June 07, 2010
Ruminating a bit more on Mojo's post here about art as a creative act:
When I form people and their worlds, and their characteristics, beliefs, and philosophies, then set them loose to see what they’ll do when I give them a particular set of circumstances, I am not worshipping God. I am God.
Listening to a discussion about Lost (which I have never watched) last Sunday morning on NPR, I again marveled at the penchant we have for endowing with life and agency what Kiefer Sutherland described (Saturday on NPR in regards to 24) as "the fantasy of two writers."
We know full well it's the product of somebody sitting at a word processor (and Avid machine) and pounding on keys. But at the same time, somehow, we don't. And somehow, it isn't.
This strange--probably innate--ability to disassociate creator and creation is yet another reason why atheists will rid the world of God about the same time that the "abstinence only" advocates rid the world of randy teenagers.
But while a rational--though playful and adventurous--God is one thing. A Greco-Roman God that just stumbled out of bed after a weekend-long bender is quite another. As exuberantly entertaining as they can be at times, the inevitable hangovers aren't worth it in the long run.
That's the metaphor that springs to mind whenever I encounter a story in which it becomes obvious that the writer had no idea, starting out, where the whole thing was going to end up (other than face down in a gutter somewhere). "Free" and "undisciplined" aren't synonyms.
My answer to the claim that characters take on a life of their own (which they do) is to say that, even so, the writer is by no means compelled to tell us (or even know) everything they do. This gets back to the age-old teleological debate over agency and omniscience.
So I find it perfectly natural that the most popular narrative style in the western tradition is multiple-viewpoint, limited omniscience. In other words, polytheism with finite gods. Because, as I have Milada explain here (an idea that came to me reading The Aeneid):
Rome never fell. We are her children and have inherited all that she was. Her language, art, architecture, politics and governance, her coliseums, her entertainment. Her religion and her gods. Only streamlined, made more efficient, and given new names.
Nicene Christianity is monotheism for people who can't count. Paul wasn't overthrowing a world view so much as he was upgrading it to version 2.0. (This is also why C.S. Lewis is so comfortable populating his stories with pagan characters). As Paul preached in Athens:
I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you (Acts 17:22-23 NIV).
If you like, call it the "federalist" view of the divine (admittedly more Hamiltonian than Jeffersonian).
Though getting back to my writerly analogy, Dick Francis said that he wrote in the first person to avoid POV violations. That's a good reason. And it works for the same reason that strictly monotheistic religions tend towards legalism: the absolute control of the narrator.
Which makes them equally lousy foundations for practical politics without a separation between church and state. In other words, monotheistic creators are fine when you have a whole bunch of them competing with each other and avoiding the rabid fan groupthink thing.