The Story-Carvers

Montreal, November 5, 1998

Emile sat wounded and bleeding, in a state of disbelief, still being buffeted by the streams of criticism which were coming in far faster than his mind could absorb them. Jackie and Maya were freaking out, ... they were out of their chairs, as if some kind of monster had just invaded their space. It was indeed as if a covey of demons had been loosed within this musty old cellar they were meeting in, ..... surely the demons could not have come out of 'The Magic Mirror', .... the story he had just read to them?

That's impossible, thought Emile. Murray and Amy had both enjoyed the story and seemed calm and enthused in the wake of Emile's reading. Could it have been something in Jackie and Maya's manner of interpreting it?

Emile had noted a marked difference between his own and both Jackie and Maya's interpretations of stories. Jackie's story had seemed to be for the purpose of expounding a point of view, ... for showing the blatant wrong perpetrated on one young person by another and to deliver the elusive prince of darkness to a deserved judgement and sentencing. Her story was well characterized and intense, and it gripped Emile and brought out his empathies for the victim in a powerful way, but it was nevertheless the 'tragic mirror' story geometry and Emile was far more interested in transformation and growth, than in mechanical repairs to dysfunction.

Similarly, in comparing his own story interpretations with Maya, Emile was continuously mouthing the word 'Wow' in his mind, because of the huge differences in the way that he and Maya perceived things. Emile's interpretation of one of Maya's favorite stories by Carver, 'Why Don't You Dance', was on a geometric plane, ... the harmonic geometry of a man having completed a marriage-and-divorce cycle whose path comes into confluence with a young woman who is about to begin her marriage cycle, .... and what more appropriate and co-resonant a way to 'let go' of the notion that life is a linear causal progression of yang choices and decisions, and own up to one's being pulled into vortical yin-swirls, than to get up and dance together?

Emile loved the story as well, but as he reflected, he could see that where stories had this kind of magic latency in them, one could always home in, either on the literal or unambiguous contextual aspect or on the innately ambiguous and intangible geometric aspect, the former constituting a closed 'positive space' structural view of the story (the brushstrokes) and the latter being an open and inclusionary 'negative space' view (the pattern of spaces between the brushstrokes).

Perhaps this was where the irritation had come from, .... from Emile's 'epilogue' to 'The Magic Mirror' where he had stated that the notions of 'choice', 'decision', 'cause' and 'progress' were all 'positive space' representations which ignored the richness and harmony emanating from the relational interaction between unambiguous story 'statement', and its environment; i.e. the open 'web of spaces' emerging from the juxtaposition of brushstrokes and canvas. Emile saw these differences in perception in the same way as he saw the choice of seeing life as immersion in 'shared space', as if nature was a containing sphere in which we all swam, versus seeing life as living on a chess-board surface, where things happened according to 'causal' transactions seemingly 'carved out' of the surroundings, .... surroundings which were subsequently ignored in our perceiving of the 'storyline'.

Emile reflected that this was indeed the same difference as between 'non-euclidian' 'curved space-time', an inclusionary view in which subject, object and container were interconnecting participants, .... which modern physics had showed us was 'fit' with our empirical and common sense data, versus 'euclidian' 'flat-space' which saw 'time' as a separate and 'linear' entity, .... an exclusionary view in which subject and object were fully independent and where the container was simply taken to be a non-participating 'void'. It seemed to Emile that western culture was being amazingly resistant to the adoption of the curved space-time finding, and that the euclidian view continued to be taken for granted even though there was a colossal misfit between it and our common sense datasets. Emile had perceived for some time, that the euclidian model was being thoroughly programmed into us, not by the 'messages' we shared but by the 'medium', .... by the structure of our language, which was not flow oriented as the aboriginals' languages were, but was based on fully independent subject and object and generally used to carve out unambiguous and judgemental positive space 'stories'.

What was it that Wittgenstein had said? ... "A picture held us captive. And we could not get outside it, for it lay in our language and language seemed to repeat it to us inexorably." It seemed to Emile as if McLuhan would have gotten along with Wittgenstein very well indeed, .... perhaps they had even met.

But you needed both the positive and negative space views as Kepler had shown in his masterwork 'Harmonice Mundi', in describing the archetypical relationship between 'harmony' and 'structure', ... an archetype which he maintained applied to 'human intellection' as well as to the solar system, ... "... unless the Earth, our domicile, measured out the annual circle midway between the other spheres --- changing from place to place, from station to station --- never would human ratiocination [rationality] have worked its way to the true intervals of the planets and to the other things dependent from them, never would it have constituted astronomy."

