All plots point towards death

This is going with the post I put up yesterday- with DeLillo talking about how all plots (narrative, etc) end in death and make conspirators of the readers. It’s an interesting idea, and I think it’s a very Western idea, steeped in our culture that has reduced all stories to variations of Freytag’s Pyramid, the Monomyth (thank you George Lucas for ruining mythology) and Aristotle’s Poetics. It’s interesting when you add these up, add in that thought (of plot=death) and see exactly how we view fiction.

Poetics and tragedy has death in right there, so it all can become literal. Death as ending, death of characters, characters as wooden variations of themselves as they walk around tidying up the story, firing off every gun that was placed on every mantle. Then you have that infamous pyramid, whose basic structure is sex.  Exposition (foreplay), Rising Action (intercourse), Climax (dur), Falling Action (falling on each other all sweaty and out of breath) and Denouement(post-coital bliss).  If you see each act of sex as a reach towards a little death (la petite-mort), then this makes even more sense- plot really is heading towards death, towards orgasm, etc, etc.

And of course, Barthes even flat out said the point of great literature is to give each person a la petite mort right afterwards, give them a little death. That bit of melancholy and expenditure is the purpose of literature. All plot towards death, great literature as a little murder of the soul, an equivalent of a literary orgasm.

But why? Why has this become the de-facto standard of the Western Tradition in our fiction (and some non-fiction who wishes they were novels)? Has the rise of the blockbuster cut off every single other way of experiencing a narrative? Has our need for quick and dirty bang-bang-bang go right towards the smexysmexsmex that important? What about stories that wander, that dance, that have none of these Freytaggian Poetical Pyramid clutch up and get it on structures?

Just thinking.

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9 thoughts on “All plots point towards death

    • Oooh, interesting. I’ll need to hunt that down. I like the idea (I read some blurbs) about Poetics being a form of oppression for the masses. I can’t wait to read that.

      One thought I keep having is about Miyazaki’s movies (like Spirited Away, Ponyo, Kiki’s Delivery Service, etc) they don’t seem to follow any traditional narrative arcs at all, they seem to move in spirals and concentric rings and I love it.

      • I’ve always thought that Miyazaki’s movies were more about experience than plot, and the more I think about it, the more that plot also seems to want to intellectualize a work rather than create a context for for immediate experience, to divorce you at some level from your reactions, a certain kind of alienation, perhaps.

      • That’s true- and also the more a plot becomes a PLOT (a force, an external creature, gaining speed, devouring) the characters have less room to breathe and the reader has less room to experience them. So they become functions inside of the plot, with basic one note signs as a disguise of depth (think A-Team…I mean…the characters are ridiculously one-note). Esp when you get to plot that’s usual praised for it’s mechanical clock work nature (well oiled machine, etc) were people read for the pleasure of the plot versus the pleasure that the work itself brings. It’s interesting, too, how very rarely people notice in a plotty plot book how the characters are boiled down to one basic attribute…a lot of people think they feel more kinship to them.

        Combined with the idea that plot is basically a sexual act, and the characters are all non-existant, it makes books heavy on basic plot into cheap one night stands of a sort.

  1. I think a large part of the problem is that a lot of people have never actually read what Gustav Freytag or Joseph Campbell wrote, they just know the Cliff’s Notes version that was condensed and boiled down a dozen times. Campbell analyzed various myths and found common themes. The one diagram in The Hero with a Thousand Faces actually shows a cyclical form rather than a linear plot. And while Gustav Freytag came up with the pyramid that bears his name, he did not even take his own advice, as anybody who has ever read Die Ahnen, a mammoth cycle of six massive volumes meandering across centuries, can attest.

    • No, I definitely agree on this. I think the main problem (in the US) is the cult of movies and screenplays (some writers don’t even read…WTF? they just try to make movies on paper). And with screenplays everyone practically worships McKee’s Story (a how-to manual that is pretty much to blame for all the shit in Hollywood right now). The movie Adaptation addresses this pretty well 🙂

  2. Pingback: Just Strangle the Damned Cat! – The Problem of Formulaic Storytelling | Cora Buhlert

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