they will sit next to me and poke me with their elbows and bag, and expand until I am squashed against the window.
I was reading somewhere the other day about types of characters. The writer of the article suggested that there are people who will make the world bend around them, and people who will bend for the world. Assimilators and accommodators. This article, however, frustrated me with its extremism. I see that balance is the key to most things. I imagine a vast set of characteristics per human, each bookended with an extreme. I'd like to think that a world of people whose characteristics are balanced, neatly centred between each extreme, would be a harmonious world.

I wonder how my son will deal with peer pressure. Will he assimilate and stick to his guns, or will he accommodate and do what his friends do?
What I love about his work is that it is uncompromising.
I've been inspired lately, and have been bashing out and splicing together disparate ideas and thoughts. My friends have been party to this, and to the evolutionary process. Discussing my current take with a friend, he was disappointed. I had ironed out the oddities and inconsistencies and had neatly blended together a whole pod of initially unconnected (and seemingly unconnectable) ideas. I could see where he was coming from. Part of me agrees that the original, raw stream of consciousness had great novelty value.
But it would have been nigh on impossible to convince any publisher or agent to show interest in the original version. Furthermore, I can imagine that only the most receptive reader would endure such an indulgent string of surreality. That's why I evolved the story: I accommodated.

McKee suggests that creativity is born from limitations. I would concur. What may once have seemed tantamount to 'copping out' now seems to be the responsible and professional attitude towards writing. I continue with my attempts at understanding how readers read and how they translate words into stories and experiences, both imagined and real (I have some thoughts on Mitchell's Ghostwritten to post anon). It is the reader who determines whether that page will be turned or not and, assuming that the pubs and agents are judging their audience correctly, it is only through probing the reader's mind that I will be able to understand the limitations within which I am working.

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