PART 9 LITERARY CRITICISM: CRITICIZING TECHNIQUE IN FICTION ---- SCALE AND OTHER TECHNIQUES
Would Scale (the length of the story) also contribute the concretization of the theme? It would, especially in Impressionistic stories like those of Hemingway. In “A Clean Well-Lighted Place,” which deals with the description of the malaise of hollow men who are bored with living their routinary lives, Hemingway was more than curt in describing the “nothingness” of their lives with the word “nada” (nothing) --- nada y pues nada --- in the context of extremely ordinary and routine things in the lives of menial workers.
Scale refers to the arrangements of the episodes in the story, the chapters in a novel, and the scenes in the play. It may take the shape of its content, i.e., if the actions are fast, correspondingly, they should be written in brief paragraphs; of course, a lot briefer than those Melville-500-word-one-sentence paragraphs (which were mostly descriptions in the deranged mind of Capt. Ahab).
Scale comes to a wonderful use in Nick Joaquin’s “Candido’s Apocalypse” when it creates the episode where the rest of the story’s characters --- the Father, Mother, Aunt, Sister Sophie, and Brother Junior and the Maids --- talk about Bobby Heredia who had been hunting for Pompoy Morel whom he wanted to shoot. Aside from its purpose of characterizing Bobby Heredia (a.k.a. Candido) through their testimony, the episode simulates a film sequence where a fade out in one scene fades in to another, and there is a rapid continuity of disparate scenes which are all on the missing Bobby. This scale tells the background of the story which somehow makes the reader understand why Candido ran and what’s happening to him in the present context of the story. 1
Scale also refers to the length of the expository narrations in the story. Written by an artist who is sensitive to the strengths of his medium, this technical element will not only contribute to the achievement of a verisimilitude but it will also objectify the scene in terms of language (or the medium). For example: In “Candido’s Apocalypse” by Joaquin, the author uses lengthy paragraphs with a mellifluous flow of lengthy sentences that run to 500 words per paragraph when he is narrating a past action. He uses short dialogue lines and brief descriptive paragraphs when he is narrating a present action. The structure of the sentences and paragraphs literally correspond to the duration of the experience or action being narrated. They suggest, through their structural composition, the nature of the experience. This further creates a convincing, palpably present story.
There are as many techniques as there are original literary manners during the different stages of the development of fiction. For instance, Realism demands a strict chronological narration of a story; Impressionism follows the subjective reactions of the narrator, and this reaches its most acute form in the stream-of-consciousness technique which is almost an automatic listing down of random thoughts of the characters as the story unfolds --- the story is told through the different streams of consciousness of the characters without apparent design or logic.
(A forthcoming part in this series discusses the characteristics of this technique. Other literary trends are also explained for purposes of cross-reference --- the student needs the information in order to determine the qualities that make literature in these trends “excellent.”)
The so-called Hemingway technique was demanded by the stark realism which characterized his stories. Besides the spare, almost terse, sentences jibed quite well with his subject matters which were mostly about hurt men who spend their lives telling the world how hurt they are through their silences or their lifestyles --- usually cynical but courageous. For instance, Ole Andreson and Nick Adams in “The Killers”; Robert Cohn and Jake Barnes in “The Sun Also Rises”; the bartender in “A Clean Well-Lighter Place.” His stories were take-offs from his pet theme of “loss of limb is loss of love” and the living of an absurd life with grace in spite of the pressures.
A test of how successful an artist is might be the number of devotees to his technique. Hemingway excited the modern world with his almost journalistic objectivity, but he was simply implementing the aesthetics of Marcel Proust and the French writers he met during his Paris years.
When these borrowed techniques are used, they are supposed to be functional. They must not remain to be pretentious adornments that identify the story with the technique’s originator. They must help in the concretization of the theme --- in other words, they must be the most appropriate techniques for the subject matter being conveyed to the appreciator through the concrete form of the work of art (short story, novel, drama, poetry, and essay). Otherwise, they would simply stigmatize the work as the copycatting of another story by another writer who might just be inferior.
CONCLUSION: CRITICIZING STYLE AND TECHNIQUE
It is actually the artistry employed in the style and technique which excites the intellectual delight in the appreciator. It is the marvelling at how ingenious an artist is in transforming his otherwise inanimate materials into living, moving things in his art form which is a source of the countless joys in art appreciation. This partakes of the marvelling which is not unlike the reaction to the usually unexplainable miracles of childbirth, of love, and the universal verities of compassion, justice, and courage.
The criticism of style and technique results in the appreciation of how excellent the form has been rendered by the artist. The excellence of form is the proper stimulus of the appreciator’s sense of the beautiful (which is after all the ultimate object of activity in art appreciation).
To determine how artistic the work is, the critic must study the different aspect of style and technique. This process will also enable the critic to determine how closely the artist has come to the perfect type of human action --- the creation of an independent being --- a god-like act which becomes man as a proto-type of his Creator.
1 Nick Joaquin, “Candido’s Apocalypse,” The Philippines Free Press, Dec. 11. 1965. Pages 9 et seq.
Next: a Practicum on Literary Criticism --- Applying the Norms
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