Introduction to Theme Theory
as of November 2015
What you are about to read (if you read it) is a transformative theory about how and why we do what we do. I have collected data on this, studied and refined the theory, and lectured on it for many years, but now it is time to publish. So please sharpen your questions, your disbelief, and your red pencils.
The dialogue with you begins.
But first the prologue.
Humans create because they have been created and the act of creation is as godlike as we can be, it is our only means of immortality (surrogate at best); and, from the chemical and cellular level on up, creation or propagation is instinctive and unflinching. Being creative is the definition of life itself. We all do it. The only distinction is our individual level of self-knowledge as to what each of us does, and the intention of this monograph is to raise your consciousness.
What you do thereafter with your higher consciousness is entirely up to you.
A juried paper presentation of my Theme Theory, in nascent form and limited to one medium, came at the World Literature and Classics 39th Annual Comparative Literature Conference in March 2004. I expected the reaction to be bemusement, but in fact it was not. Instead, the renowned scholars in the room treated it as music to their ears, an answer to the questions they had long been trying to figure out how to ask.
Emboldened, I pressed on with data collection and analysis, and the theory proved up at every turn and in every way and at every subsequent presentation over the next decade plus.
The highest and best way to lay out the theory is by reference to the forms and content of human expression, to what we must look at as intended creativity or art or purposeful utility.
This first monograph will examine and overview creative writing in various media, from religious texts to novels and film. Further monographs will cover all the institutions invented by human beings, from cosmology and science to politics to business to education, and on and on, including more specifics on the arts across all sense modalities. Nothing human falls outside Theme Theory.
So, please bear this in mind as you continue reading: Theme Theory is foundational, it both predicts and explains all other theories and faiths of human consciousness and behavior, including psychology and personality paradigms -- there can be no contradiction between Theme Theory and any other theory, whatever belief system you own or consider has its place within Theme Theory.
NOTION THE FIRST
Being acutely conscious of one’s epitaph is the fundamental requirement of an artist/communicator. You cannot create pictures or music or writing and say what you mean or mean what you say unless you know why you are creating anything at all.
By the same token, even if you do not consider yourself an artist/communicator, you are a human being who communicates at all times as the normal part of your daily living. The following therefore applies to you as well, even if, as a non-artist, you are not intentionally crafting a body of communicative work external to yourself.
NOTION THE SECOND
Your "why" is your "theme". And, throughout your entire life, your "why" NEVER changes.
NOTION THE THIRD
There are only two themes in all of human existence. There are only two possible whys. All human motivation is binary, and each human's is singular.
NOTION THE FOURTH
It very much matters whether you are a "1" or whether you are a "0". They are equal but they are not at all the same.
REVELATION AND DISCUSSION
The theme that drives me personally (my why) is the question that perplexes me (me and exactly one half of the people in the world), namely: Why are we born to die? Or, re-stated: What is the point of a temporal existence, why is there time?
It is not enough to answer that time begat the only life we know, because something existed outside of time and was there or even responsible for starting the genesis clock of day and night that led to life and to death. Immortality created mortality, whether you believe in physics or God or games of dice.
(The only issue is to lay out the conceptual/mathematical equation that determines where and when consciousness will arise, since life is information and consciousness is awareness of the information, and life exists with or without consciousness. My next monograph will deal with the consciousness equation in the context of cosmology and "The Twisted Twistor Consideration".)
For me personally -- for the theme that defines and defies me -- I need range no further than realizing that I am trapped in the great debate over the tautological paradox of free will versus determinism.
By definition, there is no lie to a tautology and no resolution to a paradox, but one must live one’s life anyway, and so mine has been dedicated to studying science in order to seek an answer that does not exist except in faith, and then, since my youth, to writing and to wanting to teach writing, in order to become significant through that legacy.
Writing is a deeply personal, individual experience -- yet we write in order to be heard, to connect, to transfer the resonance of our experience to our fellows, to say the things that others feel but cannot say. We write and we read to stave off our fear of loss of sense of self.
When we write, we certainly write about many ideas told through the lives of our characters and narrators, but each writer writes to only one theme for their entire life, and, while there are only two of those themes from which to choose, you do not get a choice. You are what you are.
The first theme, as I have just suggested, is: Free Will versus Determinism. Call it “FWD” if you will. It is at base a fear of death as the diminution of personal significance. Half of the writers in the world are bedeviled by that theme. Somerset Maugham, William Faulkner, James Thurber, Friedrich Duerrenmatt, Martin Amis, Iain Banks, Gene Roddenberry, Barack Obama, Socrates, my countryman Victor Hugo, and the folks who created Batman, among many others.
The other half of the writers write to the other tautological paradox that describes human existence: Solipsism versus Socialization. Call that “SVS”. This is what I teasingly refer to as God’s existential dilemma. It is the notion that all anyone can know is oneself, yet one cannot know that without the reflection of self in society. And, worse, being in society delimits self-actualization.
So, the God of the Old Testament must be SVS or else why would He start the clock and create us or anything? This God doesn’t know He’s God unless and until He creates. Oscar Wilde, Franz Kafka, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, Albert Camus, J.K. Rowling, George Lucas, Hilary Clinton, Plato, the folks who created Superman, they are all SVS. There is good and bad in everyone’s world, but self-judgment attaches extrinsically in an SVS perspective, mirrors are more dangerous to someone SVS.
This binary reality -- that you are either FWD or SVS, and everything you think or do reflects it and no other fundamental characterological driver -- is what I call "Theme Theory".
TESTAMENTARY EXAMPLES: OLD AND NEW AND THEN SOME
Let us look at the literature of Western religion -- the all-time written "best sellers" -- to see what Theme Theory reveals about each and all of us.
