Sunday, September 30, 2012

Another Podcast, The Wire and Dickens, and More Head Heart Gut to Come

It’s happened again, I’ve co-hosted another episode of James Monohan and Cheryl Klein’s storytelling podcast “The Narrative Breakdown”.  This episode is about creating ensembles. 

Inevitably, we talk quite a bit about my “head, heart, gut” theory, which began here and continued here, here, here, here, here and here, but keeps expanding in my mind, so come back tomorrow (and maybe longer) where I’ll try to integrate all those previous pieces for the first time, with some nifty visuals.  

Meanwhile, in the podcast, you’ll hear that we repeat the common wisdom that “The Wire” is Dickensian in nature.  As it turns out, shortly after we recorded this episode, Cheryl was amused to see that Salon’s book editor Laura Miller had apparently heard us and disagreed vociferously.  This was my response to Cheryl:

That’s funny, but I’m not sure I buy it.  She digs for traits that “The Wire” doesn’t have in common with Dickens, but none of these are traits that all Dickens novels have.  If you’re prepared to talk about “Dickens” as one body of work, then you’ve already accepted that you’re going to generalize. 

I would say that the heart of the comparison lies in shared traits she didn’t mention: 

  • An impossibly large cast of resourceful-but-ultimately-tragic characters who are ground up by the wheels of institutional indifference, but find moments of happy transcendence in their everyday lives.  
  • The lack of focus on immediate goals, replaced by the pleasure of visiting and re-visiting members of that cast as their fortunes rise and fall multiple times over many years. Just when you think you’re never going to see a character again, they pop back up in a different phase of their life.  
  • Taking an anthropologist’s joy in replicating the strange and witty jargon of the streets.

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