28 January 2012

Thirty-First Situation: conflict with a god

Georges Polti wrote a book not quite a hundred years ago called The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations. When you consult this manual you are amazed and fascinated by the classification scheme. You probably have to have a touch of madness to be a taxonomist of any sort. Not that I don't appreciate such things. I suppose I'm more of a 'lumper' than a 'splitter,' but I love reading this bizarre little book. It is a lot of fun to play the game and think about all the various situations he describes. Stories are about love and death. Not much more than that. I could have said sex and violence, but it's the same thing. Squeezing thirty-six different plots out of those four fundamentals is an accomplishment. Nutty, but that's OK. The clincher for Polti, though, is the impossibly overwrought prose, leaden with allusions and drowning in names and references in foreign tongues. You can hardly get through three sentences without gagging or guffawing, which makes it brilliant. I picked up my copy for fifty cents or some pittance at a the local library book sale. I love discards. Where else can you find treasures like this? Here's part of the discussion of the Thirty-First Situation, or "conflict with a god":
This remarkable grouping has been in our day almost entirely ignored. Byronists as we still are, bon gré mal gré, we might yet dream of this superb onslaught on the heavens. But no! -- we treat even the evangelical subject of the Passion, while we pass by, this genuinely dramatic situation, and content ourselves with sanctimoniously intoning the idyllo-didactic phrases which preceded the sacred tragedy, -- itself left unseen.
I think they invented WTF as means of textual commentary far too late. Isn't that fabulous? It's the sort of writing, because of the fact that it is actually real and has been reprinted as recently as 1973, that makes me believe crazy stuff like what Dan Brown cooks up in his DaVinci Code books. Part of the problem is that that original work is in French, and this is a translation (by Lucille Ray). But only part. This Polti guy is a kook, but a well-read one, and it is hard not to enjoy his obvious sincerity. I've actually learned a bit about literature as well. He uses examples of his plot types or "Situations" that reference the famous Greeks like Euripides and Sophocles, which inspired me to get some books and read them both. Here's a few of the other Situations: Ninth, Daring Enterprise; Sixteenth, Madness; Twenty-Fifth, Adultery; Thirty-Sixth, Loss of Loved Ones. There are a lot of ways one could slice-and-dice the various forms into which most of our stories fall. It would be pointless, because you cannot classify the infinite. The human heart, head, and soul make a lethal combination. That trinity can generate quite a variety of mayhem, be it good mayhem or bad mayhem, and it all makes for good stories and plots. Whoops, I mean Situations.

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