Thursday, October 29th, 2009

My Brain Doesn't Work Like Jonathan Franzen's

INSIDESo, okay, there is story about narrative and attention span and print and Internet, and part of it goes like this: "'We experience our lives in narrative form,' says novelist Jonathan Franzen. 'If you can't order things in a narrative fashion, your life is a chaotic bowl of mush.'" That is not how I visualize my mind or my life at all! I thought we were all pretty convinced that there were freeway offramp pathways between topics, and filing cabinets of things that are filed next to associated things, instead of by some structured use of the alphabet or by some mental Dewey Decimal system. It is a strandy system of meshes, like in some Charles and Ray Eames movie that doesn't exist that I am probably confusing with something else but in which a 3D atomic logo has a little sparky bulb floating around its metal tracks. It most certainly is not like "And then next in April of 1993…" in my brain. Or not even "And I understood Experience X because previously Things Y and Events Z occurred to me," though there of course is some neural pathway buildup thingie that maybe resembles this, expect in the mix are ideas about how to properly cook onions and what burnt beard tastes like and how hot things will burn your hands, or something. Anyway I read this whole article and IDK. That's Internet chat abbreviation for I DON'T KNOW. I've looked at clouds from both sides now!

20 Comments / Post A Comment

theDRA (#1,108)

first? ( sorry I HAD to do that to this post)


brianvan (#149)

No more meth for you today. Tell Mr. Agassi it was lovely hanging out, but time to go home.

josh_speed (#97)

I call all the cognitive processes I have either 'Connect The Dots', 'Ha! That Is Funny Because It Is A Non-Sequitur' or a craving. The arrive opportunistically, these processes, and the craving happens later in the day.

Snidely (#1,980)

Thank you for linking to the last page of the piece. Now I feel like I definitely don't need to read the rest of it.

iplaudius (#1,066)

We do not experience our lives in narrative form. We experience time, and things happen "in time," and our brains associate those things with other things. But narrative is not something we "experience." It is something we make.

NinetyNine (#98)

I didn't read the links, because that might mean I would willfully be reading anything involving Jonathon Franzen, but I take it that he simply saying what some developmental psychologists have argued for a long time — that general sense of normative behavior is tied to understanding narrative. Like small children start appending stories with "THE END" because that punctuation is a significant marker in social interaction (I AM DONE TALKING). Though, given your propensity to 'creatively' use punctuation, perhaps it should be seen as a cry for help. THE END?

Baboleen (#1,430)

My life is a travelogue of picture postcard charms.

sox (#652)

Wouldn't it be "And I understood Experience Z because previously Things X and Events Y occurred to me,"?

On other notes, I do find myself thinking in the writing/narrative style of whatever book I am reading at the moment. Does that happen to anyone else?

josh_speed (#97)

Yes! Which is reason enough to avoid some authors. :-)

MatthewGallaway (#1,239)

I'm still mad at WaPo for running that puff piece by the ex-lesbian about that cretin who hates gays, which is to say I couldn't get to the beginning of the piece quoted above with registering (which in turn is to say I'm about to discuss something without having read it), but my take (derived from Richard Rorty and perhaps best exemplified by Proust) is that one (if far from the only) plausible purpose of the novel/longer forms of writing is to construct a narrative out of the seemingly endless stream of random shit that makes up life and present it in a way that makes it seem as if it were 'meant to happen' (aka 'Time Regained'). This is obviously a great raison d'etre if you're in the business of constructing narratives out of random shit, but Franzen makes it sound as if anyone who is NOT in the business is 'beneath him,' which is maybe why he sounds like an snobby asshole? All of which is to say that I bet Franzen read Rorty 15-25 years ago, picked up the vocabulary, but subsequently distorted the message. OMG is it possible to discuss Rorty/Proust without sounding like a snobby asshole? If not, I apologize in advance :(

lempha (#581)

Hmm. I feel like maybe, 'We experience our lives in narrative form,' is false, but I do think there is something possibly universal (or perceived to be universal) about human beings constructing narratives out of experience. Even people who don't spend much time writing tell stories and have experience with constructing narratives on that level, etc., etc.

I think that this idea that our brains force narratives onto 'random' experience is actually pretty tired at this point, and I think Jonathan Frazen probably recognized that when talking to the reporter. Sometimes when I am saying things that I think are obvious or boring I have a tendency to overstate them, and I have this picture in my mind of Franzen feeling self-conscious about his own lack of insight and doing just that. But, obviously, that whole scenario is completely made up and Jonathan Franzen could just be being insufferable like usual.

My brain is modeled on Amtrak; there are narratives, platforms and onramps. Mostly it's stalled in a tunnel.

elecampane (#1,877)

If JF thinks like this, it explains why he writes the way he does.

I like walking down the windy sidewalk that your plastic bag of a mind twirls in!!

askryan (#1,323)

Is there even a point in discussing this? Hasn't everyone already realized that Jonathan Franzen is the worst?

kian (#1,842)

As someone with Aspergers, I find it very difficult to follow stories. I enjoy reading dictionaries and encyclopedias because you don't have to follow the yarn, so to speak. My brain is always a "bowl of mush" because I see things only in black and white, true or false, and logical or illogical. I don't see the nuance and context that other people naturally pick up on. The flip side is that I see logic where other people don't, which is quite useful in science and math.

KarenUhOh (#19)

I'll wait for the video game.

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