Emile knew from his studies of Kepler, that what Kepler was saying was that had we truly been in the 'center' of the system, our view would lack the reference point constituted by the 'center' which was essential to 'ratiocinating', since we would be 'riding on it'. It was clear to Emile that if one was at the center of the harmony, there would be no way to measure its structure, you could only 'intuit' it. As Kepler had also pointed out, our intution of harmony 'contained' the whole structural story as well, but even though 'intuition was the mother of rationality', just as 'harmony was the mother of structure', there would be no way to 'tie the child down' and 'measure it' unless one could get a view from beyond the center which contained the center within it, as a reference point. Emile fumbled for his copy of 'Harmonies of the World' and flipped directly to Kepler's closing remarks; "... whereof that one ought assuredly to be judged the most excellent and absolute [observational position] which is in the middle position among those globes [planets], viz., in man's earth, while there dwells in the sun simple intellect, or 'nous' [intuition], the source, whatsoever it may be, of every harmony."

Emile mused that while the young lady in the Carver story was like the sun, coming from the center of her own marriage/life cycle and interpreting it through intuition, the older, divorced man, as he looked at her, had a structural view that she could not get to herself, because she could not see her own cycle while she was in the process of 'riding' on it. Geometrically, the older man was like the earth and she like the sun, and by a sharing of their views, they would be able to both feel 'harmony' and visualize 'structure' in dynamically related context; ... through a sharing of understanding, they would be able to feel the harmony of the vortical 'ride' while 'riding it, and at the same time, visualize the structure of where they were going.

It occurred to Emile, that to someone who interpreted the Carver story from the 'structural' side alone, ... solely in terms of the tangible aspects of the divorced man's and betrothed girl's lives, Emile's 'geometric' interpretation could seem entirely spurious in its ambiguity and, perhaps it would even look 'shadowy' or 'occult'.

What was it that Jean Houston had said about 'Great Stories'? "A great deal of current "positive thinking" is premised on selecting, by means of affirmation and visualization, only that aspect of your story that relates to your apparent prosperity and getting what "you" want out of life. The problem with this is; 'Which one of the polyphrenic 'yous' is doing the wanting? Which 'you' is being used, and which of the 'yous' is getting abused? Those denied aspects of yourself, shadow and all, are having their stories rendered impotent and unseen. Inevitably they will rise in revolt. And then, suddenly, you will have to make many desperate and mindless affirmations against shadow forces that you earlier affirmed do not exist. ... The limiting of our stories, by ourselves or by others, inevitably has tragic consequences. What is any kind of illness, mental or physical, but a limiting of story? Cancer can be seen as a limitation of story, a limitation in the relationship between cells, so that one limited but imperialistic story proliferates. On the simplest level, the cure is the burning or cutting out of the imperialistic story. The more complex cure is the finding of ways for the richer, deeper stories to rise within the organism."

Emile felt he was getting closer to an understanding here. What Houston was saying was that stories could be used in two ways; firstly, in a simple way to affirm a viewpoint and by so doing, 'repair' a wound or resolve a conflict coming from the direct attack of an invading 'imperialistic story'. This was what Emile had objected to in the Star Wars interpretation of the Persephone myth. While the original myth, like eastern and aboriginal myths, stressed the second interpretation, that the ongoing struggle of 'light' and 'dark' was the life-giving dynamic, just as Goethe had characterized Mephistopheles in 'Faust' as a 'necessary evil' to keep the story (of life) flowing, the myth of Persephone was more about the fact that 'harmony' required both low and high notes, dark and light, and Demeter's deal with Hades, that Persephone would stay with Hades in the underground (death, dormancy) for 3 months per year, was a metaphor whose 'geometry' set up the notion of 'seasons' as experienced in nature.

To Emile, Houston had in effect come up with a model for the 'soul' by means of her story-telling models, ... the opportunity for ongoing transformation or 'growth' precipitated by the 'wound', .... if one saw it as 'soul-building', was one way of defining what 'soul' was all about, thought Emile; ... hadn't Houston said as much in her comment; "Soulmaking requires that you die to one story to be reborn to a larger one.", and quoting Keats;

"Call the world, if you please

The veil of Soulmaking

Then you will find out

The use of the world...."

