Friday, April 1, 2011

THE NEW LANGUAGE OF NONFICTION PART II

Roland Barthes, too, studies the deep narrative structures in writing and finds that there are five ways of organizing text and that every narrative is interwoven with these various codes. Rather than trying to make a text conform to the Freitag triangle (beginning, rising action, climax, denouement), we can think outside the standard plot line. We can think like writers rather than like readers. In nonfiction (I am adding the context here – not Barthes), the organizational structure might be found in a series of modules that are tied together by various interconnecting webs of information. No one module is self-contained, but rather relies on others to enhance meaning.

My most recent reading has led me to Peter Brooks – especially his ‘Reading for the Plot’. Readers, he believes, are affected by the stories they read in very intimate ways. A desire is built in the reader to find the end and then to tell the story to someone else – to pass it on. (Built-in viral marketing, if we wanted to take it that way). They become caught up in the tale that must be told and re-told.

I am not at all sure that I have managed to capture all of these various aspects of language and plotting in ‘American Masters’ my popular narrative of American literature, but all were certainly in mind as I struggled with the text. The schema I worked from began with a deep underlying structure (an outline not of linear progression; though the work does follow the historical occurrence of authors and their works – but of a series of modules and how they might be tied together); then with a more linear and normal chronological reading; then writing at a more symbolic level; then a mythological level; and finally at the labyrinthine level which includes puzzles, word play, neologisms and what-not. As you can see, ‘American Masters’ is more than a simple story about our authors and their stories. It is an attempt at a new form of nonfiction that goes far beyond the so-called New Journalism of Capote, Hunter Thompson, and Tom Wolfe.

I do hope I have managed to convey these thoughts clearly. I certainly will entertain your questions and comments either below or on my Facebook site. Your input is very welcome. Thanks for bearing with me.

Jim

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