Boar poker, vanishing crabs and the limits of imagination

Brother Eared is a mystic. The Many Worlds have been revealed to him, and he started the tale of his revelation over the past couple of weeks. You can find the comics in sequence here, here and here.

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It’s also possible that he cheats at cards, at least according to his brother Feared.

This chapter will be the longest that we’ve posted so far at Little Grey Pages and the first step into the bigger universe we’ve created. I haven’t done any large scale worldbuilding in a while. The whiteboard above my desk is busy again.

For me, this is the difficult work. It’s why I’ve avoided writing science fiction and fantasy in recent years; it feels much more natural (comfortable?) to write in unfamiliar terms about familiar people in familiar places. When these variables are known and shared, I feel that I better focus on the writing itself earlier in the process.

It’s funny. As artists and writers and musicians, we want to emphasize that the potential of the imagination is endless, particularly to students and novices, and perhaps it is as a starting point. But as you begin to work, the possibilities narrow with each detail, and as the work nears completion, the number of available paths becomes fewer and fewer at each intersection. At the end of Going After Cacciato, Tim O’Brien presents this problem as part of a larger discussion of personal/political obligation in a surreal press conference of sorts held between two of the main characters. I’m reminded of the passage often as I write.

“Even in imagination we must obey the logic of what we starred. Even in imagination we must be true to our obligations, for, even in imagination, obligation cannot be outrun. Imagination, like reality, has its limits.”

Frankly, it sounds a bit nutty to say that we have a duty to the characters we create, that once desert is established by the imaginary actions of one of these imaginary agents, it must be resolved, as if this resolution is a thing in the world. But the debt must be paid. The obligation must be fulfilled. So it goes with melody and contrasting visual elements. When time is a factor in art – in writing, music and film, for example – the resolution can be postponed, but not for too long and not indefinitely, unless that’s the thesis – that the failure must end in failure, that the man will never change, that evil will always exist if not prevail, that contrition does not guarantee redemption, etc. Even then, even the most open-minded of us must admit to some dissatisfaction, even if this dissatisfaction is the point. Sometimes it just feels like a stunt. Art for artists. Art that makes people not “in the know” feel like the joke’s on them. John Cage comes to mind.

I tend to think of my work as a puzzle in the making. Scattered pieces that need to be cut and fashioned to fit together. It feels productive, engaged in a craft. Some are too large or too small. Some, you find, are pieces of another puzzle entirely. But even then, when 97 pieces of the 100 are placed, the last three must be shaped to conform to the arrangement of the rest or else the puzzle will never be solved if there’s a solution at all.

Soap bubbles?

It’s from a passage in John Dos Passos’ Three Soldiers:
Through the window at the opposite side of the ward he could see a bit of blue sky among white scroll-like clouds, with mauve shadows. He stared at it until the clouds, beginning to grow golden into evening, covered it. Furious, hopeless irritation consumed him. How these people enjoyed hating! At that rate it was better to be at the front. Men were more humane when they were killing each other than when they were talking about it. So was civilization nothing but a vast edifice of sham, and the war, instead of its crumbling, was its fullest and most ultimate expression. Oh, but there must be something more in the world than greed and hatred and cruelty. Were they all shams, too, these gigantic phrases that floated like gaudy kites high above mankind? Kites, that was it, contraptions of tissue paper held at the end of a string, ornaments not to be taken seriously. He thought of all the long procession of men who had been touched by the unutterable futility of the lives of men, who had tried by phrases to make things otherwise, who had taught unworldliness. Dim enigmatic figures they were–Democritus, Socrates, Epicurus, Christ; so many of them, and so vague in the silvery mist of history that he hardly knew that they were not his own imagining; Lucretius, St. Francis, Voltaire, Rousseau, and how many others, known and unknown, through the tragic centuries; they had wept, some of them, and some of them had laughed, and their phrases had risen glittering, soap bubbles to dazzle men for a moment, and had shattered. And he felt a crazy desire to join the forlorn ones, to throw himself into inevitable defeat, to live his life as he saw it in spite of everything, to proclaim once more the falseness of the gospels under the cover of which greed and fear filled with more and yet more pain the already unbearable agony of human life.