Archives for category: Uncategorized

Collected-works-webCanadian writer Norman MacDonald’s complete oeuvre in one edition! Four novels, plus many short stories and essays. Readers who appreciate Hemingway will enjoy MacDonald’s simple yet intense tales: a young logger finding his way in the novel “Lost Magnificence”, and the “Bugle Trilogy” where a boy becomes a pacifist in an oppressive regime. Essays on his literary theories, poetry, and more.

Available formats: epub mobi pdf rtf lrf pdb txt html. Download a sample for free, and purchase for only $8.99 here.

Lost-Magnificence_cover-web

Lost Magnificence, a novel by Norman MacDonald, is now available free of charge in PDF format. Please click here to download. Your comments and observations are welcome. 

The last paragraph of Ernest Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon,  his 1932 book about bullfighting, states some literary theory.  “— if you can get to see [the world] clear and as a whole.  Then any part you make will represent the whole if it’s made truly.”  Probably based on that theory, in the short story ‘A Clean, Well-lighted Place’, the next year, he began exploring a slightly different but powerful new way of presenting narrative.  It was very likely that experiment which led to his mysterious remark in the chapter-one dialogue of Green Hills of Africa  (1935) that there could be “a prose that has never been written.  But it can be written, without tricks and without cheating.”

‘A Clean, Well-lighted Place’ contains no capitalized nouns, proper nouns.  It is clearly set in a place that has Spanish culture, and knowing something of its author’s life enables readers to guess the probable setting.  However, because it avoids those nouns, the text itself does not confine the tale to any one Spanish-influenced place. The Old and New Worlds are both possible settings.
What Hemingway showed in that story is that omitting proper nouns has a liberating effect on narrative, making it much more widely applicable.  Such stories are not ‘nailed down’.

To broaden this discussion, it first needs to be seen what the effect is of nailing down a narrative by setting it in a certain place and among a certain people.  It is clearly easier for members of the depicted society and its close allies to appreciate the story.  When that story is translated for quite different societies, though, nothing can prevent such exact details from acting as a barrier to acceptance of its ideas and feelings.  In those societies, even readers with friendly curiosity about other cultures may begin feeling, ‘This story is not meant for me,’ and perhaps stop reading it.  The more clearly stated attachments narrative has to one kind of society, the harder it must be to feel its applicability in other kinds.
Perhaps Hemingway saw that.  It must certainly have been some such fundamental insight which led him to refer in that Green Hills Of Africa  dialogue to, “The kind of writing that can be done.  How far prose can be carried if any one is serious enough and has luck.”
Those words are about the evolution of prose, and figuring out what their author meant might lead to another species of works.  As with species in nature, the new one would be neither better nor higher than its predecessors but might be more adapted to the world it exists in.
‘A Clean, Well-lighted Place’ is probably a clue to Hemingway’s meaning.  In certain stories, at least, why not omit all proper nouns as he did in it?  That would largely detach them from particular locations and peoples.  In effect, their authors would then be starting to see the world clear and as a whole.  They would be starting to write for readers everywhere, for the entire supergroup of Humanity rather than one or a small set of groups.

If that aim of reaching readers everywhere in the world is once adopted, things other than capitalized names of people and places need to be avoided.  To illustrate, imagine describing a heroine this way.

Her lovely blue eyes settled on the painted statue.  The blond hair flowing over her shoulders moved in the breeze.  Tears ran down her white cheeks, and she crossed herself, murmuring, “Fils de Dieu.”
She may be a fine young woman, but most of the world’s people would see her as very unlikely to exist where they live.  Her story would have created barriers between itself and them, and they could easily feel, ‘This is not meant for me.’
However, a heroine can be described in ways that do not limit her to
a particular place or kind of people.

Her lovely, expressive eyes turned up toward the building.  Breeze touched her hair.  Her face showed deep emotion, and tears ran down her drawn cheeks.
That young woman could be understood and seen as locally possible by readers in all places.

What amount to world-dividing issues have been used freely in narrative from its earliest days.  However, raising them confines a work that might otherwise be felt and understood everywhere.  These issues are race and colour, language, nationality, religion and culture.  Fortunately, their effect can still be brought into stories meant for everyone if the wording is kept general.

