(first published in Alimentum)
You’re not aware of it, the smell, the tiny particles that waft in and you taste the thing, give it meaning, decide whether it’s good for you, bad for you, sexy, damaged, bitter, to remove, to digest, to get rid of as fast as it entered, to pursue, to let go, to avoid, to lament, to long for. The perfume of the girl that just passed, her scent below it, or his, or your own. Or the pork roast in the oven on the second floor down that side street: rosemary, potatoes, garlic, white wine. It bypasses that part, you know, the part that explains things to itself, that’s just ever so reasonable: ‘It is so, so it must be because of that reason or this,’ that part of you that reduces things into questions and answers, ‘Why am I suddenly hungry,’ ‘Why am I suddenly horny,’ ‘I ate it so it must be to my liking,’ or ‘They like it so I must like it to,’ or even ‘It’s sacred, it represents something else, something more, something…eternal.’ But we don’t bother about such things in our day-to-day.
So maybe you’re strolling down a street, it’s cool out, dark only as it gets dark in late October, quiet, it’s been a good day but something like melancholy has weighted its passing, and suddenly something stirs, but you don’t know exactly what or why. It’s a little beyond your grasp, teasing a memory, coaxing out an emotion, recreating a context. Like the characters in The Tempest you don’t see fairies, though you could, if only that part of you might not stop your whole self from including the other part, the fairy part, the one that is so unreasonable. Or is it? Sometimes we let things from there flow in, remember timelessness, live for a little with our own Ariels, our own fairies, but usually when we’re younger. Sometimes something similar, a shadow of the fairies, remains after that younger you that wasn’t you and that’s why sometimes: ‘That word is too salty,’ ‘That painting tastes like ice cream,’ ‘I feel like an undercooked pancake.’ Prospero saw them, those ever-present fairies always hovering and doing this and fixing that or, as it might be sometimes, breaking apart, breaking down, removing, inhibiting. Provoking. Parts of the world hidden from us, the parts of flavors we once tasted then but might not taste now, yet there they are, in your mouth, in your gut, in your intestines even, tied to memory. Or something close to it. But we don’t bother about such things in our day-to-day. Usually.
Like I said, tonight you’re walking on a street. Same street as yesterday. You like the street, though you’re not really sure why. In your frequent evening walks just before dinner you could go to the next street over and you have once or twice, but this street pulls you to it. Maybe it’s the brownstone with the roses—yellow, white and red—in the space outside. Maybe it’s the shape of the staircase of the building two houses down. Maybe it’s the way it seems like you walk downhill in both directions. Anyway. Tonight something stirs in you, and tonight for whatever reason that part of you isn’t so strong as usual. It’s having trouble holding the fairy part at bay. So you’re just a little bit more unreasonable than usual. Maybe it has to do with the season, maybe it has to do with the strange melancholy that accompanied you through the day. Or maybe you’re just a little tired. Or maybe it’s that oily lo mein takeaway from lunch. (You know better but you ate it just the same. Force of habit. Maybe.) Anyway, It’s not important. It isn’t such a thing that we bother about in our day-to-day. Sometimes, but we usually forget about a moment later even when we do.
There’s a light up ahead coming from a window. You get closer, step by step, the visual perspective altering but the sound of the heels of shoes hitting the sidewalk remains the same, like a backbeat. Then you’re in front of the house. The curtains are open but no one is there, at first. You slow the pace of your walk and stroll along, head turned to the window. Then you see a woman, young, around 35, fairly attractive, white knit top, thick black hair shoulder length, necklace, earrings. She pops through a space on the left into what must be a corridor. You can’t see the corridor. But that’s okay. You presume she’s making dinner, and if her house is like yours the corridor leads to the stairs that lead to the basement where you keep your wine, or to the pantry in back. A bottle of Pinot Noir, a sprig of parsley, whatever is needed to complete the dish. Tonight you’ve prepared quail (the lazy usual bird: flavor the butter, garlic, rosemary, thyme, salt, pepper, then lemon, cognac, the prosciutto wrap outside. Remember not to forget to take it off a few minutes before the end, the prosciutto. They do look so much better, the quail, with a lovely, homogenous deep brown color. Fingerling potatoes and string beans on the side. You’ll eat on the coach in front of the TV, Jenny will lay back and smile when you bring in the plated food. She’ll be clicking on her iPad. New apps from the app store.) It’s the usual day -to -day for the two of you, and though it might seem a little boring to some people you’re happy every evening, with JJ, when her eyes smile as you hand her her tray and she sets the Apple down.
