Revolutionary Narrative

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Revolutionary Narrative… what makes a story that does more than rearrange the conventions we use to reinforce our assumptions about the world? How do we find our way to stories that refuse to confirm our expectations–but rather, shatter them with the unexpected–not simply of ‘incident’… of what ‘happens,’ but of the very structures of reality?

Someone I once knew challenged the merit of Joyce’s Ulysses because it doesn’t exist as a completed whole. His argument went something like this: in the thousands of minor and some not so minor differences in the existing manuscripts and proofs, there is no way to decide what a definitive, authorial edition would look like. What we have, then—is a collective assemblage representing no single aesthetic vision, and therefore, does not exist as a unity. Setting aside arguments for how collective, even accidental productions, might come together as unified systems—which is how I would have responded at the time—the more basic, and unexamined assumption here, is the idea of unity itself—that there can ever be such a thing as a ‘whole.’

There is no such thing as ‘a’ novel. Or poem. Or story or… as a single, aesthetically (or otherwise) coherent, systematically organized structure or system, such that every part relates to every other to create a unified, and unifying whole. And it is this, not because there are as many readings as readers, or because every possible interpretive translation (all interpretations are translations) is necessarily limited, that we can never comprehend a literary production as a whole—as convincing as these arguments might be—but because there is no such thing. It does not exist. That is not to say, Joyce’s Ulysses doesn’t exist. It does. In different versions, and each version is made of parts that are always greater than any hypothetical, always inconceivable whole. I say ‘inconceivable,’ not that we can’t conceive of the possibility of an aesthetic whole—but that it will be impossible to point to what that might actually be. Sort of like the way we talk about God. Imaginable in general, but inconceivable in the particular. Or for that matter, how we think of collectives of power… of the State…which has more than a little in common with the way we think of God.

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