cutting on the action

photography and film – facts, ideas, values

Nearly finished?

J G Ballard’s memoir {review by Nicholas Shakespeare. }, Miracle of Life, was serialised on Radio 4 this week.

In one episode, relating a meeting the future Mrs. Ballard, in which on learning he was writing a novel she asked him, “Have you nearly finished? “, he replied “No, (but) I’ve nearly begun.”


“Do not reduce your story to outlines and sketches, notes and 3×5 cards. You will make your story finite this way and it will suffer because it cannot grow beyond your outline.”

Too late, unfortunately. I did once explain to another blogger who appeared to be trying to write – complaining in a post she couldn’t get on – that I thought I had discovered a half-way house. On any particular day, if you find you can’t write what you thought you were going to, then write notes (and even notes on the notes, if you feel you have to). With luck the mood flips out of notes into something which feels like writing – – a snatch of dialogue suddenly comes to mind, perhaps, or a description. Change the colour of the font and get it down. Or ordinary to bold, why not.

The problem with this is remembering you’ve done actual writing amongst the notes. If you were very efficient there would be the immediate copying and pasting of the ‘writing’ into a file of their own a the end of the session. But they would probably make no sense at all when re-read a week later without the surround of explanatory notes, which themselves in places might look suspiciously like narratorial voices being practiced in some sort of complex metalepsis.

In my case there is often a dialogue going on in there amongst the ideas. What if this? Could do that. Nah. Would the reader….? Dunno.

Then the other writing displacement activity: reading about writing and maybe even taking notes. Not even reading more good writing itself, which might be more useful: but reading how to write, or even some fancy narratology. If this happens, you will almost certainly feel the need to add to your notes the links which lead to the accumulation of articles on writing you come across. Notes. Notes on notes. Links to other people’s notes. And so on.

This sort of thing can be thoroughly absorbing: you might be excused for forgetting you were meant to be writing at all. One day I came across the word diagesis. By the time I was into the homodiagesis and heterodiagesis, I had completely forgotten what I woke with for my own story. It didn’t seem to matter when so much progress was being made on how to tell stories and their possible structure.

Just now I came across the original place where I picked up the diagetic lingo: Narrators and Narrative Situation from Basics of English Studies, which looks like a desperation measure by some determined lecturer in the face of the general ignorance of his or her undergraduate students. Quite useful though.

This section of a website dealing with The Narrator and Storytelling, has even resorted to “PowerPoint”- style slide presentations of the essential features. For example a slide sequence subtitled: What kind of story telling?

Oh and look here’s another one with all the terms nicely boxed-up: Chapter 7: The Narrator from Narrative theory.

Never ending. You can learn too that diagesis is a term used a lot in film (though it seems not a lot by film-makers but a lot by film students and their teachers). You might have come to the idea that this never going to be a novel. What about a film script?

By the time you are through with:

An Attempt at Universal Subjectivity: The importance of mirrors for self-consciousness, the importance of self-consciousness for cinema, and the importance of it all to Andrei Tarkovsky’s Mirror. David Wishard


Scene shift, metalepsis, and the metaleptic mode by by Monika Fludernik

the day is gone. Pretty sure in your mind that tomorrow when you start afresh aiming to write your own words, the narrative voice will be sorted. Or will it?

February 16, 2008 Posted by | narratology, Writing | , , , , | Leave a comment

Si hoc adfixum in obice legere potes, et liberaliter educatus et nimis propinquus ades

The title of this post according to Fun Latin means:

If you can read this bumper sticker, you are both very well educated and much too close.

* Orationem pulchram non habens, scribo ista linea in lingua Latina.

Howard Jacobson in today’s Independent picks up on Children’s Secretary Ed Balls’, “All young people should have the chance to experience top quality culture.”, to wax about his sturdy grammar school education. His complaint being that culture is not an add-on:

Culture in the grammar school was not an appendage to what else was on offer. Culture was continuous with the curriculum. Culture – at least when we weren’t freezing in our shorts on furrowed fields of ice or clambering up wallbars like chimpanzees – was what the school exuded.

The mention of culture brought to mind a definition in the introduction to Technology and Culture: An Anthology, by Melvin Kranzberg and William H. Davenport. Attributed to Edward B. Taylor, and used “in the broad anthropological sense”, it goes:

Culture is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, laws, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.

Since it is a book on technology as part of culture, the authors add:

Technology itself is one of the most distinctive and significant of man’s capabilities, and it is essential that we learn how it developed in order to analyze its relations with the other elements of culture.

Writing an earnest (Grammar School?) sixth form essay or examination question, What is Culture? (the questions tended to be very short in those days… ) would inevitably bring in The Two Cultures – exemplified by Jacobson only mentioning the arts in his encomium to the superior education he got. Closely behind this would be whether elitism was a Good Thing.

