is what the arts do. That is what the arts are for—to allow us to see another way, from another perspective, to allow us to stand, for a moment
or an afternoon or the time it takes to read this novel, outside ourselves.
Not merely “outside the box,” which has become a cliché for thinking
up better marketing, but outside the bone box of our own egotistical
skulls—and thereby to imagine Other, and so to imagine each other,
and so, as Forster famously wrote, only connect.
CULLITY: I first truly understood the patterning of “connection and
disconnection” in literature through your book Imaginative Writing.
How did you come to understand it?
BURROWAY: I always knew that I was dissatisfied with the Aristotelian
beginning-middle-end construct. After I was made aware of the feminist theory that all stories are male, every time I read a story I had to
concede that narrative structure concerns itself with a protagonist and
an antagonist struggling against each other in a conflict that must be
resolved. It is a competition with a prize, and somebody has to win. This
is the vertical or hierarchical nature of narrative.
But some theorists—including Ursula Le Guin—pointed out that
the notion of resolution is untrue to life and holds up perfection, unity,
and singularity—the so-called phallic values—as goals at the expense
of acceptance, nuance, and variety—the characteristic virtues of female
Then the screenwriter Claudia Johnson pointed out to me that there
also appears in all narrative a “horizontal” pattern of connection and
disconnection among characters, which is the main source of its emotional effect. The same two drives that operate in human relations, the
need to climb and the need for community, the need to win out over
others and the need to belong to others, the “tower” and “network” patterns; these same two drives drive fiction.
In Romeo and Juliet, for example, the Montague and Capulet families
are fiercely disconnected, but the young lovers manage to connect in
spite of that. Throughout the play they meet and part, disconnect from
their families in order to connect with each other, and finally part from
life in order to be with each other eternally. Their ultimate departure in
death reconnects the feuding families.
This pattern works in any narrative. If you removed the struggle between two opposing forces, you would take the spine out of the story