13 Jan 2009

Narrative and Power in Scott Wollschleger’s Story Store

by Corry Shores

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[This entry is a comment to Scott Wollschleger's entry Scott Wollschleger's Sunday Afternoon Delirium and Further Thoughts About...]

What are the value of stories if they tell themselves and tell endless more? What gives a story power? Where do stories store their power?

Consider Aesop’s Fox and Grapes story:

A thirsty fox sees grapes dangling from high. He jumps and jumps. Finally, he stops. “They were sour.” He concludes.

A Deleuzean literary criticism would look for narrative intensities. I assess that the sharpest contraction of difference is to be found at the precise moment he stops jumping.

When differences are contracted into each other, this is an instant of intensity, and also an instant of becoming. At the moment a match is struck, it is both wood and fire. It is both wood and not wood, and it is both fire and not fire. It is both and neither, all at the same time, because there is an infinitely small duration when the transition is at its peak – when there is pure becoming.

Difference as repetition occurs when there is a change of dimension, domain, level, degree, and so forth. If desire becomes meaning, this would be repetition for Deleuze.

In the case of the fox, he began with a simple bodily desire for nourishment. While jumping, he did not give the grapes any meaning. Normally we do not give food meaning. However, when Catholic priests convert the bread to Christ’s body, there is not just a transition from one substance to another (a transubstantiation); it is not just bread to flesh. It is also matter to meaning. The bread is still bread. And it is flesh. And it is profoundly symbolic or meaningful. It became a symbol.

So the grapes began as being an object in an immediate relation to his bodily drives.

The next factor in a Deleuzean literary critique would be an analysis of the affirmation of chance in the moment of intensity.

An intensity is a tendency. At every moment, things are tending some way or another. But the way things are tending is not always where they go, because there is chance.

To affirm chance would mean to actualize a tendency at any one point, and to send the forces in that direction. At one point, the fox affirms the fact that by chance at that precise moment he did not obtain the grapes. He does not deny himself the grapes. He affirms the forces at work at that precise instant.

But by actualizing these forces, they explicate into a higher dimension. So at this moment, there were forces of desire directing him toward the grapes. But arbitrarily at one instant he affirmed the fall of the dice, that he did not at that moment attain the grapes. This causes the intensities to explicate, and hence it causes the grapes (and the fox's desire) to express themselves on a higher level. The grapes are no longer just objects in an immediate relation to his body. They become something more. The grapes are now expressed both as something that can be eaten, and as something meaningful. For now the grapes have been interpreted. Before there was not meaning ascribed to them. After the affirmation of chance, they become meaningful. They symbolize sourness. Or it could be said they obtained a property they did not previously explicitly express; for they now are sour. And the fox's physical desire now expresses itself as hermeneutic cognition.

So traditionally this story has been interpreted to mean that the fox rationalizes his failure by devaluing the grapes.

A Deleuzean read would come to a contrary conclusion. The fox creates value for the grapes, a symbolic value. The grapes in the moment of his affirmation of chance are becoming-symbolic. Or we could say that the fox’s desire is becoming-symbolic. It expands to a higher exponential power or dimension.

What I want to note is that in Scott’s story, the moments of intensity involve limitations that are overcome by narrational affirmations. For example, when the store clerk does not know the price of the oysters, there is sharp intensity in the narrative where anything could happen. The clerk affirms that by chance he does not know at that moment what the price of the oysters is. So that tendency toward determining the price expanded into a higher power, into the power of narration. He tells the story (he gives the account) that any oyster could have a pearl, which makes their value uncertain. The reason that the clerk does not know the value of the oysters is no longer because he failed to learn it. Rather, it is because there is a story about how the price was never determinable to begin with. Here ignorance became rational argumentation and knowledge of fact.

Now we have another moment of intensity, because the woman’s response could be anything. She could have called the clerk’s bluff. But instead at one moment she affirms that by chance the clerk’s story created a domain of narration, which she entered by telling her own story. She says that science has found a way to make any oyster produce pearls. No longer a rare commodity, the value of pearls becomes negligible, and so it does not matter whether or not the oysters have pearls or not. For, pearls would not increase their value anyway. Originally the woman was placed at the mercy of the clerk’s story. But she affirmed that by chance narration held power at that moment, and spun her own even more powerful story. Her position of narrative vulnerability became a positive position of narrative power, because she crossed a limit into another domain.

Now we enter immediately into another narrative intensity, because the clerk could do many things here as well, including telling a more powerful story. But he affirms that by chance the power of the woman’s story is overwhelming, and he affirms that by chance he is ignorant at that moment of the price. His ignorance becomes expressed at a higher power of factual knowledge when he finds the actual price of the oysters.

Again we encounter a narrative intensity, because the clerk could do many things at this point. But he affirms that by chance he is not a good grocer, and instead affirms his tendency towards being an artist. The grocer here becomes an artist.

He loses his job and his home, and faces another moment of intensity. He could do anything about his poverty and homelessness. What does he do? He creates a short story called, "It Is Because I have No Home That I Have the Greatest Power in This World" and he kills himself.

Then what happens? The story of his life is told by the taxi driver to Scott Wollschleger. The grocer became an artist and then became a story. Let’s examine this final part.

At the beginning, the grocer obtained power by telling the women a clever story about the price of oysters. In a sense, even as a grocer he is implicitly an artist. He is a story-crafter. When he loses his job, he crafts a story that somehow explains that his homelessness is a source of his power. We might also say that the loss of his job caused him to write a story that gave him power, all by means of the power of narration to create fictional realities in which one is secure and in power. But having power does not bring happiness. He has all the power in the world, but still loses hope. He then affirms that by chance he has chosen the wrong thing, narrative power, and sees no other solution, and kills himself. While it might seem that his suicide was a negation, it was instead a creative affirmation of becoming. Here the man affirms his proficiency as an artist, and dies in a legendary way, with the remarkable and curious story in his pocket. He himself thereby becomes a story, which is told by the taxi driver, then told by Scott Wollschleger, then told again by me.

Wollschleger ends by wondering about the relationship between internal limits and power. I offer the above literary analysis as material for a possible answer.

The man was a grocer, but implicitly in him was an artist. He needed to overcome internal limitations to become an artist. But this overcoming did not destroy his self as a grocer, because as a grocery clerk he had tendencies toward narrative creation. He merely expressed them more explicitly when becoming a creative short-story writer. But even as a writer, he was implicitly something even more powerful. He himself also was a story to be retold over and over long after his death, which in a way immortalizes him. By killing himself in a legendary way, he overcame these internal limits and expressed himself at a much higher exponential level. The narrator became narration.

There are many stories within stories stored in Scott’s story, and maybe many more are in store. Wollchleger’s story may continue to express itself at higher exponential powers, if by chance its implicit tendencies are affirmed.

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  1. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



  2. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.