Category: ‘General’

MDA: It’s not just for games anymore

[General] (04.21.09, 10:21 pm)

MDA is a framework for analyzing games, originally developed by Marc LeBlanc of Mind Control Software. MDA stands for Mechanics, Dynamics, and Aesthetics, and is presented as a layered approach to analyzing and designing games. Creators of games come from the perspective of writing mechanics (rules), which result in some dynamics when the game is played. Players are less attached to the rules, but experience the effects of the dynamics, and this results in some sort of aesthetic experience. Marc LeBlanc developed MDA originally as a system that would allow for gradual iterative development of design, where each of mechanics dynamics and aesthetics can be examined individually. Each could be subject to analysis and design. If a particular aesthetic experience was desired, for instance, “discovery,”  then the designer could work backwards and develop dynamics that would encourage feelings of discovery, and then mechanics that would generate those dynamic systems. Core to this theory is the understanding of how each of these layers interacts with the others.

Hunicke, LeBlanc, and Zubek describe a taxonomy of several explicit aesthetic terms. The ones listed are sensation, fantasy, narrative, challenge, fellowship, discovery, expression, and submission, though the authors make clear that many more aesthetic goals are possible. What is interesting about these aesthetic goals is that they tend to be closely associated with genres (either individually, or in groups). For instance, roleplaying games tend to stronly value fantasy and narrative; casual games are frequently passtimes, so they fall under the category of submission; first person shooter games tend to be about challenge, sensation, and competition. Individual games will of course have different aesthetic goals (especially in terms of order of importance), but genre can be seen as closely tied to specific aesthetic patterns. This is the case not only in games, but in other media as well. In film (and I am speaking exceedingly generally), the romance genre is closely tied to particular emotional responses, sympathy, hope, joy; the genre of summer action movies is strongly tied to sensation and exhilaration; horror films have aesthetics of fear and suspense, often surprise. In prose fiction (and non-fiction, imaginably) too genres are still tied to aesthetics and emotions. While films and novels may be formulaic, we do not see and read them for the formulas, we enjoy them for the experience of seeing of reading. We enjoy them because we get something out of them.

In discussing film and novels specifically, it should be clear that I am talking about narrative. In doing so, it will be important to remember that narrative is bipartite, containing both (using Chatman’s terms) story and discourse. Story is the plot, the characters and events that make play out in the narrative, while discourse is how this information is presented. In text, discourse is in terms of writing, using literary techniques and devices to communicate, while in film the discourse is a visual language. The most clear way of looking at narrative in terms of mechanics is structurally or formally, where both the story and discourse must obey a set of rules to fall within a genre. This approach tends toward narratives whose plots obey certain formulas, often culminating in three or nine part structures. This approach is often used for analysis of narratives, and is used in writing, but primarily in terms of making sure that the written narrative has a suitable structure. However, there is a dimension missing: structural analysis misses the dimension of dynamics. While we enjoy narratives for the experience of them, we require the structures to be played out. Structures alone cannot be played out, though. It is necessary to rethink the ideas of mechanics and dynamics as apply to narratives, then.

Dynamics are about playing out, about the execution of a system over time. We feel pleasure in reading about the downfall of the villian or the struggles of the hero in an adventure story not because they fall within specific generic rules (although there is probably some satisfaction that has to do with familiarity), but because of the feelings that the villian deserves what he gets, or because of sympathy with the hero. The fact that these fit into a structure or monomyth is not enough to explain why they move us, we must look closely into why we feel these things. I suspect that it is because of simulation: the villian’s downfall is not satisfying unless we feel that the villian deserves the downfall, and that he deserves it because of whatever awful thing he did early on. The reasoning between these points is not structural, but causal, and furthermore causal at an emotional level. Keith Oatley theorizes that fiction is literally software that we simulate in our minds. To understand dyanmics in narrative, it is necessary to treat the story as taking place in time, within a world. The presentation of time need not be linear, but the reader still understands the narrative by making causal connections. The study of dynamics within story worlds is complicated by the fact that stories are usually linear, and we rarely see branches that reveal the changing dynamic structure of the story world. In a mathematical sense, the dynamics are under specified by the story contents.  This underspecification need not be a problem, though. Actual narrative structure itself is underspecified, but readers make sense of incomplete elements of narrative by mentally filling in the blanks. For instance, in Pride and Prejudice, the first line of dialogue occurs between Mr. and Mrs. Bennett, but the conversation is not contextualized in terms of where or when it occurs, whether the other family members are there, or any other detail. Readers have no trouble processing this, though, and may supply differing interpretations of what these circumstances might be. Each of these interpretations is valid, and can be considered acceptable. The author may even imagine details, but intentionally leave them out, in the interest of succinctness. The study of the dynamics of story worlds is supplemented by examining other works within the context of source, for instance, other works by the author, contemporary works, or derivations. These can give the extra context needed to understand the shape and structure of dynamics, and enough perspective to see the alternate ways that events might play out that might have diverged from the course of the original narrative.

