Lately, and as usual, I've been thinking a lot about narrative and its utility, and if you don't know by now that I am an overwrought geek, then you just haven't been paying attention. ok? Ok.
One of the most illuminating things I've ever read on the topic of narrative is in an article by dear Dr. Oliver Sacks in his book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, about his patient William Thompson, who suffers from an inability to create new memories. A difficult loss to cope with, says Dr. Sacks, but it is the special power of narrative that Mr. Thompson's mind turns to in the effort to right itself: "...abysses of amnesia continually opened beneath him, but he would bridge them nimbly, with fluent confabulations and fictions of all kinds," he says, going on to talk about the human mind as a sort of a narrative production machine that ultimately manufactures the self: "We have, each of us, an inner narrative - whose continuity, whose sense, is our lives. It might be said that each of us constructs and lives a 'narrative,' and that narrative is us, our identities."
I love the poetry of his notion that our constant recollection of ourselves is constructing the continuous inner narrative that makes us who we are. Dr. Sacks goes on to say that for all of us, our stories are the necessary "bridges of meaning" thrown over "abysses of meaninglessness" and suggests that this power of the human mind accounts for childrens' universal love of storytelling, and their ability to understand extremely complex matters within a narrative context: because narrative has a symbolic power that gives sense to the world.
As much as I've been considering the creative power of constructing narrative, I've also been thinking about what it means to interrupt a narrative, and transplant it, to, say, a foreign land; as well as the notion of dismantling narratives that aren't satisfactory. While we're on the topic, too, there's the all-out destruction of narratives, which (of course) leads me to the the reason I've always loved Trent Reznor so. The first time I gave his work it's full day in court, it was a time when structures I had always thought were meaningful were dismantling themselves at an alarming rate in my mind. His headlong fury and the way he'd growl "I'm going all the way down, I'm leaving today" made me feel better about it all, for some reason - less nuts. At his best, Reznor's got a laser eye for structures that house diseased meaning, a rage for what's real and worthy, and the sheer force of will to break everything that isn't strong enough to withstand him. I admire that. It's dangerous work, and it takes it's toll in the end, but he gave me the best soundtrack I could have hoped for at a time when serious work had to be done.
In an incredible feat of engineering that will now include all of my listed obsessions in ONE POST, I want to mention that I have also long been siezed up over the many gorgeous pictures I have seen of deserted Icelandic farms, or lonely occupied ones, small and insignificant against impossibly forbidding backdrops. Iceland has a poetic landscape - an island with a frozen desert at its center, warmed by the gulfstream around the edges, and subject to transformative geologic and atmospheric forces too strong to withstand. If you've ever read the staggering Independent People, by Icelandic novelist Halldór Laxness, any number of the incredibly compelling medieval Icelandic sagas, or heard the trenchantly angelic music of Sigur Rós that feels like traveling through light, then perhaps you can see what so romances me in that landscape, narratively speaking. To be rootless and isolated in that kind of landscape is a narrative that appeals to me tremendously.
There's no conclusion, here. Sometimes it takes a long time to think about shit.
So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years
Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l'entre deux guerres
Trying to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate, but there is no competition
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.
Have I ever mentioned how much I love T. S. Eliot? Well, I do. A lot.