Monday 26 April 2010

Encountering Mediation

First, although I'm moving onto what might be a new topic (my copy of Therefore Choose is still on the way, so I can't be quite sure how much of a shift away from Therefore Choose this new topic is), I could not bear to remove the compelling cover, so am maintaining it as the top image for a few days yet, with a link here to the post on the occasion of the release of Keith Oatley's new novel.

In the meantime (while I await delivery), I'm still mulling over some comments made on my recent posts on sublimation regarding tensions between enjoyment of -- and desire for -- unmediated-seeming experiences, on one hand, and, on the other, the enjoyable complexity of thinking about and focusing on mediation itself. Up for discussion in the original conversation was the erotic, and the attractiveness of experiences that seem direct and straightforward, and that offer a sense of being there without having to think too much about how that experience gets formed, or made. (I acknowledge here that my thinking about mediation has been influenced considerably by Kanishka Goonewardena and Thomas de Zengotita, even if neither of them has been preoccupied by this fiction-oriented context.)

On one hand, fiction is highly sought after for precisely the clarity of its immersive experience: we lose ourselves in stories, and often judge them by the capacity they offer for this immersion. On the other hand, we also relish language for its richness, something that may support our experience of stories at the same time it draws attention to the textual character of a text. It's easy to say that perhaps there's a sweet spot of balance between the desire for beautiful text and the desire for encompassing story -- but I suspect that rather than some predictable balance, what we would find instead would be a range of different profiles of preference. An indicator for such profiles might be something such as how much a viewer was bothered by or enjoyed the violation of the 'fourth wall' in the film Magnolia -- a move that disrupts the realism of the film and demands that the viewer consider what is being constructed and not merely enjoy or believe in the narrative as it unfolds.

Recognizing that affection for complexity is a matter of both taste and capacity, I close this reflection on mediation with an additional recognition that I find helpful, if prosaic: the ways one encounters mediation (exploratorily, impatiently, delusionally, etc.) have a lot to do with the demands of the situation. Simple, direct ideas may leave more space for thinking, which in some cases is crucial or at least desirable. But it might be possible to categorize the desire to experience texts 'directly' or in an 'immediate' way as demanding. In contrast, complex layered ideas that demand consideration of their provenance, intent, and the conventions and tactics of storytelling at play in a given story may construct rich interactive affordances that reward a more generous approach, one that may require more bandwidth for reading (and particular features of personality?), but that has its own rewards.

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formerly a wage slave said...

I guess that when Kundera tells his reader that a character was born of a gesture (as Agnes, I seem to recall was in "Immortality") or tells us he only began to see Tomas (of "the Unbearable LIghtness") clearly when he imagined him wavering about whether to invite Tereza to Prague, he violates some conventions of novel-writing. Thus you might say he makes us aware of ?what? a frame?--or would you say "mediation"?--Yet, Yet... for me it's just all about Agnes or Tomas or Tereza, people I care about. Oh yes, I know, they are merely fictional creations of the author. But, the author's role when highlighted is just another way to know about them.

Or, maybe put differently: K. writes that the sense for beauty is sensitivity for chance and things that don't fit order, or the order we've imagined. (Now perhaps I begin to say more what I think than K.) And I like that idea: There's order and, then, there's what we imagine to be order. What's outside the order we imagine is real. And, sometimes, to notice it is to notice beauty. So, when K. comments on the character he's created in a way that highlights the fictional quality of it all... well, on the one hand, that's just another way of learning about those people, Tereza, Tomas, and Agnes--and, on the other, these forbidden perspectives are also beautiful. There is Agnes--- Born of a gesture, which might equally be the gesture of a young or old person because, at bottom, we live our lives outside of time....But when that gesture was made by an old
woman it stirred something incomprehensible in the author, an emotion maybe something like a kind of sadness or longing, and Agnes was born.

(from Mark L.)

Keith Oatley said...

Thank you, Valentine, for this. Yes, I agree: the process of mediation is very interesting. I think, perhaps, that reading, as compared to film, allows one to alternate immersion and awareness of mediation, or even when the writer isn't offering prompts to awareness of mediation, to alternate immersive feeling and the possibility of thinking at a bit more of a distance on what one is immersed in. In a film, one is paced by the film maker. In reading one goes at one's own pace and can move in and out of different modes. I think the amount of time and thought a novelist puts into a book then, enables structures to be included in the text that invite people to think and feel at several, and in the case of great writers, many levels. Perhaps one can only do this in alternation.

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