What is a story?

Ceci n’est pas un conte …

This story, King Abba, which is not a story ‒ and yet the opening of what must surely become a story ‒ can be told in a variety of ways, and unable to choose between them, I have put them all together. Science fiction, fantasy, romance, drama, satire, fairy tale, philosophy. Elements of all of these are to be found in the book.

In the first place, we could say that King Abba is not a story because it is an inquiry, an investigation into questions which, for one reason or another, are most often pushed to the back of our minds. Questions like: What is real? What is knowledge? What is freedom? Our conventional education is useless in these issues, because the entire structure of the learning transmitted to us is founded on separation, that is to say, things are divided from other things and distinguished, named, labelled, categorised. It is all rather like Henry Reed’s poignant line about the basic training of soldiers: ‘Today we have naming of parts…’

Conventional learning and science is based on such divisions and separations, which is why we have so many departments in universities, so many different papers in examination systems, and, as a result, so little real understanding of how the world functions as a whole. It is also, paradoxically, why science, when it reached the end of the world (microscopically) and peered over the edge, could only see a vast emptiness where nothing existed. Which is to say, separation ruled even in the distinction between the material and the non-material. What was not matter was simply nothing. The notion that the two might be united, connected in some way, was not admissible as it would throw into jeopardy the whole concept of separateness. In such ways, we have inherited the mind/body problem presented in the work of René Descartes, and known as Cartesian.

This is the reasoning, and the science, that has got nature by the neck and can do amazing things with it. The eighteenth century Enlightenment, applying analysis as an instrument of research, cut everything into bits to see how it worked, so to speak. What it achieved was to make energies and properties found in nature serve human purposes in ways never seen before in history. What it failed to do, and still fails to do, is to put the bits back together again in a way that restores the original life, essence and character of what has been broken apart.

But technically great things are possible. And this is the future world that the youngsters in King Abba are born into, and we can soon see in the story just how far our own current trends and beliefs, unchecked, will have taken society, education and government. Yet can an amazingly advanced technological society, literally worshipping Reason and Science in the absence of any other faith, provide everything we need as humans? This is where the doubts and questions start to appear. At this point, scientific and rational methods hit the buffers. They simply cannot answer questions like those above: What is real? What is knowledge? What is freedom? And these questions ‒ the sorts of issue that young prince Fion is grappling with ‒ really do matter because they are at the root of the quality, and even the meaning, of our lives.

Fortunately, there is another, broader vision of science, another tradition and mode of understanding, in which this apparent separateness that rules, is seen purely as an image constructed by the analytical side of our brains. In another light ‒ and here the word ‘light’ has fundamental importance ‒ all is connected, all is ‘entangled’, to use the term that arises out of quantum theory. Nothing exists in isolation, all reverberates, echoes and, most important of all, is in dynamic interconnection. The world you live in, then, the only world you know, may, if the stresses and strains on it become too great, fall apart and fashion itself into something completely new. Inquiry then turns into adventure, drama, danger.

King Abba is the first stage in this story which is an inquiry, this inquiry which turns into an adventure story. I hope that you enjoy it and in this blog I welcome your comments, questions and interruptions. This is why I have chosen to put the French philosopher Denis Diderot’s playful title at the beginning. In this short work of his, published in 1798, an account of actual events written much earlier, he allows an imaginary reader to keep interrupting him. Which is what he says happens in a real story.

Let’s see if that’s true.

Spring 2013

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