The dynamical systems of narratives are probably going to at first look quite different from the dynamical systems in games. The element to remember with these is that they are about the systems and trends that emerge from the fluctuation of state. So for instance, in love stories, a dynamical element would be the rising and falling affections between characters, changing relationships, and the progression along the spectrum of courtship. The mystery genre is actually well suited to a game-like analysis of dynamics (because they can be compared to the dynamics of mystery games); these are about the gradual acquisition of evidence, mounting tension and suspense, and evaluation and analysis of characters. Dynamics feature changing variables, and describe the space wherin the world (or the reader’s understanding of the world) changes. It is important to note though, that these are explanations of generic dynamics of genres, and actual works and authors usually feature more precise dynamics. For instance, Jane Austen uses an aesthetic of irony, and one way this is expressed dynamically by having indirect commentary on the actions and values of some characters. This is a dynamic not in the change of the world, but in how the reader percieves it. Austen also dynamically expresses her irony by having characters clash according to juxtapositions of moral values. The actual moments that deserve commentary, and the moral orders that clash are part of the mechanics.

Mechanics are the rules by which things happen, the rules by which effect follows from cause. Where dynamics are changing systems, the mechanics are the means of change that occurs in those systems. The relationship between mechanics and dynamics is heavily derived from simulation. Exactly what makes up the mechanics is hard to figure out in terms of narratives. Novels are based in realism (in terms of individual focus and detail), but the story worlds defined still operate according to specific rules. For instance, Ann Radcliffe’s gothic villians would not be at all appropriate for Austen’s story worlds. The male-centered perspective of Tom Jones would not work in a domestic feminine narrative such as any of Jane Austen’s works. A bloody climax such as one found in Shakespeare would similarly not make sense in any of Austen’s story worlds. So, setting, perspective, and types of events all inform the types of worlds that may follow from different narratives. These are all static elements, they are not dynamic, but they shape dynamics. These elements are thus part of the mechanics. Like the matter of interpreting dynamics, though, mechanics must be interpreted in narrative. They are not determined, and must be reached through an analysis and reading of the text. The process for extracting mechanics is something that deserves an immense degree of attention, but is outside the scope of this document.

I believe that the primary dynamics in Austen’s works are social. The means of interaction are social, and the subject material and changing values are social relationships. To determine the mechanics, then, I would suggest turning to the prodigious field of social interactions, namely sociology, and particularly symbolic interactionism. Symbolic interactionism is useful for examining interactions as taking place on a symbolic plane, a space well handled by a game interface (furthermore one which has support in existing games, eg, The Sims).

Generally, the study of mechanics, dynamics, and aesthetics can be applied to narrative media just as well as games.

Genetic Image: Blueshift (creation)

[General] (04.10.09, 10:11 am)

This describes a little bit about how Blueshift is composed, within the GeneticImage software. I do not describe the process of mutations that created the final product, but rather how the individual pieces make up the whole.

Everything in GeneticImage is composed of functions. A function has a return type (color, number, 2d or 3d vector, or any number of intermediary types), and it may have some number of input types. This forms a tree, with the base of the tree having a color output, and it can branch out quite a bit. Eventually, branches will terminate in either constants or variables that are based on the x and y coordinates of a point. At every point in the image, the tree is evaluated, ultimately producing an image made of colors. Due to the complex nature of the functions, it can sometimes be difficult to understand how images are produced and how the internal functions control the ultimate output.

Here, I have taken the original graph of the functions that define Blueshift, and picked out some of the important branches and made renders of them. I used the “RandomVals$random_v2_col_spline” function to graph functions which return the 2d vector “LVect2d” type, and did something similar with the scalar “LDouble” type, so it was possible to visualize things that are not just colors.

base 01
Base01: Genfile, Graph

I chose to pick the base as the simple Analytic$gaussian_v2 of a V2 input. This takes a Gaussian (bell shaped curve) of a 2d vector, making the output into additional bell curves, but in 2d.

base 02
Base02: Genfile, Graph

The next step creates simple 2d Perlin noise, using the gaussian above as input. This uses the Noise1$noise_v2_v2 function, which takes a 2d vector and produces 2d noise out of it. Because the noise is applied to the squashed gaussian, which has a relatively rapid change in the middle and then much more gradual change the further from the center, the noise has a smooth and wavy feel.

