Monday, December 6, 2021

Elements of Drama

In the tradition of Aristotle, I have to put forward a theory of narrative.

Step 1: learn to portray how the characters and events would actually proceed in the fictional situation.

Step 2: successfully simulate very rare or impossible situations. 

Arrangements of words or pixels enforces no inherent discipline, which means to create a worthy story, the artist must voluntarily impose discipline on themselves.

In terms of the visual arts, one should learn to draw photorealistically, so one can draw photos of entities which do not exist and thus can't be photographed. 

There is no point in portraying things which are easy to visit in real life. I call this the [go outside] test. If I can see a thing in real life, it will be transcendentally more vivid there than in any artificial simulation. If a picture can be photographed, then a) just photograph it or rather b) visit the phenomenon in person. 

P.S. Note on stylization. Events can be stylized, which serves to make portraying them cheaper without sacrificing meaningful simulation fidelity. In extremis, stylization can remove distracting details and highlight more profound details, appearing [more real than real].

However, when used for practical purposes, a stylized story should generally first be un-stylized, such that the future can be assessed fairly. 

Aside: how do you expect to have a profound theory without depth? There must be at least one section where you must do A to allow B.


A story is only truly interesting when it tells you something about real life that you didn't already know. Lets you meet someone you can't otherwise meet. Lets you see a culture from the inside rather than as a visiting outsider. Reveals the motive behind a puzzling behaviour. Ideally it shows you something you cannot explain in words; otherwise, why not just have it explained it words? The author can and must earn your trust by showing their familiarity with the familiar, and then branch out into the unfamiliar. (Likewise the reader must grant trust only when it is earned.)

To do this properly means being antisocial. To create worthy fiction, all polite fictions must be discarded. Every sacred cow must be gored. The actual actions that are actually taken in actual real life must show up in the story. The only way out of this is step 2: portraying something which doesn't exist.


If an author insists on portraying things as they [socially] ought to happen, a worthy author has no choice but to alter the nature of their characters such that they would actually follow the rules. To dehumanize them, basically. Further, they don't get to choose whether the resulting story is a comedy or a tragedy: they are locked into having the rest of their world react realistically. If genuinely following the rules would get you killed, their protagonists are doomed. If their protagonists don't end up dead, they have told the story wrong. 

Rather than trying to rescue weirdo superstitions, the skilled author ought to use their talents to portray something engaging which does not appear in real life. I don't see any reason this can't be done purely for entertainment. A good, entertaining story portrays something unreachable, because otherwise you ought to spend your time creating the interaction for real rather than as a mere play.

However, the ideal story is sociology. When dealing with authors of the highest rank, you can choose the future by deliberately copying their story, using their own ending as a guide to which is most desirable. It's not merely a story. It's a prototype reality. This level is unforgeable. Anyone who can successfully simulate everyday life will also be able to simulate a fantastic situation. 

At this level, form and function are the same.


Anonymous said...

Great point. We can perceive with our eyes, that's the now.

Art should be future oriented and indeed it is; Nietzsche's writing was thus artistic for its time, future predicting.

Have you read "The origins of consciousness..." by Jaynes?

Considering his arguments vs yours.. the development of narrative that displays human potential, rather than a snapshot of how it *is*, changed the human species.

Very compelling. I should like to see you explore this train of thought more.

Example - could one of the writers of the Iliad have understood Jung's writings about the self? Could a person from that time? Is one of the primary qualities of art thus that it is an epigenetic influence?

Alrenous said...

First we must ask if Jung could understand the writer of the Iliad. I hardly dislike Jung's ideas, but Jung was materialist-adjacent, which automatically made him significantly less sophisticated than an educated ancient.

Come to think I need to question my impression of how ignorant ancient peasants were. Can't say they didn't have time for all those sophomoric dorm discussions... Literacy was not nearly as low as we're told, for example. Not great, certainly, but it's not like 19/20 couldn't read at all.
Moderns probably "know" more but all their knowledge is false. Potentially not-ignorant but, in practice, significantly less competent.

Anonymous said...

I don't think anyone modern really can understand the ancients. Different ways of thinking about the world, and their own subjective experiences.

Moderns know about specialised systems, not generalised cases, I think is a fair assessment.

I'm curious then about your perspective of sophistication.

I can't really think of any polymaths post industrial revolution, but we do see people with a far greater depth of understanding of any given topic. We can socially afford to have the barber, dentist, and surgeon be different people; in all three cases competency on these individual tasks has improved at the cost of general competence. But a modern surgeon has far more integration of different techniques and knowledge than the town barber. But then, he can't sharpen his own tools.

I think even 150 years ago the average literate man was far better educated (in the sense of knowing how to integrate knowledge across domains). Maximal social benefit comes today from being a hyper-specialist. The very few who can apply on multiple domains, say someone like Elon Musk, applies specialist knowledge on related domains - he's not an engineer AND a musical composer.

(I mean, how many modern men can fix a car? Hilariously modern mechanics are also woefully incompetent on average, but I digress. We used to have farmers inventing stuff in their sheds in their off time, now, not so much.)

Alrenous said...

Modern theology is a child's finger-painting compared to what the ancients got up to. Emphasis on the childishness. Mainly what you hear about pagan thought is lies, because Christian theology does not at all compare favourably in a fair matchup. Materialism is even worse than Christian theology, so...

The ancient texts on Alchemy are more sophisticated than the peak of Philosophy - to the point where it's clear Philosophy is a mere sub-discipline of Alchemy. (Don't pay much attention to medieval chemist-Alchemists, they were plebs attempting a patrician art. There's initiation rites for a reason - in particular an IQ test. They failed the tests and got caught by the distractions built into the texts for that exact purpose.)

Moderns can barely replicate certain feats of ancient stoneworking using autocad and power tools. I think it would actually be impossible to create earthquake-proof jigsaw masonry as found in the pyramids. That stuff is strictly superior to modern cemented masonry. Yes, even in cost, given the lifespan of the technique and thus the amortization schedule. When maintenance costs are literally 0, the asset doesn't depreciate.
P.S. Roman concrete is strictly superior to Portland cement, except possibly in availability. See also: America apparently can't afford roads as good as the Romans had.

Ancient myths are so much better than modern novels it's plausible to suppose they're written by a different species. Some say "divinely inspired," but it's clear that Athens' average IQ at the time of Socrates was north of 115 somewhere, implying it was easily north of 115 at the time the myths were originally composed.
Julius Caesar was, relative to his time, a rat bastard, and his ultimate effects on Rome were catastrophic. Yet, Caesar was also clearly incomparably superior to anyone alive today. His contemporaries could have wrecked his face. (Chose not to out of their own greed.) Their degenerate spiteful fops would be demigods to us.

Xeno's paradoxes are so absolutely brilliant that moderns can't understand how brilliant they are with the crutch of explanation. Xeno was not the Einstein of his time, he was just kind of around.

If you explained particle physics to Aristotle, he would absolutely get it. What Aristotle couldn't explain to us is how Athenians came up with proto-atomic theory, proto-Darwinian theory, and steam engines, with mere armchair speculation, because we wouldn't get it. Their only failing was not taking their own ideas seriously enough. (This, too, he probably couldn't explain.)


Of course there's also sophistication in the sense of Sophistication, in which moderns have the advantage. America's Sophist propaganda is utterly unmatched. Greeks: great thinkers. Romans: great builders and soldiers. Americans: great liars.