Monday, March 14, 2011

Writing theories

When I was an undergraduate student, I took a class called "Major Critical Theories." This course was, in essence, an applied philosophy survey. We studied Plato and Aristotle, all the way up through contemporary theorists like Derrida (and even newer).

The theory that I enjoyed most at the time was deconstruction. Basically a "fuck the rules" kind of theory, where words can be redefined, concepts can be taken down, inverted, subverted, or just plain ignored. I liked that concept.

The counterweight to this is structuralism. Deconstruction exists within the framework of structuralism, since the latter applies the structure that the former seeks to subvert. Structuralism posits that the form the story is told determines the type of story it is. I thought that was so confining and so...well...rule-oriented, that the iconoclast within me railed against it.

Since then, I have come increasingly to the inevitable conclusion that structuralism is much more than something to be railed against, and I am using it with increasing frequency in my writing as well as my critiques of other stories (books, movies, anything).

The younger version of me detests that I have become a structuralist, citing the "damn the man" attitude that I held in such high regard in my youth. As a theorist, I still enjoy the idea that all our constructs, all our conventions, all of our rules, can be undone simply by deciding not to engage in them anymore--or to deliberately seek to subvert them. However, as a writer, I was finding that deconstruction simply does not make me a better artist. The idea of writing with no rules or conventions wasn't helping me hone my craft.

Aaaand then it hit me. I use the structure, the convention, as a structuralist in order to understand which rules to skirt, which paradigms to invert or subvert, how to make my story unique. When applied to my writing, I have become a structuralist who uses deconstruction. As a theorist, in my critiques of other stories, I have become a deconstructionist who determines success based on structuralism.

It took about three years, but I finally synthesized the information from that class.