base 03a
Base03a: Genfile, Graph

This is a quadtree result of a Fermat spiral. The Fermat spiral, as with all of the strange attractor functions, cannot be rendered in 2d using ordinary function evaluation. Instead, it must be evaluated before the computation of the image begins, and the function may simply access the data that was the result of the calculation. Here, data is stored using a quadtree. In this case, we view the quadtree as simply a function which takes a 2d point, projects that point into the space of the quadtree, and returns the depth of the tree reached by the point. If the 2d point has reached maximum depth, then that means that there is a point from the original curve in the quadtree cell. The function returns the depth of the tree that is reached, so it will return 0 if the point is outside the tree, and 1 if the maximum depth is reached.

base 03
Base03: Genfile, Graph

Now, instead of being evaluated at normal 2d coordinates, the quadtree function is actually evaluated at the result of Base02. This makes the smooth and gradual shading turn into clear curves. It is possible to see some of the orthogonal shapes in the blueish green shapes in the lower middle of the image. However, largely, the crisp grid-like structure from Base03a is entirely gone. Those grids are still present, but they have been warped and distorted beyond recognition.

It is useful to note the locations of some of the spots where the result is lighter- a yellow or blue color, because these regions wind up having some dramatic impacts on the final image.

base 04
Base04: Genfile, Graph

This now folds the result of evaluating the quadtree back into evaluation of normal vector coordinates. This takes normal 2d coordinates, but applies a squashing function to them, and the amount of the squash is given by the result of Base03. The squashing function is Analytic$Squash2_v2, and where the values of Base03 are high, brings the value of the 2d vector closer to the origin. It still changes slowly over the space of the image, thus contiguous regions have smooth gradients, but those regions still suddenly change at their borders.

base 05
Base05: Genfile, Graph

Here, the result of Base04 is applied to a noise gradient function. The specific function is Noise1Grad$ngrad_v2_d_1, which takes a 2d vector input and produces another 2d vector. The noise gradient functions returns a derivative of the noise based on perturbing the input. The gradient functions are good for creating smooth noise shapes that are different from regular noise. It is a little difficult to articulate how the noise gradient is different, but it includes a directionality that is absent in regular noise.

The effect of this yields some rapid changes streaking across the middle of the image, orthogonal to the lines produced by the original curves of Base02. Examining the image closely also reveals some interesting ridge-like curves that appear in the these lines, and these become recognizable features later.

base 06
Base06: Genfile, Graph

The noise gradient is then multiplied by another number, the value of which is the y component of the gaussian in Base01. Thus, the values produced by the gradient are significantly scaled down as the y coordinate of a pixel moves above or below the center line. Thus, around the horizontal center, the visual complexity is about the same, but it tapers off and becomes less busy around the upper and lower parts of the image.

base 07
Base07: Genfile, Graph

This is a totally different part of the underlying function graph. This shows a Noise1$Fractal_v2_colA_n function evaluated just on the 2d plane. This particular image uses a multifractal, which produces the rich and visually busy information. Multifractals tend to get lots of folds and warps. Here, the red, green, and blue values are rather dissociated, with green exhibiting the most folding, but the blue and red are just blotches.

base 08
Base08: Genfile, Graph

Finally, the actual image begins to take shape. Here, instead of seeing the multifractal applied to ordinary 2d space, it is applied to the result of Base06. The resulting image is still very much stark contrasts of red, green, and blue, but we begin to see some interesting layering and folding appear in each of the colors. The regions and features from Base06 become much more pronounced and visible. Instead of seeing the features as regions of gradual or rapid change, here they become actual regions of color.

base 09
Base09: Genfile, Graph

Now, the image begins to look more like the final product. This is a point at which I intervened in the process of creating the image. Having worked with image generation for so long, I have become very frustrated by the predominance of the primary red, green, and blue colors. There is nothing wrong with these colors, but very often they are aligned as channels to different channels of information, and this is a tedious use of the color spectrum. Here, I created a Transform$Transform_col which wound up mapping the green to blue, red to mauve, and blue to a yellow. The result is very dark, but does create areas of strong contrast between light and dark regions.

base 10
Base10: Genfile, Graph

Another branch of the function tree produces a simple 1 dimensional noise. This is applied to a warped 3 dimensional vector, creating a distribution that stretches across the image. I believe that the pink regions in this image have a higher value, while the green regions have a lower value.

Final: Genfile, Graph

The final version takes Base09 and applies a ColorOp$Blend_to_White function to it, taking the second argument, the blend amount, as the result of Base10. What this does is that it takes the original color and mixes in an amount of white equal to the blend amount. The values appear to be fairly low, as there is very little pure white, but this also manages to lighten the original image as well. The nice thing about this function is that in addition to lightening the colors, it also softens them. Base09 was much more balanced than Base08, but it was still very heavy on the primaries. There were fewer grays and soft tones. Here, large portions of the image have been softened so that the color is not as severe.