Ah, there she is, the woman in white, back with a bottle. Of course. So that was it. Someone is probably coming over for dinner. You walk on. The stirring and melancholy have disappeared, you think. Which is good. The roasting birds will be ready in, turn up your watch…about another 15 minutes. You lengthen your stride. But after a few steps, so few it seems, the strange stirring is back, an unpleasant giddiness from the bottom of your stomach somewhere, or behind it, even stronger than before. This time you really feel it, something about it, though it’s still too hidden to get a firm grip on. The fairies are doing their thing.
And within the space of a breath the other part of your brain, the fairy part, overwhelmsthat part, the reasonable one that knows it all, and doesn’t know anything. It sweeps you away like music, leaving that part, the reasonable part that is nevertheless so prone to doing things without ever understanding why, somewhere else.
In that moment the street you’re on is replaced by the mint plants your father would harvest all year but particularly in August, naked torso, his tanned skin the color of a well-roasted bird, such a hardy plant, he told you long ago that day over a glass of wine, ‘wine is red’, he would so often proudly repeat. ‘Wine is red.’ He’d smuggled them, the mint plants, in his bag from the plot of land your grandfather, his father, cultivated until he, too, faded away – like your father would years later. The neurons died and died and all their timeless memories, one by one, broke apart and faded into a growing darkness, a mixed up mess with this part and that part and reason and meaning all melting away, forever lost to this day-to-day.
But now the fairies have stopped their stirring, the beat of your shoes on the pavement has returned and that part reasonably tells you: It’s late. The fairies have gone but left a pain. Your chest hurts, only a bit but it hurts, with a hanging sorrow. You stride quickly away, trying to break the staff like Prospero, almost running to the take the quails to the couch, to see Jenny’s smile.
quails (1 or 2 per person) whole
salt and pepper
good dried oregano
water (or sake or a preferred liquor)
…they have, the store bought ones with a bit more white meat, a richer but cleaner flavor than more usual fowl, and fit well for those who don’t like that copper-metal add that pigeons usually give (though the later roasted is a personal favorite.) And they’re very easy to do, a quick stuff and roast, no need to tie. Simply add the flavorings and seasonings you like (though sage or good quality dried oregano kick the dish up to something seductive in your mouth. Scallion works, lemon or mandarin, fresh ginger root, even cherries) fat (oil and or butter), and acidity (wine, alchohol like cognac or brandy or sake, or citrus juice, lemon or mandarin again) inside and out and in the baking dish, then bake on basically highest heat, depends entirely on the oven (the one I use lately doesn’t go past 225 degrees celsius, so depending on size… I shove them in for around 20 minutes for proper cooking, then a few minutes on broil to color.) Add some liquid in the dish of course but not too much, then in they go chest up. The pan drippings can be added to whatever sauce you’re making, even simply squeezing mandarins and reducing the juice a little on low heat, for a lovely topping on the meat itself, or a puree, or glazed carrots, ecc. Be sure to clean the birds well, flame away any remaining feather, add a dash of soy sauce before sliding them in the pre-heated oven and voila….
Story Experiment – Beth
She awoke, opened her eyes and stared up at the ceiling in the dim light. She had been dreaming of views from high places, of many people far away scurrying about, of metallic, dusty odors first and then of a light drizzle falling over a line of trees that ran parallel to a quieter street. Then her perspective had changed and she was on a sidewalk walking past familiar faces and parked cars and brick buildings with small stores on the ground floor. She tried holding onto those images but they faded quickly and the young woman found herself alone and unable to remember where she was or how she had gotten there, as if her memories had been taken away with her dreams to a place she could not find. All she could recall were her name, Beth – though she hadn’t any idea of where the name had come from – and words without context, what a cup was, what the color red looked like, but nothing else. No place, no moment, no thing at all. Except a strange feeling that it had to be somewhere, her life, her memories, faces she recognized. The feeling in turn created a certainty that kept her oddly relaxed, unweighted by what should have been a creeping anxiety. She concentrated, trying to remember her dreams, and began vaguely seeing cars and shops and one particular street corner but the images remained nebulous and far away, as if the images themselves didn’t want to be brought out from wherever they were stored. Beth felt an urge to go there, to at least one of those places in her thoughts and so closed her eyes and tried moving toward them. But as she approached, someone’s voice pulled her away.
