Tuesday 24 July 2018

What counts as a happy ending nowadays? The rise of the anti-story

The Happy Ending to a story is one of the reasons why we like stories. JRR Tolkien gave the name 'eucatastrophe' to the sudden and unexpected turn of events by which looming disaster is averted, and the happy ending results. The happy ending is so popular and powerful as to count almost as necessary to the definition of a story.

But what counts as a 'happy' ending? In the past it was often marriage - in the sense that a 'comedy' was a play than ended in a marriage - implicitly a going-to-be happy fertile-marriage-until-death. But modern story makers are often - covertly or explicitly - against marriage, especially against Christian marriage. So there are stories which end in just dating having-sex, or dating, or even going-it-alone. And stories which are based on the false psychological assumption that marriage can be open-endedly redefined without loss of narrative power.

Or a heroic story might end in someone 'saving' their society. But most modern Western story-makers hate the society they live in: their stories are indeed dedicated to subverting, destroying or inverting society. So saving, as the climax, is a problem...

One answer is to make-up an acceptable-evil against-which the hero can strive; evil can take a politically-correct form. Indeed, modern storytellers hit several birds with one stone - so the evil people tend to be right wing, racist, sexist, anti-immigration, and actively keen on torturing and murdering as many people as possible... so a story is made about heroic opposition to such people taking-over, or about an heroic taking-over from such people. This was presumably the reason for the vogue of dystopian novels: it was the only possible heroism.  

In other words, stories used to be rooted in 'universal' aspirations and motivations; but now we live in a society when the traditional universal aspirations are regarded as extremely evil... so storytelling is necessarily weakened.

The consequence is the anti-story; a story which is supposed-to-be admirable because it overturns the basis of traditional storytelling; by inversions, substitutions, extrapolations etc. An anti-story can't be good as a story in its own right; but only by its being the negation of a real story. The pleasure is therefore political, not narrative.

And therefore people merely pretend to enjoy anti-stories; insofar as they really do enjoy them, they are enjoying them precisely because they are not stories - just as critics enjoyed modernist music or painting because it was not music or painting.

In sum - modern storytelling is oppositions; because modern culture is Leftist hence oppositional. To enjoy it, one has to enjoy opposition t stories; to keep enjoying it, one has to remain in a perpetual state of opposition: piling subversion upon subversion without end.

People ask why the quality of art has declined, why there are no more geniuses? This is one reason - because anti-art has had the highest status over the past century; and one cannot be a genius of anti-art - only a subject for the next wave of subversion.

1 comment:

Chiu ChunLing said...

I fortunately only know of the anti-story at a remove, I studied them in school but even there it was acknowledged that it was the province of those who wanted to be published in 'effete' circles to sneer at the masses rather than become actually famous or popular.

Since then I have not had much contact with literary snobbery of that kind, though I know it must certainly be on the rise in it's own way. The thing about a book, unlike nearly all other art, is that it isn't possible to inflict it on anyone who doesn't wish to make an active effort to read it. Even in school, where you can at least quiz people to see if they've read something and punish them for not having done so, it is readily possible to simply resort to summaries or even just skimming (if one even cares about being graded). Since snobbish anti-literature is not intended to be accessible in the first place, one cannot even quiz very deeply, that is, select questions that could only be answered by those who had thought about the profounder meanings of the work because the lack of such profound meaning is the entire point.

Not all this work is modern in period, let alone post-modern. I never read Moll Flanders, perhaps it's actually a great book but after about a chapter I had already marked it as the stupidest non-story I'd encountered at that point in my life. It was a prototype of an utterly meaningless body of fiction that came to be regarded as the mark of a 'sophisticated' outlook on life. To say it was an early prototype is to suppose that sophistry is much newer than it is, there have been sophists from the beginning, but in earlier times they had more difficulty surviving, and their works were (quite properly) soon forgotten.

The art of pretending superiority to everything that makes life not only worthwhile but possible in the first place is very old. What is always 'new' is some temporary alleviation of the timeless human condition which briefly extends the survival of those indulging in such 'art'.