The "writers" of the Old Testament, the first modern folks to write insistently of a single God, they were FWD and, as you will later see herein, therefore needed an SVS hero's journey to an FWD result, a God who wanted attention and sat in judgment but would finally learn different. This was a God imagined by FWD writers who needed to believe in timelessness (or immortality in whatever form would spare them the negation of their own meaning), but knew that God obviously did not and perhaps could not create life without first creating time which would lead to their deaths. Good and bad were therefore less relevant than insignificance.
But then Jesus Christ arrived on scene as the chiral flip on God. The Old Testament was written by FWDs with their SVS God, while the New Testament was written by SVSs with an FWD Jesus Christ. Morality suddenly mattered in place of obeisance; morality was something external to what would please a God.
Is there a more existentially understanding and compassionate character in all of literature than Jesus Christ? (Would it be inappropriate to answer with "hell no"?) Jesus comes to Earth knowing his fate. We are bad because he is so good.
God The Father was somehow surprised by all that action in the Garden of Eden, by humans soon beseeching Him for further involvement, and by a whole bunch of other naughty human stuff that made Him fitfully command sacrifice and exact retribution (plagues, pestilence, pillars of salt, general pissiness and annoyance), but Jesus arrives knowing he will be martyred by us, and that is cool by him. Like his Father, Jesus' character does not arc to a new thematic resolution in the texts, Dad stays SVS and Jesus stays FWD, and the real story is in the writers, the readers, and the believers, and how their lives arc through the literature of the institutions of religion they have created.
Next up in Western religious chronology, the Quran becomes a re-boot of the Old Testament, but with Allah as a more enlightened and dispassionate or disconnected God who has already completed his SVS journey and embraced his FWDness. As Allah's voice (via the angel Gabriel), The Prophet Muhammad was utterly FWD. Therefore, Allah not only preached the predestination of Qadar, He also conducted Himself in a predestined manner which He fully embraced.
Allah created because He decided that this was what He does, not because He needed to prove anything to Himself. And, in creating folks, He wrote every chapter of their lives and their ultimate destinies (including the fact that nothing would be revealed to the folks until their final curtains), so every act they undertook along the way would be a conscious choice for which they would be held responsible, no matter that Allah had already etched those acts and their consequences in cosmic stone.
Yet, for everyone -- Jew, Christian, Muslim, Atheist, you-name-it -- that initial day/night time-inventing “God the Father” is either “God” or just as easily a force of nature -- energy, a virus, a broken strand of RNA, a particle, or less (see my next monograph) -- so the formality of religion and the metaphor for the force is not the issue, rather the matter is all about faith in the meaning of life.
The thing taught is that writing to these alternate but not contradictory themes -- FWD or SVS, one or the other -- is an attempt to state and parse the issue, to find a moment of wisdom upon what appears to be a continuum but which is actually a hologram. For both ends of the seeming continuum -- and each step along the way -- actually contain the complete statement of each opposing truth, in frustrating co-existence.
Frustrating to us, but hardly frustrating to nature.
They are in fact enantiomers. Two naturally-occurring alternative versions of the same thing, non-superposable mirror images, each of which leads to different consequences when acted upon. The binary bottom line of biology and physiology and chemistry and physics and every other template you can name or imagine. There are always two choices and only two choices, switches are either open or closed, any two particles differ by the directions of their spins, chemicals combine or part, genes are either expressed or repressed, and all human action, proaction, and reaction builds from component to cellular to systemic, always and only reflecting fight or flight, neither choice theme-biased, both choices theme-driven.
All literature, all religion, all science -- every extension of mankind -- derives from our frustration with the two themes of FWD and SVS. Indeed, the way each of us lives our lives -- the choices we make, the orientations and worldviews we have -- are predicated on which of these two themes keeps us awake at night.
So the first step in a writer/communicator becoming conscious of what they mean to say and why they mean to say it, is to identify their predominant theme (FWD or SVS). The second step is to own it. The third is to make creative choices and execution choices (including choice of medium) that serve the theme, word by word (on the page), metaphor by metaphor, and sensory component by sensory component (with five human senses to choose from, and synaesthesia expanding resonance).
Theme can be discerned objectively in creative/communicative material, but subjectively owned only by digging down to that moment in one’s life when the safety net of egocentric infancy fell away.
And so there is that word.
The very crux of mammalian existence. Mammals. Creatures who, by definition, are born not to survive unless they are taken care of by others.
Born to die. Free will versus determinism. "It's not how you live, it's how you don't die."
No self without society. Solipsism versus socialization. "Hell is heaven with no people."
You are either a well-coddled infant and safely ignorant of self, or you are fearing your loss of sense of self through death or through social metrics judgment.
And which of the two ways your fear manifests is what will determine your life, your career, your romances. But you are not in control of which theme defines you. As best as the data suggests, you are born one or the other. Your earliest experiential horrors will trigger your fear of loss of sense of self, but the thematic expression of that fear seems already written into the quantum masslessness that becomes the particles that make the atoms that build the molecules that spark into DNA, rather than a sui generis product of the trigger experiences.
To show you specifically how this works, this monograph is specifically addressed to the writer/communicators among us.
Their first step toward consciousness of their own theme is re-creating the safety necessary in order to return to that memory/sensory point where, in their lives, safety came to be lost. And that becomes the "Ah ha!" moment of "This is why I write and this is what I have to say." It is because you are either FWD or SVS, each of which will require you to say what you have to say in a different way.
And the practical point of becoming conscious of your theme? Every writer who has ever screwed up story structure or been unable to find the end of a story or lost the passion for a story, is a writer who has unwittingly or perhaps self-protectively diverged from their theme.
