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jay sankey The Value of Material Fiction

By Jay 

Have you ever wondered why it is that you enjoy bringing about seemingly magical events? Or why an audience might like watching and experiencing Material Fiction? Simply put, what exactly does the performer and the audience “get out of “ the situation?

Do we perform simply because we “like to make people happy” and we’re simply nice people? Or do those of us who create and perform do so because of some less rational, more self-based, pleasure derived from the act of apparently defying the day-to-day laws of our world?

Our dramatic craft or art is similar to photography, painting, and a great deal of literature at least in one respect…they all involve fictitious subject matter. Not only do writers, photographers, and painters represent actual objects differently than they are perceived, but they also frequently depict in their works ideas or images from their imagination. Writers of fantasy in particular, often present their readers with a series of seemingly impossible events. As performers of Material Fiction, this is exactly what we do, though ours is a dynamic and dramatic presentation as opposed to a static and literary one.

For many people, the wall between the “possible” and the apparently “impossible” is very rigid and concrete, strengthened by both a lack of imagination and a vast and socially-encouraged collection of prejudices.

But Material Fiction, at its best, questions the solidity of this wall, though only for the duration of a performance, momentarily poking little holes in it and allowing convictions from both sides to leak through to the other.

I believe that the essential value of Material Fiction, for both the Material Fictionist (unlike the mere “magician”) and his audience is founded upon this temporary suggesting of “what if?” This “what if?” can be analyzed from two different though overlapping perspectives – the emotional, and the intellectual.

In his “Tree and Leaf” essay, J.R.R. Tolkien rejects the overall value of the “magician” outright. Now, I won’t say I disagree with him, but I feel that the qualities of a performance of Material Fiction, as opposed to so-called “magic”, have the potential to attain levels of emotional and intellectual stimulation equal to that of what Tolkien refers to as “Fantasy”.

For Tolkien, Fantasy has three predominantly emotional prime virtues or benefits. The first virtue Tolkien names “Recovery”. This is basically the participant’s regaining of a clear and unprejudiced view of raw possibilities by the wiping away of the “drab blur of familiarity”. In reference to this virtue, Tolkien also mentions the benefit of “mooreeffoc” (“coffeeroom” backwards) or the inversion of familiar places and things enabling one to see them in fresh and unusual ways. However, Tolkien also points out that creative fantasy not only tries to show common things in an unusual light, but to also create something new in the mind of the participant.

The second of Fantasy’s virtues is Escape. Of the three virtues, Tolkien spends the most ink upon this virtue due to the common derogatory connotations associated with the notion of “escape”. In an attempt to resolve the usual confusion, Tolkien distinguishes between the “Escape of the Prisoner” and the “Flight of the Deserter”, the latter being the one usually associated with the idea of “Fantasy” for the sake of escape.

However, unlike the Flight of the Deserter which is weak, guilt-ridden, and cowardly flight from reality, or – or to use Tolkien’s phrase – the Primary World. The Escape of the Prisoner is a romantic transcendence into the fantastic Secondary World. The first is an escape driven by fear and weakness, the second by desire. To quote Tolkien, “Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home?”

Fantasy’s third and final virtue, Consolation, is the virtue that is the least applicable to the performance of Material Fiction, involving more than just the imaginative satisfaction of desires. The Consolation of Fantasy is a direct result of the joy of a story’s “happy ending”, one which denies the fatalistic notion of universal defeat.

Great Fantasy, like great Material Fiction, is a rare and wonderful thing, not easily nor often achieved, but I honestly think that great Material Fiction is capable of embodying all three of the virtues just outlined, especially those of Recovery and Escape. However, for a performance to emotionally involve the participants to such an extent requires a temporary kidnapping of their emotions in order to lull them into one’s created, and thus stylized, Secondary World.

But enough of the possible emotional benefits of Material Fiction, what of the intellectual ones? Bertrand Russell suggests that one of the key benefits of the discipline of philosophy is that by thinking and being confronted with possibilities rather than apparent certainties, one’s speculative interest in the universe is kept alive. In other words, Russell values philosophy due to the effect it has, namely an impression of uncertainty, upon those who study it.

Material Fiction, I would suggest, has a similar potential potency, however, it impresses thoughts of uncertainty upon the spectators who witness it rather than upon those who study it, – because for us, those who perform, all is certain concerning our art. Convincingly “told” stories in the form of Material Fiction, like the study of philosophy, suggest many unusual possibilities which enlarge the spectators’ intellect, briefly freeing it from the “tyranny of custom” (to use Russell’s phrase).

Though many elements of both Tolkien’s view concerning the emotional virtues of Fantasy and Russell’s view on the intellectual virtue of philosophy are essentially embodied in a great performance of Material Fiction, certain aspects of the two views differ, with their basic difference being that Tolkien seems to emphasize the aesthetic and emotional, and Russell the intellectual.

Material Fiction however, is capable of being a unique hybrid of the two views, emphasizing attitudes towards human experience in general instead of emotional or intellectual aspects in particular. Unconventional, though emotionally involving thoughts, perceptions, and observations are the blood and guts of a performance of Material Fiction, their very “other worldliness” being the prime benefit and value for both performers and participants.

By Jay Sankey – Be sure to check out Jay’s website:

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