Narrative Archaeology: first step
Where are the stunning ideas we can find in narrative products from?
As avid reader I often guessed at something like which is the first occurrence of a voyage to the moon (maybe Lucian of Samosata, A true story, second century AD)? Which is the first appearence of a time-travelling machine (maybe H. G. Wells, The Time Machine, 1895)? Which is the first description of a parallel dimension (maybe Gertrude Bennett/Francis Stevens, Heads of Cerberus, 1919)?
And that issue is not only about “the first appearance of”, it was always been about all the road from that distant point to me.
Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach, the authors of The Knowledge Illusion. Why We Never Think Alone, tell us we think also through space when we externalize informations we can easily retrieve in the world: the bin full of garbage is an effective memo about my duties. We could say that the world works as an outside memory.
The act of reading or watching movies or playing videogames (and so on) works in the same way: we don’t know (in most cases) the narrative product we’re experiencing contains, but we’re able to obtain informations, thoughts, ideas from it. So, entering a narrative product means be in a different space, actual, but not thingy (the word real comes from Latin res which means thing).
When I went for the first time in the Budayeen (G.A.Effinger, When gravity fails, 1987), the Budayeen itself showed (to) me what a moddy is (or what it could be):
“I don’t like to see this people with their plug-in personality modules bothering anybody but another moddy.” The second woman looked bewildered. “A moddy, young man?” Like they didn’t have them wherever she came from.
“Yeah. He’s wearing a James Bond module. Thinks he’s James Bond. He’ll be pulling that trick all night, until someone raps him down and pops the moddy out of his head.”
What happened in the narrated space taught me what a moddy is, how it works, everything is useful to understand the story but where the idea of a moddy is from, or where the idea of a moddy is going to. It makes sense: doing that would break the integrity of the fictional world and the suspension of the disbelief.
Neverthless, being able to see the links between different narrative products give us a deeper experience, is something like a temporary multiverse shift: I’m in the Budayeen but I can also be in the cyberpunk city of Pat Cadigan’s Fools (1992) where the idea of moddies exploded in an unexpected and psychedelic way. My reading is reading-squared.
So, this is my personal challenge: from the next post — once a month — I’ll look for the oldest and the most important (narrative) finds of some stunning ideas in narrative products (if you know something older or more important, you can add your find, as a narrative archaeologist).