Go to Making Light's front page.
Forward to next post: Russia Invades Georgia
Subscribe (via RSS) to this post's comment thread. (What does this mean? Here's a quick introduction.)
I claim that all novels can be plotted in 3-space along the following axes:
x: True to Beautiful
y: Realistic to Symbolic
z: Dinosaurian to Sodomistic
Does that imply that truer novels are less beautiful (and visa versa)? Or am I misinterpreting things again?
What John (#1) said, only with more emphasis.
You REALLY want to claim that True and Beautiful are properties of a novel that are in exact opposition?
And how is it impossible to envision a Dinosaurian Sodomistic Novel?
What about my forthcoming YA novel, "The True Beauty of T. Rex Buggery"? Your theory needs some work, I'd hazard.
Untrue. Novels can contain both or (more often) neither of the characteristics you name as the ends of the z axis. Unless you are using these terms as metaphors.
But I think that a version of this system could be very useful in the editing business.
"Dear Mr X
Thank you for submitting your manuscript. Unfortunately, Tor only publishes books which fall within 0.1 units of (-0.8, 0.5, 0.2) on the Macdonald Scale. Our test readers classified your novel as (-0.26, 0.11, 0.9). If you wish to resubmit, please make your story a) less beautiful b) more symbolic c) more saurian.
I should point out that the question "can dinosaurs commit sodomy" has already been thrashed out (ooh, bad choice of verb) on this forum: see
http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/008232.html#176565 et seq.
Forgot to mention, what about Keats and his grecian urn?
(Anyway, maybe this a ratio thing rather than an absolute amount thing?)
All shallow truths are ugly.
Maybe Jim meant they could be plotted as volumes rather than points. So a novel could realistically encompass the truth and beauty of dinosaurs, but only the beauty - in a symbolic mode - of sodomy.
FWIW I do see novels as volumes.
"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is an indispensable companion to all those who are keen to make sense of life in an infinitely complex and confusing Universe, for though it cannot hope to be useful or informative on all matters, it does at least make the reassuring claim that where it is inaccurate it is definitely inaccurate. In cases of major discrepancy it's always reality that's got it wrong.
"This was the gist of the notice. It said 'The Guide is definitive. Reality is frequently inaccurate.'
"This has led to some interesting consequences. For instance, when the editors of the Guide were sued by the families of those who had died as a result of taking the entry on the planet Traal literally (it said 'Ravenous Bugblatter Beasts often make a very good meal for visiting tourists' instead of 'Ravenous Bugblatter Beasts often make a very good meal of visiting tourists'), they claimed that the first version of the sentence was the more aesthetically pleasing, summoned a qualified poet to testify under oath that beauty was truth, truth beauty and hoped thereby to prove that the guilty party in this case was Life itself for failing to either be beautiful or true.
"The judges concurred, and in a moving speech held that Life itself was in contempt of the court, and duly confiscated it from all those there present before going off to enjoy a pleasant evening's ultragolf."
Where do ugly lies lie?
Or must the path from truth to beauty leave one feeling soiled?
(BTW, your space looks heavily skewed. Couldn't we work with an orthonormal basis?)
Crap, that should have been "definitively inaccurate."
Always one mistake...
It isn't a mistake. It's reality being inaccurate again...
Keats would disapprove of your x-axis. Yeah, okay, John beat me to it.
x: tin ear to absolute pitch (language)
y: I wouldn't piss on you if you were on fire to you can move in with me (characters)
z: saw that coming a mile away to OMGWTFBBQ (plot)
The True Beauty of T. Rex Buggery
If, as I thought for a minute, you were talking about Marc Bolan, I'd definitely be there.
I hold it as an axiom that all novels are flawed. Your axes suggest that a perfect novel is possible.
"A novel is a prose work of a certain length that has something wrong with it."
Randall Jarrell (I think)
I think there should be a time axis in there as well, for the differing interpretation over time. Something starts out one way, and changes over time.
X, Y, and Z seem to be descendants of Jung's rational to irrational axis. True/irrational to beautiful/rational. Realistic/irrational to symbolic/rational. Sodomistic/irrational to dinosaurian/rational.
They seem to relate linearly to each other, making the need to have them intersect each other unnecessary. But there is the option of one of them serving as an ancestor for the other 2, eg, realistism/symbolism acting as the axis for truth (seeking the most comprehensive perspective -- water), and sodomy/dinosaurian (fossilized? petrified?) acting as the axis for beautiful (portraying urgency -- fire).
