If you ask me what my criteria for according a work merit would be – I would have to say that I wish for the premise to fit the conclusion. I don’t particularly care what the premise is –as long as it fits its conclusions.
Although my definition for both ‘premise’ and ‘conclusion’ would be vastly different from many other definitions, and my criteria for how it ‘fits’ would be different as well.
Now this is a problem that Umberto Eco brought up in his Foucault’s Pendulum as well as his essays on Overinterpretation – if you’re a conspiracy theorist, anything can ‘fit’ into your model of meaning.
And if I say something like “well I guess the criteria must be relevance to life itself” – then I’ll get things lobbed at me like “Literature isn’t self-help!” or “the purpose of Literature is to make Questions and not Answers!” or “Life itself is in a constant state of fluctuation!” – thus that statement doesn’t really say anything.
And if I go to a logical reductionist extent and say that it must have backing in reality – I myself know that that would be a false notion. If I stuck to that then the only books I would love would have to be logically rigorous mystery novels and hard-science fiction novels.
There was a quote by George Steiner who wrote something along of lines that a play of Shakespeare can be seen as the unfolding of certain primary metaphors. The example he uses is saying that Macbeth is an explication of the phrase “fair is foul, and foul is fair”. In a similar way, many people have described SubaHibi to be about how to live life happily. To me, that kind of points to a general definition of what I mean by “premise fits its conclusions”.
You start off with a word – an opaque orb of denotation – and by the time you finish with it, the word becomes a world. This is also kind of related to the essay by Borges about Kafka – who wrote that Kafka made his predecessors by building up a certain experience with such clarity – that the word ‘kafka-esque’ had to be created for the sake of it. Although Kafka can also be described as a maker of funny and terrifying paradoxes.
In this case my view of premise and conclusion would be in the vein of an explorer who stands on a certain land. All he has is a map (a word) hinting to a general direction, and a map showing everything that has come before him – and using the old map combined with the new map, he has to forge for himself a new land beyond what is currently in his view (a world).
This seems to point to the idea that my concept of premise and conclusion merely means that I wish for something like “a novel take on previously existing tropes”. There’s a trap that exists in this statement. Novel can be unpacked in the grossest sense of the term, by merely negating the trope, or ‘experimenting’ with it. As a result, you have people who do Oulipo stuff like writing an entire novel without the letter ‘e’. All that falls into the realm of technique. Novel techniques do not equate to new worlds.
Novelty of worlds is a qualitative thing, and not a quantitative thing. In other words, coming up with as many curios as possible is completely different from making all of those curios say something in unison. The moment you can see a work as the sum of its parts – there’s something drastically wrong going on. It’s like how shooting enemies one at a time in shooters is completely different from building combo-chains.
Speaking of games, they tend to be the worst offenders at this simply because of how many moving parts you have to track – and the overriding element of fun that most people try to build up to. Spec Ops: The Line is thus going to be a lot more cohesively meaningful than Skyrim – even though the latter is larger and more fun. Simply because the aesthetics, plot, and gameplay unify into something definitive. Thus I can hardly remember much about Skyrim other than the fact that I killed dragons and shouted a lot, although I can remember several core points about Spec Ops.
There’s a single economic principle behind this, and it can sort of be linked to Gwern’s essay on aesthetics. He argued that there was no reason for people to create new works simply because of information saturation, and the simple economic principle that:
“If some good a can be created to fill a need, and there is an existing & available good b that fills that need equally well, then it is economically inefficient to use a and not b.”
And this is what makes novelty of a new world so important. If you are merely novel in your techniques, then there is no reason for you to exist. Here are several books which have taken on the ‘Big Experimental Book’ moniker: Ulysses, Finnegans Wake, Infinite Jest, Gravity’s Rainbow, The Recognitions, Women and Men – and even the website The Untranslated gives several more examples of Ulysses-type books written in other languages, like Zettels Traum and Alastalon Salissa.
If you are novel in your setting, you may have a better reason for existence. But, really, with Tolkien, Greg Egan, actual history books, Terry Pratchett, Olaf Stapledon, and New Weird Fiction writers, and comic book artists like Moebius or Brandon Graham – why care about making interesting realities only?
