For years how to manage personal fiction topic challenges has kept me down. Say, diabetes, or carpal tunnel injuries, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, personality conditions, poverty, solitude, a cruelly cold and indifferent cosmos, and so on. Any prose I've written of those topics comes across to me as writer surrogacy at best, at worst as woe-is-me, pity-me-party angst and ennui, about middling as daydream wishful thought. No thank you in any regard.
Whoa! Ping! Ping! Ping! Wow! Eureka! Bingo! I realized at last from a sideways and backward approach. Daydream writing is wishful thinking, portraits of an artist's struggles as a writer (Künstlerroman artist's novel about an artist's maturation); that is, the writing reflects a writer's wish for power, fame, celebrity, approval, acclaim, fortune, romance, adventure, risks and thrills, emotional thrills, visceral thrills -- yada yada.
After an epiphany about a moral human condition crisis as an intangible though highest-most accessible appeal and otherwise what a narrative is actually about, added onto and precursor of this epiphany, without which this epiphany would not have come to pass, I dug in, as is my wont anymore. What moral human condition crisis means consumed midnight candles. I'd exhausted reference resources, exhausted human condition trails, exhausted the passion potentials of moral human conditions, and went cold again.
Out of the blue, came this idea that an irony about the human condition might need to cope with possible violent overreations to a scandalous and controversial social topic.
I was revisiting a dead inspiration from my trunk stories about two notorious, much maligned villians, or antiheroines, from a historic era, actual persons. I sought a spark to reignite passions for the story. A missing ingredient or two had held me back. What does this story have to say about the human condition? The tangible action is superficial, trite, outworn from overuse, untimeliness, irrelevance for contemporary times. If the spark I toyed with would come to pass, a large population group would seek to tar and feather me in my home, I'm sure, and elsewhere. Scandal and controversy sell, though, right? However, if I'm dead, I couldn't enjoy the fruits of my labors.
So seeking another spark, another approach, I hit upon the idea that, if I took a dissenting opinion position, with myself and my message as well as a portion of the historical persons' complications, and aligned with a contemporary moral sensibility that nonetheless accords with the message and intent, say a countercultural sensibility that is itself a dissent, the argument, so to speak, would appeal to both dissenters' and mainstream sensibilities. The epiphany arose then.
I'd also been reading nonfiction essays among the most acclaimed and popular since creative nonfiction began. Several are delicious verbal and dramatic ironies. A woman writer writes about femimine justification of womenkind's argumentative frailties, ironically posed as an instruction manual for women how to argue with their husbands and win every argument.
Another uses a lost hat as a humor device to show how onlookers are prone to obtain amusement from the mishaps of others, the irony how such unconditional and shame-free exhibits are known by their performers as otherwise embarrassments to be generally avoided, though the fact of others' amusements at no personal cost is not lost on the performers. In other words, they can laugh at themselves and be as much if not more amused than onlookers who obtain amusement from an expectation a performer is embarrassed -- the embarrassment the sole amusement for onlookers. Exquisite.
So the epiphany is use of irony to argue the opposite of a message. Argumentation composition generally takes a stance, makes a straightforward claim, supports the claim, anticipates and rebutts objections to the claim, then conclusively affirms the claim: straightforwardly. Objections to a claim -- the claim's argument -- as the tangible action of a narrative then is the answer I've sought for, say, how to depict a diabetic as a sympathy-worthy agonist. The diabetic is a nemesis of the viewpoint agonist.
The viewpoint agonist believes, for example, the diabetic is a malingerer because the diabetic doesn't work as hard as the viewpoint agonist at a manual labor, and so on. The hard worker belittles the diabetic for malingering, not knowing the diabetic is diabetic and debilitated by the condition. The hard worker holds the diabetic in contempt and is not shy about his opinions, and so on.
In this way the action unfolds from the hard worker's complication of working with a malingerer: humble, by degrees the diabetic reveals minor complications that cause the diabetic hardship and heartache, to which the hard worker is pitiless. About mid narrative, the tragic crisis turn, a supervisor comes by and asks the hard worker what happened to the diabetic. "He left. I don't know why." "I guess he had to feed his low blood sugar, the supervisor says. "A shame. he showed up and tried anyway. The work was more pleasant, wasn't it, from having a companion? And he did help some, right?"