Or, there could be another axis, perhaps analogous to Jung's attitude axis of introversion and extroversion.
Oooh, maybe the analog to the attitude axis could be innovation and standardization/accessibility.
ethan @ 15:
The late Mr Bolan is involved only in a symbolic sense.
Oh, I see, you could mean the sodomistic/fossilized axis to be the attitude analog I meant innovation/accessibility to mean.
But I think you still need an axis for the way I first used it to subdivide beauty. Maybe beauty's intimate and epic nature?
I'm just curious how you would plot, say, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency on that axis. I think you're missing an four dimensional axis for humor that is neither beautiful, true, realistic, symbolic and only incidentally related to dinosaurs and sodomy.
So, the analog to the Myers/Briggs table could be:
Novel = fiction = made up != true?
Maybe we're missing the full wonder of Jim's idea. A novel can be both true and beautiful, etcv., so can bne plotted with multiple points along (and between) each axis, resulting in a figure in 3-space corresponding to the exact nature of the novel. So a novel that is, throughout, wholly true and beautiful and realistic and symbolic and dinosaurian and sodomistic would be represented by a sphere. Lack of sodomy, but otherwise full score, would appear as a hemisphere. True and beautiful but only realistic / symbolic / dinosaurian / sodomistic in passages that combined certain levels of truth and beauty would get you a kind of hourglass figure. And so on?
Andy #23: Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency...only incidentally related to dinosaurs and sodomy.
I think Mr. Gently himself would disagree. When all things are connected, nothing is incidental.
Applying those criteria to book reviewing would just make my head spin, I'm afraid. Not a critique -- just a confession of inadequacy.
But here is something that may be of interest to dinosaur fans!
Obviously the fourth axes must be the Classification of Books from the Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge:
#: Those that belong to the Great Ghu
#: Slash fic
#: Those that make you tremble as if you were Mary Sue
#: Novels whose titles end with the letter L
Hmm I need help 'remembering' them all...any others come to mind? :)
I'm another one who doesn't comprehend what the truth-beauty axis is supposed to convey, unless it's completely straightforward, in which case I could hardly disagree more.
Jim Macdonald #9: Don't we all?
Of course things can be beautiful and true, the question is can novels? I don't know, I don't read many novels which post high on truth. I'd say... Stephenson writes pretty high on truth. (that can be taken in at least 2 ways, the two I can think of I intend, but not in a funny way, so I disclaim pun intent). And while his prose is (frequently) interesting, I wouldn't say beautiful.
The axis that troubles me is Realistic v. Symbolic. Unrealistic things might be obvious markers to the reader that they should consider why they're in the book though. Interesting question the more I think about it... (Would the Statue of Liberty be as powerful a symbol, if it was 5'6" tall?)
BTW, am I the only person that looked up "Dinosaurian" to ensure it didn't have an unexpected meaning?
John Stanning @ 26, in that case we need to express it in spherical coordinates. Much more elegant.
First, we define truth = -beauty, realism = -symbolism, and dinosaurs = -sodomy, for simplicity of notation.
Then we have the following:
r = √ (truth^2 + realism^2 + dinosaurs^2)
φ = arccos ( dinosaurs / r )
θ = arctan ( realism / dinosaurs )
So we would express a novel with an equal quantity Q of all six elements with the simple equation r = Q.
This makes it easier to find publishability (see ajay @4). If publishability is defined thus:
publishability = f (truth, realism, dinosaurs) [where the function f depends on the publisher]
then we can integrate publishability over the defined volume of the novel, since we wish to find the publishability of the novel as a whole, and arrive at a useful figure.
If we then use Imagination, we can find a Novel With Roots in Hell.
Caroline, thanks, so much more elegant.
Now I'm imagining a kind of automated ajay test. You put the text into a discriminator that assesses each sentence (maybe sub-sentence for people like Proust), gives it scores on the Macdonald scales, and plots the scores, so each sentence's scores become a dot or dots on the screen. As it reads through the novel you see the dots appear on the screen and grow and cohere until at the end you see the complete shape. You can rotate the shape on the screen to view it from all angles. Then the ajay-Macdonald test becomes a matter of shape rather than score. "Sorry, Mr X, your MS is distinctly banana-shaped and moreover has a serious irregularity on the dinosaur axis. We would not want to publish it in this form..."