“Beth? Get up. It’s late. Alex is in the square, waiting.” Beth turned her head. Standing in a doorway a slender woman of about 30 with long brown hair and brown eyes was looking at her with a slight frown. Beth didn’t say a word or move from the bed, a bit uncertain if she was still in a dream or back in a reality that she couldn’t remember. Then a name, Karen, came to her mind. Karen, Beth thought to herself, slept in the hut next door. She was in charge of preparing the food and organizing house repairs. “It’s your turn to help Alex with the traps. Did you forget?”
“No, I didn’t forget. I’m just a little out of it. I’ll be out in just a minute,” Beth replied. They surprised her, the words flowing out of her mouth automtically. Karen smirked a little before turning around and leaving. Alone, Beth slowly scanned her surroundings. She found herself in a small, circular room, the walls of which were made of many narrow shoots of bamboo, the ceiling of what looked like dried weeds or grass. The air was fragrant with green, alive things and in the distance she heard what sounded like waves breaking into a shoreline. A gull was squawking nearby. To her right a loosely covered opening in the bamboo wall let in the early morning sunlight. The mattress she was on was prickly and made of a rough fabric stuffed with leaves. Beth threw the thin cover off her body and sat up in the makeshift bed.
She felt somehow younger and stronger than she remembered herself being. Looking down at her own torso she saw it was strong and smooth and dark. The day wasn’t as cold as she had been expecting but she didn’t like the feeling of the damp morning air on her naked skin. Beth stood up and rummaged through a messy pile of clothes lumped in a corner. She found a pair of blue shorts and a red top. Then she remembered that she always left her shoes by the door. Turning around, she saw them, a pair of brown Timberlands laying where she had expected. She put them on and walked outside.
Her hut was one of many, she guessed about 20, all situated in an uneven circle bordering a clearing. There were a few more a short way down a pathway that led to the sea below. The huts were nestled up about forty meters over a white beach that lined the coast. From the thick vegetation around the clearing she heard a strange murmuring of unseen wildlife. The scent of the rich, humid dirt of the clearing, dense, vibrant flora and pungent salt from the waves rolled around her nose and pulled Beth more completely into the place she found herself. People of various ages and ethnicity were already up and about, busily doing chores of one kind or another. On the far side of the clearing a plump woman hummed to herself as she repaired the largest holes of some clothes piled in a mound next to her. To her left, sitting down in front of the huts, a thin, elderly man with oriental eyes prepared what seemed to be long darts made of wood. Standing in the middle of the clearing a young man with broad shoulders and dark eyes stood staring at her. She remembered his name, Alex, and moved out toward him. He smiled at her as she approached. “Trouble getting out of bed?” he asked.
“Sorry, Alex. I couldn’t seem to wake up this morning. I was having this weird dream…”
“Don’t worry about it. That used to happen to me, to.”
“What used to happen to you?”
“That I couldn’t pull myself away from my dreams.” Beth looked up at him inquisitively, surprised at his words but before she could ask anything he continued, “it still happens sometimes.” He paused and looked directly into her eyes. “It happens to everyone, I think.” Beth turned her eyes away and didn’t reply. She noticed that on top of one of the huts a seagull had landed and seemed to be watching them. Just as Beth turned her attention back to Alex to say something the bird let out a series of loud, high-pitched squawks. The two of them chuckled a little and covered their ears from the ruckus. Then suddenly the gull stopped and flew away. Alex, bending over to pick up one of the two buckets standing next to him on the ground, suggested “Common. What do you say we go check the nets?” Beth quietly picked up the other bucket and the two of them made for a narrow path between two of the huts that led down through the strip of forest.
After descending through the thick-leaved plants and trees the two of them emerged onto one of the many small beaches coved away along the rocky shoreline of the island. The sun was now further up in the sky but a veil of clouds dimmed it a little and colored the sky itself a pinkish-grey. Alex led the way over the white sand.
Though not so tall, he was well-proportioned and handsome, with long black hair that curled up just above the nape of his neck. He went straight into the water until it covered his chest. Beth cautiously waded in behind. He looked back and shouted, “Hey, you aren’t gonna make me do this by myself, are you? ”
Though the water felt cool, almost refreshing and not cold, still the waves, small though they were, made Beth weary as she slowly moved herself toward Alex, bucket in tow. For his part Alex had already dived into the water and come back out again holding a cage in his hands. Shellfish were trapped inside. He motioned with his head for Beth to come closer. A gull flew low overhead and squawked. “You hold up the bucket and I’ll nudge’em inside,” Alex said once she was nearer, and lifted the cage high while shaking it slightly over the bucket Beth was holding. Then he set the cage back into the water, disappearing beneath for a moment. After he re-emerged they returned to shore and followed the path circling the island.
