Flow or Structure? Why can’t we have both?
Flow, I suspect, is a product of the unconscious mind. There’s no use trying to understand the processes of the unconscious for it is enormously complicated and many intelligent practitioners have tried and failed as documented in the history of philosophy and psychology. Flow is unstructured, pure psychic energy. My central question for this essay is whether an author who wants to reasonably connect with an audience can synthesise the opposing energies of flow and structure in their art. Flow has no rules, and structure is an outlining of rules, so it would seem order and disorder cannot live harmoniously. But then great artists can somehow do the impossible. And is Flow versus Structure more of a spectrum?
One mode of connecting with an audience is to understand and meet the expectations of the audience. For example, genre fiction typically functions in this way. There are other ways, however, of telling a story that can be understandable to an audience. For example, we can tap into reader expectations and subvert them. Can we expect to gain an appreciative audience if we ignore the reader’s expectations? We can! But this is nonetheless a type of response to the reader. It comes down to the question of what great art actually is? There should be no formula for great art, and yet great art can meet all of our typical expectations. Flow is always at play behind the scenes anyway, sometimes it is overt, sometimes it is concealed by a structure that is easily digestible.
I think time and frequency are important elements of art. What do I mean by time? That simply means a rough idea of the time it takes to digest the art, focusing specifically on literary art. What is frequency then? Frequency relates to the relative speeds of certain modes of the story. For a concrete example, a story may have the three modes: self- reflection, eventful narrative, textural language. The modes themselves, are degrees of freedom of the story that are important to the presentation of the whole. The interplay between the modes may be completely up to the author’s choice, but there generally are some limitations to human comprehension for example, the extent of textural language in Finnigan’s Wake by James Joyce almost completely obscures the narrative events, such that this novel turns into more of a puzzle than anything. Joyce, in his more esoteric works, plays with what art can be and drives the reader to change and adapt to the complexity of his literature.
For a crude view, if the reader is at level ‘n’ comprehension, it Is unlikely to meaningfully encourage them to look at something which requires level ‘n+10’ comprehension. In the arena of stylistic technique, the standard belief is that you should match your style to the relevant audience. If one was to write up a recipe for getting out successful art that turns heads, whilst also maintaining their artistic integrity, well, then the theory goes that one should include “something for everyone including yourself.” Do the greats do this? I don’t think so.
The great writers must have a deep passion for a given theme, set of characters, prose style. They must have a deep passion for writing. Furthermore, they MUST pull from the resources of unconscious flow and dreams. The frequency of the literary modes that they employ and the interplay between thematic elements cannot be formulaic, even if it is possible to apply an inert formula to these things after the fact. Going back to the central theme of this essay, I believe flow and structure are both needed, however, to what extent readers will understand the writer’s personal flow, will be measured by the writer’s transmutation of her psychic energy into a common symbolic currency. Exactly the nature of this symbolic currency is dependent on the times and the fashion, on the writer and audience’s personal egos, and, most importantly, on the collective unconscious that we all pull in from!