18 / CHRONICLESnTHE SHUTTERnby J.C. Halln”There were eleven windows showing between thenwooden trellis covered with ivy. One shutter in thenmiddle was put there for symmetry only, but I oftenndream about this mysterious room which does notnexist behind the closed shutter.”n—Anais Nin: JournalsnI too. Only last night I climbednThat fragile stair, more like a ghostnThan man, to turn the knobnAnd venture in, too much afraid almost.nAll our imagined furniture:nSecretaire, letters in purple skein,nFirescreen before the dying coals—nA room expecting to be dreamt again.nIllusions of life and art!nThat porcelain too frail to dust,nThose private messages … As I went innI trembled for such trust.nShall 1 tell you the secret then?nSomething, my dear, you’d never guess.nNothing. Only the slit moonlight fallingnOn floors of emptiness.nIf I flung back the shutter and leant out.nStraining my eyes towards the shadowed placenWhere you wait like an effigy.nWould you believe my face?n].C. Hall’s most recent volume of poetry is Selected andnNew Poems, 1939-84 (Seeker & Warburg).nturn constructs an appropriate kind of time. If we can tell anstory about our predicament, we have made enough sensenof it to discern what alternatives for action are offered andnneed not respond to it out of some automatism or reflex.nThe problem with the novel form is that its implicitnassumption of psychic automatism frustrates the purpose ofntale-telling, which is to propose alternatives. Modernismnoften counsels us to live in the moment because modernistnnarrative sees time as a single set of rails to which we arenfixed, and from which the only escape is by a denial of time.nBut the classical narrative genres do not propose the samentemporal geometry; in the tale, for instance, the primacy ofnplot over characterization paradoxically leaves the protagonistnfree, responsible, and creative.nBy narrative, then, we tell ourselves the story of ourselvesnand thus learn how to be a coherent and effective self Thenstory is the central operation by which we are able to lovenand to work. Certain types of mental illness might well bencharacterized as lesions in the narrative capacity. Theninability to see other people’s point of view and the inabilitynto string the moments of time together in a valuable andnnnmeaningful way are characteristic of a certain type ofnnarcissistic or borderline personality which is now showingnup in the therapists’ waiting rooms. It also shows up in thencharacters and implied narrators in postmodern fictions bynthe likes of Raymond Carver and Anne Beatty.nIt seems to me that the time has come to rethink ournwhole aesthetic and ethic of narrative and fiction, as wenrethink, from our oddly detached viewpoint in this transitionalnperiod we call postmodern, the fundamentals of allnour arts. If we regard ourselves as at a beginning rather thannas at an ending, we will find enormous opportunities fornartistic achievement. We must examine the great traditionsnof all the world’s cultures, compare them with what we arencoming to know about the human nervous system andnhuman evolution, and actively seek out the inbuilt grammarnby which our creativity operates. The “naturalclassical”nforms, as I have called them, are those formsnarising in all traditions which are demonstrably tuned to thenchemistry, rhythmicity, and anatomy of the human brainnin such a way as to enhance our capacity to make moral,naesthetic, and philosophical sense of the world, and to makenus effective in it as individuals and as a community. Thesenforms are embedded in our genetic makeup by their value tonour prehistoric ancestors, and in using them we reunitenourselves with the immediacy of their oral, performed,nmagical, and kinetic ritual.nOnce such a traditional genre is mastered, it feels to thenartist like an immensely powerful and sensitive instrument,nby which tasks one would never have dreamed of accomplishingnbecome feasible. Its range of options—every greatngenre is both a collection of possibilities for creation and anmethod for generating more—suggest entirely new ways fornthe artist to develop and manifest her creative individuality.nAn artist becomes the more himself, the less he is confinednwithin the monotonous voice of his own everyday subjectivity.nThere is a certain self-regard which can ruin an artistnquite as it can ruin a friend—and for similar reasons. Antraditional genre, with its demand for technical craftsmanship,nfictive invention, and sympathetic objectivity, cannreroute the energies of that self-concern and make themnproductive rather than paralyzing. The result is often,nstrangely enough, a much deeper probing of psychologicalntruth than is the barren posturing of the naked ego upon thenempty stage of modernist or postmodernist “freedom.” Atnthe same time, the artist is truly united with the grave ornhilarious ghosts of his predecessors and successors in thengenre. The immortality of art perhaps consists more in thisnpiety than in the memory of a name.nHow might the renaissance I have suggested be accomplishednin narrative? As I have implied, much might bendone simply refurbishing the old narrative genres and usingnthem to revision the contemporary world. Again, it is highntime that narrative be reunited with verse, drama, and thenrichest and deepest philosophical discourse. Most interestingnof all, perhaps, is the possibility that science fiction maynhave arisen as an authentic response to our need for mythsnto give coherence and meaning to the universe. If this is so,nwe need only graft this new manifestation of the mythopoeicnimpulse to the old, to have at our disposal an artisticninstrument of great power, ready and able to supply thenstory material for a new epic of our times.n