Jean Houston, it seemed to Emile, had greatly illuminated the issue of being 'wounded' by opposing forces, by portraying it in terms of a 'magic' embrace and inclusion of the opposing thought and a transforming of the whole story by growing a larger story around the old one, much as the ovum subsumes itself when wounded by the sperm, by growing a bigger sphere which contains the prior one. This was a very different way of responding to being wounded by opposing forces; by simply 'excluding' the opposing thought and making the needed repairs to bring the idea shell back to its former, intact state.

The poetic note in Houston's discussion flipped Emile's thought stream over to the English poet William Blake who's boldly stressed point was that people had forgotten that Gods and Myth originally came from the poetic personification of nature, and that the european world had this too literally, ... in terms of the binary opposites of 'good' and 'evil', both bent on annhilating one another. In 'The Marriage of Heaven and Hell', Blake had poked fun at his whole culture for this nonsense, as he perceived it, including western religious beliefs as a prime target, ... and attacking them with far less subtley than had Goethe attacked them in Faust. Emile thumbed through his notes on Blake and had to smile at the unfettered audacity of this man;

Then old Nobodaddy aloft

Farted and belched and coughed,

And said, "I love hanging and drawing and quartering

Every bit as well as war and slaughtering."

The Bible:

Both read the Bible day and night,

But thou read'st black where I read white.

I am sure this Jesus will not do

Either for Englishman or Jew.

To see a world in a grain of sand

And a heaven in a wild flower,

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand

And eternity in an hour.

To generalize is to be an idiot. To particularize is the alone distinction of merit knowledges are those knowledges that idiots possess.

Emile reflected that geometrical metaphor must have been much more well understood and appreciated in Blake's time, 1757 - 1827, otherwise Blake would have been fried for heresy long before he reached the ripe age of seventy, and had he been originating his works today, it would be unlikely that he'd 'get by the experts' to gain access to the media channels. Of course, thought Emile, that's how his message got out, he was in the media business and it was only through his colored and annotated engravings that his fame came to light and his works preserved for us to share in.

To Emile, Blake was a 'geometry' man, just like Kepler before him. Blake's view of the role of opposition, he had stated in very plain terms, "Opposites: Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence", a view which was congruent with those of Heraclitus, Kepler and much eastern myth, ... such as Eliade had written about in 'Mephistopheles et l'Androgyne'; ... i.e. wherein Eliade showed how the Gods of our mytho-poetic ancestors always had both 'light and dark' qualities as well as both male and female genders at the same time, ... and this is what allowed them to transform, this tension between the opposites where one side was always being wounded, .... leaving the wounded one with the alternative of 'repairing' the wound and detaching oneself from the intruder, or 'growing' another sphere outwards which would subsume and transcend the opposition, enclosing it in a still-larger sphere. The latter geometry, reflected Emile, is the very geometry of the Fibonacci spiral and the 'golden mean' found in the ammonite and a myriad of other natural ontogenetic forms, ... the dialectic of all growth and transformation in nature, from the sunflowers to plate tectonics.

Emile mused that what the current culture seemed to be doing in myth and story was to be taking the simpler of the two paths, to portray opposition and wounding in terms of a judgemental 'generalization' of a particular and unambigous point of view, an 'exclusionary' point of view where either 'black' OR 'white wins, rather than an inclusionary point of view where 'black' AND 'white' are both winners, by contributing to transformation and growth. This was what it was, thought Emile, that bugged him about the Oprah Winfrey show, .... it was that simple kind of healing, the 'dealing with the wound' or the embrace of one's own 'wounded child' and thereby resolving it, for the moment at least, until the demons return and have to be chased out once more, .... rather than using it as a pivotal point for transformation.

Black OR white was not the only way to look at it, and that was why Emile had sent a note to Maya, quoting Cezanne's principle of the rights of the individual. Emile's mind had gone back to Michael Meade's telling of the Native American creation myth, a myth Meade recounted at the same time as he played the west african drums, .... it was a great effect, with the drumbeats giving the feeling of the timeless beat of life and creation itself, ... and then he had gotten to that part of the myth which had made a large impression on Emile, the part where the gentle brother,who owns and lives on one half of the world, has to confront the hard brother who owns and lives on the other half, because the hard brother has monopolized all the fresh water resources and the animals on the gentle brother's side are dying.

