Thunk

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Social-distancing and now self-isolating has given me lots of time to think, and so I’ve been doing some thinking.

And having thunk I have had some vague thoughts. Then, having turned them into a hypothesis — I won’t grace it with the label ‘theory’ — I thought I’d share that with you.

I can’t claim it’ll be anything new (because I’ve no doubt that it’s old hat to philosophers) but in view of the C-word that we all know about, and what with social media being awash with information and misinformation in equal measure, I offer this post as a public service.

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I’ve been aware of conspiracy theories circulating for a while, as I’m sure you have too. They range from claims COVID-19 is bioengineered (China, the US, Iran and Israel have all had the finger of blame placed on them) to vinegar being the best antiseptic for combating the virus (no, it isn’t). In addition foreign spies are supposed to have stolen it, plus its vaccine, from one lab or other. Mischief-making Russian bot factories have been shut down for spreading even more disinformation online.

Then there are the cock-up theories, for example that the spread of this coronavirus isn’t deliberate but a mistake (see Terry Gilliam’s ingenuous 1995 film Twelve Monkeys for riffs on both of these memes). Mostly, however, amateur sleuths scour the internet for what they see as inconvenient truths, anomalies and inconsistencies, following which they can lay the blame for the pandemic at the door of, variously, governments, scientists, civil servants and health workers who have ballsed up big time.

I have long wondered whether there are real or only apparent links between cock-up theorists and chaotic organisation, and between conspiracy theorists and organised chaos — just as there are sliding scales between conspiracies and cock-ups, and between chaos and organisation.

I’ve placed these four concepts in a quadrant grid in the hopes that they may inform each other in terms either of opposites on a continuum or of alternative ways of approaching a situation. As I say, I can’t promise this represents an original paradigm being suggested here.

But, this being first and foremost a literary (and hopefully literate) blog I went a step further and wondered whether this diagram could be applied to narrative plots.

I can see crime fiction, political thrillers and historical novels fitting in with the grid, the plot line migrating from one box to another as one’s perceptions of what may be be happening in the novel changes. Dystopias (including cli-fi, the new genre born out of global heating) sit well here too, and some speculative fiction and fantasy. But can you think of mainstream contemporary fiction which makes use of these categories?

I ask because right now my brain hurts from too much thinking: it’s going thunk thunk thunk…

30 thoughts on “Thunk

  1. My brain is now going thunk trying to think of any books that fit with your boxes. It’s not come up with anything so far. I’ll keep thinking though – anything to block out the noise about C-19. I’m being very judicious with what I read about the crisis. Social media is the worst at spreading misinformation.

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    1. I agree, Karen, while we pay close and serious attention to what’s going on we need to drown out the background noise of idle, even dangerous, chatter, and what better way than to to think creatively about the things we can really manage and care about?

      As for filling in the boxes I’m starting with the handful of Henry James’ novellas that I’ve read, those seem likely works to analyse for intention interacting with chaos. Daisy Miller looks promising…

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  2. Interesting ideas. I love a good chart or diagram in my literary theory, but I think I’d understand better if the diagram was populated with the genres or texts – if you do create a “filled-in” version, please share it.

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    1. I only know of this novel by repute, Cathy, so I’ll take your word for it! Having had a quick gander online about it I get the gist of what you mean. I can see my little thunk will need to be worked on! 🙂

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  3. elmediat

    You forgot, chaotic cock-up, organized cock-up, discordant cock-up, & metaphysical cock-up cacophony. The last one fits Dirk Gently mysteries.

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    1. You’ve spotted the several Achilles heels on my paradigm, Joseph, damn your eyes.

      As a reward you may now design a Venn diagram to show us the interrelationships and common factors of all these cock-ups; you may also entitle it A New Description of the Land of Cockaigne as Observed by a Visitor from Abroad, if you so wish.