The process was repeated several times over the following hours as they completed the chore. Beth was surprised at how large the island was and how lovely its coastline. Once they were finished, before turning back to the village, they stopped to rest on a high outcropping that jetted out into the ocean. On either side there was nothing but waves breaking into the rocky shore 50 meters below. Alex closed his eyes and breathed in deeply, laying his head back slightly and outstretching his arms as if embracing the horizon. After a moment he reopened his eyes. “Just look at this view. And the air tastes… so clean. It’s like being in paradise, don’t you think?” Beth looked at him, and then down at the waves beneath. It was beautiful, she admitted, yet something inside her wouldn’t stop questioning the permanence of where she was. Though trying as hard as she could, Beth still didn’t remember anything…from before, before the Island. She asked, “Don’t you ever wonder about where we are, or how we got here? It feels…incomplete, like…”
“Like what?” Alex interrupted her. “Look at you. You’re the most beautiful girl here. Every day there’s at least one moment that..satisfies, that’s filled with magic. And we have everything we need.”
“But what about my dreams? There are places there that I feel like I remember, that…”
“They aren’t real. They’re memories of places that never existed.”
“I’m not as sure as you,” Beth replied. The two of them got to their feet and headed back. That night they roasted the catch over an open flame in the middle of the clearing and everyone talked and laughed and Beth released herself for a while. She went to bed relieved and fairly happy.
The next morning her dreams came again, stronger this time, more real. She saw herself walking down a street with other people, tens of other people, maybe hundreds, and unlike the previous night she could make out faces, could feel her own feet banging onto the cement pavement as she went up to a door on the same street corner as the morning before. Her hand was on the door, she was dressed in longer clothes and was thinner and weaker and older and then she was inside the store, looking and she was almost there, could almost smell it but she heard a sound and she turned around and she was gone, again. It was dark. Beth opened her eyes, trying to remember where she was, what might have happened the day before. Then she heard the waves in the distance. She lay on the bed a moment before getting up, putting on her shoes and walking outside.
Beth walked straight into the clearing with an odd feeling that something had changed, but she couldn’t tell exactly what. It appeared the same, huts in a semicircle, the ocean below, the forest between. Still, looking back at the hut where she slept, it seemed isolated somehow, as did all the huts. Beth could count a dozen. On the other side of the circle a woman sat mending clothes, and though others were walking about on their way to the different chores to be done there seemed to be fewer of them about than the day before. Then Karen came into her mind and Beth looked back again but Karen’s hut, once next to hers, was gone, she thought, but couldn’t decide if the memory was real or just part of another dream.
“You’re early today. Feeling OK?” Alex voice startled her a little. He was standing to her left, smiling, as he had been the day before.
“Alex, have you seen Karen this morning?”
Alex looked back with a perplexed look in his eyes and responded “Karen?”
“Karen, you know, she’s in charge of meals?” Alex shook his head, shrugged his shoulders and opened his arms. “She sleeps next door to me…”
“Beth, there’s no Karen here,” Alex declared. “There never has been. And you sleep between Larry on that side and Barbara on the other,” he said, pointing in turn to the huts on either side of hers. “You’ve got to let go of these dreams you’ve been having. I mean, you really do. Why don’t we get this finished as soon as we can and then plop over to the grotto and spend the afternoon relaxing?” Beth nodded a resigned affirmation and let him take her hand in his as they left the clearing to circle the island.
The traps didn’t take them long, not more than two hours, and after dropping off the catch in the village Alex left Beth alone a moment before returning with two large towels and two pairs of diving masks. She hesitated when she saw the masks. For an instant some images from her dreams fluttered across her vision but the effect was short lived. Soon after she and Alex were descending the steeper backside of the island to a tiny white strip of beach hidden by tall rocks on either side. He handed her a mask, lay out his towel and then strode into the ocean, swimming about 70 meters out before turning to face her.
He waved his left arm out of the water in a way that signaled for her to come along. She started to follow but stopped when she noticed Alex pointing to the mask on his head. Beth turned around and put hers on. It felt strange, the rubber, as she stretched it over her red hair, and its plastic, oily scent almost reminded her of something, but she wasn’t sure. After she had waded out beyond where her feet touched the bottom though all her attention turned to swimming. Once she reached Alex, he pointed to a small opening in the outcropping to the right and they swam inside.