Even more, in writing for a collaborative medium or any audience-limited venue of expression, there will be input from countless cohorts, bosses, readers, and teachers suggesting that night should be changed to day and the cat to a dog, and a writer who is unaware of their own theme will not know if the input is going to suddenly turn their material into a story or exhortation that no longer has meaning for the writer and that they will therefore be unable to write or write well.
To reach chiral fluency, to integrate left and right brain, to achieve ultimate creativity and resonance with your audience, building legacy for half of you and positive self-judgment for the rest, the writer/communicator must address sub-protocols including the "reality bar", the "uber-narrator", time-linked worldviews, and character/plot geometry, but everything first flows from theme and whether you know and consciously embrace that which you are: either FWD or SVS.
NUTSHELL (RE-CAP RULES AND EXAMPLES):
Let us take all the preceding and boil it down to size:
1. Human creative expression in any and all forms is the product of fear of loss of sense of self.
2. That fear is triggered, experienced, and expressed in two chiral, complementary forms, and both are tautological paradoxes. Free Will versus Determinism (FWD), and Solipsism versus Socialization (SVS). Each of these constitutes a human "theme". There are no others, by these definitions.
3. Each person is defined by only one of the two themes (that person's "on-theme"), which exists from birth and cannot shift or be shifted to the other theme during life. But each person lives in society and can therefore fully understand and empathize with the "off-theme". In fact, each person is more comfortable with the off-theme because it is a stimulating but non-threatening puzzle to be worked, while the on-theme is perturbation at its most primal and pristine, the bruising pea under the mattress, or worse.
4. Data collection and experimentation have proven that the thematic split among people is exactly fifty-fifty in all demographics of any kind. Fifty-fifty. No exceptions.
5. While psychology, sociology, and a host of intrinsic and extrinsic factors help profile each person, the underlying theme is not a predictor of conduct without context but it is a predictor of result. Each person clearly evidences and expresses their theme through their work, through whatever they do or create.
6. "Fun" data results:
(a) Strong, long-term marriages are of people with different themes.
(b) Fantastic hot affairs are of people with the same theme. "You're the only person in the world who thinks just like me!" "Everything about you excites me!" (All of which ultimately comes a cropper on the temporal line, as in "He just doesn't understand me anymore!")
(c) If you are a good student who knows your stuff, but you write a term paper and wind up with a grade that is less than you deserve, it is because your professor is the other theme ("off-theme" for you) and does not connect with what you wrote. (But it is your job to figure that out and write so you can be heard.)
(d) If you insist that there must be more than two themes or that you cannot be pigeon-holed into one, you are likely SVS.
(e) If you are FWD you are likely to wear it proudly as if it were better than SVS (even though it is not).
(f) If you took at today's headlines and had to write jokes off them for Messrs. Colbert, Oliver, Maher, O'Brien, Fallon, Meyers, Kimmel, Noah, etc., the only differences in the jokes on paper would be thematic. Same subject, same punchlines, different thematic points served -- half of the world's comedians are FWD and the other half are SVS. All would handle differences in voice themselves, but none will use your jokes unless you write on-theme for them.
(g) Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton have essentially the same politics. Why would you vote for one and not the other? Theme is the most important factor. The resonance of theme and the conservation of anxiety of fear of loss of sense of self trigger your first impulse when faced with choice. Other emotions, rationality, and intellect factor in subsequently. Because theme is fifty-fifty, it is no predictor of election winners, but it does predict your vote.
7. In creative writing, theme determines character and story geometry.
(a) The writer's theme is told through the lead character, who is on an off-theme journey until arcing to an on-theme revelatory denouement. ("On-theme" in this discussion means the writer's theme.)
(b) The second character -- be it antagonist or partner, depending on the piece -- follows the opposite path: on-theme journey arcing to off-theme conclusion. (Again, in this discussion "on-theme" is the writer's theme.)
(c) But, in its moment, that off-theme conclusion of the second character embraces the lead character as well, propelling the latter's on-theme denouement. (Think double helix. Second character's conclusion dances and swirls with lead character's final steps, inevitably confronting lead character with a denouement choice that will be on-theme for lead character and for writer.)
(d) Therefore, every story really has two endings, one for each theme. The easy way to test this is to think back to your favorite books or movies and recall how they end. You will be amazed to find that the ending you remember best and with highest personal resonance is the ending that is on-theme for you, but might not actually be the writer's denouement, you might well be remembering the penultimate scene and not the last scene at all.
(e) Any piece that has three key characters interacting thematically will have two who are on-theme and one who is off.
(f) A writer who loses track of theme while writing will either hit a block, write with no meaning or credibility, or have a failed structure. The most common mistake of new writers is to start and/or end the telling of a story too soon, thereby falling off-theme. The easy way to test this is to identify the theme represented by the final scene in the story, and then ask what the next scene would be if an additional scene were to be added. If it would be the other theme, then the story ended too soon and off-theme. Otherwise, if the next scene would prove to have the same theme, then the original ending was correct and on-theme.
8. A classic example of FWD/SVS thematic analysis and extrapolation:
The God of the Old Testament was on an SVS journey, creating lesser beings to divine His own sense of self (the sense of self He was fearing to lose when he was all alone and outside of time and, in a wonderful irony, trapped by immortality). This means God's chroniclers were FWD. Since the Old Testament is not the story of God, but rather the story of human history, God is not the lead character and is not fully arced, but He should have been. It is just that the original chroniclers did not want to face where that would lead. Had they written God's next chapter, the FWD denouement would have appeared and it would not have left room for the writers' life legacies to live on.