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      1. elmediat

        Only a da Vinci Zenagram will cover the interrelationships and common factors of all these cock-ups. I’ll have to check the 23 memos that converge around lost pages of The Illuminatus! Trilogy. I have time thanks to social-distancing.

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          1. elmediat

            Actually those memos are quite sentient – they respond to your questions & rewrite themselves. They’ve started wallpapering the room & turning an intriguing shade of yellow. The whispering can be a bit annoying though. Wait what’s that in the upper corner of the room. Its ,…. ahhhhhh, a Lovecraft denouement !!!

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            1. elmediat

              The Lord of Thunk
              – how the Memos of Uncertainty came to the Walls of Self Distancing, & the lingering thoughts of that crawled therein and spread to the Land of Cockaigne.

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            2. Incidentally, there was a 2010 BBC TV series (https://m.imdb.com/title/tt2303367/?ref_=nv_sr_srsg_3) based on the Dirk Gently books (not the 2016 Elijah Wood one) that I watched a few decades ago: I was particularly intrigued to see that they’d filmed many of the exterior shots quite literally round the corner from where we used to live in Bristol, a rather Boho area which stood in for a Boho London area.

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  4. inkbiotic

    I think cock-up conspiracies happen quite a lot in real life, when somebody makes a huge mistake and has to cover it up and then that gets out of hand. In fiction that’s maybe more of a sitcom thing than literature though… 😉

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    1. Yes, that’s true, sitcoms, like Restoration comedies, rely on bumbling lying and deeds to drive farcical actions; real-life cover-ups are more the domain of investigative journalism and documentaries, but I can imagine a good political thriller using such cover-ups as a plot device.

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      1. inkbiotic

        There’s a quote about never attributing deviousness to something that can be explained by incompetence (I reckon you might know this quote with your library brain 🙂 ) but maybe many things can be explained by both!

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        1. Machiavelli or Trump, Blair or Grayling, are those the yardsticks for deviousness as opposed to incompetence?! I can’t think of the relevant quote, Petra, but I know there’s at least one. I think most governments are a mix, a bit like ‘Yes, Minister!’ with a special adviser and minister playing the two poles… 😁

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  5. My whole life is a cock-up conspiracy: I think I was put here by someone with ulterior motives. Idiot! He/she didn’t realise that with chocolate, booze and friends, I would be as happy as a pig in sh*t and all he/she would be able to do would be to watch a fool behaving foolishly. I may write a book about it. Actually, as Douglas Adams never used the title ‘The Black Hole in the Factoid Continuum’ I might pinch it for myself. It’s quite brilliant…

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    1. I gift you ‘The Black Hole in the Factoid Continuum’, Colin, use or abuse it as you will. Actually there is a long philosophical tradition that the Almighty Creator is the original Trickster with the most twisted sense of humour ever…

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  6. An alien from outer space? Not heard of that, Sue. All I’ve found is

    1. It’s a flat hollow sound.
    2. It’s the dialectal past tense and past participle of ‘think’.
    3. In computer programming, a thunk is a subroutine used to inject an additional calculation into another subroutine.
    4. It’s a beguilingly simple-looking question about everyday things that stops you in your tracks and helps you start to look at the world in a whole new light.
    5. Alternatively it’s a question that makes you think about something you’ve never thought about before and that then makes your brain ache when you try.

    I’ll leave you to work out which meaning I had in mind… 😁

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    1. Sorry about that! I have a mild headache and temperature, but it may be down to a ‘touch’ of COVID-19 rather than thunking too much… Thank goodness my partner seems to have now recovered from the same symptoms. Hope you’re okay, Jo, I’m guessing you are likely one of those most at risk.

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      1. Goodness, I hope you feel better soon. I’m in a similar situation really. I have a temperature and a cough. My GP put me on steroids and antibiotics yesterday in case there’s a bacterial component but I’m holding my own. I feel OK with paracetamol but a little bit grim without it. Fever definitely affects my thinking too.

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