8. Structure (mild geek warning)

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Ted Chiang builds considerable structure into his story - for example by my count the story is divided into 42 sections (6×7). There are 112 alien spaceships in orbit (16×7). The story also has a ring structure in that it opens and closes with the same event - the couple heading for bed and the conception of their daughter. (Ring structure, and its more complex cousin chiasmus, were used extensively in ancient literature but are much less frequently found nowadays).

Some of this is kept in the film - for example the ring structure. Some is discarded - for example the number of prose sections. And some is altered - for example there are just 12 ships, which come down from orbit to ground level... which does allow the very cool "each team has 1/12 of the whole" twist near the end. 

Does this just reflect the strengths and weaknesses of each of the two storytelling media? Or is something else at work? And most importantly, do you appreciate and respond to literary structures or not?

Comments

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    These things usually fly over my head, which is why I get so much out of reading these books with my (much more clever) friends!

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    I am with Apocryphal. These things fly over my head like a three year old overhearing sexual references. I don't get 'em, I don't see 'em, as far as I'm concerned they aren't there.

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    @Apocryphal @clash_bowley which then raises the question, do these things still have a (presumably subliminal) effect even if you're not consciously aware of them? Is a piece of writing more persuasive, or more interesting, if rhetorical or structural devices are included? Speech-writing typically is - Churchill's speeches are heavily laced with classical rhetoric - but we are dealing here with prose. Is it just an author's fantasy that literary devices might make the thing deeper or better?

    Does it make a difference whether you read the prose or listen to it (on Audible or whatever)? Personally, I feel that I miss a great deal of content when I listen, and only really grasp it on reading.

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    I hate listening to stories. I can read so much faster and experience it so much more directly. I have no idea if the stories work better with rhetorical devices, as I can't see them. I would have to work with someone who does notice them to correlate what has such devices to how I judge my enjoyment. Sounds like a research project no one would possibly fund...

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    @clash_bowley said:
    I hate listening to stories. I can read so much faster and experience it so much more directly. I have no idea if the stories work better with rhetorical devices, as I can't see them. I would have to work with someone who does notice them to correlate what has such devices to how I judge my enjoyment. Sounds like a research project no one would possibly fund...

    There's been lots of work studying how writers deploy literary devices, from the ancient world (eg Egyptian and Hebrew) through to more modern writers. Also some contrasting which ones work better in speech than in writing - typically the ones with more overt repetition, such as Churchill's "we will fight them on..." which technically is categorised as anaphora. So the implication is that some devices might be more effective in exhortation.

    However, I'm not aware of any studies trying to connect literary devices with reader enjoyment, whether conscious or unconscious, and that is the area we are talking about here. Oddly enough, it seems to me an area that someone might fund, if they thought it could make their writing more compelling.

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    That's a writing device? I thought it was a magic device! (Repetition Reinforces)

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    One of the delights of learning about literary devices is the cool names they all have :)
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    I think structure matters on several ways. On the one hand, if we are not trained, by the academy or by culture, to recognize chiasmus, we are apt to miss something rhetorically intended for us.

    On the other hand, sometimes authors are not consciously aware of the structures we use. A particular structure may seem natural to us, so we pick it up and use it with no reflection on it. I’m enough of a poststructuralist to relish pulling apart those unexamined structures and shine the light of day in them and challenge the assumptions expressed (unconsciously?) by them.

    I didn’t notice the numerical structure, though, so it was lost on me. The ring structure, though, is a perfect structure for this story, which is much stronger because of it. (The numerical structure may be perfect, too, but I don’t get much from it other than 7 as a factor in both numbers.)

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    @WildCard said:
    I think structure matters on several ways. On the one hand, if we are not trained, by the academy or by culture, to recognize chiasmus, we are apt to miss something rhetorically intended for us.

    On the other hand, sometimes authors are not consciously aware of the structures we use. A particular structure may seem natural to us, so we pick it up and use it with no reflection on it. I’m enough of a poststructuralist to relish pulling apart those unexamined structures and shine the light of day in them and challenge the assumptions expressed (unconsciously?) by them.

    A few years back when I was heavily involved with ancient Hebrew and Egyptian poetry (like you do) I became quite fascinated by the various choices made in the translation of biblical poetry, especially versions which are aimed at more modest reading levels. Standard original structures like chiasmus, or even the much more basic parallelism, are often discarded, presumably on the assumption that they will be a barrier to understanding the text rather than an enhancement. That's a long way from either the story or film we have been thinking about, but perhaps illustrates a basic assumption that rhetorical structure is hard to assimilate in a modern culture.

    I didn’t notice the numerical structure, though, so it was lost on me. The ring structure, though, is a perfect structure for this story, which is much stronger because of it. (The numerical structure may be perfect, too, but I don’t get much from it other than 7 as a factor in both numbers.)

    I took it to be a reflection that the heptapods would naturally think in terms of sevens when setting up patterns, just like we tend to think in pairs. I get why the filmmakers would reduce the number of ships from 112, if only so as to retain the idea of the pattern of screens world-wide laid out in the military base, but 12 is a number that would surely have no significance to the heptapods. We like it because it factors in lots of ways (2x6, 3x4) but if you think in sevens then why would you care about this? Fourteen ships would have been a small number that kept the idea of thinking in sevens but was more manageable than 112. The film's choice here feels to me like someone didn't put themselves in the aliens' place.

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    @RichardAbbott said:
    A few years back when I was heavily involved with ancient Hebrew and Egyptian poetry (like you do)

    My introduction to the chiasmus was through ancient Hebrew poetry.

    I took it to be a reflection that the heptapods would naturally think in terms of sevens when setting up patterns, just like we tend to think in pairs.

    That makes complete sense.

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    edited January 9

    Richard? Where is this 'mild' geekiness you spoke of? ;)

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    > @clash_bowley said:
    > Richard? Where is this 'mild' geekiness you spoke of? ;)

    To misquote, "we have not yet begun to geek"!
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    @RichardAbbott said:

    @clash_bowley said:
    Richard? Where is this 'mild' geekiness you spoke of? ;)

    To misquote, "we have not yet begun to geek"!

    :D

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