The future’s shape

Wednesday, June 15th, 2005

One of the interesting qualities of story is the idea of change. Some action is taken or something happens and the result is inexorable. The audience can do nothing to “save” the principle character. All we can do is “read” about Connie’s removal from the home in “Where are you going.” We can’t interrupt the action of Antigone and inform Creon that he will lose his son and his wife because he failed to “know” the consequences of his actions. Shouldn’t King Lear have known better than to divide his kingdom up? Should we not have known that space travel kills people? Should Oedipus have simply ignored the answer?

The idea that we would want a character to display sophrosyne as a value in story is at odds with what we know about Creon, Oedipus, the gods, Antigone, and most characters in story. We know that Creon isn’t going to display coolheadedness or any sort of golden mean. We need Creon’s arrogrance, just as we need a confused Hamlet and a pridefilled Coriolanus. But this is just one element.

The other element is our reaction to the story that comes from the principles. Hopefully we won’t repond by laughing and leaving, but that something about the tragedy proves either true or captivating, yes, like watching a trainwreck. Do we “need” to see the children not just eat their way out of a cage but also step forth into the dark wood where “we know” the hungry antagonist waits.

This returns me to the story once again. Creon makes his edict and stands by it, thinking himself in the right as the “state” made manifest, the state on whose side Ares has smiled, the state that must take a “moral” stand against the actions of Polynices. But do his reactions to the sentry and to Antigone “reveal” him as a corrupted leader or a coward? Is his original intent corrupted?

Another example. In Suttree, now being covered by Susan Gibb, the principle has money sent to him by a relative. The reader knows what he’s going to do with it. I can’t remember how much but Suttree hides some of the money for safe-keeping prior to the night of waste, in a place where he will forget while drunk or keep hidden from theives. The rest of the money will be lost. We know that something horrible is going to happen. Still, as we read, we hope it won’t.

8 responses to “The future’s shape”

  1. Cindy says:

    Creon is doing what he thinks is best for his kingdom. By raising an army and killing his brother, Polyneices has committed an act of treason, and Creon is treating him the same way that he would treat anyone who killed a king (even though Polyneices was once the king himself). Now while Eteocles is partially to blame for Polyneices’ actions (by not stepping down from the throne as was agreed upon), was Polyneices right in killing him? It can be argued either way about Creon’s actions. As a king he must do what he thinks is best for his people, and if this is how he would treat an act of treason then that’s what he has to do.

  2. Steve says:

    “Creon is doing what he thinks is best for his kingdom.”

    Exactly the point. And that’s one genius of the play. How do we “ever” know what is best for the kingdom. Does the ending of the play “really” vindicate Antigone or is it just “what happens”?

  3. Cindy says:

    My personal opinion of the story is that I agree with Antigone. After reading The Iliad and seeing how important the custom of proper burial is to the people of the time, I can’t say that I wouldn’t have done the same thing for my brother. Much as Oedipus wanted a proper burial from Theseus in Athens in Oedipus at Colonus even though he was deemed a murderer, exiled and shunned most every where else, it only seems right that Antigone would be allowed to bury her last brother.

  4. Cindy says:

    Oh, and by referring to The Iliad I’m referring to when Achilles kills Hector and drags his body around behind a chariot and then proceeds to leave the body out for the dogs and birds to eat. King Priam then goes to Achilles’ camp and begs him to let his son have a proper burial.

  5. susan says:

    The pull of story depends upon something possibly going wrong. If the protagonist acts and reacts as the norm, or as the normal reader would, then there’s no intrigue, no emotional input of sympathy (or surprise, scorn, etc.) from the reader and thus, no involvement. We don’t want to read about characters who would do what we would do; we’d just live and look around instead.

  6. susan says:

    Another thought–this is probably the draw of interactive game narratives such as Silent Hill, etc. We get our chance to make the characters do what we think he should, and still (get screwed) have the opportunity to make the wrong choice.

  7. Steve says:

    It may also be the weakness in interactive narrative in that if choices “feel” scripted, they would then inhibit the drama. Yet, if they create a sense of natural flow, then “success.” Thus the problem: how to script a conflict that doesn’t unmask itself from the start. But your comment points to a critical element of the interactive narrative. To what extent does the interactor forget themselves during flow?

    You bring up a good comparison both for its similarieties and its differences. Consider that the gods for Sophocles are a much different story element than they are for Homer. In Sophocles’ cycle, the gods never involve themselves in the drama, whereas in Homer they touch the story directly. See Euripides’ Phoenecian Women for more info here). Sophocles’ “agnosticism,” just to stipulate that term here, puts everything onto the “judgement” of men and women. Both Homer and Sophocles demonstrate the importance of the death ritual for both enemy and friend. But this again marks the genius of the play. Haemon and Antigone don’t die because Polynices is left unburied. In Euripides, Creon’s son Menoeceus is sacrificed (another Tiresian element) to gain Ares’ advantage over P and Argos. Creon knows a lot about death.

  8. susan says:

    Cindy, I am with you on Antigone, however, I was assigned to the team that opposed her position. No better way to learn the rules of argument than to properly justify the opposite viewpoint. There is religion, politics, and personal emotion involved in such a choice as Antigone’s. Gut feeling and love battle with tradition and loyalties among themselves. Very, very difficult to make a choice where morals, ethics, and love conflict with the law, and the decision is never right or wrong, nor always easily lived with thereafter.

    Steve, I thought of the necessarily predetermined scripting of interactive pieces, yet there is something about allowing even so much as a yes or no, right or left, that allows a reader to feel comfortable. (Except in Photopia, where I got stuck and found that even “cry” wouldn’t move me, when “up” or “fly” was the only answer.) I can tell you that in the midst of battle with the creatures in Silent Hill, I felt I was battling for my life–and swinging that stick with the only thought of survival. Normally passive and non-violent, I killed freely and laughed about it later. But the period prior to the sudden confrontation must, as you say, be prepared by the creator so as not to look prepared.