Saturday, July 04, 2009

Michael Talbot's The Holographic Universe

One of the books that has most influenced my writing, and in particular, my ideas about narrative structure, is Michael Talbot's The Holographic Universe. When I came upon it a few years ago, I was already a fan of Canadian novelist Douglas Glover and his notion of the story as net. In other words, even without the scaffolding of a formal plot (ye olde Fichtean curve), a net of images can cohere and indeed so powerfully resonate in the reader's mind that the net is the story. A satisfying story. It was directly--- literally, less than an hour--- after reading Glover's essays on the story as net and the novel as poem (now collected in Notes Home from a Prodigal Son) that I sat down wrote the one that became the title story for my first collection, Sky Over El Nido. In this story the images, woven throughout, have to do with flight: birds, nests, eggs, airplanes. What's the "plot"? A fistful of air.

Later, before beginning to write my novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, I happened upon Talbot's The Holographic Universe, an elegantly lucid and very accessible overview of some of the (then) most cutting-edge theories in quantum physics and in particular, those of David Bohm. If the universe itself is a hologram, or has holographic characteristics, then this could explain why nets of images--- the suggestion of the whole in each of its parts--- can resonate with such strange power in a reader's mind.

Does my novel have that power? You decide. But one of the several paradigms I worked with while writing it was, again, the story as a net and, to borrow the title of one of Douglas Glover's essays, "The Novel As Poem." Yes, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire is a poem. And the main character is not a person but an idea--- the prince as living symbol of the future of the empire. Where does such an idea live? In many minds--- ergo, the novel has a crowd of characters, indeed, a net of characters, woven in among each other's minds and actions.

Just of few of the fleeting and repeating images: the Totonac bowl, Egypt, birds, sweets, twilights, composers, asparagus.

(Though indeed it does have a plot, and I worked with various paradigms--- Fichtean curve, Syd Field's three acts, and others--- while constructing it.)

Last night, I happened upon this video of pychologist Jeffrey Mishlove's interview with Talbot. It's well worth watching in its entirety. Sad to say, Talbot died of leukemia in 1992.

More anon.