The Parallel narrative

2024-01-19 @Literature

I’ve a strong intuition this can make for a fascinating topic if we only venture to explore. So come along. Whether you prefer a single file for the sake of respect for passing pedestrian movement along this still narrow corridor, or side-by-side, if you prioritize the front line spectacle over ceremonious courtesy (perhaps better, lest you struggle to hear my soft-spoken voice in the rear), come along on this brief exploratory excursion along the soon-to-become woodland of forking labyrinths.

Art can be interpreted serially as well as in parallel, if not near simultaneously. I think that much we can so far take for granted. Though if you conceive of another fitting paradigm (something spatially clever - I don’t know, diagonal, random-access, etc), do drop me a line.

Now literature, in general, caters to the serial form of expression. We read in one direction. Never mind which, that a property of your native script. And insofar as strictly the initial processing, we perceive the narrative as a linear reel of semantic units, normally sentences or complete phrases.

(At a finer resolution, I’m informed our brain can intake words in batches. For that I defer to the speed readers. Never taken interest in that craft. And in the so-called post-production, having read a substantial quantity, our brain probably constructs some intractably complex network, interconnected anything but serially).

Anyway. We process text, one semantic unit after another. For a common reader lacking cognitive Ninja super-powers, the linear paradigm most seamlessly accommodates a linear narrative: this happens, then that, then I thought this, and she that, then we’re in a pickle, then we persevere, then we’re reconciled. You get the idea.

But some narratives are hardly wanting of a linear development. Some narratives innately lend to the parallel, alas, confined to a linear prison landscape of letters, glyphs, ideograms, runes, and punctuation marks.

Granted, for this to be of interest we must presuppose fine-scale parallelism. A three-part romance of three perspectives of the same event is not the parallelism to which I refer! I’m thinking as close to every phrase/idea/sentence conceivably parallel to every other.

Surreal writings imminently spring to mind. I’m told we dream not linearly, but something closer to parallel. Never mind how we recollect that dream post awakening.

That being the supposed case, the surreal fosters potential for a simultaneous form of percolation. James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake arguably makes for a supreme case. Over seventeen years of increasingly declining health Joyce carved this surreal narrative said to occur simultaneously and comprised wholesomely of neologisms. Be that still unconvincing, the entire novel is a Mobius strip.

As far as Joyce’s earlier magnum opus Ulysses, though on a far coarser scale, certain chapters comprise of vignettes, sometimes interlaced, well catering to the parallel. Elsewhere we find contentious voices producing a near musical polyphony. Revolutionary, yes, though not quiet the parallelism I envision. Penelope, the surreal culminating chapter, probably closest approximates the stratagem of Finnegan’s Wake (neologisms aside).

Cortazar - ah, yes - Cortazar often stellarly conveyed a parallel mosaic in a serial format. Both the novel Rayuella and certain short stories splice together seemingly disparate film reels - yes, fitting analogy - into one. That disparity might manifest in discordant voices, discordant narrative styles, discordant historical periods. Unfamiliar as I was to such practice, it blew my mind.

Now the writings of Borges - many of which I conceive as solid meta-fiction, or at least of a strong meta component (much shared with Cortazar) - though not parallel per se, heavily concern parallelism. Of Ficciones, El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan makes for a strong argument. Examen de la obra de Herbert Quain also, analytically, and sometimes self-referentially explores the paradigm. Of El Aleph, the same self-titled story also conveys something eerily parallel.

Of Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Paramo I’d never yet dared write, feeling quiet insecure in my take. But of what I can be (somewhat) sure is 1) it’s a very surreal short novel (though not in the French surrealism tradition), and 2) though causality manifest, I’d hardly perceived the flow of time. The work felt beyond dimension, and I with an odd assurance of being able to read any passage at any moment and derive no greater sense of confusion than my serial undertaking. (The notion entirely applicable to Cortazar’s Rayuella.)

Literature must know innumerable cases, but I can only recall the handful.

I bring all this up because I inherently prefer the most linearly unconstrained literature; the most unconstrained in general:

The one carrying its own independent existence across countless simultaneous plains; representative more of the intractably parallel and muffled reality than a catered three-act story; the one in which you can drop in as would a casual museum spectator: any room, any painting, plunge and lose yourself in its infinite avenues of imagination to only realize there’s an entire room, an entire floor, an entire museum to yet be surveyed in any indeterminate fashion: any order, any fragment, independently, simultaneously coexisting.

Questions, comments? Connect.