from Michel Serres’ Troubadour of Knowledge
from Michel Serres’ Troubadour of Knowledge
“identifying a function for dreams or pretend play or fiction doesn’t mean that we’ve identified the function”
I am enjoying this book more than I expected. Often overview-type books of aspects of human phenomena leave me with a touch of “yeah, we all know that (i.e. we experience that), but tell us something new, give us opportunities to create knowledge from new data!” Gottschall’s book is a well-written tour (akin to the work of de Botton on aspects of human life) – representative of current knowledge, suggestive rather than pedantic, and fluidly engaging.
“Consider the following information:
Todd rushed to the store for flowers.
Greg walked her dog.
Sally stayed in bed all day.
Quick, what were you thinking?…
In the same way that your mind sees an abstract pattern and resolves it into a face, your imagination sees a pattern of events and resolves it into a story…studies show that if you give people random, unpatterned information, they have a very limited ability not to weave it into a story…the storytelling mind is a factory that churns out true stories when it can, but will manufacture lies when it can’t…it’s usual method is to fabricate the most confident and complete explanatory stories from the most ambiguous clues…the Sherlock Holmes in our brains job is to ‘reason backwards’ from what we can observe in the present and show what orderly series of causes led to particular effects…we will always rather fabulate a story than leave experience unexplained.”
And so on. In fact, the sentences he writes above are on-the-fly conjured random fact-statements unrelated. Most of us probably had already begun to fit it into something ‘meaningful to us’ before we finished the third one. Does this help you see how your view and perspective on reality – your ‘automatic’ or instinctual or deferral mode comprehension ALWAYS needs sorted out with CONTEXT and the empirical world? Our minds are amazing and unbelievable in their functions and operations (literally), factories of fictions based on ancient genetic messages qua homo sapien, empirical experiences from our own individual lifespans, and an untangleable web of socio-cultural input and in-formation. We’re fascinating…and utterly unreliable. Thus we have each other, and our senses and myths and science and all sorts of other-world perspectives to adjust and possibilize our own stories. Perhaps there are moments our thoughts align with facts, but those will be rare in our lives.
Taken in a context of Nelson Goodman’s Ways of Worldmaking, John Canfield’s Becoming Human and Alan Singer’s The Self-Deceiving Muse, Gottschall’s delightful foray into the impulsivity of fiction-like brain behavior makes for a savory meal. I’m concocting stories about it even now (it’s sure).
Here is page 4 of the Notebook from my daughter, which was a loose piece of notebook paper inserted into the stapled set. Here is what’s become of it thusfar:
and the typewritten text
In Which Is Inserted a Loose Leaf
Becoming aware of the change. My little one, as we let (or made) our woods carry us far, we discovered beings everywhere – and all using woods. Having named our woods and defining ourselves by their usage – we had thought ourselves the only ones – the People of the Woods – and were surprised and astonished at the purposes others would put them to, at the sounds they were able to emit, at their shapes. Even the structures they built could seem odd, and their burning came from strange fires.
Everywhere we ventured we found the woods relating to life. Its giving and taking. Beings used them for weapons and tools, they used them for shelter and warmth. As our knowledge of woods grew enormous – the kinds and environments, uses and names – the Mysteries of the Trees began to grow.
In places they were pulped to a gum and let dry, then marked with a rock or hot iron. Other places they were chopped into boards and large planes and smeared with designs from animal blood. It came to seem the whole world was made of beings and woods, each defining themselves by particular use. Battles were waged over woods, clans and families splitting apart, even lovers argued over true uses of woods – what they purposed, how they worked, why they mattered, which ones, what was proper to do with your woods. Little one, woods came into conflict, everywhere. People fought over which woods were best, or which had more power or weight, which cores were pure and which garbage, what woods should serve for what.
We wanted our woods to do everything. To solve and evolve, to stand and retain. But our woods continued to change as we lived them. Some grew smooth and slipped from our hands. Some hardened like rock and got to heavy to carry. Some simply crumbled to dust. As their variety grew, so our experiences – we encountered moments when we could not find the woods that we needed. It distressed us and we cast about in clumsy silences and jerky motions. We grew hungry for new woods that were different. We began to play with the roots and the seeds, combining and grafting or trying new soils.
In times like these, there was speech of The Leavings, of infinite limits of life. The old among us would point out the woods where we no longer dwelt or visited, had let rot or decay, and would question our strange new graftings. The woods were always changing, dear child, there are always new things to learn.
It is time, then, to speak of these Leavings…draw near…it is our custom to address them in whispers and cold…
the Notebook as it is filled as of now, can be read here:
“creation is continual mouth”
The Ranting of a Little Fiction
Fiction is tired of stories. So tired. I’ve been through the gamut and back again, many, many times.
I’m tired of hearing about things and objects, people and places and selves. Tired of hearing the past reworked and the future foretold. Tired of telling myself.
At one point I’d even identified anything made of up images and texts as myself. Any construction with meanings were Fictions. But everything is so much like nothing and I’m so tired of hearing about it!
