Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Space as a plot device

Although visionary revelation is a major revelatory mode in Scripture, the Apocalypse is unusual, both for how extensive the vision is, and the narrative structure of the vision. One wonders if John had the entire vision at one sitting, and wrote it out as is, or whether he edited it in some respects. A question we can't answer.

Because Revelation has a narrative structure, that raises the question of how it corresponds to time. This is a point of controversy, with idealists, preterists, amils, premils, and postmills taking different sides. 

Space can be a metaphor for time. Space is a plot device in some stories. Take road stories. That's a popular genre. Some of the best or most enduring stories are road stories, viz. The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Odyssey, The Divine Comedy, Pilgrim's Progress, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Lord of the Rings, Route 66. 

Road stories make linear use of space. They are forward-leading. Because of how humans conceptualize time, we associate that use of space with action moving into the future.

There are, however, other ways that space can function as a plot device. Take a story about kids poking around a rambling old mansion. They explore one room after another, on one floor after another, to see what's inside each room.

That involves the use of interior space as well as space within space. Smaller spaces inside larger spaces.

There are many possible variations on this theme. Take the opening of That Hideous Strength, which takes place within a walled garden. There a traveler is moving towards the center. It's set up like outer rooms and inner rooms. A nautilus shell design.

Stories set in a large, but confined space with outer perimeters and lots of interesting things to look into. Take a campus like Oxford or Cambridge with lots of historic buildings. A story with that setting could make creative use of space, but it wouldn't be linear. 

Exploring a castle is another example. You're going places inside the castle, or on the castle grounds, but it has a coming and going quality to it. You check out one room, then another.

A biblical example is Ezekiel's vision of the temple complex, with the angelic tour guide to show the seer around. 

Natural examples include labyrinthian journeys like trails along the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, caverns, &c. 

In this kind of story, the use of space isn't backward and forward but inward and outward. Not linear but concentric. 

In reading Revelation, it's useful to ask ourselves how the narrative uses space. If you were a director, how would you film it? Is the use of space linear and forward-leaning? Or more like opening doors into rooms? Alternating between inside and outside perspectives? 

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