The good news is that, in the New Testament, God gets his missing final scene straight away. That scene is simultaneously the thematic denouement of the Old Testament and the creative juxtaposition which launches the New. By creating Jesus -- a god rather than a lesser being, but an answerable god rather than a fire and brimstone god -- God The Father concludes his arc and finally embraces his own FWD denouement. He has learned that, like us, He has a place in a deterministic universe, and He accepts it. So, while He will not and cannot die, He "chooses" to accept being one of a kind and immortal by nature, and He is therefore finally comfortable with being "alone". He now has no more reason to create nor to involve Himself in the affairs of mankind. He has found His peace. And that is His truth.
Meanwhile, as lead character of the New Testament, Jesus is on his FWD journey of martyrdom, completing his arc extra-textually with an SVS denouement one scene later as he is resurrected. It is only with the resurrection that Jesus sees what he has meant to humanity and therefore who he really is. This is classic on-theme SVS, affording the SVS chroniclers their own redemption and immortality through positive judgment.
Alternative to all previous texts but drawing on them nonetheless, in the Quran, God is Allah and is FWD from page one. Clearly, FWD reader/believers from the Old Testament felt disenfranchised by the SVS New. The late-arriving FWD Quran brought them back into the safety of their own fold.
Allah does not arc at all in the Quran, let alone evidence any previous confusion about who or what He is. Allah embraces His truth and the role He must play as Head Writer and Sometimes Interventionist in our lives, as we confront the same pre-destination that He does. Because the lead character of the Quran does not arc, because the story has ended before the book begins, it is neither anecdote nor drama, it is in fact a series of wise, practical aphorisms born of FWD solace while invoking human touchstones equally and alternatively SVS and FWD, challenging the reader to become fully conscious and to own each and every decision made in life.
Contrary to anything you may have heard, there is no money-back-guaranteed right and wrong in the Quran, there is only what is, and the reality that choice is yours even though it has been preordained. The Quran is meant to give everyone pause for thought, to consider intents, acts, and results; and the text is therefore rife with options, with vast implication of where things might lead and no promise of where they will.
The only thing certain in the Quran is mortality without miracle, judgment without overtime or redemption or random mercy, and this is a dramatic FWD shift from the Testaments that have come before. This allows the Prophet Muhammad to exist as the named writer with his own very specific real world identity and living legacy that is fully defined as being something different and special and not at all like any other human. In the Old Testament, Moses receives a similar but more limited delineation. Both men are distinctly FWD in their own arcs. No surprise that both pass along SVS commandments for humans to live by, all of which lead to FWD life conclusions.
Analyzing religions that come after Islam, one finds a continuous swing of the pendulum from SVS in one to FWD in the next and back to SVS in the one after that, and on and on. Both thematic masters must be served, each for one half of humanity.
So, while we have identified that FWD writer/followers were responsible for the Old Testament, SVS writers for the New Testament, and FWD for the Quran, and that this all tells us a lot about the structural differences between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, it is once again true that a one-two punch of both thematic finalities is included in each text. You can be Jewish and either FWD or SVS. You can be Christian and either FWD or SVS. And you can be Muslim and either FWD or SVS. But the resonant recollected Biblical scene or homily for you evidences which theme you are.
If, for example, you are Christian and primarily preach that "Christ died for our sins!", you are likely SVS. Alternatively, if you are Christian and truly live by "It is all okay because the Kingdom of Heaven awaits" or even "It is not all okay and I am sure as hell going to hell", then you are likely FWD.
And, yes, you can believe in all the foregoing quotes, it is a question of which matters to you most, which would mess you up if it were taken away, which is the peg on which your fear of loss of sense of self hangs. That one would be your theme.
Finally, if you are an Atheist and do not buy into any of the foregoing quotes, you are also either FWD or SVS, and not both.
No personal or institutional belief system exists beyond one or the other of these two themes.
9. A timely ("Star Wars") reference:
At the risk of further blasphemy and over-simplicity, leaving the ancient world and citing to the original "Star Wars" trilogy might help you find your own theme. If we completely delete Han Solo and Darth Vader from the material, and you still like what is left, you are SVS. If we delete Luke and Leia, and you still like what is left, you are FWD. If you were George Lucas and notoriously SVS, you could have written the pieces without Han and Vader.
In fact, Mr. Lucas has proved this and screwed up the structure of his last re-mastered versions of the first films by altering Han's actions to make him thematically inconsistent. I give credit to my students for coming to me with this last bit. They were upset that, among other changes to the original material, Mr. Lucas has now made Han "nicer" and more "innocent" in the cantina shoot-out by eliminating his initial weapon firing. Apparently Mr. Lucas photoshopped Han's gun into a non-weapon. I think the students told me that the gun has now become a mug.
If so, this rugpulls the SVS journey of a character who will achieve an FWD conclusion. Han being rough and tumble and murderous and morally "bad" is on the SVS continuum. If you take away the moral dynamic (regardless of which side the character falls on), then Han has no theme, no arc, no credibility, no resonance. He would cease to be the catalyst to Leia's SVS conclusion and would not help carry Luke through his FWD journey (to SVS denouement in the face of Vader). Han would no longer be the moral conscience of the whole, everything about him would be just "in the moment", and overall structure would collapse.
I can totally understand my students' chagrin, and, as a card-carrying FWD, no way am I going to watch any version of "Star Wars" that guts my favorite character of the SVS means and justification for his final turn to FWD. Lucas would never have treated his namesake and on-theme SVS Luke that way.
