The only thing we can do

X thinks that Barry Lyndon is visually lovely, has good costumes, landscapes and interiors, but little more than an ordinary story. Last year, Y said precisely the same thing about another old favorite of mine, Visconti's Senso.

I wonder what my friends would think constitutes an extraordinary story?

And is an extraordinary story possible? Life's not a terribly complicated business: a limited number of possible life goals (food, shelter, sex, freedom, happiness, knowledge, skill) combined with a limited number of possible relationships (parents/children, siblings/friends/allies, lovers, masters/slaves, strangers, enemies) ends up generating a rather small grid of possible plots. 6 x 7 = 42, says math. 36 says Polti. 20 says Tobias. 7 says the volunteer librarian Jessamyn West.1

Really, the only thing we can do is tell an old story well -- beautifully, if we can, or with suspense, if we can't. The story itself cannot possibly matter, because, if you think about it, every new story you ever hear, you have heard already.

There is a kind of delightfully youthful innocence about the complaint that X tells an ordinary, old story: it is the charming expectation that new, different, surprising stories are possible.


PS. Here is a well written novel review, oblique to this post:

Let's see: In many key aspects, Jane Eyre rewrites Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and Gaskell's North and South and Browning's Aurora Leigh rewrites Jane Eyre. One conclusion might be, therefore, that reusing plots is not in the least a problem. Of course Vergil also self-consciously rewrites Homer, and Milton both Homer and Milton (and quite a few others). Is the limited number of plots a problem, then, or an advantage — a bug or a feature?


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