Thursday, October 04, 2007

Narrative hypnosis

Ruminating over the landscapes of some issues the other day I chanced across the Wikipedia entry for Neurolinguistic Programming, a practice that owes a lot to General Sematics. In the article reference is made to something called the Milton Model, named after Milton H Erickson, as a "way of using language to induce and maintain trance in order to contact the hidden resources of our personality", and also "to overload and distract the conscious mind so that unconscious communication can be cultivated".

It's revealing to come across something I've noted on several occasions in connection with the powers of good story telling from a different angle. What surprises me is that in the realm of story-tellers this aspect appears to be by and large ignored; as those holding forth on the structure, purpose and nature of 'story' tends to focus in on those things—structure, plot, language, beats, and so on. Is it possible that the deep answers to questions like "Why Do We Tell Stories?" cannot be found in such analyses, and not even in those attempting to find evolutionary/psychological roots? It makes me wonder if the real reason isn't more like that we quite simply enjoy being in the kinds of entranced states created by stories. And what is this 'entrancement' but the thing often labeled as 'entertainment'? Or, to put it the other way around, isn't 'entertainment' just a form of 'entrancement'?

It would be very funny—'funny' 'haha'!—if it turned out that this is indeed the case; or, that it is indeed the major factor in the 'why'. None of this highfalutin deep-and-meaningful bullshit emerging from the arty and academic communities, but just a plain old desire to be entertained: entranced; placed into a state of being that detaches one from the woes of the intermediate world.

What if that was all the reason there is? What if it was all about something like trance through guided imagination? Being outside oneself and one's current present-ness.

What if there were no better reason to tell stories but that people like to listen to them; to be en-tranced, just as they would be through, say, chemical agents? And if people are willing to listen, watch, read, then naturally there's a market for those providing the material. And people do seem to be willing to do so, as evidenced by...well, evidence. How much time do you spend in front of a TV? How much are you willing to shell out for the technology, books, cinema tickets, computer games—for what amounts to, from a utilitarian point of view, completely unproductive activities? (With the exception of maybe their value for initiating pair-bonding between susceptible, thus-inclined individuals!)

Of course, it should come as no surprise that the medium has been exploited for manipulative purposes, an activity that continues not only unabated, but at an accelerating pace, as the media...

Nahh, I'm not going to get on that soap box today, sorry.

Question is though whether, and here we have to think a few steps further, this en-trancement and the desire to achieve it, and its dogged persistence, have any significance in the realm of social and species survival. For 'persistent' it has been. After all prostitution and story-telling are possibly the two oldest 'professions'.

Or is it all just accident and without any 'survival' value. It could just be that it didn't do any harm, this desire for en-trancement, and that therefore it wasn't weeded out as a trait during the evolutionary process. And so it persisted and persists, and the market-forces require that there be providers of the means to achieve en-trancement; as market forces are wont to do. Hence there exist all of those in the 'entertainment' business. Hence TV, cinema, radio. Hence books! My bookshelves, which definitely have more 'entertainment' material on them than whatever else there is—not-so-entertaining stuff, I guess— are a mute testimony to my own need for said en-trancements.

I haven't made up my mind yet as to which version of the 'Why Entertainment?' story I believe. Evolutionary utility? Innocuous waste of time?

Am I—in my persona as story-teller; meaning the guy who wrote, for example the books of the Tethys series—just someone indulging my own fancy for not just 'receiving', if you will, stories and en-trancement, but actually dishing it out; mainly by writing down yarns I enjoy spinning in my head anyway, just because? A mere 'entertainer'? Or is it 'mere'?

But, yes, let's admit it, this story-telling business, no matter how carefully disguised as having a 'greater purpose, is basically self-indulgent and is driven by a need-to-do that transcends mere need-to-fame. Which is, I guess, why some people just keep doing it. The personal rationalizations used to support it are comforting and may even have a grain or two, or three, of veracity, but they are rationalizations. And if there's any 'higher purpose' in it all...well, there may be, but I'm not sure that I can list some of the candidates for the job and keep a straight face.

If a writer does not entertain his readers, all he is producing is paper dirty on one side.” wrote Robert Heinlein (Grumbles from the Grave, Chapter 15)


Haszari said...

You didn't relate escapism to the the other 2 e-words you mentioned... it's a prime function (of.. storytelling, entertainment) from where I'm sitting!

Till said...

Absolutely. But that's just one of the purposes of en-trancement, isn't it? To get away from the mundane.

And, by the way, I happen to know exactly where you're sitting! 8)