Look up "semantic differential" for the original work, which I recall from 40 years ago found three common clusters:
Quick look with Google Scholar finds it's still quite an active area of research, e.g.
Psychology of Music, Vol. 34, No. 4, 573-587 (2006)
© 2006 Society for Education, Music, and Psychology Research
The dimensions of baroque music performance: a semantic differential study
My hunch is you've got new names for the three clusters described in the research -- they're pretty fundamental to how people perceive the world.
John Stanning @ 36, excellent! It might also be of use to color-code the points by page number, to show whether different values on the axes develop as you read. Perhaps the entire novel takes a swing towards Dinosaurs in the second half.
Better than having it take a swing in the opposite direction, I suspect, but YMMV.
I think I also have a serious irregularity on the dinosaur axis.
Jim @ #16: only for a given reader on a given day.
One wonders what kind of surfaces we could define were we to plot sets of works associated with authors, genres, publishers, and so on. I have my fingers crossed for Klein bottles. Dinosaurian, sodomistic Klein bottles.
ajay @ 5I should point out that the question "can dinosaurs commit sodomy" has already been thrashed out (ooh, bad choice of verb)
svn: Commit failed (details follow):
svn: File not found: sodomy path '/project/sodomy'
Oh my. You know, I went to law school because there isn't any math on the LSAT.
Where's Randall Munroe when you need him? If he would draw me a picture, maybe it would make more sense.
Let me update my Myers/Briggs analogy:
That should probably be [realistic/allegorical] instead, or
I could see the truth/beauty axis such that something that is both beautiful and true, is near the origin - the truth and beauty are in balance. I like the rational/irrational sub-description, since true things are often irrational, such as the geometric axioms, or religious tenets (they're true for believers, yet everyone would agree, irrational), yet one talks of a beautiful proof, which is the ultimate in rationality.
I don't get the sodomysaurian dichotomy. Both are primitive concepts, as opposed to our "higher" present society? Sodom is castigated in rabbinic literature for inhospitality, not for buggery. "What's mine is mine, and what's yours is yours, this is the attribute of the normal person; others say, this is the attribute of Sodom." In other words, you can't have anything of mine, I don't want anything of yours, I won't put you up for the night, git offa mah land.
Meanwhile, dinosaurs are primitive animals - "here I am, brain the size of a walnut, body the size of a Mack Truck, and I still can't survive this meteorite." So it seems to be a scale from primitive society to primitive animals? Where's the line between them, other than a lot of squiggles?
Jon Baker @47:
Here is an explanation of the dinosaurs-sodomy axis of literary criticism, particularly as applied to SF.
...religious tenets (they're true for believers, yet everyone would agree, irrational)...
On this American Life, Glass referred to a child seeing her father exchange teeth for money, and concluding her father was the tooth fairy, as wrong -- but completely rational. By the Jungian definition of rational, religious tenets are completely rational.
What word can replaced the thing it represents? Religion, like language, is rational regardless of its fidelity to reality.
Maybe the dinosaurs became extinct because they couldn't incorporate the "reach around" with their sodomy.
I've seen some reviews that were real hatchet jobs, but to see James Macdonald taking axes to some of my favorite novels, how sad it is.
#50: They did have tails thought. Whole bunch of squicky potential right there. ("Heyyyy, honey, I got these Triceratops-style strap-on tail spikes we can try out tonight.")
They were dinosaurs, dude, not perverts. Now you're just being ridiculous.
Perhaps the space is 3-dimensional but not Euclidean; for instance, something infinitely True is infinitely Beautiful, and vice versa.
Or am I projecting?
Tooting my own horn: I believe I was the first person to add that z-axis to your original 2-D chart at I-Con this year. Miz T will confirm.
Mike #53: That's just reductionist.
punkhockeymom, there may have not been any math on the LSAT, but there sure was in law school.
The Dinosaurian-Sodomistic axis still has me thrown for a loop. Although I disagree with the analysis outlined in the other two axes to some extent (see Keats, e.g.), at least I understand them, for some value of "understanding."
I like Lila's formulation much better. As she said subsequently, for any given reader on any given day, the perfect novel may exist.
I think you have to take the perfect novels when you find them. Simply because the novel will no longer be perfect for you next week may not diminish its perfection right now. [That previous sentence was heavily influenced by Terry Pratchett's Thief of Time, which was, for one week a year or so ago, a perfect novel for me.]