Beth found herself in a lovely blue cavern, dark but not black, with the light that filtered in from the opening and below seeming to make the water glow faintly in the shadow. The air inside was cool and dense, salty and humid and made the grotto feel warmer and safer somehow. Their movements reverberated off the rocky walls and ceiling and so amplified made a somewhat eerie background to the dark blue glow of the water. “Put your mask on and look,” Alex suggested, and she did. Below on the walls closest to the opening something intensely red was growing and she could see a few small yellow and white fish darting about. Beth floated on the surface but Alex dived down into the cave and swam close up the walls, seeming to taste every part of what he was seeing. He went down repeatedly over the following minutes. Then the two of them left the cavern and headed back to the beach.
Beth took off her mask and top and let herself down onto the stone-colored towel, letting the sun dry of the droplets of water that glistened on her belly and breasts. Alex came up after her and he, to, decided to let the sun dry him off and so layed down next to her with his back to the sun. Beth turned to look at him, following the path of his back until it bridged over the firm, rounded curve of his behind and then down along his long, lean legs. She smiled to herself. With his face turned in the other direction, Alex asked, “Beth, tell me about your dreams?” Beth waited a minute until he turned and rested on his elbow to face her. He reached out with his right hand and gently caressed her shoulder. “What is it about them that affects you so?”
She breathed in deeply and tried to bring them into her thoughts. “It’s as if I’m there,” she finally replied, “as if I belong there. I see people that I know I know even though I can’t remember them. And I really want to go there, to those places I see. It’s more intense in the morning. I see these places and it’s like I try to go there but can never quite make it.”
“Do you really want to go?”
Beth turned to look into his dark eyes. She realized she was in a different place than he, could see that Alex had let go of his own dreams and was where he was entirely, on the island, and wanted nothing else. She said softly “All I want to do is find out who I am, who I might be tomorrow, or later, I don’t know. And I think to do that I have to remember who I was.”
“Are you trying to recall who you were, or who you are?” She didn’t reply, and the two of them lay facing each other with the sound of the waves gently breaking unto the beach in front. Then Alex reached over and kissed her tenderly on her lips. She turned into him and pressed her lips firmly against his, then reached over and pulled him toward her body. They made love slowly and long into the afternoon, stopping from time to time to dive into the water. Only as the sun began to drop toward the horizon did they put their clothes back on, gather up their things and head back.
The next morning Beth’s dreams seemed less intense than the day before and she got out of bed quickly. Yet as she stepped through the door suddenly she found herself outside not facing the clearing but walking in a place filled with pine and maple trees. There was a small pond with ducks and geese leisurely swimming in the water and women with baby carriages strolling along a paved pathway. Beth turned to her right and walked up to a hotdog stand. A black girl with her hair pulled back under a baseball cap smiled from across a counter. But as Beth began to reply the girl disappeared. All at once she saw the ocean below.
Today there was no mistaking: the island had gotten smaller. From where she stood Beth could see its boundaries, now no more than a few hundred meters apart. And the waves were closer, just past a thin line of trees. She turned around and to her amazement found only four huts remaining. A woman was again sitting in front of one of them, looking as if she was repairing a small pile of clothes lying next to her. Beth walked toward the middle of the now diminished clearing and looked around, hoping to see Alex. When after a few minutes he didn’t appear, she went up to the woman and asked her if she knew where he was. At first the woman did not reply. She looked back at Beth as if not understanding a word of the question. When Beth insisted the woman said something in a language she had never heard before. Beth turned away and went to circle the island.
She didn’t bother to check the traps that she assumed were still there below the surface but just strolled along easily, looking out at the ocean. The shoreline had lost much of its rockiness and was now fairly smooth, lined almost entirely with sand. When she reached where she reasoned the grotto should be, down below the only elevated outcropping that remained, she stopped to look carefully, vaguely hoping to see Alex swimming in the water. Instead there were only the waves, and a few gulls floating on top of them. She sat down and stared and considered if even he had been but a dream, but then remembered him inside her, his arms pulling her close, engulfing her. It hadn’t been a dream. Yet she was still here, and he was gone. She stayed on the overlook listening to the waves, wondered where he might be, then after a while stopped wondering and simply listened. She didn’t remember falling asleep, but she did, a little before sunset, as the salty breeze gently tossed her red hair and softly whispered a lullaby into her mind.
