Recently I found myself watching an American drama series after having skipped roughly one and half season’s worth of programming and narrative development.
No, I did not do this for kicks.
It was curious viewing, seeing vastly different circumstances for many of the characters and any number of references to things that have just happened; large events… life-changing events. Some were accounted for in the usual ‘Previously on…’ introductory montage; but there was so much more I had to try to ‘backtrace’…really concentrate to speculate on what has happened in order to bring myself up to speed….
…and I found this wholly complelling.
What I was dealing with was potential: a whole heap of ways to explain why Character A and Character B’s relationship had gone from best of friends to frosty at best; or even in trying to explain the marked absence of Character C. This, I speculated, is what you might call making your audience work for their story. Giving them potential narrative, yet not telling them what is/has happened and how they should feel about it.
In August we performed a piece at Bootleggers and Baptists, in Sheffield. Our intention was to begin playing with this gap: attempting to synthesize the narrative ‘skip’ that had my mind working on overdrive to backtrace stories through a wilderness of narrative space. It is a convention used by many playwrights: the kind that sees a ‘flashforward’ of some years without so much as a warning or montage of the passing time. And yet this is accounted for by the writer… the gap is filled by clever expository dialogue and action; or else used in itself as a device to lure the audience toward a revelatory climax.
It is a design. It is thought out. Yet, in accidentally skipping hours of narrative development, the TV Drama series (which had no intention of using a narrative gap as a device) appeared to achieve this very intrigue and allure; the same expository moments of dialogue and action that tingled with possibility and natural intrigue….. without ever intending to do so.
Some weeks ago I posted this TED lecture on the website. In the lecture Daniel Kahneman describes there being a confusion in thoughts about well-being and/or happiness where two forms of ‘self’ appear to come into conflict:
there is an experiencing self, who lives in the present and knows the present, and is capable of reliving the past but basically it has only the present. It’s the experiencing self that the doctor approaches when the doctor asks, “Does it hurt now when I touch you here?”.
And then there is a remembering self, and the remembering self is the one that keeps score and maintains the story of our life and its the one that the doctor approaches in asking the question, “How have you been feeling lately?” or “How was your trip to Albania?” or something like that. (Kahneman, D. TED2010, February 2010)
A working example of the conflict between these two ‘selves’ he gives us is as follows:
[A man explained, during a Q&A session that he] had been listening to a symphony and it was absolutely glorious music, and at the very end of the recording there was a dreadful screeching sound; and then he added, really quite emotionally: “It ruined the whole experience.” But it hadn’t. What it had ruined was the memory of the experience; he had had the experience, he had had twenty minutes of glorious music: they counted for nothing, because he was left with a memory, the memory was ruined, and the memory was all that he had gotten to keep.
In trying to give a visual for this, I imagine memories of experiences as cities…; cities that, when experiencing them, you walked through. I then imagine that remembering the city is rather like looking upon a greast mist in which only the skyscrapers of the Remembering Self can be seen, and this new image is forever preserved as the memory of that place. Indeed, Daniel Kahneman goes on to offer that what remains of the experiences we have is the way our ‘Remembering Self’ tells the story back to us….: That our Remembering Self is a storyteller.
….and more than this: from the experience of remembering experience, under the jurisdiction of the Remembering Self, we are able to anticipate how our Remebering Self will encounter (and then remember) future events.
Essentially, we anticipate the direction of, and the way we shall feel about, future events in the same way we remember a holiday; a peice of music; a past relationship; a dramatic story….
As the Remembering Self tells the story of our life with its subjectified accounts of our Experiencing Self’s experiences….so too does our tendancy towards such stories bring to bear the anticipation of one that unfolds in front of us…: the only difference is that our judgements do not become roots liek those that feed the ‘tree’-story of our lives ‘to date’, but change and grow like a narrative rhizome, ceaselessly undoing and redoing themselves until the curtain falls.