I need you to indulge me. The theory I discuss within this article may be as hard to understand as it is to articulate.
Tonight—even more than those solitudinous nights composing the past few months—I bend the goal of my writing. To understand what I am trying to do, you must ask: "What is the goal of any writing?," and then begin descending in "why's" until you reach some fundamental goal. For instance: "Writing is intended to bring pleasure to people. Why? Because reading allows people to live vicariously through the text's plot. Why do they feel the need to live vicarious? The human condition, Kafka, look I don't know." I don't think it's unique that the idea of something inexistent and revolutionary sends a rapturous shiver through me. Hang with me—it's tempting to click away. The notion that culture has gone from modernism to postmodernism to something, and you could publish that defining something. You could make something so incredibly new wave that it would send powerful undulations throughout the realm of literature. And not in the egotistical sense, like you'd become famous. But in the sense that you've caught lightning in a bottle.
Multimodality is a term usually applied to education and advertising, but the notion can, if you will it, convey so much more. The theory is not new: different "modes" of expression are best able to articulate certain ideas. For instance, an image is best at conveying what something looks like, whereas a text is best at conveying what the image means (through tone/mood/etc.) By applying this term to theatre, film, visual art, music, literature, poetry, glass-sculpture, or any medium of creative expression, you begin to understand that each medium ("mode") is unique in its ability to convey. That's the basics, we'll get back into why understanding this simple theory is the keystone of my current literary fascination soon.
What is the purpose of postmodernism? What is postmodernism? To answer these questions, one must know the purpose of modernism. Which I don't. I'm a highschooler. But what I can say is that there was a feeling of understanding throughout modernist times, even when people disputed between theories. There was a feeling of dogmatism, that some things were—and would always be—invariably true. Postmodernists challenge that with a myriad of literary weapons. They parody, employ irony, reveal paradox, and cumulate this sense of uncertainty into black humor. How could we know anything? You can't even prove that anyone else is conscious, or that the world exists outside your peripheral vision, or that all your memories haven't been implanted. Postmodernism is good and humbling, except when you want to construct something. It's really good at tearing apart arguments, especially those of faith and trust, but it cannot create.
One of the principles of postmodern literature is the use of the "pastiche." For now, we'll simply (and wrongly) define this as the mixture of multiple genres, or styles, or ideas, or situations in order to pay homage or create something new. This is a very simple thing, and often times produces an interesting and fresh take on a particular genre. But it ends there, like a acoustic cover of a metal song. There's nowhere to go with it. A better metaphor would perhaps be that of messing with an image on photoshop—you can crop it, distort it, slap a filter on it, change it in any which way, but in the end it'll just be an altered version of the original.
There is a way to make something . . . more. The equivalent of putting notes together to form a chord, and putting chords in a harmonic progression to form a melody that encapsulates a feeling. I want to encapsulate a feeling, something new and impressive and never-before-done.
You see 16 squares, but also the big one all of them create together. You may also see four squares splitting the big one into quads. Also the small square in the middle comprised of 4 of the smallest squares. Much like this puzzle, text can interconnect to form the big "themes" we learned about in school. I've already discussed in past articles how Infinite Jest is set up like a Sierpinski Triangle, but what I propose is a separate—albeit related—approach. Wallace's book, granted I haven't yet finished it, cumulates into a large theme. The approach I take is similar to the idea behind David Macaulay's award-winning picture book Black and White. In Black and White, four stories are told at the same time with no apparent connection to one another. The reader is encouraged to conjure their own connections—is one story taking place before/after another in chronology, or in a parallel universe, or at the same time? or perhaps one character's setting (the train) is a toy train in another story—and decide for themselves how it relates to their own life. This theory transcends just the scope of one novel—it manifolds into the theory that all texts are related by being created by humans, or by genre, even by plot, or by mode, every story you've ever read, every piece of music, it's all connected. Before we get all pseudo-sciency, it's important to realize the pragmatic intention of creating a piece that interconnects and what exactly it does.
Multimodality—what if you could create a book that was part-picture book, part-text? Minimalism—the approach to literature that attempts to convey a larger theme through the most effective, efficient language (and syntax)—but with modes! This is the plot to my novella: I am drawing the parts where the character walks around, to better convey the feeling of movement through space and time, and writing the parts of dialogue and meaning so that the reader really feels what I'm trying to express. But what "am" I trying to express!? That's the beauty of it, (first off, I haven't finished it, not close, but...)I don't know yet! And hopefully I can connect to the reader in a way where my thoughts can manifest in the other's, but turn into something more still. Like the way a guitar player hears his own voice differently than the listener.
By taking this multi-modal approach to literature, one—theoretically—could create something just as grand as Infinite Jest, but make it even more expressive (and expansive!) I think Wallace knew this. I don't think this is a "new" idea. But taking the idea of interconnecting plots, and interconnecting themes, one may be able to convey something interesting. And that's what it's about, anyways. Being interesting. It's hard to see why else we'd read, or find ourselves lost in serious art. Tilting our perspectives, applying new eyes, transforming our sense of reality.
I may have talked about it before: humans would rather feel pain than be bored. Psychologically, humans find boredom less tolerable. Seriously. That means that if there's a hell, it'd most likely be conscious void than eternal suffering. At least when you're suffering, you're not bored. So, psychologically, the ability to elicit a sense of connectedness, that'd be interesting, considering even if all of us are conscious, we're all alone together. I just cannot stop reiterating that idea from the essay I read in the Boston Library.