Friday, March 22, 2013

On Being Thrown Out of the Story - Part II

A couple posts back, Claudia got me thinking about the idea of interrupted reading, of writing that throws the reader out of the story, of good writing that does this.

Not knowing the words the author uses is one kind of being chucked out.
Another is the beauty of the words, which I discussed in my most recent post.

In today's post, I'm ruminating on having to stop reading in order to think more fully about the ideas developed in a work. And for this exploration, like the last, I'm using Ursula K. Le Guin's The Dispossessed:

"[Shevek] recognized that need, in Odonian terms, as his "cellular function," the analogic term for the individual's individuality, the work he can do best, therefore his best contribution to his society. A healthy society would let him exercise that optimum function freely, in the coordination of all such functions finding its adaptability and strength. ... That the Odonian society on Anarres had fallen short of the ideal did not, in his eyes, lessen his responsibility to it; just the contrary. With the myth of the State out of the way, the real mutuality and reciprocity of society and individual became clear. Sacrifice might be demanded of the individual but never compromise; for though only the society could give security and stability, only the individual, the person, had the power of moral choice--the power of change, the essential function of life. The Odonian society was conceived as a permanent revolution, and revolution begins in the thinking mind."

Sacrifice vs. compromise; individual, state, society; work and function; security vs. morality; change and revolution. And Le Guin goes on for two more pages. Page after page of idea after idea, incorporating the concepts of time, loyalty, work, humanity, pain and suffering, joy vs. pleasure.

Within the whole of the novel, there are a couple of spots where Shevek engages in this sort of deep, internal reflection. The rest of the novel helps to support these sections by having the characters embody the ideas in their personalities, dialogue, and action.

Reading these sections, I was torn by wanting to go on, but also wanting to stop. To savor. To think about how these ideas fit into my own life. Were they true? Were they helpful?

Not only did I want to slow down to savor the ideas themselves, I also wanted to stop and marvel at how Le Guin wrote the novel so that I could understand those three pages more fully. "Cripes! Everything's she's written up until now has been aiming right here!" Flip, flip, flip. "See?" Flip, flip. "And here? See!" Flip "And here!"

I like to believe that Le Guin would not have taken it as a compliment if someone reviewing the novel had said it was so engrossing that it never shook them out of the story. For me, the very reason the reading was so engrossing was because it invites reflection. Reflection on the reader's own ideas and commitments. It's like inhabiting a three-dimensional mobius: being pulled out of your life and into the story while in the next moment, the story inviting you to pull it into your own life. A two-way engrossing, wrapping and warping. Being pulled in and enclosed by the novel's left hand, while being released and gently nudged back by the right.
By David Benbennick

1 comment:

Jon said...

Excellent post, Lisa. The contemplation of a really good line is one of the best parts of the experience. My favorite. Not only can it "wow", but it can also inspire. They say William Gibson was inspired to create Neuromancer from a single line in the movie Escape from New York.