*pretensiousness off, goes to see if I can find chocolates*
Nicholas Tam #42: A Kleinesque dinosaur would presumably be self-sodomising?
You're -so- twisted... ;)
Caroline @ 38: "Perhaps the entire novel takes a swing towards Dinosaurs in the second half."
In Soviet Russian literature, entire dinosaurs take a swing towards the novel in the second half.
(Dinosaurian to Sodomistic might be shorthanded for those not in the know as Ridiculous to Angsty, or maybe even just Comic to Tragic.)
So is this the literary version of that multi-axis area chart the Japanese have for athletes and pop stars?
#01: Does that imply that truer novels are less beautiful (and visa versa)?
If your question may be addressed by analogy: the black areas of a b&w drawing occupies space that the white cannot also occupy, and vice versa.
But for contrasting elements, like b&w, or truth and beauty, one element may create tension for which the contrasting element may represent a pay-off.
Mostly you hear people say they didn't like Slapstick but it has my favorite moment of all of Vonnegut's work. SPOILERS: The book opens with a funeral for his stillborn great-grandchild, then the narrator recounts his life leading to winning the presidency on his platform of providing -- by lottery -- middle names to everyone, creating families among matching recipients. Then he dies before finishing his nonsensical account of his life. An omniscient narrator takes over to give the account of his granddaughter's journey to join him as we see them in the beginning of the book. Because the provided new middle-names were of flora and fauna, the narration becomes one like a fairytale, where the granddaughter receives help on her journey from forest creatures and flowers. Then Vonnegut mentions in I think a single sentence that she became pregnant from a rape and attempted kidnapping. Then the fairytale narrative continues until the end of the page, ending on one of his famous indications that there's more to the story beyond where he's ending the book.
So the book is essentially 300 pages of nonsense, leading to a single sentence where Vonnegut knifes the reader, breaking his heart. In art, division is a means to multiplication, and more isn't always more, but less.
John Stanning @26
What you're presenting there isn't 3 dimensional space. It's a 3 dimensional presentation of a 6 dimensional concept. Or, a 3 dimensional presentation of one of those polygonal graphs they use to show athletic ability. Speed, strength, flexibility, etc.
Putting independent variables in opposite directions of the same axis is misleading at best
Seriously, folks, Mike #45 hit it on the head.
A story can be plotted in 4-space over where it sits in these dimensions:
This is independent of genre, quality, or value. It's simply a way of describing fundamental characteristics of a story. Like Myers/Briggs is a simple way of categorizing personality types. You may prefer subversive/allegorical/epic/true stories (not my personal choice), but there is nothing wrong with any extremes or midpoints for that matter.
But if novels came with a "Mike" rating, that would help us buy the kind of stories we individually enjoy. I'd like that.
Truth and beauty aren't at opposite ends of a scale, they are two points of a triangular space, and the third is despair.
Thanks, Stephen. But your observations make me want to revise:
So for Stephen's example, PseT... A Chritmas Carol? I'm unfamiliar with Uncle Tom's Cabin, but maybe something like that?
From a Discovery magazine (current issue) brief article on Pluribo.com software:
Eventually [the co-founder] hopes to have Pluribo serving up hotel, restaurant and even book reviews via mobile applications, culling the entire Internet for the last word on War and Peace. Or perhaps two: "Too long."
Your criteria might plug right into that program, and spiff it up a bit!
clew @ 54
Do you have to get hyperbolic?
I withdraw my last revision. Stephen's example wouldn't be coded PseT, but SaeT. I think I've taken this option under my own steam as far as I can.
Ken Brown @ 66
I see Desire and Despair as a dyad, possibly with a nonlinear transition between them (see Sandman or No More I Love Yous).
Stephan @ 52: As parent of a pedantic dinosaur fan six-year-old (aren't they all?) I must regretfully inform you that you mean Stegosaurus tail spikes, not Triceratops tail spikes. None of the ceratopsians had tail spikes.
Don't feel too bad; I had to be sternly corrected a few times until I learned to stop referring to Dimetrodon and Edaphosaurus as dinosaurs.
abi @ 48:
Yes, I remembered to look up that thread after I posted, but it still doesn't ring true to me. I don't see them as opposites, just because Swanwick referred to "too much of one, not enough of the other." Nor do I really see heresiarch @ 61's correspondence to comictragic or ridiculousangsty. Yes, the latter two pairs are almost equivalent, but dinosaurs as comic? What about "A Sound of Thunder"? Sodomy as tragic? Angsty, maybe.
