Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Keeping It Simple

From as early an age as I can remember, I have most always found complexity easier to grasp than simplicity. I can solve a multiple part problem more easily than a single part problem. I can sing a difficult bridge more easily than the base melody. I can catch a fly ball only if I'm running toward it and throw out my arm without aiming, whereas if I stop, plant myself, and aim my glove at the incoming ball, the thing plops down right beside me. For a while, I prided myself by thinking this meant I was more intelligent, but after many years I realized that this was just how I'm wired--programmed to 'grok' complexity rather than to ratiocinate in simple steps--and so my 'intelligence' isn't greater than the average Joe's it's just... lumpier (a recent NYT Science Section article described hypotheses on the neurological basis for being better at complexity.) I understand subtext perhaps better than the average Joe, but Joe tends to understand the text, better than I.

I first truly understood this about myself after I'd been studying graduate-level philosophy for a few months. I was good at analyzing small, discrete bits of text, on the one hand, and describing the major point or consequence of an idea, on the other. And, in general, I wasn't bad at moving through an argument step by step, whether I was developing one on my own, or explicating someone else's. But, somehow, there was some essential piece of doing philosophy at which I was terrible. Somewhere between textual analysis and conceptual overview I got lost. I used to say that I felt as if I had to slog through a bog to get from one point to another whereas my fellow students marched in a direct line over a footbridge of deductive steps. I understood those steps; knew how they fit together; could fit them together myself; but I couldn't frigg'n walk them with any assurance, at least while looking down, or if I walked too slowly. If I just aimed at the other side--well, I got there (I was the only student in the philosophy department who was left-handed! While a friend in art school, was the only one in her class who was right handed!) Something strange like that; I'm somehow highly verbal and intuitive--strong traits of a species of intelligence and knowledge which we call "wisdom"--and reasonably analytical; but somehow, the foreground elements of the big picture don't readily pop out for me....

I'm thinking about this now because I'm embarrassed by the difficulty I seem to have with straight-forward script analysis. I thoroughly understand the difference between reading for themes and reading for actions--and I think I know how not to get bogged down by plot or character details in analysis of objective and actions--but, in practice, blaaaahhhhhhh, I get tangled in my own verbiage (though, also, I do often START out with a simple idea, but then f#@!k around with more complicated ideas for a while, before coming back to my first thought, in the end.) And when I get tangled up in front of other people--either in rehearsal or in acting class--my embarrassment leads to my brain gumming up, slowing down with self-consciousness and shame, and I can't think at all. I feel like I'm sitting in a classroom trying to learn logic 101 and failing.

Well, I'm not 'failing' at script analysis, but I've yet to become 'efficient' at it. I'd like to 'grok' the surface text as readily as I grok the subtext. I think the way to get there is to just do it a lot, like doing scales.


jason said...

All of your troubles either stem from or are most prominently evidenced by your ability to use the words "grok" and "ratiocinate" in the same sentence. I don't know what either of those words mean but I am CERTAIN they do not belong together.

erin said...

I really wouldn't worry about your ability to analyze scripts as compared to others' abilities to do so. Unless you're in a class, there's no one way to do it. Figure it out for yourself, talk with your director and dramaturg (if you've got one), and then move on. The tendency of some actors to become involved in the minutiae can be crippling to the craft.

Signore Direttore said...


Your analysis of your aptitude for script analysis sounds like yet another form of tension and resistance.
What you're being asked to do in class isn't even script analysis. Just read the text a few times and identify the principal action of the scene: eg. this is a scene about a man blackmailing someone in order to keep his job.
KISS - Keep It Simple Sucka!