When morning came the shrill cry of a gull awoke her. Beth opened her eyes and looked at the sky, clear, above her. She knew she was alone now, with no one else on the island. As if to confirm her suspicions when she stood and turned around she saw that the island had yet diminished again in size. Now there were no more than 60 meters from one side to the other, and all the huts were gone. There were still a few trees here and there, but mostly it had become a smooth hill that rose up from the ocean as if it, too were but a large wave. She walked down from the overlook to face the waves as they broke along the beach beneath. The gull that had awoken her followed her down and landed on a rock just breaking the surface of the water. It seemed to look at her, asking for her to do something. She looked back at first, and then out again at the water, then back again at the gull. The sound of the waves faded and she began to hear the sound of traffic along a large avenue. Slowly the scenery changed from around the bird until it alone stood surrounded by the landscape of a big city. Then it, to, disappeared and Beth found herself a strange place. She looked around. People were passing by her in both directions. The air was dirty and cool and smelled of plastic and oil. Beth herself was covered within a beige overcoat. She glanced at the faces of the people passing. They would make fleeting eye contact with her and then move quickly along their way. Beth, to, started walking down the avenue, slowly at first, but then faster. Looking at her own feet as she stepped along the pavement Beth noticed she was wearing a pair of dark brown Timberland shoes. She turned a familiar corner and went into another, quieter street.
In the following days she felt a bit bewildered, particularly in the afternoons, and still wasn’t sure where she was supposed to be. She would look for Alex in the crowds from time to time but of course never saw anyone closely resembling him. Soon the island was forgotten. Once, months later, she thought it had come back one evening when she swore she could hear waves breaking onto the shore. She got out of bed and went to the window to look outside, half expecting to see the beach. But it was only another car passing.
Fact vs fiction—how paratextual information shapes our reading processes — https://academic.oup.com/scan/article/9/1/22/1673147/Fact-vs-fiction-how-paratextual-information-shapes
Our life is full of stories: some of them depict real-life events and were reported, e.g. in the daily news or in autobiographies, whereas other stories, as often presented to us in movies and novels, are fictional. However, we have only little insights in the neurocognitive processes underlying the reading of factual as compared to fictional contents. We investigated the neurocognitive effects of reading short narratives, labeled to be either factual or fictional. Reading in a factual mode engaged an activation pattern suggesting an action-based reconstruction of the events depicted in a story. This process seems to be past-oriented and leads to shorter reaction times at the behavioral level. In contrast, the brain activation patterns corresponding to reading fiction seem to reflect a constructive simulation of what might have happened.
Comments: The last two ‘short stories’ – the Beth experiment in english and italian – presented a form of story, a narrative, done with the intent to provoke a shift in anyone reading them.
Though expecting a gender difference, the measure was unexpected – even in such a tiny case. On last count: of the 13 women who participated, all but one, a native German speaking anthropologist reading in English, took Beth’s island story as actually happening, whereas only two of the 12 men (I being one of them) responded the same.
Motivation. In a sort of deep way, the development of how we think, of where we place ourselves in differing contexts, the direction of our understanding or representing relevant aspects of the world. Our individual grooves, so to speak. In this thingy I wanted to see a little the differences in how we identify read (prose) character, place and time, but in plurality. Hence the specific thematics and loose development of Beth and her surroundings. Anyway.
Below are a couple quick cut and pasted exchanges with a couple of people who participated, introducing a few ideas because, well, I’m lazy. (Ironically, or maybe not, the two exchanges come from the one other male responding ‘yes’ and the only woman responding ‘no’.) And forgetful. In the unlikely case that anyone is interested in a word or two more, any notes or comments would be very welcome. The first also refers to an article…which I can’t find, on narrative.
As an indulgent self-birthday gift last december I did a sort of experiment and asked whoever had nothing better to do like, say, clip their toenails, to read a short story and answer a question following. I thank again those who did. To indulge the 30 year anniversary of my high school diploma tomorrow, I’ll finally write the post in two parts or so. To be honest it was a thing begun…heck, even decades ago, trying to break down top-down narrative based in what are called characters to see more the pieces, felt pieces, bottom up. But bottom-up, including story – not pieces already reduced to fit into a singular narrative voice. The way the narrative was structured in this case, with a plural identity of the main character along with her place(s) and story(s), I was expecting varying results, particularly between male and female. I wasn’t expecting such clearly varying results, even discounting for other things (all but two men, I one of them, and one woman accepting plurality, and vice versa 10 out of 12 men and that 1 of 11women – a native German speaking trained anthropologist with field work, though I’m thinking the former condition was more influential than the later for her ‘no’ in English – rejecting it.) So, where to begin as to why…
2. the two men who accepted Beth’s plurality. Modelling. Color, or lack thereof. I don’t know for others, but for me when developing a model there is a long accumulation in which a bunch of stuff and ways to that stuff is used. It doesn’t matter the thing being modeled, Krebs cycle or visualizing a cell, markets, ecc. Reading, doing, symbolic doodling as integration begins, equations, breaking down aspects into variables, discussions, ecc. At a some point it’s formed. Two and half dimensions for me, that is the space – it’s sort of visual in an oneiric way .It isn’t delineated but the model space does end in a sort of dark gray nothing, I’m there but not in any abstracted way, that is the ‘I’ represented is there and can shift its position a little up or down or forward, even into, though not all the way to the farthest sides of the space (at that point you leave). But it isn’t separated. It’s part though distinguishable. No colors or at most dim ones, only shades of gray. No specific words ever, or sound but sometimes a faint background noise, not constant but fast fuzz with a rhythmic aspect specific to the model. The model moves, its has a physiology but its time is unrelated to real time. And there is flavor – of bitterness though. That is the bitterness has to be harmonious. If it’s acute then something isn’t right with the representation.
