Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Objects of Significance, Objects that Signify

The Significant Objects Project rocks on. They're now at the end of the second round (the last object is up, folks, time to start bidding) the proceeds of which benefit 826 National, the writing program that Dave Eggers and crew began in SF and now has gone, umm, national. Sig. Obj. has now raised over $2,000 by  e-baying various thingamabobs, doohickeys and tchotchkes after they've been value-enhanced by a pertinent albeit invented history.  Rob Walker chats more about the project here at More Intelligent Life.

This past week, Sig Obj has been dedicated to objects collected by Underwater New York, which...well, to get the whole story you'll have to go there, but suffice it to say, these evocative objects have another whole layer of meaning sloughing off them; they've been underwater before being salvaged by the intrepid band of New Yorkers dedicated to seeing what is under their water. (hell yeah, they're brave! or... foolhardy?)  Yep, hop on over there, it'll all become clearer. But -- remember: come back!

So the Sig Obj project is looking at how a story enhances an object. It's fascinating that once we've engaged with an object, once we've attached value, symbolism, meaning to a thing, that thing becomes precious to us, even though it itself hasn't (usually) changed one iota and is probably, on the grand scheme of things, inherently worthless. Although Jamie Madigan's blog is about gamers and why they do what they do, this particular post considers the assigned vs absolute values of objects and he quotes some very interesting research about what happens when objects carry an emotional charge. Go there for the research...come back here to find out what the hell I think I'm talking about.

Okay, a story making objects valuable, we got that. But it got me thinking about the role of objects in fiction; how they carry meaning for the story. Not just symbolically, though that can happen. I'm thinking more like the inventory that Ron Carlson talks about: the stuff that arrives at the start of the first draft, the objects, attitudes, names, weather, etc., and how these things both define the story and can be used later in the draft to keep the story moving along. But the idea is that these specifics bring significance to the story, they give it life. To me it is the reverse of story granting significance to things; it's things granting significance to the story.

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