Special J.J. Abrams note: J.J. literally bleeds SVSness. That is why he has backhanded a death blow to Star Trek. He has turned it totally off-theme. His re-boot was that thematic shift. His Star Treks are not Star Treks at all because Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek is chest-thumpingly FWD. But, being SVS, J.J. should do Star Wars proud. We will know soon enough. Meanwhile, someone at Paramount needs to wrestle him away from Star Trek and never let him anywhere near it again. Shields up, ready photon torpedoes, set phasers to stun, and pull taut the wet noodles! A Tribble is not and never will be an Ewok!
10. Bizarre side anecdote and crimestoppers notebook:
Fairly recently there were two horrific cases of moms mass-murdering their own children in the American South. In the first case, the mom claimed insanity, stating "God told me to do it!" In the second case, the mom claimed insanity, stating "The Devil made me do it!" The trial courts split on their rulings. In the first case, the court agreed that the woman hearing God must have been insane. In the second case, the court found that, since the poor mom heard the voice of the Devil, it meant she knew the difference between right and wrong and was therefore sane. I will leave it to you to apply FWD/SVS critical analysis in these scenarios, by imagining more about each character than I have told you so that you can argue it from all directions and make each case for what it would take for either mom to be either theme.
Regardless, these were tragedies by any definition. Could we have helped prevent them by more complete knowledge of either mom's thematic truth? Could we timely intervene in all the relentless mass shootings of late? Maybe. The more we know of ourselves and others and why people do what they do, the more chances we have for beneficent intervention.
11. Literature -- "Of Human Bondage" by W. Somerset Maugham:
First, let us acknowledge that "Forrest Gump" and "Of Human Bondage" are the same book, so the FWD/SVS analysis applies equally to each, in case you are more familiar with one than the other.
Maugham's book is a clear statement of modern determinism, as it swept through science and psychology in the early 20th century. Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle has been used to justify it in a conceptual sense, and Einstein and Freud certainly stood on it.
A practicing gay man who was therefore illegal in British society, Maugham knew that his gender preference was pre-determined and that it was outrageous for there to be laws which either did not allow him to be what he was or forcibly encouraged him to be what he was not. So, Maugham wrote a book about his plight, told through the story of Philip, a man born with a club foot who would spend the next 650 pages trying to prove to everyone else that he was as good or better than they were and it was like he did not really have a club foot at all.
Philip was clearly on an SVS journey. He defined himself as others saw him, he tried to be like them, he believed his fear of loss of sense of self was that he would not be included because he was different.
At the penultimate conclusion to the book, Philip learns his girlfriend Sally is pregnant by him. This prompts him to give up his dreams of competing with the world on equal footing despite his club foot, and instead he determines to martyr himself by marrying his girlfriend and agreeing to become the father to the child. This is the SVS conclusion for you SVS folks out there. But it is not the book's denouement.
Philip goes to Sally to offer himself up on a stigmata platter, and she blows him out in an act of SVS finality for her own truly found thematic self. (This is when Sally completes her arc from FWD to SVS.) She tells Philip that he is there for the wrong reasons. Being a father is not about self-sacrifice, it is not about Philip's hopes and dreams for himself, it is not about choosing to be a father. Sally sends Philip away.
Then and only then, finally, in the on-theme denouement for the writer, Philip finds his truth, as his SVS journey leads to an FWD revelation. He sees that all his hopes and dreams were false, that happiness is the only goal of value, and that happiness comes from embracing one's place in the deterministic flow of life. He concludes that "to surrender to happiness is defeat worth many victories." He is destined to be a husband and father, it is not a choice or a sacrifice, it is what he is. And thus Maugham proves to be an FWD writer, who accepts himself no matter what society says about him.
12. Literature -- "The Metamorphosis" by Franz Kafka:
When Gregor Samsa goes to bed at the home he shares with his family, he is a traveling salesman. When he wakes up, he is a bug and he is lying on his back. With great existentialist spirit, he "deals with it", forgetting human goals and focusing on critical life and death decisions like how to turn over and get on his bug feet and get out of bed. One task at a time, one goal at a time. The timeline for a bug is very different from the timeline for a human who is fully functioning in society. Gregor is on an FWD journey, and he is on his way to an SVS denouement.
Kafka is an SVS writer. Even if you had not read his work, you would know his theme by the fact that he ordered his writings be burned upon his death. No legacy-desperate FWD would ever contemplate such a thing. Lucky for us, Kafka entrusted the burning to his friend who was FWD. This is the reason you have read Kafka.
As for Gregor, things go from weird to worse. His father chucks an apple at him, cracks his back, gravely wounds him. He survives, but his family suffers since Gregor has lost his earnings, forcing the family to get jobs. When the family's boarders use Gregor's buglike presence as excuse not to pay the rent, his family wants him gone, but he has nowhere to go as a bug. In the end, Gregor dies in order to free his family, and, once he is gone, they find themselves on the verge of personal fulfillment and true happiness, having reconnected with society.
In FWD/SVS terms, Gregor accepts his existential dilemma in FWD fashion, but his SVS family and society do not know who they are if Gregor is now a bug. Gregor's family see themselves in his compound eyes, and this triggers their fear of loss of sense of self.
Worse, they are losing the goods and patterns of their usual lives because Gregor's condition is isolating and impoverishing them.
Meanwhile, Gregor's FWD journey as a bug is building to a point where he is no longer reacting to the moment but truly believes he can fit back in to the lives of his family, indeed that he is entitled to it. This is Kafka's FWD off-theme conclusion. For most FWD readers, this is a redundant conclusion. Kafka is often criticized for the intensity of his initial juxtapositions, as if they should have come later in the story because they seem so dramatically conclusive. That criticism comes primarily from FWD readers, who tend to think the story begins and ends with the juxtaposition of Gregor waking up as a bug.
