Monday, 28 September 2009

Defining narrative

Many people have written, often nostalgically and full of some kind of longing for a kinder, gentler agrarian past, of how living in the country tunes your senses to the natural world. Maybe it is true of a farmer although I suspect that many may work to rule or calendar, the same as many others.

I do know that as I live longer surrounded by a natural world that insists on imposing attention on me, that times of year are defined by their point in a cycle. If I sat down and wrote it down, I couldn't say when the jacarandas flowered or the silky oak bloomed. I wouldn't be able to pinpoint when the grass stops growing and starts browning and I begin to worry about grass fires. I couldn't point to a calendar and say "here is spring and here is summer and this is when we get these kinds of clouds or those kinds of winds."

For me it is simply that I notice them. I look out the kitchen window and all of a sudden there is purple haze in the trees behind the water tanks. I look out the living room windows and the silky oak is lit up with golden candles. I hear the snake slithering and think "Oh yeah, it must be spring." Instead of my alarm pulling me out of darkness, patterns of light down the hallway wake me earlier and earlier.

And when I notice them, they slot neatly into what has become the right pattern for me. I think human beings are about making patterns and trying to make some sort of sense or order in their lives. My pattern has evolved slowly from an urban model to one more focused on the natural world. It simply surrounds me and forces me to pay attention to it in the same way that traffic and fire-engines, street lights and noises from neighbours punctuated my previous life.

I read an article in the weekend paper recently suggesting that narrative is dead because people don't live lives of patterns but disjointed, chaotic fragments. The writer couldn't understand the enduring popularity of narrative over post-modern writing and urged readers to forgo their naive attachment to story and timeline. For me it is all about making patterns. We want to know if A then B and whether that equals C or something else. And that is the definition of narrative.

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