Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Parataxis, Grant Morrison & Why People Hate His Endings - A Snippet

Trying not to cover the same ground too much here, but this stuff has been bothering me as of late. Another piece on Grant Morrison isn't exactly what I wanted to do, but hey, gotta go with the ideas. I didn't--and don't--want to do this as a full-out essay though. I just want to touch on a couple of things and then get off the stage.

Gotta go back to a class this year--as I come into contact with a lot of cool ideas in my classes and then end up applying them to comics, if you hadn't noticed (and who says you don't learn anything useful in school?)--and something the prof mentioned. It was that Arthurian legends class I mentioned in my piece on the repetition of the same narrative over and over again, and we were looking at Malory's Morte Darthur. Malory was a little different from the previous things we'd read because he used a technique in his writing called parataxis. Basically, parataxis is writing without--or at the very least, very little--cause and effect in the narrative. This means essentially the flow of the story is "and then . . . and then . . . and then . . . and then . . ." and so on. Events just happen without a big effort to make them fit into one larger narrative.

Instantly, I thought of Grant Morrison's writing. See, as far as I can tell, he's rather fond of using parataxis in his writing. This is why he is so great at creating stories where it seems like everything is falling apart at the seams: because he just keeps piling on events in an "and then . . ." fashion. To do this, he uses rapid cuts and just little segments of scenes.

That isn't to say that cause and effect don't exist in his stories, as they obviously do, but to a far lesser degree. He relies in inferred cause and effect rather than explained. He doesn't hold your hand. Often, characters will have already figured out plot points and be in the midst of reacting before the reader is clued in.

It's a technique often used in soap operas, which is of course why it worked so well in New X-Men. But it also leads to less than satisfactory endings a lot of the time, because there's no way to get out of that "and then . . ." mentality. Most of the endings to Morrison stories aren't really endings, but just another event in the sequence of events that have happened up until that point. While that works great in the middle of a run on a book where the little sub-story is completed, but the larger story keeps on going, it kind of sucks at the end of a run.

Of course, parataxis is a technique that's used in an effort to imitate life, which is often what Morrison endings end up looking like. Sure, today is all done, but tomorrow is coming right up--only we don't see the tomorrow often. This method of storytelling is strangely considerate when he works on a corporate-owned ongoing title like JLA or New X-Men, because it recognises that the stories involving the characters aren't over, because a new writer will be telling a new story next month. It does become slightly frustrating on creator-owned works like The Filth where there is no story next month. It makes for good imitation of life, but sometimes less than satisfactory storytelling.

To be fair, I like those kind of endings, but I do recognise that some people don't and I hope this explains it a little.