The Advent of the Evo-Devo Fiction: Evolutionary Developmental Biology as Applied to Memes Within the Contemporary Novel, Tarkovsky as our Stalker.

Calling Pandora: Break the Seal, Peek Inside
Evo-Devo – to use a gutter interpretation of the premise – posits that while the gene contains all the information needed for organisms to develop, it’s really the process of development itself, the use and organization and expression of that provided information, that determines the end product.  It explains how we can have a finite genome but nigh-infinite potential for genetic expression across the entire spectrum of life on earth.  It explains how we can have one relatively simple packet of information shared by a panorama of animals that potentially express itself as any of a myriad forms – i.e. feathers, scales, skin, hair.  It shows us that the gene is a ready-made package of raw materials that can be combined is such intricate and novel ways, it’s taken humanity thousands of years to realize everything alive is in fact interrelated and arises from the same double-helical structure.

We Can Imagine it for You Wholesale
The meme as it applies to this discussion is gene-as-thoughtform.  I, as author, attempt only to plant seed-memes and allow the devo to take place in the imagination of the reader.  I want two hundred pages to be an exhaustive journey.  I want no two people to say they’ve read the same novel after spending some hours with the identical packet of words.  What I hope to attain is a feedback loop between author and reader, to present the novel as a discussion between imaginations; not a dictator of truths, or a preacher of morals, or a teacher of lessons.

Lofty goals, of course, but thankfully we can and will hitch a ride on the shoulders of giants.  There is nothing we can imagine today that hasn’t been done before and better.  So therefore we must study and repeat while we refresh things that were mistaken for stale.  Everything is always new…to someone.

Andrei Tarkovsky’s The Stalker
The stalkers act as guides through the Zone for men who hope to reach the Room that will fulfill their deepest desires.  So too does the maker of this 1979 Russian film masterpiece act as my guide for the application of evo-devo in a contemporary written American fiction.  Just why is The Stalker such a masterpiece?  Tarkovsky, of course.  But we can distill the film down to four choices that the master made that specifically apply to the task at hand: the creation of a working evo-devo novel.

  1. He takes his time. Air breathes through each scene.  Haste can only make waste.
  2. He creates an atmosphere. Each scene is akin to being absorbed into a still photograph.  Each shot is a meditation on itself.  In the Zone, nothing is ever the same way twice.  Tarkovsky allows us to imprint in our heads something that, once we turn away, will be gone forever.
  3. He keeps the plot simple. Three men.  Go to a place.  Each in their own way.  The end.
  4. He is vague. What is the Zone, really?  What makes it the way it is?  So many questions, but Tarkovsky answers none.  Why?  Because he understands that the imagination, the subconscious, of the viewer is the intended recipient of this information.  That it is the subconscious that absorbs the ideas, and is satisfied, while the logical mind only badgers with endless questions and arguments.  That his intent is not to present a thesis or to tell an intricately detailed sci-fi story or to preach politics, but to touch the universal human nerve.  And it that way, tackle all of the above.

One Devil, Evicted from the Details
Because there are no details, because the story wisps brushstrokes of ideas and concepts and then abruptly moves on, we are swept into the dream, forced to do the heavy lifting of world building.  After that burden is place on the viewer, all that’s left is to watch as the characters react each to his own journey toward the Room, and by extension allow ourselves to make the journey right along side them.  That’s why, as we  near film’s end, as we hover at the doorway’s threshold, the tears of the stalker are not for the writer or the professor whom he leads through the labyrinth, or even for himself and his impoverished family, but for the viewer – that is, all of us.

Gene = Meme, Concept Spawns Infinite Imaginings
If one can create the contemporary novel that paints its ideas and concepts with feather-light strokes of the author’s brush, and thus allow the imagination of the reader to take that information and build upon it, creating a detailed and satisfying cosmos in the process, then the evo-devo fiction can be said to be a success.  We’ll see what happens on this journey of trial-and-error, this journey of testing one’s limits and finding new strengths, of learning when to restrain oneself and when it’s appropriate to go wild.  We’ll see if I have the chops ultimately to follow a master’s example, step into the Room, and do my ever-so-minuscule part in bringing whoever cares to read the words, their deepest desires.

N. Pendleton, 2010

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