Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Context Matrix

The other night I watched a movie with a friend. It was a thinking movie, the kind I love. Do people ever tell you a movie is "about" the plot? I mean, a movie or book is rarely about what happens. The events and characters are about something else. Jane Austen was kind enough to tell us in her titles what her books were about. Some people don't realize the subject of their art until they themselves step back to view the metaphor against the big picture.

This movie, it quoted Shakespeare. And even though I'm familiar with about two Shakespeare plays (a comedy - translate: happy ending and a tragedy - translate: everyone dies, but only in the end) and a sonnet, I've figured out that Shakespeare wrote about things. I don't always know what. And so to quote a line from Shakespeare is to imply the subject of his play.

Because my examples are limited, I'm going to use the one I can think of. In Hamlet, the title character arranges for a pointed stage drama designed to convict his mother of her sins. (He ruins the effect by talking straight through the play; Shakespeare should have better appreciated the power of art when left to speak for itself.) In this drama within a play is a woman who worries aloud about whether she is making the right decision. She hesitates to give into temptation. At the end of the play, Hamlet asks his mother for her review of the performance. "Methinks she doth protest too much," says the mother. And so we have a commonly quoted phrase of Shakespeare.

When someone quotes that line, they are often and most correctly implying the context, too. They're even bringing with them the end of the tale, with its vilifications and justifications. Being familiar with the anthologies referenced in works of art can go a long way towards comprehension. Another advandage to interpretation is to have already made a thought venture or two into the subject. The Matrix, I believe, is about fate. How powerful is the human will? Whether I agree with The Matrix's statements on this subject or not, I can more readily grasp those statements because I've spent a lot of time investigating free will and the sovereignty of God.

These references to shared philosophical questions, literary experiences, etc. make up a story-mosaic within the larger story. And it can be done in a movie, in a poem, in witticism, in art, and even in everyday conversation. A frequent form of Context Matrix is the inside joke phenomenon.

Image from DiyHappy

My brother writes poetry. Sometimes he just writes whatever is in his head that jumbles into verse form. Some evolutionists wrongly suggest that organisms acquire additional DNA information (to change them into new species) by sort of colliding with other organisms with different DNA (we have the eye factory organism over here, going through generations of natural selection to finally reach vision, and he'll share someday with the organism working out wings and flight). This is not a sufficient mechanism for biology, but it seems to happen in the thought realm of my brother's mind. But he isn't in control of his mental context matrix, of all the things he encounters in his life to fuel his thoughts and shape his experiences. I believe there is a designer at work on each of our lives, and sometimes before we are even aware, He is writing patterns into the mosaic of experiences. Those patterns come out like (good) toxocology reports on my brother's thoughts.

Let me tell you, though, that unless you know my brother on a day-to-day basis, interpreting his poetry is impossible. He doesn't care. For whatever it's worth to you, whatever the words mean to you, take them or leave them. I suppose a lot of art is like that, subjected to the needs and interests of the connoisseur.

I'm really bad at getting metaphors. There is probably a common representative language among poets into which I, for lack of study, have not been initiated. When I do catch on to a metaphor, I'm really excited.

One breakthrough recently is the willingness to admit my ignorance and ask for help in understanding things. (For years I've been trying to help my "blonde" - literal or figurative - friends appear smarter by teaching them to wait a while and see if they catch on before they admit themselves to teasing by that inimitable expression, "Huh?" Now they're teaching me to learn by being willing to ask.) Having a brother like mine helps. Sometimes, you just have to ask the source. Such was my plan of action for a blog I read.

A friend told me that his friend was disappointed in the lack of response to his blog. I've been blogging for two and a half years, and let me tell you, the blog world is big; finding an audience is hard. Out of compassionate curiosity, I found the blog and read it. It didn't make any sense. I mean the words made sense, but they were the plot, not the subject. Months later I checked it again. This time I was convinced that the blog was more than the product of bored hours of creatively mimicing archaic literature. The author was getting at something flying over my head at light speed. So I asked.

And today the author answered. By now I forgot most of what I read, so I have to re-read the post, too. Here it is: The Perilous Journeys of St. Upid I dare you to leave comments (on my blog as well as his) with what you think it's about.

My point here is that my friend understood his friend's blog because he knew the context matrix his friend was using. They've talked in unambiguous language about these topics. They've also both seen Monty Python, which may have helped me if I'd seen more of his stuff. That's your only hint.

To God be all glory.


St. Upid said...

i understand and agree. lately ive been having to explain many of my quips in conversations with people unfamiliar with my own content matrix.

for example: earlier this week i made a casual remark about one of my nephews facebook pix. seems he was playing baseball and someone snapped a shot off after a swing. my first thot was of an espn sportscenter guy who used to make odd statements over the highlight reel during the show. the particular statement that came to mind was: the simplicity of this game amuses me. it was i take it his way of expressing admiration for the herculean home run power of the particular athlete in the clip.

so after i made the comment my nephew retorted with a scowling swipe at football (my favorite sport) as if he thot i meant insult in my statement against his preference of sport. i had to explain to him the whole background to clear things up.

i wonder how the gospel might weave its way thru such content matrices? now theres an interesting post id like to read.

Anonymous said...

Dear Sister,

Monty Python... is a group... not a he. =)

"There are differing accounts of the origins of the Python name although the members agree that its only "significance" was that they thought it sounded funny. In the 1998 documentary Live At Aspen the group implied that "Monty" was selected as a gently-mocking tribute to Field Marshal Lord Montgomery, a legendary British general of World War II; requiring a "slippery-sounding" surname, they settled on "Python". On other occasions Idle has claimed that the name "Monty" was that of a popular and rotund fellow who drank in his local pub; people would often walk in and ask the barman, "Has Monty been in yet?", forcing the name to become stuck in his mind. " -http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monty_Python

"Know thyself."

I guess your quote could be, "Admit thyself."

"One breakthrough recently is the willingness to admit my ignorance and ask for help in understanding things."

Wise advice.

I gtg.

Thanks for sharing though... good stuff... interesting... laced with truth, and honesty... Praise God for His gracious gift of life.

-MAC <>< =)