It is Bug-Gregor's death which defines Kafka's on-theme SVS denouement. Gregor has journeyed from his not consciously acknowledged SVS place in the world to conscious FWD existential acceptance of his life (first as man and then as bug) and off-theme FWD conclusion that this self-acceptance can create extrinsic belonging, then to the attacks by his family wanting him gone (thereby rejecting the FWD conclusion as false), all of which propels Gregor finally to his on-theme SVS realization that his sense of self can only be maintained through his value to his family. But a bug has no intrinsic value or talent. Therefore, the best and highest value in this situation is for Bug-Gregor to be dead and gone. Gregor does not embrace death as certain or timely, he chooses it as morally right, as his way of dispelling his well-realized fear of loss of sense of self. As the bug dies, Gregor is once again himself. The memory of him as a human lives on in others. When Gregor was a bug he was already dead as a human being, he just did not know it at first but his family certainly did, and they provide the SVS context which Bug-Gregor finally comprehends.
In his duality, Gregor is therefore both the lead character (as a human) and the principal secondary character (as a bug), serving as the vehicle for both the off-theme conclusion and then the on-theme denouement.
Yet Kafka does not end the story at Bug-Gregor's demise. Instead, Kafka spends time with Gregor's family, as Gregor's body is disposed of and the family faces a bright future -- particularly sister Grete -- thanks to Gregor's passing, the money saved during their mutual isolation, and the family's newfound ability to connect with society in myriad ways. These last pages comprise an SVS scene following an SVS denouement. They prove that SVS is on-theme for Kafka, and the only issue is whether they are literarily redundant.
If dramatic structure is a continuous unfolding of revelation leading to inevitable surprise, the final pages reveal with certainty that Gregor's death is "good" for his family. While that was implied by the death itself, Kafka wanted to leave no room for his readers to invent any interpretation that would go off-theme. Had the story ended at Gregor's death, the reader would have been free to believe that, perhaps, the family suffered from guilt, that Gregor's death was "bad" after all. That would have been an SVS result and okay by Kafka. But that would also have allowed for the alternative possibility that the family -- or any one of them, sister Grete most likely -- would have sought out how Gregor had become a bug and would have found that a metamorphosis could happen to anyone at any time. Accepting that, or compartmentalizing it away and actively rejecting it, would have been an FWD conclusion. Kafka chose not to allow for that possibility. The final pages slam the lid on any FWD reader's hopes, and they incite SVS readers to find within themselves the notion that "good" may actually be "bad" and that blind faith is comforting but not safe. Typically, FWD readers barely remember these last pages, recalling instead that the family was the proximate cause of Gregor's death, as his father threw an apple into his back and critically damaged him.
Truly, "The Metamorphosis" is a profoundly different experience for an FWD reader versus an SVS reader, and makes for a great litmus test of Theme Theory. If you have seen the film "The Sixth Sense", it follows the same structure and proffers the same theme-linked reactions from its viewers.
13. Literature -- "Les Miserables" by Victor Hugo:
I am not trying to bias this monograph by overly discussing FWD writers, but I would be remiss if I did not devote sufficient review of my countryman, Monsieur Victor Hugo, and his masterpiece "Les Miserables", because he brilliantly and specifically and fairly sells both the FWD and SVS themes, proving that a great writer serves both masters so long as he or she is true to his or her own theme.
Jean Valjean is Hugo's avatar. Valjean is on an SVS journey when he steals bread to feed his sister's starving children. While humans have inalienable species rights to survival and the conceptual pursuit of happiness, theft is an anti-social act with a social consequence, and Valjean suffers that consequence, his institutional imprisonment leading to a lifetime of false identity and lost self and even more theft and dishonesty when he deems it "necessary". So, much as Valjean does "good", it is always a matter of desperate sacrifice, martyrdom, bragged righteousness, and rules-breaking. It is a self-supplicating SVS journey of acts without real introspection or remorse, but it will finally arc to an FWD revelation and denouement at which point Valjean will finally be able to shuck the need for suffering and become worthy of happiness.
Inspector Javert serves as the architect of Valjean's "becoming". His unwavering conscience is not predicated on moral right and wrong or divine pronouncement, it is manifest ubiety, tunnel vision cause and effect, predetermination, and acceptance. Without law there is not anarchy, there is destruction. The design of human beings is selfish, competitive to the point of predation. It is their nature, they are social only to serve individual need and greed. Externalities must be established to contain such sorry creatures, to protect the best and the innocent among them. There are no gray areas, no room for mercy. This is just the way it is. Javert is on an FWD journey, and he haunts Valjean with FWD conscience throughout the story. In the end, of course, Javert will have his SVS comeuppance and conclusion even as Valjean's denouement is to take up the FWD torch.
The tango between Valjean and Javert drives both the plot and each man's arc.
Without Javert, Valjean would succeed in defining his morality by push-button melodrama popular then and for all times. In every situation, this Valjean would do and be audience applauded for whatever he thought right, a lovely microcosm where good intents outmatter actions and results. It would be an endlessly SVS life in a bubble. But it would also be unreal because "society" would be nothing more than the society of Valjean, a benevolent dictatorship of one. Valjean the self-starting thief in a real world would soon find that those he stole from would not be so tolerant, and, sacre bleu, he would find that once he had acquired "things" there would be people who would steal them from him rather than wait for him to bestow unto them. Would such a revelation arc Valjean to an FWD conclusion, to Hugo's on-theme? Unlikely. More likely this Javert-less Valjean would fight to maintain his SVS "right" to be in charge, to decide what is good or bad, and his self-corruption would soon mandate bad acts or bad results so long as intents remained justified by "I mean well and I know best!". So, without Javert, Valjean would become the very real enemy that Hugo meant to bring down by his book.
