The Future is the Past

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The city of Babylon was part of ancient Mesopotamia, itself the proposed birthplace of writing some 5,500 years ago.

The residents of Babylon in the first millennium B.C. saw themselves as facing their past and walking backward into the future. In the Akkadian language of ancient Mesopotamia, the word panu, or “face,” relates to the past, whereas “behind” is a word associated with the future (Jarrett A. Lobel, “Magical Beasts of Babylon: How the Ishtar Gate Safeguarded the Mesopotamian World,” Archaeology, Nov./Dec. 2019, 45).

Meanwhile, periods of transition require a talent for patience that I do not possess. What next? Well, I don’t know. I’m feeling my way through things. Which is to say I’m relying on intuition. Of course TC2 editing awaits and I’m determined to do my two pages today come hell or high water and whether I’m inspired or not. Which is to say I don’t expect to be inspired to edit in advance of immersing myself in the work: inspiration will not come of its own accord, I must resolve to just do it, bit by intolerable bit, to the best of my ability and come what may. That’s how I’ve always approached the novels, after all, call it a long illness to overcome or, more cordially, a long walk to complete. Step by step, day by day, brick by brick, choose your metaphor, the things gets built, I arrive at the last page, on to the next edit. It’s not pleasant and it ain’t pretty. Rather, it’s fulfilling. Bliss is not happiness. Bliss is the experience of being properly alive which is the experience of proper emphasis, proper direction, progress, single mindedness and wholehearted immersion in one’s proper work. Sustained zeal, too, except in a measured, patient manner, setting aside the sense of urgency in favor of diligence.

It is this unglamorous, workaday aspect of writing that I’m convinced separates the published, traditional or indie, from the wannabes. As I’ve suggested before, literary talent is not the essential talent if you want to be an author. Rather, it’s the drive to write to completion; to create a beginning, middle and end to a novel, to establish at least one disaster (or compelling conflict) that comes to a resolution – the story arc – and meanwhile to express conflict (mini disasters) within each main character – character arcs – so that when the novel ends things have changed. That’s it. If it’s one book then nothing is left unresolved: they lived happily (or unhappily) ever after, that kind of thing. If it’s a series, each book ought to express a certain sense of independent completion, a legitimate story arc, so that it stands on its own as a book but with an unresolved twist at the end – an open ended conflict that invites a new adventure, an epicycle within the context of the old or macrocosmic adventure.

Time Crime, then. Its macrocosmic adventure or story arc is that of personal and cultural mythological freedom in the face of tyranny – the conflict posed by the tyrant monster who appropriates and hoards, as Campbell has phrased it, the general benefit. Mr. Z., Vixy and Five experience or otherwise express their own internal, microcosmic adventures from which they emerge, for better or worse, changed. The supporting characters – Neutic, Captain Chase, Professor Wilhelm, General Ten-Square, Cog, et al. – their personal myths are intended to exist in less forward terms, their stories are subservient to those of the main characters – they add special sauce to the main dish.[1] Gosh, you might say, that’s nothing new. And I am telling you that if you think you’re going to write anything new, let alone be obligated to do so, you are deceiving yourself. For there really isn’t anything new under the sun when it comes to storytelling. It is the hero journey in the very general sense, namely, departure, trials and return, or it is not an adventure. Which is to say that you are free to write any literary experiment you choose – abandoning story arcs, character arcs, linear time (a beginning, middle and end) – in favor of, say, dreamscapes and impressions and, well, happy nonsense of any type you can manage to conjure. Except that you will not have written a story or a tale, let alone a myth. Recall that a myth in particular, to be fully functional, will render (1) a sense of awe, (2) a cosmology that supports that awe, (3) a sociology that establishes ethics, and (4) a pedagogical, otherwise supporting psychology. These are the four functions of a mythology as identified by Joe Campbell and there is no argument to be had against them.

Oh, no, you say, that’s a tyrannical attitude towards writing a mythology and a story – it can’t be that rigid, there must be mythologies and other ways of writing (or orally communicating) mythologically legitimate tales that suspend these bullshit rules. No, there aren’t. I’m merely being specific because things in life are what they are. Which is not to say rules cannot be broken – rules are made to be broken, yes, I get it. But a myth is a myth, a mythology is a mythology, a story is a story with a certain recognizable, definable structure or architecture and that’s that: it’s not a tyranny, it’s a fact. Akin to the Earth revolving around the sun, you can deny the case and you will be incorrect in relation to the facts. No, you suggest, the sun is a god and the moon is a goddess. And there are no planets and no deep, undiscovered universe; no expanding (or contracting) cosmos, no reliable physics, and so on. And you would be right in a certain sense to deny reality as such in favor of your own hermeneutic, your own interpretation, your own metaphors. As long as you understand them as metaphors. This is how your life becomes infinitely enriched and a joy to experience. That is to say, when you live oriented within your personal and cultural mythology you both align yourself with and are free from the hard scientific realities of life. It’s a kind of special and glorious paradox that humanity enjoys, creating – inventing – the world around us just as we also discover the facts of it. Call it imagination, call it myth-making, call it the true fiction of life but it’s what humans do and we do it out of necessity. We mythologize. We both invent and discover true fiction. In this way we approach whatever it is that falls within your particular definition or experience of the divine.

Myth is metaphor, after all. And I have discussed at length, in other journal entries, the equation, as it were – a unidirectional congruence, as I’ve termed it – to describe this: MYTH => METAPHOR. It is unidirectional because while every myth is a metaphor, not all metaphors are myths. Remember that a myth, to qualify as a myth, must contain the four functions (awe, cosmology, sociology, pedagogical psychology). Otherwise, dear readers and writers, you are reading or writing something else besides a myth.

Which is okay. I’m only pointing out that people at some point in the development of human consciousness arrived at the preferred or even arguably necessary or essential structure of storytelling, of story as we prefer it, and this is not a bad thing. And it’s hardly an end to things, if you’re concerned about that. Rather, it’s a beginning. Which is to say the content of the form has no limit – we need not fear the exhausting of the font or reservoir of mythology. We will never run out of mythological resources. Call it infinite variations upon a theme. For while we share so much as humans we each contain the spark of individuality that bestows our special place within the cosmos. We are of the Earth and ultimately of stardust. From that we have come to be and to that each of us will return. Meanwhile we enjoy our own individual adventure in the middle. We express time within eternity.

[1] That said, every character you introduce into your story must be developed, they must be real and believable as people with lives of their own. Such is the nature of character development and the talented writer – read any great book or watch any great film – can render even the most otherwise incidental character whole and complete and worthwhile, even memorable, in a sentence or two; by way of a line or two of dialogue, that’s all it takes. And things change: that is to say, Herman Neutic, for example, within TC2, becomes one of the main characters, taking his place fully beside Mr. Z., Vixy and Five as protagonists.