Outcome? Tragedy or comedy? Life lesson learned or guilt blame assigned externally? The hard worker unfazed or disturbed by his pitiless contempt? The hard worker seeks out the diabetic to kill him and put him out of his misery -- they kill lamed horses, don't they? -- or to apologize and repent his wicked ways? The message not a moral one, only an ironic tale about malingerers and hard workers.
Quite interesting. The epiphany then is that the best (or rather most effective) way to make an argument or reveal something (perhaps controversial) about the human condition is to present its inverse?
I think in many cases this is true. To strongly present an argument or idea you believe to be false only to show its flaws is an excellent way to sway opinion to the other side.
I also enjoy stories that have characters presenting both sides and leave it open-ended, allowing the reader to decide. Not everything gets wrapped up nicely in life and it doesn't need to in a story either. Sometimes allowing the utter mystery or unresolved quandary of a thing to shine forth is the best approach. That's one thing I appreciate about the Radio Lab podcast. Either way, as long as it has the elements of a good story and gets you to think, especially to consider an alternate viewpoint, I'd call it a success.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Something to chew on... A.L.
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A slanted approach to the human condition on point through a rhetorical scheme is what I mean, say metaphor or irony. If a writing point, a message so to speak, is contrary to general belief, a slanted approach is possibly more persuasive, albeit subversive.
Emily Dickinson's "Tell All the Truth" is particularly on point and illustrates the point.
"Tell all the Truth but tell it slant -- Success in Circuit lies Too bright for our infirm Delight The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased With explanation kind The Truth must dazzle gradually Or every man be blind --"
As well Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken."
"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveler, long I stood And looked down one as far as I could To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair, And having perhaps the better claim, Because it was grassy and wanted wear; Though as for that the passing there Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay In leaves no step had trodden black. Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference."
A literal interpretation of The Road Not Taken is one road wasn't taken. Figurative interpretations recognize the poem's irony signals both roads were taken as one. Though neither is especially different, one has made all the difference. The poem illustrates irony and uses irony to make a point about irony's persuasive uses.
Irony may be a diametric opposite of a surface intent; the underlaid actual intent, though need not be diametrically opposite, can be congruent or multiple intents instead.
Alternatively, metaphor and similar tropes may depart from a literal intent. Say a narrative poses animals on a farm as representations of Soviet socialists: George Orwell's allegorical Animal Farm.
Literally minded readers might interpret the novel as exactly what the surface meaning is: domesticated (uncivil civilized) animals impossibly operate a farm. More subtle-minded readers might interpret the novel as a scathing commentary on human vice, the animals personifications of the human condition, though still by a degree of literal interpretation. Subtler yet-minded readers might interpret the novel as a scathing indictment of Soviet socialism. Subtlelest-minded readers might interpret the novel as a natural progression of communal socialism and a commentary on social stratification's unavoidable consequence of civilization, no matter the social paradigm.
Literal-minded readers who see the antisocialist social commentary as the overlaid point might consider the novel a manipulative coercion and condemn it for its irresponsible cowardice of indirect expression: rhetoric. Say what you mean; don't hide behind rhetoric.
However, the novel transcends those bounds and expresses universal human conditions. Besides, the novel is a delight even on its surface.
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Ahh, I see. Two great poems, excellent illustration.
I think that is when writing is most effective, when it has many levels of interpretation, revealing more the deeper one looks into it. I find myself smiling when I come upon a book or movie and I realize, "the thing this story is about is not really the thing the story is about." Then I feel smart. I like to feel smart.
Single-layered stories, while entertaining and perhaps having quality, aren't as true or lasting as those with depth. Probably because the ones with depth mean more to us. They speak something stirring in our souls. Such stories one does not forget.
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Yeah. And sometimes an irony is just a matter of viewpoint character choice. Why portray the noble hero when the antihero of a piece is more entertaining and likely has the larger issue and crisis and most opportunity for change?
A hero has no issues and can do no evil and always succeeds. However, an antihero agonist is most like real life, part noble, part wicked, oblivious to his, her, or its faults, and as likely to fail as succeed at desire satisfaction. Potent possibilities are inherent from the ambiguities and ambivalences of an agonist with weighted proportions of nobleness and wickedness and oblivousness to a maturation (moral) crisis at first.
The irony then comes from whether the agonist emotionally grows or declines as a consequence of personal desire satisfaction, the superficial action. The ironic action is the underlaid maturation tableau. This irony -- situational and dramatic -- leads far away from any possibility of daydream writing and makes scenarios for fully dimensional narrative and appeals.
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