Accordingly, there had to be a Javert, and, with Javert's FWD prodding as written, an SVS Valjean must continuously face and question the morality and meaning of his choices. He must face and accept consequences, although he fights furiously not to, even going so far as to save Javert from execution by the insurgents. It is this act which forcefully propels both men to their arc conclusions. In saving Javert, Valjean is showing mercy, but it is mercy and good on his own terms, his SVS terms, it is not at all merciful from Javert's FWD perspective. The salvation from god Valjean obliterates the ground on which non-believer Javert walks. If what Valjean just did was right, then every misery that Javert ever imposed on Valjean was wrong, and everything that Javert has always accepted as the truth about humans and duty is wrong.
Not merely broken but literally emptied of his FWDness by Valjean, Javert walks away from arresting him. It is neither an act of mercy or agreement, it is that there is no portfolio in a burgeoning SVS world for Javert. But in that realization Javert finds he does have a place, in death, in suicide, a distinctly SVS act in this framework. By falling into the Seine, Javert is doing good on his own SVS terms. His final act is a full and unimpeachable embracing of newfound SVSness, a good act born of good intentions leading to a good result. In his thematic SVS conclusion, Javert has found a way to be true to himself and do what is right for society. Better to take his own life than have others corrupt themselves by becoming executioners. Better for Javert to be gone than to remain impediment and a reminder of what was. Better for revolutionaries to look ahead than back, better to work at determining what you want and how things should be rather than be limited by simply trying not to be what you were. Better to build than to burn. These were the hard lessons learned the hard way in the real world immediately after the French Revolution. Too bad the lesson of Javert was naught but a late-arriving literary invention.
Meanwhile, to our Theme Theory purposes beyond Javert, it would not be unfair to suggest that, if one were to distinguish the import of suicide as between FWD and SVS in dramatic/"romantic" scenarios, an FWD suicide would be an act of honor while an SVS suicide would be an act of heroism. That is certainly a clear way to see the chiral complement and to predict individual behavior.
Javert himself did not anticipate that his suicide would prompt Valjean to drop his SVS pretensions and finally find his truth in FWD as the denouement of his arc (and the completion of Hugo's thematic resonance for the story), but that's exactly what happened. In the end end end, Valjean becomes the Javert he has always known, but with a more profound and complete understanding of why this has to be.
When Javert declines to arrest Valjean and ends his own life instead, Valjean has no man left to fight, no man who can take anything away from him, no way for Valjean to continue always being "merciful" and "right", and so his self-justification for SVS falls away. For the first time he sees that diverse people can want conflicting things for all the right reasons, and the one and only common enemy is death, and that this has been the form of the fear of loss of sense of self that has always inherently and secretly defined him.
Valjean realizes that he has protected adopted daughter Cosette in his bubble world as if he would live forever and be able to take care of her forever, but that is, for him, an SVS heroic delusion. He will die, and she will need to be able to protect herself, with and without the collaboration of husband Marius Pontmercy, and whatever fate holds in store for each is what will be.
This is the natural order of things, and this is the FWD truth of Valjean that he now faces and accepts. In the end, Valjean finds real humanity and real strength, inner peace and impregnable happiness, by letting go, by embracing mortality and continuity and a universe larger than the vision of men. His flailing and tilting and silent shrieking are done.
A final note on Hugo's masterpiece: Cosette is gloriously FWD and came to that conclusion more easily and earlier on than Valjean thanks to Valjean's lifetime battle against it; and Marius is SVS and therefore exactly named "Pontmercy" by Hugo. (Tu comprends? Oui? Yes?) So our literary and real world geometry holds: two of the three crucial characters are on-theme FWD, the reagent third character is off-theme SVS, and the many additional characters balance out the two themes fifty-fifty throughout the book.
14. Film -- "Casablanca":
In a story that is universally beloved for its encomiums to love, honor, sacrifice, social responsibility, bravery, hope, and star power, Theme Theory also proves out distinctly.
We first meet an FWD-seeming Rick Blaine who is in hiding from himself and his broken heart by complete resignation to having dropped out of the fight for good versus evil. Psychologically, he has decided not to care about anything but his own survival since Ilsa left him for Victor Laszlo and Laszlo's anti-Nazi cause.
Thematically, Rick has been taken by determinism, not as a character arc conclusion but rather as a non-choice. Fate ambushed him; he had no chance to fight, flee, surrender, or curse his lack of options. One minute he was emotionally alive, the next he was "pronounced". Therefore it is obvious that this -- his FWDness -- is his journey and not his epitaph. He hasn't beaten death, he hasn't embraced it, he just doesn't fear it and it does not threaten his sense of self. Death is not on his radar and FWD is not his theme, and, since he is the lead character, this means both his and the authors' (and director's) on-theme will ultimately reveal as SVS.
Now here come Ilsa and Laszlo. For the love triangle to be real, for both men to love Ilsa and for her to love them, she has to be on an SVS journey leading to an FWD conclusion, and Laszlo has to be on the same FWD to SVS arc as Rick.
Every story has its own chronology in the universal timeline. In most stories most characters are already born before the first chapter begins. Much history has already occurred and the present is ripe and fulsome.
This means that some characters have already completed their thematic arcs, but their history would show the journey and their present wisdom would show their consciousness not only of their journey but the ongoing journeys of those around them.
