Those who have been following along know that I’m moving towards a manuscript I call “The Bone Chalice.” The point of it is to propose ways of composing liturgy that is NOT dependent on religious dogma. Some will find that a contradiction since to them liturgy or ritual is by definition religion which they see as traditional and institutional. But I think it is a universal human response to deep meaning. How does one create deep meaning?
One dependable method is narrative: stories of journeys, transformations, group formation. origins, and so on. So let’s start with the various kinds of narrative. I propose that all of them are capable of creating deep meaning. It appears to me that when it comes to narrative, what we’ve got is a continuum of performance modes.
Dance & song
Pictorial sequential graphic “print” (“comics” or storyboards)
Spoken interpretation of literature
“Radio” theatre (a cast that only speaks)
Acting with costumes and sets
Acting with costumes and sets and music (opera)
Film (video included)
Segmented film, as in a TV series
Reassembled segmented film as in series episodes on a DVD
Film with an explanatory “meta” level recorded as voices concurrent
Mixed media image, music, narrative
They say that there is film story now in machines that can “see” the watcher and adapt to the watcher’s response, actually changing the story to fit the watcher -- in other words, going back to the skills of the original storytellers.
Now that I’ve tried to lay out the many, many ways narrative can be presented, let’s look at the creative principles that affect the success of the narrative. What’s interesting is that all these modes of communication have in common many strategies: sequence, metaphor, image, tension, surprise, and all the other myriad arts of mimesis. The list is longer than recorded history. Partly they are learned or traditional while other may be invented in the moment, happened upon accidentally, or figured out as a process of deduction.
There are many variables in the mode of presentation, things about economics or material culture or politics.
Intermediation by a theatre owner, a publisher, a movie studio, a promoter, a provider of capital.
Valuing high realism, or the frankly fantastic in various ways: all the way from what is purported to be unedited footage of people in ordinary life to cartoon characters or CGI.
“Pure” media like print -- just marks -- and those that mix media in ingenious ways. Illustrations might be a midway point.
Pure entertainment and stories that hope to have social impact, or some mix between the two.
Traditional stories and those that experiment with various aspects.
The next category of considerations might be the skill of the artist. In some forms of art the artist IS the instrument: acting, singing, dancing. In others the artist is the maker of the art. In some cases the artist may envision what is to happen but not be able to enact it: playwrights, composers, choreographers.
Print is the art form that has taken a leap in what is required of a writer by adding the ability to operate a computer and do research on it. On the one hand, abilities are greatly enhanced and on the other, some people despair. Age doesn’t seem to make as much difference as a sort of political or temperamental attitude: whether one’s personality rests on things not changing or whether one is a seeker and experimenter.
Perhaps not everyone has been conscious that as print constantly morphs in terms of how it is shaped and transmitted, the skills and standards also change. There IS an art to writing a good “tweet.” Among the several kinds of blogging, there is wide variation among styles that are like letter-writing, or journaling, or formal or informal essays, or simple records, or fiction of various sorts -- a writer needn’t stick to one style when blogging.
But suddenly the reader has a different status, self-selecting in very short periods of time with very different needs and tastes. The writer’s only control is through suiting the content of the blog to the sort of reader they hope to attract. But with blogging the reader can talk back and often does, arguing with what is written or possibly praising and expanding it -- which can be just as disconcerting to someone who is used to writing for a known audience, possibly intermediated by an agent at that.
It does make a difference whether the consumer is alone at home, with others in a small group, in a repertory theatre, in a vast cinema palace, watching a matinee or getting through a bout of insomnia, or all dressed up at a gallery reception. Checking something short on a smart phone while waiting for the bus is different from listening to audible books via earphone while commuting.
An interesting thing to think about when trying to understand kinds and strategies of arts, those who produce them and those who consume them, is the time element in terms of period. What is written in 1500 may “read” quite differently in 2012 and may, in fact, need extra information and training in order to read at all. This is not even going back to hieroglyphics. We say that something that is from a context no longer in existence that it is “out-dated” and yet some of us make an effort to understand something as Elizabethan as Shakespeare or the King James Bible. (Few learn Aramaic or Hebrew so as to read what was closer to the original writing -- which would raise awareness of just how different the form and context was.)
Kids’ Facebook entries might be outdated in a few weeks. Which can lead to misunderstandings. A writer must consider whether he is “writing for the ages” about deep human issues: “Antigone” has outlasted every culture because it is concerns one of the deepest human issues: the individual versus the group. The Psalms keep their potency because they are not so much narrative as image and the dynamics of those images (which could be considered narrative) refer to the land and basic human relationships. I see sci-fi as trying to something similar by making them strange and yet familiar. Pornography can easily become dated and when it does, it is comic. Few things are as ridiculous as sex, and the writers of farce know it.
In short, the arts are everywhere now, saturating our lives, but somehow our sophistication doesn’t seem to increase -- only our confusion. We are not becoming more aware, but less aware. The burden is on the creator to raise awareness.