Emile thought of how the 'hard brothers' in modern society, who acted according to generalization and judgement as to the innate 'correctness' of a certain way of doing things, tended to control and manage all the resources in an exclusionary way. The 'experts' in society controlled the 'channels' which needed to be accessed for one's ideas to be nurtured. When Emile looked at it like this, his 'wounding' in the last writer's workgroup session was not the only 'story', the other larger story was that the minority view, including Murray and Amy's views were totally discounted, because the minority view did not jive with the judgement of the 'experts'.

Emile, who almost always acted as the 'gentle brother', had then thought; ...'there is a principle here, the same principle that Paul Cezanne had brought up in 1866, when the 'Academie des Beaux Arts', which controlled the art media channels, refused to allow Cezanne's impressionist works, and those of his impressionist associates, to be put on display. Cezanne had protested in a famous 'Salon des Refuses' letter, .... his protest did not concern any 'judgement' on the quality of the work, ... instead it concerned the 'inclusionary' rights of the individual, the minority, to have access to the 'channels' which were by agreement 'stewarded' by the experts on behalf of society. Cezanne had said; "... Therefore let the 'Salon des Refuses' be re-established. Even were I to be there alone, I should still ardently wish that people should at least know that I no more want to be mixed up with those gentlemen of the jury than they seem to want to be mixed up with me."

Emile thought back to his many discussions with young people, and to Michael Meade's work with violent youth, noting how exclusionary our society had become with respect to individualist ideas which conflicted with the generalized judgemental points of view of the 'experts' in our society, whether they were businessmen, politicians, religious figures or educators. It was hard to avoid the link between this choice between exclusion and forced 'betrayal of self', thought Emile, with exponentially rising tide of suicides, depression and alcohol and drug abuse amongst youth; .... there were just too many wounds and too few opportunities for growth and transformation.

Emile had not suggested that Maya was exclusionary when he had copied her the Cezanne note, ... he had merely expressed his view that the process at the workgroup had been exclusionary. Emile had a 'geometric' view of people which rarely saw 'people as things' or confused 'people' with their actions; ....and in this case he was certainly not interpreting the exclusionary process as constituting an unambiguous statement on Maya's nature. To Emile, people were innately ambiguous in geometry and Emile had hoped to receive a bit of empathy from Maya. Instead, her return note said; "you are not being excluded -- the rest of us are moving on, is all."

Fine, thought Emile, the recognized experts who drive the bus and hold all the Access cards drive on, ... while those beginners with a minority view, perhaps a sorely needed view, must plod on their wounded, winding way on foot, searching for supportive access which can fuel the growth of their work and their self-transformation.

Emile felt that it was time to confront the 'hard brother', to make a definite statement, to show just how wrong this blunt refusal of a different approach and a different artistic appreciation had been, and he knew he would have to do it in the form of a story.

Emile headed for his keyboard, ... then hesitated, ... there was still one more datapoint in the story that he hadn't quite worked out in his mind. It was the exchange with Lola, ... Lola had sent him a note of inquiry to help clarify in her mind something she didn't quite understand with respect to Emile's views on 'story-telling', and soliciting a one-liner kind of response from him. Emile had fully expected that he was walking into one more ambush in a long line of ambushes, with yet more 'wounding' in store for him, but decided he would 'take a chance', and had sent Lola as clear an explanation of his position as he could. He had mentioned McLuhan's point about 'the medium is the message' and how that type of story telling which has an 'either or' geometry and which invites the reader to flog his own judgemental point of view, is already, by the structure of the delivery medium, 'the message', regardless of the specifics of content.

Lola's amicable response came as a welcome surprise to Emile and he was glad that trust had outweighed his suspicions as he re-read the note; "I thank you for your letter...really. You stated clearly something that had been confusing me and I now get the point." This was one several events which was strengthening Emile's resolve, helping to energize him in making his statement to 'the hard brother'. In Emile's geometrical way of thinking, the 'hard brother' was not a person, since like the Gods of the ancient and nature itself, people are all both gentle and hard, male and female, under different circumstances; ... life to Emile was more metaphorical than factual, ... a world of multi-dimensional, negative-space attractors rather than positive-space lego-constructs.

Emile set about his task and began to type out his story. He was determined to carve out his story so clearly and unambiguously that the message in it could not be avoided.

Emile stopped for a moment to reflect on Lola's note; ... so what was it that Lola had been uncertain about with respect to Emile's views on story-telling; ... Surely, thought Emile, she didn't think me to be one of those, like a religious fanatic, who goes around trying to convince people there's only one 'black or white' way of looking at things.

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