As we have noted, Allah represents the thematic completion of God's journey. Yoda has already reached his thematic denouement long before Luke leads the Jedi return. Bug-Gregor concludes his arc the instant he wakes as a bug, but Man-Gregor cannot wake to his denouement until Bug-Gregor dies (which unfortunately means they both die). Philip's girlfriend Sally beats Philip to arc conclusion, as does Cosette vis-a-vis Jean Valjean, and Laszlo completed his arc from FWD to SVS before Ilsa ran off with him in the first place.
So when Laszlo and Ilsa materialize at Rick's in Casablanca, what's the thematic impact on Rick?
First, he espouses his present journey state of FWDness -- "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine," laments Rick knowingly. Of course she does, because he's the house, he's the only one in his casino who wins no matter what happens to any of his players, but when it's his own fate on the pass line he absolutely expects to be reminded that he's already crapped out.
And Ilsa is that reminder in spades and in snake eyes, she personifies the gut-punch, the lost love, the assault on his self, the black chill of...
For Ilsa is the Iceman. She brings hope, and that energizes, paves the path, for death. From an FWD perspective, death always comes a-callin' at the exact moment when you think you would least welcome it. And suddenly Rick finds himself afraid of death rather than wryly resigned to it. This is the first tremor of upheaval in what Rick had thought was FWD acceptance. It is his first recall to life, all because SHE is back with his heart still in her hands.
So now Rick opens himself up to Ilsa again and tries to finally win the competition with Laszlo. He would like to win Ilsa outright, but failing that he can get rid of Laszlo, either by aiding and abetting Laszlo straight into Nazi hands (a cruelty that would simply be out of character even if not without impulse), or by getting Laszlo transit papers to leave Casablanca.
Understand, helping Laszlo and helping Ilsa is still coming from an FWD place, a manipulation by Rick to transcend the death of his spirit; it is only when Rick sends Ilsa off with Laszlo in the film's penultimate scene, rejecting her martyrdom and embracing his own, that he deplanes from his FWD journey and reaches his SVS denouement.
At the same moment Rick's action forces Ilsa off her SVS cloud and to her FWD conclusion. Now, finally, she can be the "right" FWD chiral complement to Laszlo's SVS truth, now they can finally be a couple without Rick and Paris and the past holding her back from a commitment that will surely lead to her and Laszlo's deaths.
Make no mistake, with Ilsa flowering to FWD and accepting death, her partnership will help Laszlo become an even better fighter and symbol of what is right and good and SVS to him. Were there a next scene for Ilsa and Laszlo after having left Casablanca, we would be at "the front" as Ilsa would encourage Laszlo to protect the cause over all else, even her, and together the two would face and be taken by a situation where their executions would be a louder and more forceful rallying cry than any speech Laszlo could ever give. In death, Ilsa and Laszlo would both become idols to the aggrieved, ghosts that the Nazis could never shake.
This then is the perfect illustration of how two people, each with a different theme, can do or submit to the same act, have it mean something very different and thematically-specific for each, and thereby resonate with both thematic halves of their audience.
Further to suggestion made earlier in this monograph (in the Javert suicide discussion), the SVS would fight and die heroically and sacrificially (rightly aiding and inspiring others), while the FWD would fight and die honorably (because death is inevitable anyway and there is legacy and immortality in fulfilling one's role in the greater scheme). In both instances, the threat to sense of self first exists externally; and, in both instances, fear of loss of sense of self is overcome by internalizing self-perception; but the form of the initial threat and the journey/revelation that achieves the final self-perception is a chiral opposite for each theme. It is not that neither ever feels a threat from the opposing theme's continuum (a threat of death or a threat of judgment, respectively), it is that such a threat does not go to the core of identity and is therefore soon dispelled by externality and without arc, leaving the "real" threat to be confronted always and until revelation.
The filmmakers' on-theme SVS denouement for "Casablanca" comes after Ilsa's FWD off-theme conclusion and it is told through lead character Rick. (How do we know that Rick is the on-theme lead character? Apply the lost wax technique: the test is reductive, were this character boiled away could the authors mold this story with the characters that remain? No, in "Casablanca", only Rick is irreducible.)
In the final and endlessly memorable scene of clear and convincing SVS, new martyr Rick gets police Captain Louis Renault to join him in leaving Casablanca and going off to join the good guys in fighting evil, with the famous exit line "Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship." Not only are Rick's last acts suddenly SVS, so are his words! The clock of mortality does not bother him because he has his SVS truth in the salvation he granted Ilsa and his sparkling new form of connection to Renault and all others similarly situated in the struggle to which they are engaged. Death is not Rick's bother, friendship is his new beginning and also everything he needs for soul sustenance and to internalize positive self-judgment. Rick has reached his thematic denouement and now he can move from reactive fear to proactive transcendence.
In stories -- as in life -- everyone arcs to their true and correct thematic denouement. This is tautological: you are who you are, everything you think and say and do reflects it, your truth is always staring you in the face, and eventually your truth becomes you.
Most are not immediately conscious of their arcs or their thematic moments, since this mostly firstly happens very early in life when consciousness is egocentric.
The raison d'etre for this monograph and Theme Theory is to expand your consciousness of your theme, your appreciation of the theme of each relevant person around you, and your impact on others and the universe as a whole.
You matter. You have always mattered.
Don't take that lightly, because significance mandates responsibility.
So you must work at it until you own your why.
Only then can you accept yourself as either SVS or FWD, only then can you see that each requires you to shoulder your responsibilities differently, only then can you see that self is never truly lost but fear of its loss can be exorcised so that every self becomes the brightest star in the night.
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all the foregoing -- copyright -- all rights reserved and held by Olivier Cri de Coeur -- as of initial posting here in November 2015 -- including material and concepts copyrighted at various times from 2001 to July 2017