March 16, 2015

The Structure of the Content of the Form

Artistic perspective may rule over narrative form, but it’s ultimately mnemonic processing that manages story content. But where, in all this, is the issue of structure?

In storytelling, of any kind, what governs the structuring of story content?

We define formal structure - the structure of form - as the result of artistic production. The narrative form may or may not align sequentially with the life-story (fabula). But what about the informal structure, so to speak - the structure of content? Let’s start with fiction. Since all fictive content is a creative reworking from content in non-fiction narration (or from human memory directly), and if the end of narrative content is the story which lives on in audience memory (the fabula which outlives the discourse), then content must be structured (or not) within memory. In other words, the content is mnemonic so it must be structured mnemonically.

While some stories will have more structure than others, an ordered fabula can only be constructed in one of two ways. Logically, it must be true either that the structure itself is remembered (as additional information, in excess of remembering content), or else that episodic content exhibits self-sequencing properties. This later alternative is the focus of my current project. Both true and false memories can sometimes contain chronological implications which require that memory to self-sequence in relation to other content. This is how human beings remember temporality, and I believe this process represents the cognitive foundation of both discoursed and autonoetic narativity.

So now, about that famous phrase “the Content of the Form”...

In the preface to his 1987 collection of essays, Hayden White explained this (the book's title) as a reference to "the problem of the relation between narrative discourse and historical representation". Further, the fact that historians can fictionalize is evidence "that narrarative, far from being merely a form of discourse that can be filled with different contents, real or imaginary as the case may be, already possesses a content prior to any given actualization of it in speech or writing." In other words, that title is annoyingly possessive. That little word "of" is intended to reflect that Hayden White believed narrative Form is the exclusive owner and arbiter of story Content. In his view, the Form restricts what the Content can be.

Obviously, I think that view was entirely misdirected. Form does not possess or determine Content. While I fully agree that Narrativity is not an aspect of reality itself, I do not recognize stories purely as an effect of Discourse, as merely the result of directing Communication towards others. Rather, Narrativity is an effect of Remembering, of gathering information (obtained by perceiving reality) to retain for the purpose of communicating with oneself. Narrative is therefore less fundamentally a matter of telling than of visualizing. 

We do not directly govern our views of the world with our words. We do not control stories by authoritatively narrativizing our own perspectival slant on those stories. Communication towards others is less important than autonoetic focalization. Telling is always vulnerable to irony, from the author's and audience's secret knowledge. Histories are restricted by collective memory of the past.

The Content is not "of" but rather "conveyed by" or at best "expressed by" the Form. The Form we call Narrative does not control the Content we call Stories. Narrative is trumped by Memory.

Only minds can hold onto a visualized story.

Anon, then...

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