Nuanced Thought and Binary Thought in Stories


In some Epics, one inhabits a binary world - good/bad, right/wrong, black/white etc. There are two ways out: the first way, the Old Testament/Commandments way, the Christian theme of the battle between Good and Evil with Yeshua as the General leading the Battle is all about making the ‘good/right/white’ half of the binary equation stronger than the ‘bad/wrong/black’ half. A moral conflict. Of necessity, this is portrayed as a battle. It leads to the whole idea of a narrative, the whole idea of a ‘history’, with a climax, a finale, and so forth. The story ends with the ultimate triumph of Good over Evil, a eucatastrophe.

It’s a motif, an image. In the post-Fall, binary world, one probably has to use imagery like that. It’s like trying to explain the finer nuances of life to a toddler. Watching my daughter grow up, it’s been fascinating to see the binary world manifesting itself in the stories she watches and reads: at first there is no ‘dark half’ - stories are all about flowers and fairies and so on, nothing ‘bad’ happens. Then, as things develop, the antagonist starts to appear - the ‘bad guy’, clearly delineated from the ‘good guys’ in every tale. (I remember when I was six years old I watched an old gangster movie on television and asked my father if all the criminals were in America.)

Epics tend to suggest a North (‘good/right/white’) towards which one has to steer through all the ‘badness’.

Nuanced stories are a little different. Nuanced thought is found in great art: in fact, it might be what makes some art ‘great’. Creative activity which simply forwards the idea of binary ‘goodness’ defeating binary ‘badness’ is of one sort; art which lifts us out of Binary City and gives us a glimpse of the countryside beyond is the art we return to again and again, seeing indescribable new depths (or horizons) each time. This applies to any form of art, probably.

But art is a sub-set of what might be called ‘experiences of the Nuanced’ which occasionally occur in one’s religious life, in everyday ‘real’ life and randomly - as one would expect, the source being nuanced. Battling against binary thinking is a binary impulse. Nuanced thinking is rising above the whole need for a ‘battle’.

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