I am at a lecture. A lot of the people here are old, but I am kind of young. I am eighteen, which is young but not young like people say I am. I have not been twelve for six years, and when I take off my clothes, don’t say I look so young. I will not put out. Anyway. I am going to a lecture and when I reach to pull up my pants in the bathroom stall, I realize I’m not wearing underwear. I’m not wearing underwear, and I’m not wearing a belt, and probably the man who was sitting behind me (who is old) will see my ass when I sit down again. Everyone is dressed nicely except for me and my bare ass. I am only at this lecture because Kevin sometimes looks like a puppy. This is a narrative, kind of. This is a kind of narrative.
The influence of the internet, the popularity of the television, and the advent of the Kindle (Amazon’s $400 wireless, paperless, space-age “book” machine) all conceivably threaten the sanctity of the narrative, or at least affect its future. This is what Professor Benjamin Widiss of the English Department is telling me. I am ignoring my ass peeking out of my pants in favor of counting the number of times I hear “Harry Potter,” which is two right now. Already too many. Widiss, (who is the best kind of nerd, and a fan of Graphic Novels, which are really just comic books, I’m pretty sure) insists that “the novel is thriving,” suggesting that, contrary to our greatest fears, perhaps the increase in computer literacy is actually positively affecting book literacy. The Internet does offer interesting reading material, like fan fiction. And porn. And fan fiction that is also porn (my favorite), so probably Widiss isn’t making this up. Joking aside, Widiss does applaud the narrative merit of films such as Pulp Fiction and two other films that I’ve neither seen nor heard of, meaning they are probably very indie. Also, very hipster. More and more, he says, the film industry is experimenting with timeline, with framing devices, to break away from the more linear tradition and create more intricate storylines with more narrative complexities. So, like, if Faulkner made movies.
Now, Assistant Professor (and what does that mean?) Sophie Gee’s cell phone is ringing. I am embarrassed for her, but mostly for me, because my ass is still peeking and I wish I had on underwear. She’s getting ready to speak. One more “Harry Potter,” so now I count three. And also one “Twilight.” I kind of like vampires. Gee knows that narrative cannot end because we humans (not vampires) want to distinguish between reality and fiction, so she wonders what narrative has to embody in the future to be read. She wonders this because she is a scholar but also an author, which is maybe a bad boat to be in when we are building premature funeral pyres for narrative. Sophie Gee is the best kind of scholar because she admits that academia is sometimes total bullshit. She admits this is the form of a story about Paul Muldoon, but she admits it nonetheless. Also, she likes to say bullshit. Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit. Sometimes narrative just needs to be about the story and not about the story that is underneath the written story that we, as scholars, are supposed to find. That hidden story is the bullshit story. It is not immediate. Gee says that hot book of the future needs “even more magicians,” and we laugh. I am almost crying from laughing, which makes me think I am not stoned right now, but maybe I am. Also, that’s the fourth “Harry Potter” reference. Of course, the Boy Who Lived is important because he’s challenging the standard set by the modernists of non-linear and semi-incoherent narrative that has been in place since a long time ago. I am young, so I’m not sure how long. According to Gee, these wizards and vampires are our attempt as a culture to “reconfigure exteriority,” by reverting back to more fantastical writing. She says her next book will be about ghosts.
Jeff Dolven, who is the English Department Representative, is maybe the Devil’s Advocate. Or maybe just the Devil, but also maybe totally correct when he says to hell with narrative. Jeff Dolven is about style. Because style is sounding like other people but also like yourself. What does a fingerprint sound like? Style is not linear like narrative is linear. Instead, style is moments outside of time and is therefore free like Jeff Dolven is free. “No matter what they do to you, no matter what they make you do,” is what he just said and is maybe what I will get tattooed on my neck. Even if we don’t have narrative, which we do, we can rely on style. Sophie Gee is biting her nails in the background. She is twirling her hair. I’m biting my nails too, and this is why I love Sophie Gee. Also, she has a cute website. Jeff Dolven just made a joke about premature ejaculation. Sophie Gee said something snarky. This visiting professor, Peter Brooks, is disagreeing with Jeff Dolven. Also, he’s saying we have too much narrative. He wants to be analytic. I want to never be analytic. Either way, we will always have narrative.
We will always have narrative because we rely on it naturally. In psychology, they talk about the phenomenon of the self-narrative. We are always going to narrate. I think this point is fundamental to this lecture, and Benjamin Widiss said it right off the bat, which was kind of too early, I think, which is why I’m only mentioning it now. Human existence is narrative. And sometimes it’s non-linear. And sometimes it’s fantastical. Sometimes it’s deciding what un-ironed Brooks Brothers suit to wear. Other times it’s boy wizards, or Dr. Manhattan (and his blue penis), or Quentin Compson at the bottom of a river. Maybe we’ll starting teaching classes on the narrative in video games, or else we’ll perform close readings of Family Circus. Narrative is changing as our culture changes but not because it has to. Rather, because it can’t not. It is human like we are human, and it’s moving as our bodies move, just like those un-ironed suits.