I think that way of…developing has to do with a relatively weak top-down representative self. A very likely strong stress response from my mother to my fetus in the first trimester diluting testosterone, affecting development, and my fetus’ and my apparent response to then overproduce the same solidified a relatively fun and rich network of intrinsic dialog, more caudal and right tempo-parietal. That in turn, and the subsequent relative lack of some kinds of developed motivation in adolescence, effectively left me almost entirely out of that mine-is-bigger-than-yours here and now dominance loop, or ‘what-am-i supposed -to-do-with-it’ becoming much less motivational than ‘what-does-it-mean’. Why and wherefrom, later. In sum, hierarchy does’t actually have anything to do with how I see the world or myself, or why this thing’s to do. (dominance is a slightly different affair and largely unavoidable, though its manifest ion is context based and different person to person.) Attached to that is real time, or real time has little influence on meaning intrinsically. Ah, I should note for later, I’m not first born.
The other man who said ‘yes’ to plurality has a different path to similar aspects, I think. In his case, since I actually know him in person, the development of ‘mine-is-bigger’ stuff was diminished indirectly by, I suspect, a relatively higher level of dopamine. A little taller in adolescence, helpful. One of those rare people, certainly for men, that, ah, makes things better, even more with the capacity to accept…free radicles, so to speak. (Relatively immune to the development of rancor so easy for others whose apparent circumstantial generosity is however somewhat or even a lot provoked by their lack of presence. Again indirectly, a sort of fundamental indifference. Ahime.) So he, to, sees information in a context that is less what am I supposed to do with it here and now and more what does it mean. If I recall, he, to, is not first born. Next will be the different tendencies between genders.
- After reading 1 and 2 above in regards, it seems I, ah, jumped about a bit. Explanation: context: assumption: bottom-up Bayesian directionally as a concept, is … useful even if incomplete. That is we, our cns, predict -confirm, predict-confirm in parallel processing. More margin for error the farther up, less acceptance for contradiction. Likewise division of dialoging representative networks into abstracting and contextual, tendentially respectfully left and right (cerebral hemispheres), and representations of self into affective or extrinsic (tied to real time expression) and integrative/integrated or intrinsic, the former more inhibitive. Relatively speaking, women tend to have ‘louder’ bottom -up representations that are less inhibited in absolute terms. That is, their final narrative – the story that’s invented to tell our affective, real-time selves why we did that – affords less bottom-up error by accepting partial contradiction (i.e. in gross terms, you’d expect as a category they might tend to have relatively more gray matter right tempo-parietal, the local brian stuff a bit mid-way back, and they do, and a smaller overall left pfc, the part up front, and they do.) In the two male cases – another male friend, if I recall, might also have said yes – in mine during develop relatively strong bottom-up representations are louder than usual, which then likely influenced developing dialog and motivation. In the other case or two, very similar personalities and with similar aspects of history, an important developed motivation tied to affective dominance and reward, that sponsors top-down inhibition and abstracted representations of self, might be more quiet due to their not, ah, needing it all, that in turn due to naturally relatively high levels of dopamine. Or, in vulgar terms, no ‘mine-has-to-be-and-is-bigger-than-yours’ kick with resulting testosterone boost, NA stimulated motivation, ‘mine-is-bigger’, etc. In all three, aspects of wiring that are less manly-man like, and body language/behavior averse to expressing dominance.
