Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Unreliable Narrative

"Magenta, Black, Green on Orange by Mark Rothko (1950)
Narratives are part of fiction. They're also what patients often create with their therapists. In The Iceman Cometh, these were the life lies maintained by the crew waiting for Hickey to arrive at the bar. A balance sheet is also a kind of narrative and this metaphor for looking at emotions was employed by Strindberg in the deterministic universe he created in many of his plays. But it’s important to remember that narratives are by definition distillations, titrations of experience that expel seemingly irrelevant material. That's why in fiction authors sometimes use a device called the unreliable narrator. Narratives are like conceits, figures of speech, which are intentionally pregnant with ambiguity to the extent that varying kinds of meaning are meant to emanate from them. It’s hard to create a narrative and admit the presence of chaos at the same time, yet most narratives are totally factitious and can easily be replaced with new versions of  “the truth.” One of the great gifts of abstract expressionism is to present a truly mimetic experience, to the extent that it does justice to the chaos of narrative. Though laws of science comprise narratives, it is easy to see how one theory is neatly supplanted by another, relativity for instance in place of Newtonian physics and how the expansion of the universe will be accompanied by an equally evolutionary understanding of its workings.

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