The Grammar schools were designed to put the brightest 5-10 percent in touch with the best teachers. Under those circumstances it was possible to give a version of the sort of education provided at the best private schools. One can only guess what went through the minds of the theorists and bureaucrats when landed with a comprehensive system of secondary education. It probably went along the lines of broadening the definition of culture (not unlike the one above) to try to get away from the problem of high-culture being necessarily elitist.

It is strange that though a typical religious education course in a British secondary school will essentially be a sociology of religions, you would be hard pressed to find an AS course in the the history of ideas or the history of science.

* Lacking anything witty to say, instead I offer this tagline in Latin

February 16, 2008 Posted by | culture | , , , | Leave a comment

The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age

My core fear is that we, as a culture, as a species, are becoming shallower; that we have turned from depth–from the Judeo-Christian premise of unfathomable mystery–and are adapting ourselves to the ersatz security of a vast lateral connectedness. That we are giving up on wisdom, the struggle for which has for millenia been central to the very idea of culture, and that we are pledging instead to a faith in the web. What is our idea, our ideal, of wisdom these days? Who represents it? Who even invokes it? Our postmodern culture is a vast fabric of competing isms; we are leaderless and subject to the terrors, masked as freedoms, of an absolute relativism. It would be wrong to lay all the blame at the feet of technology, but more wrong to ignore the great transformative impact of new technological systems–to act as if it’s all just business as usual. (p. 111-12)

This is the blurb from the Google Books page:

In The Gutenberg Elegies, nationally renowned critic Sven Birkerts powerfully argues that we are living in a state of intellectual emergency – an emergency caused by our willingness to embrace new technologies at the expense of the printed word. As we rush to get “on line, ” as we make the transition from book to screen, says Birkerts, we are turning against some of the core premises of humanism – indeed, we are putting the idea of individualism itself under threat. The printed page and the circuit driven information technologies are not kindred – for Birkerts they represent fundamentally opposed forces. In their inevitable confrontation our deepest values will be tested. Birkerts begins his exploration from the reader’s perspective, first in several highly personal accounts of his own passion for the book, then in a suite of essays that examines what he calls “the ulterior life of reading.” Against this, Birkerts sets out the contours of the transformed landscape. In his highly provocative essay “Into the Electronic Millenium” and in meditations on CD-ROM, hypertext, and audio books, he plumbs the impact of emerging technologies on the once stable reader-writer exchange. He follows these with a look at the changing climate of criticism and literary practice. He concludes with a blistering indictment of what he sees as our willingness to strike a Faustian pact with a seductive devil.

A catchy title gets you every time. A variation on Benjamin’s, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.”

Selected pieces from The Gutenberg Elegies.

A vast range of reviews to chose from.

David Gelernter reviews Orwell’s Revenge: The 1984 Palimpsest, by Peter Huber and The Gutenberg Elegies in National Review, 1995, reposted in BNET.

One page reviews by John Ottenhoff and Susan Lewis-Wallace and Dean Blobaum

I have added Emily Dickinson’s poems to the blogroll, so that There is no Frigate like a Book is accessible to go with this post.

February 8, 2008 Posted by | books, digitisation, hypertext, Internet, World Wide Web | | Leave a comment

Epistemology matters {1}

Reason and Common Ground: A Response to The Creationists’ “Neutrality” Argument

By Timothy Sandefur

He summaries the article in an abstract at Social Science Research Network:

Although it is a well-established scientific fact, evolution remains a controversial subject in the United States, and especially the issue of teaching evolution or creationism in public schools. An argument that appears to be increasingly popular among creationists is based on a postmodernist notion that science is simply one among many different but equal “ways of knowing,” and that its ascendancy over other methods is due to conflicts between social power structures rather than any objective superiority. Several creationist writers have argued that science’s exclusive reliance on natural causes (so called “methodological naturalism”) is an a priori assumption, or an arbitrary preference, and therefore that both it and religion are equally valid epistemologies. In addition, they argue that the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment prohibit government from endorsing or granting “preferences” to science over supernaturalism.

This article is a response to these theories. In Part I, I argue that science is an objectively superior means of knowing, and that methodological naturalism is not an a priori assumption, but both an a posteriori preference and one that is necessary for any valid epistemology. I also reject the argument that naturalism or “humanism” are “religions” or that science requires a “leap of faith.” In Part II, I address whether the First Amendment requires the government to remain “neutral” between supernatural and naturalistic worldviews. I conclude with some general observations on the conflict between science and supernaturalism.

February 7, 2008 Posted by | Bronowski, Darwin, Enlightenment, epistemology, evolution, science | , , , | Leave a comment