Literary devices

A friend of mine recently moved from Georgia St where he had lived the past three (turbulent) years of his life – to Georgia. Now he believes the street name was an omen – or a literary device in the plot of his life! There was order amidst all the turbulence after all, since the omen was there all the time, pointing towards his future. Sure enough, if his life had been a book, the street name may well have been interpreted as a literary device called foreshadowing. Similarly, another friend of mine has referred to her post-highschool suburbian one-room flat as a “stylish studio on St Stuart Street.” This flat had a great meaning to her life, being the first place she lived on her own. Today, years later, she describes this flat with words that conjure up an ominous, magical glow for her time in that flat. The magic, or a sense of extraordinary significance, is reinforced by a literary device called alliteration in the nickname she has given the place. (Alliteration = repeating consonant sounds,usually in the beginning of each word; in this case “st”.)

Can our lives really be viewed as stories? Maybe my friends are nutcases, seeking meaning in such things, but they are not alone. Many people say things like: “That was a weird situation – like a scene from a crime story!” Nevertheless, to even subconsciously or playfully suppose that our life is a story raises a bunch of questions. Is there an author, for example? – A god of some sort? At least there must be a kind of fate in place – a force that drives the plot onwards. Let us suppose our life really is a story, and the author tries to leave clues and omens and give significance to certain events through literary devices. Let us suppose there really is “something more than the eye can see” reflected in the ways the events follow literary devices or symbolism. – In that case, when do we get to decide when and which literature devices are being used? According to Freud, for example, a simple dream of an apple may be an allegory for suppressed infantile sexuality. Traumatic experiences can be found from anybody’s childhood, but can one justify what comes later on by drawing a parallel from a specific traumatic experience and call it foreshadowing? I once heard a 70 year old lady with an alcohol problem blame her drinking on loneliness; a same kind of loneliness she felt when her older sisters refused to play with her during childhood. Does that account for foreshadowing, when there is a gap of 65 years between the events? While I by no means deny the importance of childhood to our personalities, I am against seeking unjustified parallels with earlier experiences. Maybe a thousand situations from the childhood of the lady in question,  suggesting she has had several close friendships, have been omitted from the story. In hindsight, it is always possible to “see the literature”, identify the antagonists, climaxes, imagery etc as one pleases.

Also, if the author/fate/whatever has left hidden clues in our lives through literary devices, I think moving from Georgia Street to Georgia is a rather lame turn in the plot. Predictable, vulgar, boring.  Is my friend a part of a bad story? Can you grade a person’s life story into good and bad, as you can with novels? Furthermore, is it better to be a bestseller or a difficult, intellectual story? Do you want to be a story that can make millions or one that gave no remuneration to the author?

I believe separating life from storytelling is increasingly difficult with the proliferation of all kinds of media. We are continuously overwhelmed by a multitude of stories. TV soap operas, commercials, YouTube videos etc. Imagine how our agrarian forefathers lived; their days went from morning to evening with only a single “narrative”, i.e. what they did. In addition to that, they heard and told stories now and then. Their “story” was probably not the dense meta-narrative, laden with smaller stories and analysis it is today. It is unlikely they would regard events as “just like in a crime story!” My opinion is that we are today so overwhelmed with stories, told using literary devices, that we believe life itself to have a plot. We see so many happy endings, bad guys going to jail, scenes where justice prevails. We see kitschy little children give flowers to politicians, we see the ugly betties turning into swans. We see these things and forget that life really is a sequence of events. A chain of events, going from moment to moment.  We breath in and out from moment to moment.

Turning the question upside down, is there a novel without literary devices? A novel that describes our life as it is? No fancy tricks, no storytelling? Where a cigar is just a cigar. Portrayal of the events that take place from cradle to grave. Maybe if such a book has ever existed, it never sold a single copy? (Perhaps with certain exceptions – Proust and some branches of postwar existentialism? Maybe others as well, I am not so familiar with literature history.) It would be a novel describing events as they follow each other, from moment to moment.

Take a look around you. Describe where you are. In front of you is a computer screen, perhaps the computer is on a desk. There may be walls and a window. Your life is right here, in front of your eyes and within the reach of your ears and fingertips. The chair may be comfortable, you may have a coffee cup next to you. Maybe you’re tired or frustrated or calm or happy. Several moments have passed as you have read this paragraph. Your life has proceeded on from moment to moment.

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5 responses to “Literary devices

  1. I do remember reading about a play/”theatre experience” once that involved a real-life family moving onto a stage for a few weeks and just going about their daily business, while the audience could come and go as they pleased and watch them – like Big Brother, but a lot earlier. Saying that, though, I can’t find anything about it on Google, but I’m 99% sure I’ve read about it!

    And yes, I agree that people seem to add meaning where there is none quite often, especially when it comes to coincidences. However, when it comes to harking back to childhood experiences – it is our childhood that makes us who we are, is it not? (At least partly, anyways.)

    I just hope that if there is some author up there writing my life, that it’s Tolstoy or Proust or some other writer with really long works – I want to live for a long time!

  2. I hadn’t even thought of Big Brother, but of course, it fits right in the picture! 🙂 I guess my point about the childhood is a bit vague; I’m not saying that childhood doesn’t affect the way we turn up, only that some people find connections from childhood that are far-fetched. This, I believe, is the result of the theory of psychoanalysis having gained such wide appreciation and influence throughout society. Everybody around us seems to be looking for “traumatic childhood experiences” to left, right and center. I’m not talking about the really traumatic experiences, but the more mundane, everyday life ones. Some hardship comes across everybody, such as a mother sternly telling a kid to keep away from the stove etc. Of course, some kids are more delicate than others, but surely not everybody is fragile?

  3. What a delight to find this blog. Excellent conversation on existentalism.

    I would posit that it is not so much what happens to us in childhood but what we ultimately make of it. My life has been more than the average person’s tragedies but I encourage folks to wake up each day determined to find positive meaning in their lives and reasons to go on.

    Please take a look at the chapters in my upcoming book posted on my site for how I have used life experiences to define values. http://www.brendabartellapeterson.com

  4. Pingback: happy endings « THE HANBABLOG

  5. Pingback: Crime stories « THE HANBABLOG

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