Her eyes were different from most eyes he had seen.  Her skin and hair were also different, and she spoke differently, but none of those things seemed to matter.
‘A beautiful girl is beautiful wherever she lives,’ he thought.
Seeing him watch her finger the talisman she believed protected her, she felt embarrassed and looked down.  That stirred him deeply.

Human beings are very rich subjects of discussion; a great many observations can be made about them.  That richness enables fictional characters to be described so that they are possible inhabitants of any part of the world and still be believable.  Judicious translations can then lead readers in all places to feel, ‘These people could exist here.’  Continued careful work can also lead to, ‘What happens between them could happen here.’
Words that commit the narrative to a particular people and place can be sidestepped.  Virtually all readers in the entire supergroup of Mankind can then be brought to understand its ideas and emotions and feel, ‘This story is meant for me.’

The settings of stories intended for everyone need more discussion. As might be expected, creating convincing ones that can be felt and understood everywhere except extreme environments requires more than avoiding proper nouns.  ‘The city’, ‘the town’, ‘the village’, ‘the farm’, and so on can be used as the broad delineation, but other details that don’t limit the work must be added to enrich that.
World-dividing factors that can arise in describing man-made parts of a setting can again be presented only in general terms, but many details of the setting provided by nature are experienced by everyone. The sky, clouds, wind, the moon, the stars, rock and soil, for instance, can be observed in all habitable places.  Except near the winter solstice at high latitudes, so can the sun.  Using those and other fundamentals, what might be called the supersetting can be created, the environment in which all members of the supergroup Mankind exist.
Care is needed however.  Referring to a wind as a monsoon, for example, or a constellation of stars as a cross would be limiting the work to only part of the world.
Most readers are probably more interested in the living part of a natural setting, and many kinds of organism occur in all but extreme environments.  In general, small kinds of plants and animals are found much more widely than large kinds.  As with the wind and stars, though, specifying closely can limit the work.
Introducing a detail that is not found in all inhabited places can easily prevent a story’s widest acceptance.  Omitting one that is found everywhere probably won’t even be noticed.

The aim of reaching and touching the emotions of all readers automatically includes continuing the democratization of literature, making works accessible to less-educated readers.
Many people who are somewhat able to read are not yet prepared to deal with complexity.  Therefore stories meant for everyone need to be told fairly simply.  Unpretentious vocabulary, uncomplicated sentences, paragraphs of only moderate length and short chapters would all be helpful.  The work as a whole should probably not be very long.
In reaching less-educated readers, stories would probably succeed better with few characters, especially with few in any one scene. Deep analysis of those characters or fine delineation of setting might not work as well as convincing plot.  Many more-educated readers could also prefer that approach.
These limitations are just characteristics of the kind of prose envisioned here, but some authors will not want to be bound by them. Before they too hastily reject them, however, several important points need to be weighed.
The first concerns subject matter.  It needs to be seen that the search for simplicity of presentation emphatically does not mean that a story can have no intellectual content.  The great problems are all amenable to discussion in fairly simple terms.
A second consideration is about the possible major effects of easily read prose.  Literature can be an extremely powerful force.  Works that can be felt and understood by less-educated readers could inspire both individuals and the groups they live in to improve their condition.
Third, addressing all readers certainly does not exclude well-educated ones.  The educated will appreciate simple stories much more easily than the less-educated can appreciate complex ones.  Learning is said to broaden the mind, so better-educated readers will see simply written tales as really comments on the human condition generally and will not dismiss them.

Having readers everywhere in the world feel and understand a story is a new aim in literature and needs closer examination.
Once the idea has arisen, it is natural to experiment.  Stories have already been written that follow the above guidelines, and with the very essential help of translation they could be appreciated by practically all readers.  Such tales can be both interesting and enjoyable.
Are such works just another way of writing in existing group literatures?  This discussion will suggest a startling answer.  Much debate may be needed on the subject.
Given the characteristics of the experimental stories mentioned, it seems likely that such works are of a new kind.  Since they are created for all readers of the supergroup in its supersetting, they may be contributions to what is very possibly the literature of all Mankind.  When a very important question has been dealt with, this discussion will assume that to be the case.  The question is: How can there be a literature of all Mankind when there is not yet a language of all Mankind?
The answer is surprisingly simple.  A universal language would be very desirable but, because of translation, it need not precede the new literature.  Like group bodies of works such as European or Indian Literature, this one can receive contributions from many languages. Indeed, it may be that, if the above guidelines can be followed in writing a story, it can be expressed in any language.

