John Walker's Electronic House

by on Oct.31, 2004, under The Rest

Extraordinary things are afoot.

It is endlessly obvious to observe, but it remains remarkable when so many ‘coincidences’ all occur at once, in so helpful a way.

So much is providing me with answers and angles for my thoughts on Story, and how it affects one’s life. I presume that a large part of this is like that tricksy sensitivity to a certain word that can haunt you everywhere you go. Suddenly everyone is saying “eschew”, and you can’t stop hearing it. (I’d love it so much if someone were to be experiencing that for the word “eschew” when they read that). So perhaps I’m just more keenly noticing the occurrences of the idea of Story, despite no increase in its appearance. And yet, despite such rational thoughts, it’s still flipping odd. It’s a good job I carry a notepad around with me, as it’s getting written on with almost every conversation I have. This means one of two things: I’m onto something interesting here, and it will be great to cobble it all together; or this is all so incredibly obvious that everyone’s already got a deep understanding of it, so much so that it appears regularly in their conversation.

Oh yes, there’s a third option. I keep bringing it up.

So here’s a snippet from tonight. And again, a coincidence, I swear it.

Driving Jo home, she sees a plastic bag doing an American Beauty impression, which reminds her of the character in the film observing that every single thing has a story. She points at the empty service station cardboard coffee cup on my dashboard, bearing some dreadful legend like, “Coffee Cuddles” or whatever it might be, and says, “That mug has a story. It was made in a factory by a number of people, designed by someone, used by someone else. It has a whole story to tell.”

I’m aware that this, to a large extent, is observing that time is linear and that actions have consequences. But to the extent that’s important to all my brain-whirring, it’s about recognising Narrative in everything. And I think there’s a lot of common ground between these two ideas, which is all crucial. Thinking back to the thing about Bush and Kerry below, the central point of the thoughts (and goodness knows, it’s hard to make that argument with any conviction – further emphasising the point I suppose) is that people refuse to recognise consequence when thinking about what to do next. I had an enormously frustrating email conversation with someone who refused to even engage in this notion when telling me I was wrong. I may well be wrong, but I’m not going to learn how when someone refuses to even acknowledge consequence and take it into account when deciding what to do next. I think it ties in to recognising life as a narrative – a story, where the plot so far cannot be ignored, and the direction in which things are heading must be taken into consideration.

Because what we really need is a good ending. And a good ending does not necessarily mean a good tomorrow.

Please, someone, make it your impending plot to open a coffee shop called Coffee Cuddles.

10 Comments for this entry

  • antichaos

    “she see’s a plastic bag”

    Chapter 6, in which the apostrophe police come and murder John in his sleep.

  • antichaos

    Ok, here’s a more helpful note…
    Is there a parallel here to the argument from design? If seeing a complex watch makes us think there must be a watchmaker, does seeing a complex story point us towards a storyteller? Does that argument fall down in the same way the watch one does (because complexity doesn’t really imply design, so we’re just giving names to things we can’t explain), and does it also rise up and point us to something deeper about ourselves (that we all have some innate sense, or filter, for design and for story…and where did THAT come from.)?

  • Tim R

    I eschew these theories. Story derives from the conception of desires and their fulfillment, cessation, mutation or thwarting. We can muse about the story behind a coffee cup or plastic bag, but all we are doing is using an inanimate object to link between the people who have designed it or used it, or disposed of it etc. Their desires might be interesting, but the link is entirely arbitary, even aleatory. It is not even as if the objects are objects of desire in their own right – if we substitute a coffee cup for Mambrino’s helmet, or even the metal bowl Don Quixote mistakes for Mambrino’s helmet, we might be getting somewhere, because the object is one of desire, even if it one of mistaken desire, in the latter example.

    This does not address antichaos’s point, I’ll think about that over lunch.

  • Andy Krouwel

    There’s a cold going around.


    < ”That mug has a story. It was made in a factory by a number of people, designed by someone, used by someone else. It has a whole story to tell.”>
    Yeah, the mug has a story to tell, but on my bookcase I’ve got a squishy giant eyeball in shocking pink, filled with an unspecified fluid, floating in which are dozens of other, smaller, squishable eyeballs.
    It also leaves an unpleasantly sticky, indelible pink coffee ring wherever its put down.
    It says ‘made in China’ on it. You have to wonder what the hell the people in that factory are thinking.

