14 February 2008

I have been having these heretical thoughts that the function of a story is not to present a closed system occupied by fictional individuals with determinate traits that assign them motivations which explain their behaviour. What a story does is present a host of sentences which place restrictions on the generation of a make-believe world. But anything might happen. Even direct specifications of events and attitudes might be doubted. And there is nothing incoherent about that. As always, is a distance between what is reported and what occurs.

We use heuristics to read. We synthesise each sentence and incorporate it into our representation of the fictional world, and using theoretical vocabulary like 'character' and 'plot' help us do this. But heuristics, as Newell and Simon have shown, do not invariably yield the right results. An algorithm, of course, would, but, if what I am saying is correct, there are no interpretative algorithms by which we can specify an underspecified system, nor could there ever be any.

This has the consequence of casting doubt on any notion of there being a 'logical ending' to a story -- something taught to me in my fiction workshop yesterday. In a world without empirical constraints, anything conceptually possible is possible, and this is true even if it upsets our hermeneutics.

The story did not have to end with the young woman finding her place in the world, which, in this specific instance, was in a gourmet kitchen.