I read a fascinating article about the link between fiction and social intelligence. In ancient literature, the narrative primarily focused on the external, on battles and bloodlines. Even emotion was expressed externally- via the ripping of clothes, the tearing out hair, etc. Over time, especially around the time of the Greeks, we begin to see a shift from that external world to the internal one. We begin to focus more on the mind, the heart, even if they had a fundamental distrust of the latter.
We see this shift affect even religion. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, we watch as holiness moves from what you do to what you feel. That is why David, in his psalms, is able to count himself faultless, because in his mind he has kept all the dictates of the law up to that point in his life. Then Christ comes in and presses on beyond the law to the heart. Now, obedience to God is not so much about murder as about hate, not so much about adultery but about lust. From that point on, our spiritual walk begins to capsulate all of us, not just what others see.
But the narrative goes deeper. With Shakespeare, we are given soliloquies and asides, painstakingly pointing out the mental-emotional state of the speaker as the character in question literally BREAKS FROM THE PRESENT ACTION to give his impassioned speech.
Skip ahead many years, as we move from theater to film. Now, the performer does not have to project his feelings out to a distant audience. No, as camera equipment continues to evolve, we are able to get closer and closer to the performer, to see his or her every nuance of facial feature and movement in hyper-clear detail. And, as the medium changes, so does the approach. Method acting was born out of shift, challenging performers to explore every aspect of the character, from backstory to emotional state. Everything is laid out on the table. Classical Shakespeare performers are taught to believe that nothing exists outside of the written scene. Method actors are taught that the prescribed scene is just the tip of the iceberg, as far as the character is concerned. And the audience is not only invited, but many times sucked vacuum-tube style into this every deepening world.
As the narrative becomes more emotionally are, so too does the reader/audience member. Because the reader, as the article most insightfully points out, is a co-creator of the story. I mean, who doesn’t feel a certain ownership of a certain text that they feel deeply connected to? Who doesn’t feel a sense of profound loss or accomplishment when the story is finished? So, as the narrative deepens, so too does the reader.
Now, I believe that it so important to read and be open to every style of literature/media, because all have something to offer, and all have their own inherent strength and weaknesses. The ancients had a wonderful sense of history and accomplishment. The moderns have a profound sense of self-awareness. The ancients lacked the verbiage to explore the totality of human emotion. The moderns can be so myopically focused on the moment, that they lose sense of the bigger picture. So, the challenge is to read, watch, experience everything, as you continue develop your own sense of taste and interest. You will never find the same book or movie twice, because you are always different. So, be different, be open, and have fun.
There is so much wonderful material out there. So, go exploring. You may be happily surprised by what you find, both about yourself and the world at large.