Sunday, September 18, 2016


Let’s take Lakoff-and-Co. metaphor theory to the idea of the “hinge” between two things, each self-contained but somehow related, interacting, sometimes to provide access, like a door.  At first I started thinking about it in terms of liturgy, the little transition between elements like song and prayer that no one ever thinks about until they find themselves on the wrong side of the platform or people half-sitting and half-standing.  In that regard I was calling it “articulation”, making a pun about saying words clearly and on the other hand making a clear transition to a new mode or subject. 

Because I have a friend with vascular necrosis, I explored a bit about human “hinges” like shoulders and hips, rich with metaphor and often key to religious symbolism: “shoulder your burden”, “down on your knees”, “stiff-necked”, “unbending,” “elbowing one’s way in,” “have some backbone.”

Lately there have been articles about connections between parts of brains, particularly the corpus callosum that connects the two big hemispheres, but also lesser known ones.  I’ve temporarily lost an article relating mysticism to a wobbly connection between the prefrontal cortex lobe and the temporal lobe, a location punnily called “the temple”.  I can’t even remember the three letter acronym, which is a hippocampus problem.  Let’s face it, the old gray mare ain’t what she used to be.  My mental connections are as stiff as my old joints and I was never all that flexible. 

Lilith Saintcrow

But in a display of serendipity, in the search for a brain spot, I ran into a piece of dynamite advice for writers that opened a door.  I’ve never heard of Lilith Saintcrow, who writes novels in the “genre bender” (not necessarily gender bender) kind: urban fantasy, historical fantasy, paranormal romance and steampunk novels  I don’t even write novels.  But she is an eloquent explainer of why it sometimes hurts to write.  Some people call them “hooks,” but she calls them “hidden hinges,” which is nicer.  

In every story there are visible and hidden “hinges”–places where the particular bits of the story “hang,” for structure. The visible hinges are crisis points and revelations, easy enough to spot. The hidden hinges, however, are harder to see. This is partly because the hat-trick of writing depends just as much on what happens behind the curtain as it does on the visible excitements that make up the outer story.

It is also partly because the hidden hinges mean more to the author, if that is possible, than they can to the reader.

I was going along in the particular, fierce but relaxed concentration of revision, and I suddenly reached the place where there was a “hole” in the manuscript. And I knew what to put in it. So I did, which just happened to bring me to 60K on the total wordcount, my goal for the night.
And then, sitting there and taking a deep breath, I burst into tears. Because the hidden hinge in this particular scene means a great deal to me, and touched a raw place.

This is almost a description of the kind of therapy that tries to bring up to consciousness a gap or wound in one’s internal structure, so as to do something about it.  Writing CAN do something about it.  I’m intrigued that she says she mostly finds them by painfully shedding blood or tears— I wonder whether a hinge can’t also be one of those transcendent moments of great insight.  

Saintcrow says that though it’s pretty easy to locate the plot-turn hinges, the moments when the characters feel some change, no other person has ever been able to identify her personal, emotional, “writer’s hinges”, nor can she dependably see them in other people’s writing.  It’s sort of a challenge to look for them.  Probably the best literary critics can do it.  But I didn’t expect to find a pop genre writer talking about such phenomena, which shows what a snob I am. 

Certainly “hinges” are or should be the subject of biography and memoir and certainly one sheds blood because of having been deeply stabbed.  And maybe it explains why people love “hot” novels with writer’s hinges out of sight but “felt” empathically, instead of the colder analytic styles almost like scientific writing, which we expect to be Euro-style educated, dispassionate, logical and analytical.  Emotion and other knowledge stored in the limbic brain that all mammals share is likely to be the location of hinges, because it is not organs but the one-celled perceptions of place, time, and change that record our history.  We barely begin to understand this, but it is the metaphor aquifer for poets and artists.  Most people who have watched a stream know how much the boulders on the bottom of the stream bed can make the surface bulge and swirl.

Getting back to hinges on a different scale, I’m thinking about Erikson’s notion that some people’s writing becomes hugely important to a culture by opening what one might call a culture “hinge” like Luther and the Reformation opening the big cathedral doors to Protestant thought, or Gandhi and peace.  Seems like “Game of Thrones” is doing that for our times, even though it’s clearly based on the 10th and 11th centuries when all of Europe was at war though there were still no nations, no boundaries. Now they're all in flux again. 

Some are suggesting that the historical hinge of Europe was the Black Plague which so de-populated half of Eurasia that many systems (feudalism) had to be rethought or invented.  For the first time the workers had the upper hand because they were so needed.  

I think we are in one of those times now.  It’s hard NOT to imagine a massive depopulation event like war if only because we appear to have exceeded the carrying capacity of the planet.  In fact, it is not so much death as sterility-- failure to have babies -- that seems to be slowing growth.  If all the displaced refugee tent cities were to somehow cause their residents to perish, maybe that would be a hinge.  (Would Syrians ever relocate to Valier, the way the original founders of Valier came from Belgium?)  Diseases and famine are always waiting for an opening.  Zita creaks at the door.  Ebola — was it the WD40 for hinges?

What needs to be opened now is a solution to economic inequity.  Our hands feel along the wall, hoping to detect a crack that might be hinged.  Blood and tears abound, though I’m not talking about a real physical hinge but rather a cultural pivot.  (I don’t think Brexit was it.)  Last night I watched Terence Mallick’s “Knight of Cups”, based on Tarot cards, in which Christian Bale tries to find the meaning of his life in his father, brother, and a sequence of women, all among the vast dazzling hard flat glass architecture of LA.  No hinges.  We only get glimpses, like maybe when Peter Matthiessen talks briefly.  

I also watched “Obscene” which is an account of Barney Rosset’s long fight to destroy censorship as an illegitimate limitation on thought and art.  He had no doubt, he was not confused, and he definitely swung the legal gates open, though they are trying to narrow again.  We need to take down the wall itself.

No comments: