Friday, November 8, 2013

IBA and New Literary Theory


this is long, just deal with it

Before I get to the good stuff (or what I think is the good stuff), let’s do a little update:

-THE JOB: still there, apparently. Term just ended, and I got my official exit date: December 2014. I know, not what I expected either, but I’ll take it. Turns out, they are actually trying to cut away the higher paid faculty before us peons, which really makes more sense. My supervisor goes six months before I do, so that’s weird. And the school’s President left at the end of October, so now we’re just running on the Education Department I guess.

-THE WRITING: way harder than I thought it would be. A few years ago (for those who remember), I did this experiment called The Daily Flash. Every day, for a year, I wrote a flash fiction or prose poem. Minimum 100 words, maximum 1,000. I lasted 152 (or so) days. Not bad, but certainly not all the way. For a myriad of reasons I stopped the project, but the biggest was I felt I wasn’t learning anything anymore. This time I have three completed stories so far, and I’m working on the fourth. Right on schedule. Rather than try and explain each story, I’ll just give you one of my favorite sections from each:

“He watched the painting, each lighting strike illuminating the dark, but from within. Flashes bounced between the frames, skipping out from the wall and into the room—each corner highlighted long enough for Malcolm to see the entire room. Crash after crash, moving closer, the gap between light and sound shrinking, until he heard both together, the storm raging from the wall, or outside, rattling the windows, Nell still sleeping away the night under her comforter. In the corner on the loudest thunder he saw a man standing: dark skin, short cropped black hair, wearing a loin cloth and red painted across his eyes. Just standing. Motionless. Staring at Malcolm on the bed. In the second Malcolm knew they saw each other, saw something deeper than he saw in the painting, some inexplicable variance. Malcolm tapped Nell, tried to wake her, but she groaned and swatted his hand away. Another flash. The corner was empty.”

“Unfortunately, it’s too loud to really talk to each other, so the conversation dies after it starts and I’m left to myself again. The worst part is I’m standing here texting myself sentences (these sentences) and ideas for a story (this story) because I don’t know how to be here, in this moment, to simply exist and experience. Seven texts all trying to understand why I am not excited to be here at this show.”

“Weeks after his father’s stroke, and Angus’ second trip down the California valley, he stopped listening to music. It was bad enough he to make the drive just to sit in an overly-sterilized hospital room while his father slept and his mother tried not to cry, eating fast food and take-out for a week straight—he making all the trips, his mother too afraid that Angus’ father would “pass away” the moment she left. It irked him how she said things like “pass away”, or “moved on”, as if no one ever died, but some magical transportation altered our consciousness and inserted it in someone else, somewhere else, still living, still breathing, just unseen. Angus didn’t like death, didn’t like corpses and formaldehyde and caskets and churches with people crying in black—or the ‘celebrators of life’ who thought by wearing color it made the person less dead—but death was death. When you died, you died. People are either alive or dead, and there is nothing in-between.”

AND then there is this week’s story. I’ll give you the title: “Capitalism, a play in 27 Acts”. I will say this about it, reading the Communist Manifesto will make you hate everything, especially when you realize that you too “. . . live only so long as [you] find work, and [you] find work only so long as [your] labour increases capital.” I won’t bore you with anti-capitalist rants, but I am on fire with this new story (not really the writing so much, but the ‘angry inside’ that will hopefully create the writing).

Ok. Enough of that. Now to the point.

-THE IBA AND LIT THEORY: So, I started this story “Hypotheses” months ago about a mathematician, Georg Cantor. It took me three months to finish it (and I recently submitted it to a contest, so I’ll keep you posted on how that goes). I had read earlier this year a book entitled The Mystery of the Aleph: Mathematics, the Kabbalah, and the Search for Infinity by Amir D. Aczel. It expounded on the history of ‘Infinity’ from almost the beginning of time down to our modern era, focusing primarily on Georg Cantor in the 19th Century who invented/discovered the infinite set in set theory, which laid the foundation for studying the infinite in all mathematics and science. Sounds boring if you don’t love math, but really it was super intriguing. Anyway. This story took so long because I got lost in my own bizarre theorizing of beats and rhythm in writing, in relation to the infinite, that I couldn’t write my way out of it. I tried mathematically articulating and examining a sentence, as if I were a mathematician studying infinity. This is what I came up with (the middle section of the story):

He designated his finding “The Imaginary Beat Anomaly”, which he states as follows:
In any given textual sequence, there exists S number of syllables (or Real Beats), that can be quantified through the summing of written pronounceable syllables with the use of scansion—stressed any unstressed given equal values. However, in the same spoken sentence, there can also exist any number of unwritten syllables outside the present number S. These "indefinite" syllables (or Imaginary Beats), are represented by the Greek letter Ψ, and only exist in the spoken word. If Ψ’s are to exist, every sentence must contain the same number of beats, written and spoken, when the real and imaginary beats are summed, in order for communication to be feasible. The Universe Syntax Coefficient (u), where u is the set value of any given sequence of Real Beats in single integer order: a set of 10 elements or less being one, a set of 11 to 20 elements being two, etc. ad infinitum, where each element in a set is a Real Beat. In order for u to function in its proper intent, 10 must precede, making it possible to calculate the number of Ψ for any rendered sequence, or sentence.
Georg explicated this theory in a 35 page proof, concluding with the set of one u equaling 10, as it pertained to the number of God, a number Georg believed to not only circumnavigate his alephs, but the universe in general, especially communication, a number that intrinsically man inherited from his Creator. The proof designates a base 10 series to explain sentences of varied and compound/complex syntax. Georg graphed several examples—log10S, 10S, 10S, S10—all to what he thought possible outcomes in order to solve for Ψ in text.
     Punctuation, incidentally, he did not consider as part of the IBA theory . . . concluding that punctuation was the absence of beat, where the speaker/reader paused to breathe between phrases—much like the empty set present in all sets finite and infinite.

Don’t ask me where I got this idea from, because I’m still trying to figure that out myself. But the idea is that Georg Cantor tried to rationalize spoken language with written language to better address his issue with exposing Shakespeare as a fraud (which he tried to do actually, I just made up how he tried to do it). That it could be possibly, through a series of simple mathematical equations (equations that still need writing) to accurately designate speech patterns—predict, study, and reproduce with precision any individuals speech patterns—through the use of Imaginary Beats.

At first, I just thought I was being clever. How brilliant of you, I thought, making up all this weird word math. You’re so smart, you should write a book or something. I was pretty proud of myself. I finally wrote something that I would actually like to read, which doesn’t happen very often for any writers (at least that I know of), and certainly has never happened for me until now. The story is imperfect, the math is wrong, but the idea is there and I was happy.

Until my brain thought more.

For those who know me well, know how much I loathe Literary Theory. My personal theory on Lit Theory goes something like this: somewhere in the 19th or 20th Century people started graduating from college with degrees in Literature and didn’t know what the hell to do with them, so they started teaching; but then they realized they were teaching a subject just so students could learn it to teach to others, with no practical application, spiraling into an infinite cycle of uselessness among an ever-growing globalized world. And they knew that Universities would catch on, so they invented ‘Literary Theory’ to make their jobs seem relevant. Now, they could publish work to benefit the school using the high brow standards of ‘Literary Theory’, exposing what authors had ‘hidden’ in their writings, while applying social commentaries that fit the current fads. A system of semiotics was created by Literature nerds to make themselves feel useful.

It’s fine. People might hate me for that. Whatever. I hate theory, so we’re even.

At least I thought I did. Until this Imaginary Beat Anomaly started seeping into my every day thinking.

Nothing profound or miraculous, with lots of wind and billowing clothes and a changed heart; but something subtle, an inkling. I don’t know how to describe it, but my idea of words and sentences and language has started to shift. And I’ve thought about how to make this IBA thing tangible. Is it possible to write an infinite sentence, one that in itself appears complete with end punctuation, but no possible conclusion to its invisible parts? Or to speak such a sentence? Are our lives simply an experiment of the infinitely spoken sentence, all the silence and breathing and inarticulations a combination of one whole story, one whole sentence of seemingly infinite syllables that only death ceases; but rather a pausing until our ‘dying breath’ finds new lungs, new words and phrases and sentences and experiences to continue the infinite? Possibly only one seemingly infinitely syllabled word? To breathe in and out and speak an entire unknown language—even to yourself—an infinitude that materializes then vanishes in the blink of eye.

Can we talk about language this way? Is it possible to describe and theorize words with math and science and systematic methodology? I actually want to try. I don’t know how, yet, but hopefully I will find people as interested as I am to find something new with Literary Theory.

I wrote something down a few weeks that I wanted to use as a tagline if I ever start my own press:

“Roland Barthes once wrote: ‘The author is dead.’ He wrote a bunch of other nonsense, too, but he’s dead. All the old philosophers, theorists, narcissists are dead. So let’s move on.”

Again, I think I’m clever. But it’s true. We live in a new age. I know a lot of theory is moving towards examining technology and its influence on diction, syntax, theme, character, etc. Great. But it’s still the same in the end: we are examining the same things with just a slightly different lens. I want more. I want different. I want to really consider the Imaginary Beat Anomaly. I want to hybridize language and math and science and being. There is some bridge yet to be built that can traverse life, the universe, and everything.

Anyone want to help me build it?