    Or what I was thinking when I bought the accursed item at a festival a few years ago.

    Oh, Jung, Synchronicity, that sort of thing.

  • John

    Tim: While your comments are very lovely, they in no way counter the point you appear to be opposing. Just because the object doesn’t interest you, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a narrative to its existence. This in no way implies that it’s an interesting narrative (however, I’d be inclined to suggest that most things will have something of interest somewhere), and that you make exceptions for an object from a favourite text doesn’t do an awful lot for your argument.

  • Tim R

    John: lovely is a comment that I did not expect. I don’t think I made an exception for Don Quixote, I thought I was suggesting that even in this most favourable situation, it is DQ who makes the object interesting, but the object is not really interesting in its own right – from a story point of view, that is. I haven’t denied the interest of all of scientific inquiry simply because, say, photosynthesis is not the story of two chlorophyll molecules that fell in love, but were barred by the evil Calvin Cyle. Photosynthesis is interesting, but it is not story (though it can be used as metaphor in story). I don’t know if I can chlorify – sorry, clarify – my point further.

  • always_black

    I had similar (but with less educated references) thoughts a good few years ago. I think the conclusion that I came to was that narrative resides only in the observer and objects (or any other percievable stimulus) hold only interpreted data, meaning.

    That meaning also only resides in the observer, I think I concluded that narrative was simply an organisation of interpreted stimuli.

    Very basic, but it made sense to me. We store semantics with stimulus as we recieve it. When we re-encounter similar stimulus we recall the stored semantics. The method of storage has some inherent form of cross-association (could that be a form of compression algorithm, do you think?) and the end result is narrative constructed from the bits on the fly.

    I look at this desk and see a two pence piece. I remember the time I put one in my mouth as a kid and its metallic taste. I remember a time in a shop when I was two pence short of a packet of cigs. I remember a pile of them that stood on the bar where I had my first job.

    I might have been stoned when I was thinking that.

  • John

    I’m not denying the structuralism and semiotics of objects, and the inherent meaning we place upon them by our human interaction. We can get all Barthes about it, and start wondering if a table is really a table unless we give that shaped object the meaning “table”, and hence create it a history that led to its becoming a “table”.

    However, I’m not going this deep in my thought. I am recognising that there is a narrative to the creation of an object. No, the object is not conscious of this, obviously not. However, this doesn’t change the fact that I can tell you the Story of how the object came into being in my possession. That I can do that means there is Story for that object. It doesn’t matter how that comes about – that I can tell you, “The cup was first invented by Andrew Cup after he got fed up of scalding his hands when drinking coffee. This cup was designed by my dad, in a secret double life he was leading, by day a dentist, by night a cup designer for service station coffee bars. The cup was made in a factory in Luton, where it spent 18 hours on a conveyor belt that broke down. It was eventually rescued and packaged on a Tuesday…” There’s a story. How do you disagree with that?

  • Tim R

    I think at this point we are playing definitions, like protesting that joy is different from happiness and transformation different from change. All I’m saying is that the above does not fit my definition of “story”, just as this paragraph does not. I concede that you may persist in the use of “story” to denote the narrative you have given, but I don’t find it works for me. That’s all. I’m being unnecessarily scrupulous, over what is probably a private definition.

    At some point I should probably have mentioned the Yellow Rolls-Royce. I should perhaps deny any involvement with Barthes, either – I know he was busy with death of the author stuff and reception theory (which, incidentally, is more of the thrust of “if on a winter’s night a traveller”) but know no more than that. It is more likely that I was going all mimetic on you. I tend to by default.

  • John

    Well, if your definition of “story” does not have room for “telling the tale of how something came to be”, then we are indeed missing in the middle.

    However, you’ve hit another nerve there. Joy and Happiness. Jo has some interesting things to say about that – she’s setting up a blog soon, so I imagine you’ll be linked to it in the near future : )