Mystery solutions have probably been dominated by both the Golden Age writers and the New Orthodox writers of Japan – so much so that weirdos like Natsuhiko Kyogoku have started writing mysteries that are based more around esoteric occult and yokai facts. In fact, they’re even being recycled. I was spoiled the wonderful and amazing solution to the Tokyo Zodiac Murder Mystery because Kindaichi Case Files The Mummy’s Curse totally ripped it off (TZM is still amazing, but it was such a downer when I suddenly remembered I had seen this solution before).
There are two rules to romance novels – separation and reunion. I am sure that every quirky couple combo has been done in the boatloads of Shoujo manga, soap operas, and chick lit or YA lit books out there. Trying to break out of this rule – I conceived of two possible romance story plots that may be used. The first is a story where you have a hero and a heroine that do not meet, but you, as an author, imply constantly that if they do meet they would be the greatest couple in the world. Thus it is a story of separation without separation. The second story is kind of like Tezuka’s Apollo’s Song, or maybe Mishima’s Sea of Fertility – you have an entire history of love through the constant reincarnation of a lover – a reunion without an actual reunion. I was mightily pleased when SubaHibi completely used both of these concepts – the separation without separation and the reunion without reunion intermixed with everything else. Afterwards I was regretful that I was unable to think of using it in the way SubaHibi had used it.
The tragedy is that each time man is born anew, and he cannot know what has come before, so he believes that certain things are novel. I believe that one should first conceive of the general strokes of a new world before conceiving of the particulars.
This leads me to the subject of endings and non-endings. I’m very interested in non-endings because I love how a really good work can utilize the lingering sensation to create a deeper layer. The most famous non-ending in anime would be the End of Eva movie – which sums up the thesis of the series about the hedgehog’s dilemma and all that.
Now the problem is that people who haven’t watched much beyond Eva wouldn’t know that that kind of ending is actually amazingly common with certain directors. Antonioni, for example, ends his film La Notte with Giovanni aggressively kissing and fondling Lidia while she resists and claims she doesn’t love him anymore, as the camera pans away into the distance. The contents of the whole movie is about bourgeoisie ennui and existential dread – and so I guess the ending is somewhat about the purgatory of two people who are too alienated to love but are forced to anyway because they have no other outlet. Either way – the effect is similar, but La Notte has a much stronger overall sense because the movie succinctly encapsulates all this in a mere 2 hours or so, and it escapes the tropes of teenage adolescent angst to create a much subtler and restrained picture of a loveless couple.
Eva has the benefit of having the ending take place in a ruined alien landscape – but that merely serves to reinforce the aesthetics of angst – and not bring it clarity. When the camera pans away in La Notte it seems to push out towards a farther view that cannot be seen within the cage of both main characters – and furthermore that ending happens after a party with laughs and empty bourgeoisie fun and decadence, which provides the contrast. It is, simply put, a perfect example of perfect non-ending.
If you understand how to bring about your world – you will understand when to create a cut in the narrative and still have meaning, despite not wrapping up your story. If you understand what kind of world is being created by another creator – you can understand whether his usage of a non-ending is fitting or not.
An example of an un-fitting non-ending would probably be something like School Days. Although I would describe it more as an unimpressive non-ending. It is unimpressive because its purpose is obvious and not novel at all. The purpose of a non-ending, which is to create a lingering sense of nonclosure, is wasted when the nonclosure is done with something so blatantly used to shock. It has no intellectual component to it.
A slightly better, though not much better, ending, would probably be to cut exactly before Sekai stabs Makoto, and then end it with Kotonoha looking at the sky saying “isn’t love silly?” or something. At the very least that would be ironic rather than overbearingly silly.
Perfect endings are the hardest thing to pull off in the world – in the sense of emotional closure combined with meaning. This is due to the fact that stories are rarely complete in life – and so even emotional closure doesn’t always leave us satisfied.
In a way, there are certain works that virulently latch on to us. Though the story is at an end – we want more of the life. This can only be because the work itself has only hinted at, and given models of life – rather than providing life itself or entirety of worlds. Satisfied with the story, but unsatisfied with its lack of a world – and so we have to imagine the rest of it.
But when there is no more conclusion to fit the premise – we do not have to churn it out ourselves. We have been given the fullness of it. There is not even the need to comment on it. It structurally permeates through everything in our experience – and thus can be revisited again as many times as we can enter a new room in our own house.
Most importantly, it does not create biases, but seeks to distort them each time. Every experience can only create a clearer lens. But clearer in the sense that you can see a view of the whole with a firmer reality – rather than lingering on the ornamentation here and there. Or rather, your life itself becomes ornament to it.