This all puts me in mind of a filk called "Puff the Tragic Faggot." That has it all, tragedy, comedy, dinosaur (well dragons are more or less saurian) and sodomy.
Stegosaurus tail spikes
a.k.a. the "thagomizer." This may be the term with the best etymology in all of science.
John Baker @ 73: "Nor do I really see heresiarch @ 61's correspondence to comictragic or ridiculousangsty. Yes, the latter two pairs are almost equivalent, but dinosaurs as comic? What about "A Sound of Thunder"? Sodomy as tragic? Angsty, maybe."
I didn't mean that dinosaurs are always funny, nor that sodomy is always sad. It's not that literal--they're simply mental shorthand. (The Swanwick story is a bit of a teaching koan, I think. When the student takes out all the sodomy and puts in a bunch of dinosaurs, it's still a flawed story. The message isn't that every story needs dinosaurs and sodomy to be complete, or even that it needs either: it's that it needs a range of emotional content. As I read it, anyway.)
Actually, doesn't the Book of 5 Rings already quantify creativity with pretty much as much comprehension as any scale civilization has?
Earth is the territory with which the creator must acquaint his intuition.
Water is the mind which, by means of its fluid nature, flows to where its point of view takes in the largest perspective.
Fire is the urgency to act. Fire forms an axis with water, as urgency is diluted by a larger perspective.
Air is the medium by which something modular can infiltrate the environment, which in art is the public consciousness.
Air forms the axis with earth. Like it says in the Art of War, the artist's color pallet is his territory, and the means by which his intuition becomes acquainted with his pallet are the 3 primary colors and b&w. The modularity by which air carries things eases the acquaintance of our intuition with the territory in question.
Emptiness frames all convention as arbitrary, facilitating their subvertion.
By comparison (if referring to my own example isn't too indulgent):
[Conventional/Subversive] : [(Earth/Air)/(Emptiness/Fire)]
[allegorical/realistic] : [Air/Earth]
[epic/intimate] : [(Fire/Air)/(Fire/Earth)]
[True/Beautiful] : [Earth/Fire]
Or Beauty could be water, like when NPR covered that guy who went through a testosterone deficiency, and reported a loss in urgency to do anything, but found his experience enrich by a beauty that emerged from his perception of everything. Or something like that.
I guess you could say the Book of 5 Rings seeks the largest perspective, while Jim's plotting seeks modularity. Your milage may vary accordingly.
#15: I wish I was being clever here, but I confused Marc Bolan and Mack Bolan.
The Wikipedia article on Mack Bolan even says "Not to be confused with..."
And there I went.
Because the struggle against processed meat never ends.
Is it spam if it doesn't leave a link?
No payload, no foul, in my book.
There are some odd fish on the internet; I don't use weird or disconnected as a criterion for deletion.
I don't know it that's spam or art or crazy or what but there's a lot of it and my brain feels kinda weird from trying to figure it out.
It is spam (IMHO) if the exact same post, word for word, including the odd spelling, shows up in 45,000 other comment threads around the 'net.
It was a pages-long mix of individual lines from different sources with repeated mentions of a specific website.
[ spam from 22.214.171.124 deleted ]
No relation to thread content here.
1) It is well-established that dinosaurs and birds are related.
2) Most dinosaurian genitalia is lost to the fossil record.
3) Behavior does not fossilize all that well either.
Therefore, in an attempt to more accurately portray dinosaurian sodomy (on those rara occasions when it is necessary to do so in terms more graphic than a mere line of asterisks), here is some information on How Ducks Do It. Focusing (as it were) on the Very Odd Genitals of Drakes.
Possibly more than you wanted to know. Certainly more than either Donald or Daffy wanted you to know.
James @ 98... Behavior does not fossilize all that well
What about the late Strom Thurmond?
Jim #88: I'll just reproduce most of my comment from there:
You lead in with “To err on the side of caution, I am stuffing the rest of this post below the fold. ” Pity your webmaster didn’t agree, as that sentence appeared less than half-way down the height of a photo… which really could have used a fold. (In other words, “YIKES!“
James Macdonald at #88:
Duck dicks interdicted entering duck ducts?