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Saturday, December 06, 2003

Explaining my semester project
My last semester�s academic project on the �diegesis� centred on what I had termed the �simplestory and the superstory�. To put it in more non-academic terms, a simplestory is one that is small in scale, complete in terms of motivations and more plausible and sensitive to basic human emotions: contrasted with the superstory, that is epic in proportion, more long-term logical, and almost always lacking in basic motivations. To explain with an example, in a simplestory, a person�s death is an important event; while in a superstory, like in war stories, death is another statistical trifle.
This post-modern, post-structural view of stories, I proposed, could be used to analyse almost any kind of narrative: from mythological epics, to news, to archaeology, to macroeconomics. In a deSica neo-realist film, unemployment is the protagonist, whereas in capitalist economics, there requires to be a certain level of unemployment if one is to contain inflation.
No story is pure simplestory or pure superstory. There are elements of each in every narrative. Take our epics. The Mahabharatha and the Ramayana, The Iliad, or The Odyssey, in their abridged forms are perfect superstories: they gloss over many things, in the sense that if one were to ask the questions �Could this happen �here� and �now�?� or �Could this have happened �then� and �there�?� the answer would be a definite �No!� That is the whole deal with mythological stories and that is what makes them fascinating; enigma is what makes a myth.
History, on the other hand, is also superstory, but it is more substantiated compared to the myth. Most of the substantiation comes from authorship (author here is not the originator of the story but the narrator or �re-teller� of the story). One technique employed to un-mythify or historify a myth is to give it substantiation and authorship. Idolatory and authorship in religious mythology serves this purpose of historification. All religious texts, though having evolved over time, are assigned singularly identifiable authors in order to give credibility. Pilgrim sites and relics serve the same purpose. The VHP tried to historify a myth by claiming that a town in UP is the Ayodhya of the story.
Thus, the superstory can be further classified as synchronic or diachronic. Synchronic is when the retelling takes place at one point in time, like in the archaeological story. Diachronic is when the retelling has taken place through time. A synchronic diegesis appears more scientific and objective whereas a diachronic, or �evolved� diegesis is liable to be easily dismissed. That is why attaching dates is important if a myth has to sound like history. This took place �then� and �there�.
Basically, elements of a simplestory substantiate the superstory. Cinema is very much like the superstory. It has unexplained motivations and people do not question illogicality and incompleteness. Film students talk of a term called Medias Res. Every retold story starts in medias res. It is the human audience�s ability to find �closure� that results in successful diegeses. This need and ability to find closure comes out of the fact that when it comes to diegeses, there are no authors and audiences, but only a series of �re-tellers�. Exposition creates re-teller interest, and motivates closure, and therefore is the cornerstone of successful storytelling.
Exposition lies in capturing simplestory sentiments. Let this model of the diegesis not be misunderstood as superstories garnished with simplestories. The diegetic process is not that deliberate.
Phew! That was the crux of my project. Why am I putting it up here? Maybe someone, somewhere, sometime, might find some use for it.
Update 9th Dec: As a rejoinder to Chandrachoodan�s comment about advertising and TVC�s, I have to explain that even though advertising attempts to relate on a human-emotional level, and the fact that the stories told are smaller in scale, they are primarily superstories because they are loaded with rhetoric. Rhetoric is huge component of superstories; simplestories are non-rhetorical. The failure of some ad campaigns, according to me, can be attributed to the fact that they sometimes tend to be simplestories with hardly enough rhetoric. One example is the India Shining TVC. It has all the potentials of being a powerful treatise on national development but it fails on two counts. One, it is a badly put together set of visuals, therefore there is little aesthetic appeal; two, as I said earlier, there is hardly enough rhetoric. Good art tries to avoid rhetoric. That is why advertising and sometimes even cinema can never be �art�.
In conclusion: This theory of mine would be classified as a diachronic superstory. It is large scale and evolving.

11:33 pm



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