Literatures are named after the language they are written in or the audience they address.  Since this newly uncovered one addresses Humanity, it could be called Humanilit.  It can be created in any language that has writing and can receive contributions from anywhere in the world.  Because of translation, it can also be read anywhere.
Referring only to things found throughout the habitable world gives Humanilit one of its main characteristics.  Its translation is fairly easy.  The simplicity resulting from democratization helps as well.
Sidestepping built-in barriers to the communication of thoughts and feelings — world-dividing issues — results in another characteristic of the new literature.  It is more abstract.  However, it can be predicted that writers will change that by gradually revealing more of how societies and their territories are similar — in other words, by revealing more of the supergroup and its supersetting.

Humanilit arises from present-day group literatures.  There is a need to see clearly that it is greater than them only in the much bigger audience it can reach and touch.  Existing literatures definitely will and should continue.  Many stories are intended specifically for groups, and it is natural that writers of Humanilit would also contribute to their native literatures.
There is greatness in many group literatures, and they will probably outshine Humanilit for many years.  First, the new literature must be established.  Then it can be developed and improved.  It will probably have great writers someday.

Occasionally, an author working in a group literature produces a very wonderful story that, by translation, reaches and touches the feelings of readers everywhere.  It is clearly set in a particular place, among a certain people, and things are mentioned that would normally act as built-in barriers to the communication of thoughts and feelings. However, the story is so marvelously human that it somehow transcends
barriers.  Such works are described as universal, and they are very
great.
To mention just one story, Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea is such a universal work.
Only time will tell if Humanilit creations can rise to the level of universal stories from group literatures.  It needs to be seen, though, that the ultimate goal is new.  Rather than individual works, it is an entire literature that is felt and understood everywhere.  It will be based on observations that can be made about real people in all inhabited real places.  Barriers to the communication of thoughts and feelings will not appear and won’t need to be transcended.

Authors beginning new stories can consider whether they would apply widely enough to be written as Humanilit.  The possibility of addressing all Mankind is very appealing.  The existence of this alternative way of presenting narrative, the advanced state of translation and the ease of widespread communications all invite such creations.
Another inducement to writing Humanilit in its early days is that it would be helping to shape the new body of works.
Beyond the literature itself lies its possible effect on Mankind’s future.  All Humanilit will help in learning more about the supergroup and the supersetting it exists in.  If frequently emphasizing the whole of Humanity resulted in diminishing thoughts of ‘us’ and ‘them’, co-operating to solve world problems might be much more possible.

Something more must be said about Ernest Hemingway.  Looking closely at ‘A Clean, Well-lighted Place’ reveals that he had made definite progress toward seeing the world clearly and as a whole.  Avoiding the capitalized names of people and places was a huge first step.
Twenty years later, in The Old Man And The Sea,  he still glimpsed the major new idea he had begun uncovering.  Although there are plenty of other proper nouns, he avoided the name of his hero, Santiago — except once — throughout all the fishing part of that story.  The hero’s young friend, Manolin, is not named there either.  They are just ‘the old man’ and ‘the boy’.  No terms could be more widely felt
and understood.
Hemingway only needed to see that, in some story, sketching the supersetting and further sidestepping the particular or specific — those world-dividing factors — would have led to narrative that could apply to all human beings everywhere, the whole supergroup of Mankind. To attain that, he had to avoid the issues of race and colour, language, nationality, religion and culture.  It seems like a great deal to omit, but the essential humanity that remains is much greater. In his hands, the resulting story would probably have been magnificent.  He might have looked upon it as bringing down the biggest of all possible big game.
Accepting the Nobel Prize, Hemingway said, “Things may not be immediately discernible in what a man writes —”  As of 1954, the world was not yet seeing all the things it should see in his work. “— but eventually they are quite clear—.”
Perhaps the most useful things that can be said here about what he meant are best offered as questions about ‘A Clean, Well-lighted Place’ and The Old Man and the Sea.   Although the concept of Humanilit was not yet available when he wrote them, wasn’t Hemingway foreseeing this newly uncovered literature to a considerable extent in both those stories?  In ‘A Clean, Well-lighted Place’, wasn’t he close to actually launching his prose that has never been written, and isn’t that prose in fact Humanilit, the literature of all Mankind?

[2003]