Friday, October 30, 2009

It's like a very specialized school

...where I don't check in, need financial aid or have to dress up.

I recently started graduate school in my head, backwards of course. I find things I want to read and take notes on who the writer admires. Luckily some of these things are so obscure I can get them for a penny. Some things are so obscure they're no longer in print, and some things are so old they can't take my abuse.

I have a forty year-old Seymour Chatman book. I love his ideas--many of which reinforce my own theories--but it took me a solid week to read the introduction. He doesn't just use big words, he uses words so high-falutin' brow the words used to define them need definition. I spend so much time trying to figure out what he means by thinking of the words in context, I read each page three to four times. Which is cool because his kernel theory explains probability in a very elegant way. Which makes me wonder why my old English teachers didn't seem to know any of this stuff, or if it's considered so specialized, it became a side-road instead of part of the main drag. Why isn't it common knowledge in craft circles? Is it even craft? Or is there some kind of membrane between craft and theory?

Chatman is a professor emeritus of rhetoric at the University of Berkley--which thrilled me. What if he offered on-line classes? What if he did workshops on the side? Was there any way to skip the boring background stuff that doesn't interest me and go right to narrative structure? And not just any narrative structure, but "this" particular narrative structure?

The more research I do into rhetoric, the more I realize how unique he is. My favorite Chatman theory is that stories exist independently once they're told. Sort of like if you destroyed MacBeth, MacBeth would still exist. To paraphrase Chatman's example, no matter if you read Huckleberry Finn in a fancy dust jacket or a waterlogged paperback, it's still Huckleberry Finn. Just like if a freak accident ate every single Pride and Prejudice out there, including the film adaptions, in someone's head, Pride and Prejudice still exists. The same story in a different format.

Which is what stopped me halfway through the catalog.

If I take the courses I need to get to the classes I want, will I still be the same person? Will I start using the word "semiotic" instead of the "meaning of signs"? How do people lose touch?

Although I don't get a lot of feedback, I'm free to study whatever I want, whenever I want to, and form my own conclusions. There's a lot to be said for being on the outside looking in, rather than on the inside, pounding at my box.

3 comments:

deanna said...

You are on a very cool journey. I have a feeling you're more disciplined in yours than I am in my rather haphazard, read a book here and there course of study for writing narrative (literary?) or some sort of nonfiction. In any case, if I had any way to take your next workshop I would. :o)

jodi said...

lol, Deanna. I'm going to send it to you. It's broken down into days.

I think I got off my journey, which was to learn enough craft to write a better book. And now I realize there's so much more out there, people "know" it, but they don't bring it back as a practical application.

hmmm...I need to expand on that thought.

Alice Audrey said...

Fahrenheit 451