…..narrative is not the organizational way we organize experience and memory of human happenings. It is instead, I think, a dominant way of describing memories and experience extrinsically – which includes others, including self. Narrative also doesn’t have to be character-based but usually is, in this case as the article points out because cultural influence can trump other stuff, ie like what is a character. And emerges because of the diffusion of imitation, likely influenced by a network of mirror neuron ‘turbo-chargers’. Hence as a species we are able both to abstract ourselves from ourselves and place ourselves into something – most importantly someone – else, or a representation of the same. Hence we build representations on varying strata in many dimensions. Symbolic thinking was a necessary precursor.
Time is likely quanta – but separate from meaning, even physiologically. It is a sort of emergent abstraction. Like a field. Narrative needs to use that approach in order to convey, per force, by speaking to our corresponding abstractions (temporal representations of complexity) and in turn to other representations top-down. And the unfortunate thing about real time and abstracted self or representations involving manipulations – they cannot afford contradiction. Only one possibility at a time, yukyuk. So: the necessary removal of information on the way to emergent expression. Leading to a sort of narrative uniqueness – which may be representitavitly true only in narrative, but not beyond the particularity of the narrative. It’s hard to keep this flavor, I realize, but the principle of emergence and plurality (in systems of information) runs more deeply. Ironically more than purely hermeneutical, a story is successful more when it allows the emergence of time-less, non-hermeneutical aspects that come from – here it comes – BEYOND (nudge-nudge, wink-wink without italics) the narrative, both of the conveyor and the conveyed to, more than ‘constituted’ or functions by the same. That is, it acts a bridge into larger integrative systems. (Strange, narrative in the article seems to mix story and narrative as concepts, using contextual domain conceptually to distinguish. And that’s assuming a lot of homogeneity a-la Piaget, ironically)
: One factor maybe: you’ve actually had a successful academic career as and are an anthropologist with a relative lot of field work. Unlike, say, working as a chemist or store clerk or even a psychiatrist, that implies to me observing human behavior in its context – as subject data with which, and other stuff, to form abstracted predictive and explicative models. Ie, because of, er, a quiet adolescence in a midwestern suburb where cultural (colloquial) exposure came only from personal initiative (PBS, books, an abandoned record collection and two foreign freaks in the public high school, one an indian Canadian who then went to Waterloo,) the first time I saw a Rembrandt self-portrait in London at 18 after a first univ. year, I didn’t know what or who he was. But the painting floored me, and I returned several times to look deeply before even reading the title and artist. If you shoved my head in an MRI then, and now, looking at the work, you might get very similar patterns. But if you ask me to respond to questions about significance or meaning and component, you’d instead likely get relatively differing ones.
A second obvious but less determinate : I’m also presuming English is not your mother tongue, which as an individual variable should a bit ironically have slightly more determinate influence on women as a group than men, and may also be slightly influenced by which language-culture is the first language (or languages). (Neat little aside, though tangent: in Italian we have genre with nouns, usually invariable. But some nouns, particularly intimate ones, switch from masculine in the abstracted singular to feminine in the contextual plural. So it’s always his one arm, but her arms.)
A bit irrelevant but which indirectly moves toward the main point: only as a category (it’d be more interesting to identify other categories – they’re all categories more than individual determinate variables, all could and should be broken down into much more fundamental aspects, – categories like depression, or professional musicians, or narcissism, or number of older siblings etc.,) the ‘partiture’ of contextual processing in women might tend to be relatively louder than in men. Is, I think. More, intrinsic circuits which deal with larger amounts of information, more time (temporal representations of complexity) and therefor accept contradiction (vs hierarchical, more purposefully abstractly manipulative and therefore per force more inhibitory and tied to real time, the emergent present eternal so to speak.) In a nutshell: representations of I tend to hear more context and timeless meaning, the later of which implies a large set of affected differences. Or phrased differently: as a category, women tend to maintain a relatively more bottom-up equilibrium.
Yeah, that implies at least tendential phenotypic differences, and maintains the notion that a: hemispherically, right modules tend to process more context and integration and b: caudally, representations of I are less extrinsically and manipulatively oriented. (The noted recent study on hemispheric non-differences was, I think, rather silly. The data itself didn’t match the headlines and more importantly, differences emerge once you’re doing something, not at rest.) Anyway more than anatomy, it’s function: representations of self and world, abstracted and contextual, intrinsic and extrinsic (what I am, what should I do, what is this, what does it mean, what can I do with it.) Hence the specific thematics in Beth’s story, (I, context, time) and the responses of men as a group (that also usually have a component, in their case, of simple, direct sexism. You’d be surprised. Well, actually you wouldn’t.)