RE: memetics of the heroine

From: Vincent Campbell (
Date: Thu May 10 2001 - 14:21:18 BST

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    From: Vincent Campbell <>
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    Subject: RE: memetics of the heroine
    Date: Thu, 10 May 2001 14:21:18 +0100
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    >>In one sense this depends on whether one views texts as memes (or
    >>memeplexes) themselves or reflective of memes in culture- some
    would say the
    >>former, some the latter, others both, and some neither! Cultural
    >>inscription is reasonable IMHO.

            <I don't know that I have a position on that: other than the obvious
    > that, whatever the relationship between text-as-meme and
    > text-as-reflection-of-meme-in-culture, these processes, if they happen, do
    > so in that order. This is another D Adams idea (incipit to Mostly
    > Harmless,
    > I think) but it goes back further. My theory is that the relationship
    > between time (consequent event) and text is that one mirrors (sometimes
    > with
    > ludic play on chronology) the beginning-to-end structure of the other.
    > Beginning-to-end, that is, as we seem to perceive event; it seems as if we
    > order lived time like a story to put some kind of sense on it: we have the
    > illusion that we understand our past better once it is gone, and that what
    > we are doing in the present makes sense in terms of future benefit,
    > (survival, fufilment, or other perceived objective); paradoxically, since
    > the one clear fact about the past is that it is not present, and that the
    > future is theoretical.>
            Well there's lots of stuff in different fields to go along with that
    basic idea, from time's arrow stuff, to cog. psychology on memory (e.g
    sharpening and levelling of events in memory, such that over time complex
    historical events can end up us simplistic, but concretised mythology).
    Narrative is central to our perception of events. I don't think it is an
    illusion that we are capable of understanding our actions once they're in
    the past, though. The extent to which we actually do learn from the past
    may be less than we often believe.
            <My point is that if we stigmatise our present in favour of a past
    which we
    > somehow perceive as being more easily grasped when it is gone, and
    > sacrifice
    > it to a future which may or may not happen, this may be because we like
    > stories, which also order themselves in a post hoc, propter hoc
    > structure.>
            Do we do that though- stigmatise the present, I mean?

            <They attempt to explain the present in terms of the past and
    describe the
    > present as causing the future. ( I think this was Adams' point, and the
    > reason Dent was such a waverer: Proust's Recherche is rather similar in
    > this
    > respect). Or, of course, vice versa; our cultural inscription is heavily
    > narrative because we like to assimilate order = direction and order =
    > organisation, meaningful structure. Either way, I think the text / society
    > relation (text as meme, text as meme reflected...) is
    > structural-counterstructural.>
            I don't think I quite buy this last bit. I don't know though. I'm
    reminded of another book, again that may be tangential to your study, David
    Seed's 'American Science Fiction and the Cold War' (1999), Here Seed talks
    about how science fiction of the period articulated, perhaps most clearly of
    all genres of the time, the anxieties of the US (e.g. fears of invasion,
    nuclear destruction etc.) in a way that it was difficult, or even impossible
    for mainstream debates to even acknowledge, let alone discuss. Hence he
    argues sci-fi to be one of the best sites for appraising an era's fears.

            Of course one of the problems in fiction is fixing notions of
    hero/heroine, i.e. are there points in the texts which confirm beyond doubt
    the status of particular characters, or is there room for reader flexibility
    in interpretation. I was at a conference the other day where someone was
    giving a paper in which they talked about the multiple, and oppositional
    interpretations of vampires in fiction (e.g. pro/anti feminist, pro/anti
    homosexuality etc. etc.). Somebody commented that this kind of thing
    reflected the idea of the seimotic machine (I don't know who originated this
    term, but I like it), that sometimes fictional characters have such a
    multiplicity of interpretations that there's a kind of overload of

            This could, to a lesser extent perhaps, extend to more conventional
    fictional representations, e.g. is Ally McBeal a heroine or a villain?
    Perhaps the more verisimilitude there is in the characterisation (bit of a
    difference between Ally McBeal and Buffy the Vampire Slayer for example) the
    more problematic it is to simply desiginate characters as heroines (or
    heroes similarly). [BTW can you spot my media studies location in my
    examples? I'm trying to think of literary figures, but all I can come up
    with from my film & lit. undergrad days is Maya Angelou, who's real so that
    sort of doesn't count... I did modern french lit. as an undergrad, in
    translation, but I only really remember Sartre and Camus, although we did
    study some female authors, Duras I think, and someone else, who's name I
    just can't recall despite my quite liking their work, Colette, perhaps...
    This stems from me being very bad at reading novels as a student- I bought
    them all, but wasn't disciplined enough to read many of them, so many are
    still sitting on shelves waiting to be discovered- or half read, I read
    about 150 pages of Proust before discovering we weren't studying him that
    year, and promptly gave up].

            Anyway, I'm blathering so I'll stop.


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