Aristotle expected an aesthetic unity which he saw as vital to a well written work. Sometimes called organic, his idea was that all parts presented should relate in a central way to the narrative, rather than lead the reader down an irrelevant path. It should work, he wrote, much like the body of living things whose parts function together to protect and aid growth and well being. Aristotle was most focussed on tragedies, and applied his frame to each play he critiqued. But why was his focus on Pathos? Was his life so sad? or was he describing what it meant to be Greek at that time?
My father took a different approach. While occasionally he would recite romantic poems from his courting past, he had given up all literature and expressed his judgments of what mattered in the syntax of the New York Times. His idea was that only what was actually going on in the world counted. The facts mattered and literature somehow failed this test. Nary a novel ever appeared on his nightstand, but he incessantly read the paper each day.
I began to explore what came to be called modernism, for me an altogether different concept: that each person brought his own frame for understanding the world — one based perhaps on his culture, experience, motivation, fears, etc. In this literature each character speaks from his experience and in his dialect. “Isn’t the sea what Algy calls it? The snotgreen sea, the scrotumtightening sea,”writes James joyce in the opening of Ullyses.
That frame is something that the reader brings with him, and it deeply and fundamentally affects his expectations and forms a structural matrix for his comfort zone — and his judgments.
A Lesson in Visioning
Suppose you decide to photograph a garden. You could look for an individual, sensual flower, your frame only slightly beyond its contours. Or you could expand the view to include a few buds some in flower, some fading and some spent. Or broaden the frame and elongate it perhaps to get the essence of a garden bed.
So where does your frame come from? Where does the desire to see the world in a consistent way come from?
A Lesson in Visioning
I borrowed some simple cameras, handed them out to students five at a time and instructed them to capture something with their lenses. I found they needed more time so I lent them the cameras overnight. Today of course students have their own “smart” phones as they travel through the world and the process is simpler to set up.
Our eyes change focal points and given that, our minds chose to frame around what matters to us. This constitutes a point of view.
When we read a piece of literature, we bring to it our present consciousness. If the piece disturbs our presets, challenges them, upsets them, alters in some way our frames, then it is thru these disturbances that we learn the most! (c.f. James Baldwin’s Another Country)
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