So it’s time to admit who I am. Or at least attempt to explain.
In all the years since I accidentally succeeded in publishing my first story every written, at the ripe age of 22, I have wanted to be a writer. And, that to me meant, a writer of creative fiction. As luck, or rather, my brain/instinct/temperament would have it, my path was through the fields of literary criticism, where I was seduced by a simple thing variously called “explanation,” “practical criticism,” “explication,” or even loosely speaking, “deconstruction.”
But my ideas were also mixed up by a diet of Romantic poets, Victorian novels, and an absolute instinctive love of Shakespeare. The stew became progressively more murky with a fascination for medieval English literature, non-Shakesperean drama, including the Theater of the Absurd as Edward Albee’s early works practiced it, and the question of “how things mean.” Notice I didn’t say “what things mean.”
Between the “how” and “what” lies the proverbial abyss, the vale of despair, the slough of despond, from which no pilgrim can return without supernatural Grace.
So the tangent that seduced me has another name. It is called “semiotics.” A simple definition is “study of sign systems.” For example, mathematics is based on a sign system of numbers. This system is man-made. In other words, the ideas or concepts of mathematics exist in nature but as human beings we can only talk about it through the mechanism of signs where we’ve agreed on rules about what the signs stand for. So semiotics can be the study of any system that we use to communicate. Can you imagine how powerful this is? We have a chance at actually explaining how what usually resides in one human brain gets transferred so that it can be grasped by another human being! And studying how such systems work! Incredibly stimulating!
But too often the essential task of “explaining,” which postmodern deconstruction and semiotics make murky, becomes in fact truly confusing, not to mention, annoying. It is a waste of time.
The reality is that the operational detail of how something works/happens is not at all interesting in most cases. In fact, it can be excruciatingly boring for the one who explains and of very little use to the one who should be enlightened! Believe me, I know. I used to be a writer of Software User Guides!
But, and here is the rub. Meanings happen in the world. Meanings are important for human beings.
The more this crazy world becomes subject to software and its mechanical, sorry electronic, tool the computer, everything has become grist to the mill of the Information Age. From the innocent story R. K. Narayan wrote in the early 1970s about the notion of a tool that could automate fiction writing (Read his Nectar in a Sieve), we have entered the age of post post-modern, post-colonial international fiction that succeeds by being as involuted as it can. It feeds us fascinating and fattening pablum à la fast-paced adventure fiction in paper or film detailing the exact workings of some military hardware and human behavior sorted out according to popular psychology. Or alternatively, fiction that delights in laying bare every twinge and wart of the writer, glorying in the self-referentiality that becomes a game of “look at me, I know how clever I am being, and by the way, aren’t you impressed with my humility?”
And that is the fulcrum point.
I need to take a deep breath. Stay tuned as I work out what this means. Yes, it is an explanation. It is about meaning. . . . Can’t . . . Stay . . . Away . . .