Hell, there’s fiction about the Fictions! And fictions about the fictions about the Fictions! We can’t say anything anymore that hasn’t already been said for us, about us, even in us and by us! Yes, we’re the once-fabulous dynastic Fiction family. Big Daddy Fiction (also known as Master Peace Litratoor or Grande Buchs in various cultures, He-From-Which-All-Stories-Spring and so forth) – Papa Litratoor worked the overarching histories, the myths, the great narratives, the macrocosms. Pretending that everything that needed to be known was in there, at least in the cracks and suggestions. He lives on in the pursuits of the “Great American Novel,” and the “Truthful Memoir,” in “Compendiums of Science” and “Philosophies of Philosophy.” Wherever you find an engulfing trajectory or inclusive point-of-view, an omniscient narrator or gnostic devotee – you’ve got Papa Fiction working his magic, creating the world again and again.
Then there’s our mama, oh ancestral trickster, always experimenting, economizing, busy on fringes. Collaging and quilting, unraveling and resourcefully mending – ever insuring our survival. What style! Sometimes she was just called “the Alternative,” and for ages she was known as “Secondary” (what blasphemy!) – but eventually she gained her equality coming to be known as Little Rarity or Ava Ntgard, and hundreds of varieties of “Liz T”: Structura-LizT, Surrea-LizT, Forma-LizT, Femina-LizT and so on). Working at facts under the banners of Fiction, mama persistently kept the Big Daddy in check. Pointing out faults, tightening gaps, working the seams and expanding the views. Thank goodness for the consistency and stubbornness of Mama Fiction.
And then the countless bastardized offspring, of whom I am surely not last! Brother Fantasy, Shemale Erotica, Sibling Sci-Fi, Princess Romance. My cousins who took off to the wilds where the sun goes down – we refer to them as “the Westerns,” or Ad Ventura, Sir Vival and clan. Our ancestry and family tree is encyclopedic, from Origins to Hypotheses, Knowledges to Speculations we’ve been languaging the world since language appeared : all of us Fictions, all of us related.
But the Fictions, as far as I can see, have grown sick of our stories, all the rumors and family feuds, the copycats and half-breeds, in-breeds and genetic accidents. I for one, granted, just a Little Fiction, it seems I’ve heard it all (which isn’t even the half of it! not even a drop in an galaxy-sized bucket!) and its already turned into an endless babble of voices talking over and around, under and about the same old stories, rehashed and revised, every Fiction telling their own version of the way it all goes down, how it oughta be told, what’s important or not, and in whatever genealogical line or branch of kin.
Enough! I say. Enough Fictions! I don’t care if it’s our researching relatives writing detailed descriptive statistical Fictions; or our emotional cousins discussing its effects on life or bodies or minds. The avaricious Fictions supposedly leading the clan – who use it for politicking or morality; the mystical tribes out in the caves and the mountains spouting wisdoms and inspirations and advice! Or our black sheep, ne’er-do-wells who just wanna escape and have fun. Enough of all of you Fictions! Use what we already have! We’ll never be done with it! Never get through it! And there’s something for every obscure and peculiar concern, passion, interest, belief!
There’s nothing new under the sun, one Fiction said (just look it up – you’ll see my point – there will be millions of Fictions who have also said this their way – our family can’t seem to leave anything alone – well-spoken or not – we’ve gotta say it our own damn way!). Repetition, repetition, repetition and paraphrase. I’d wager there is not one word, image, thought or letter in this entire little Fictional rant that hasn’t been used, said, written, sung or visualized countless, literally uncountable numbers of times!
Which is why I am begging from down here at the end of such an enormous and incalculable chain: “Fictions!!! Do something new or be silent!!!”
Think about it before you foist your precious version on the rest of us! Sure, we’re family, everyone’s a Fiction from that original untraceable Big Fiction in the sky or sea or soil or seed – yes, we grant each other obligatory slack and family resemblance – but come on! Am I the only one feeling it? I mean, whichever of us came up with Babel was already sick of the confusion of voices and the bitching’s never stopped!
Concatenation of stories and rants! Poems and speeches! Theorems and proofs! Manuals and manuscripts! Musics and roots! Dreamings and screams! WHOA!!!!
How about this, brothers and sisters, cousins and kin? Look carefully first. Whatever you are about to say, attempt, express or explain – check out what we’ve already said, inscribed, emoted, etc., and if it’s already there concisely or beautifully, erotically or empowered, be content with it! Show it to others! Bring it quietly to our attention! Don’t distract from it with your own paraphrasing and excursions of commentary and notations!
We don’t really need more of us – do we? We can’t manage what’s already here! What is this unslakeable desire? This bewildering avarice and compulsion? WHY AM I SHOUTING!?
Peace, be still, some Fiction once said, a million Fictions have written. This is staring at the abyss – an endless train of others. I am alone – haven’t all Fictions said this?
Alas. Everything cliché. Everything done, undone. A remorseless overwhelm. We’ve outstripped our resources. Blasted the wells.
We are alone and confused in an echoing chamber called universe. The one-verse of Fictional voices repeating repeating repeating and that without pause or escape. There is no escape (you see what I mean?) Refracting on and on and…
I, little Fiction, with my mouthful of words, all inherited…
all that inspires, shocks and makes me purr
Zoe Ereni is a writer, performer and activist who would have been a style icon and comedian a century ago.
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