Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Something about Profluence in Fiction ~ Robert Olen Butler as Example

The stories that immediately grip me are usually the ones that establish some kind of forward momentum, or profluence--something to be anticipated--on page one.

Although literary conventions grow from mainstream attitudes about literature (think Foucault's manipulated discourses), it's worth thinking about something Aristotle says in the first line of _Metaphysics_, that "all humans by nature desire to know."

Assuming for now that Aristotle's premise is sound, it justifies a writer's concern with generating SOME kind of suspense (either through action or thought or description) in a story. Human cognitive tendencies, that is, seem to compel us to pay most attention to things that lead to answers.

I read a story the other day from Robert Olen Butler called "Salem" published in The Mississippi Review in 1995.

This story is an example of one whose current action is a character's looking at a pack of Salem cigarettes and thinking, but imagery and discovery (as well as some details from past events) provide compelling profluence.

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