Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Why nothing's important

I like this idea (even if it's an old one, less is more): that nothing is the best thing to say as it can be the most important thing. If what's either side of an ellipse is suggestive enough then the absence, the interstitial space, becomes the most important fact in the piece of writing, or film or whatever.

Just like the linesman refereeing offside is forced to make his arbitration on the basis of peripheral vision and a sort of imaginative joining up of the dots, so the reader or viewer ascertains the most important truth in the subject matter from not being told something straightforwardly but from being invited to imagine it. But it's the act of imagining that invests it with importance: revelation through intuition is just more powerful.

Last week (can't remember where) I read that in Pride and Prejudice it is nowhere stated that Mr Darcy is dark. But every reader knows he is; in fact it's the most important thing about him really. It makes him an archetype.

Another example: in the Tony Richardson film of Look Back in Anger, in the course of one of his rants Jimmy, as played by Richard Burton, turns to the fireplace, away from the viewer, puts his hands on the mantel-piece and just rolls his shoulders. You don't hear anything and you don't see very much at all but it's enough for you to realise that Jimmy is still a scared little boy and it's this pity that makes you want to forgive him his behaviour. Without this forgiveness he's just a bully and the play doesn't work (as it often doesn't).

John Gray in Straw Dogs wrote quite a lot about this unconscious apprehension of things. We do it an awful lot apparently.

UPDATE: Writing this has made me realise why The Kindness of Women by JG Ballard is one of my favourite books. It's perhaps an unlikely word to use of Ballard but it's his emotional reticence that makes the book so lucidly beautiful and affecting.

I've also realised that filling in the gaps isn't an act of imagination: that would be too instrumental. It's more that what we conclude just occurs to us, as an intuition.

9 comments:

elberry said...

i was thinking about this in relation to Michael Mann's 1995 film Heat - it's about 3 hours long but back in the late 80s Mann did a film called LA Takedown with the same story, but only 90s minutes long. The LA Takedown script is much better - your imagination fills in the gaps that Mann tediously elaborates in Heat - and as you say it just happens, you often don't realise you've filled in the gap, even.

Anonymous said...

elbery , that is not the same thing. your just remembering two films and finding out the shorter one has bits missing from the longer.

Anonymous said...

"Filling in the gaps" may well be integral to our appreciation of culture but, taken to its logical extreme, this idea makes for a fairly depressing world view. In "Straw Dogs", as I recall, John Gray makes the point that our conciousness may be considered a comforting illusion, a desperate attempt to impose form and meaning on an ultimately random and uncaring universe. Our brains filter incomprensible amounts of information which, to allow us to function, we render into convenient and friendly forms.

On a brighter note, it's a gorgeus day today isn't it?

Anonymous said...

Rather than leave a comment I am going to leave an interstitial space.............

Anonymous said...

I have long considered anonymous (14.16) a waste of interstitial space.

gaw said...

I guess any book entitled Straw Dogs isn't likely to cheer us up. I suppose we can take consolation from the fact that it's ok for us to just go along with the (meaningless) flow and enjoy the sunshine.

However, nothing I or anyone else says can compete with the portentous blanks provided above. It seems appropriate that you three (?) have abandoned any concept of individual identity given that Gray would have it that the idea of a consistent identity is just illusion.

Kevin Musgrove said...

A quarter of a century's experience in local government has taught me that you can very often discern the shape of the truth by the space left behind by people avoiding it.

Anonymous said...

Was it Gray who thought that any concept of individual identity was just an illusion or was it Lee John of Imagination?

gaw said...

I always thought the most significant part of the song was 'Oooh ooh ooh aha'.