Delicious Polenta

[General] (03.17.09, 8:34 pm)

It’s been a while since I’ve put up photos of food or anything else, so I figured I would upload a few.

Delicious Polenta

Delicious Polenta

More Polenta

More Polenta

Taken a couple of weeks ago while it was snowing...

Taken a couple of weeks ago while it was snowing...

Whos the kitty? Its you its you!

Who's the kitty? It's you it's you!

Ivanhoe Game

[General,Research] (03.16.09, 8:29 pm)

As unusual as my Pride and Prejudice plans seem, stranger still is the Ivanhoe Game. It’s not actually a game about Ivanhoe proper, it’s an education oriented project that seems to be about collaborative interpretation. It looks like people can create a “game” around a text, and then navigate, annotate, change, and discuss the text. This is interesting to me because of my belief in the interrelation of models and interpretation. This is not really about developing a model of the underlying text, but about visualizing and connecting interpretations.

The project is also quite neat because it uses Java and JNLP. The actual UI for the thing is nice and pretty and looks like the developer has read the Filthy Rich Clients book.

Watchmen and adaptation

[General] (03.05.09, 10:25 am)

So, I mentioned earlier about how Alan Moore’s views of adaptation are primarily author-centric, about how as an author, he wishes to have exclusive control and power over what happens with his work. This perspective is fundamentally at odds with an audience/reader centric view, where adaptation is an inevitable process in reader’s exploration of works. I generally think that the latter view is more important, because, once a work is released, the author no longer has control over what readers make of it. However, there is a point about this that is prickly for me, and that is about aesthetics. While many adaptations can and will be made of works, I do not think that every such adaptation should be considered equally, or given endorsement simply because of their connection to the original work. I think that there is a criteria for judging adaptations, and looking at them critically.

For example:

On the subject of Alan Moore, I discovered today that his book Watchmen, having been adapted into film, is being adapted into a game. It doesn’t stand to be a very good game. More to the point, the film itself frustrated adapters to no end. Even Terry Gilliam, who attempted to adapt the comic into film twice acknowledged that it could not be done. I haven’t seen the film yet, or seen any of the media surrounding the game, but I think it is a good candidate for thinking about what goes into a critical aesthetics of adaptation.

In terms of games, anyway, my theory is that to adapt a work, its world and model must be interpreted, and then reconstructed in the new medium. Criticism would probably occur on first the level of interpretation, and then on the reconstruction.

Although, maybe this is the wrong idea. Maybe we should be looking at this from the gloomy eyes of Adorno, Benjamin, or Greenberg, that we are living in a culture industry where new ideas are reproduced and disassembled into capital. That’s a cheery thought.

Adaptation and Media

[General,Research] (03.02.09, 3:03 pm)

Right now I am working on transcribing Linda Hutcheon‘s A Theory of Adaptation. This book has been great. It looks at adaptation as legitimate, universal, and pervasive. It’s great because so much of what I am doing is entrenched in adaptation, and it’s great to see it legitimized. Indeed, adaptations are often viewed very negatively as leeching off of the original media, corrupting it, and mining or wringing it out for money. Just today I came across an article by Alan Moore on some of his current projects, and he discusses the practice of adaptation in very negative terms. Considering his background and experiences, I am not all that surprised, but having read Hutcheon so soon, I spent a little bit of time thinking about exactly what is at stake here.

Moore views adaptation as a corporate practice whose motivation is the capitalist goal of maximizing capital. He doesn’t explain it in exactly those terms, but his perspective is focused on the adaptation producers. The practice of adaptation (in context of his books) frequently involves large special effects budgets, and is reprehensible in his eyes due to the focus on spectacle as opposed to the mastery of media affordances. Essentially, he writes a narrative in comic form because it is best told through comic form. He writes a novel because the story is best told as a novel. Adaptation is pointless to him because it disregards the bond between narrative and medium. To him, the Hollywood film industry is attempting, though the use of its formulas to turn the narratives of his stories into Hollywood narratives. Because form and content are so intertwined, an adaptation that changes medium will necessarily be a change in content, detracting from its original meaning.

I can clearly understand Moore, but I think that it would be fruitful to consider another perspective, which is that of the reader, or the audience, or the consumer. Moore’s outlook is that of the Author, in the Barthes sense. This view is not uncommon, but neglects the role and engagement of the reader. Readers are anxious to make meanings from works, often meanings that the author may have instilled but not stated, or meanings which the author instilled but was not aware of, or meanings that are entirely personal to the readers themselves. Readers do not see the meaning of a work as tied to its medium, or even necessarily its content. When readers take charge, they appropriate and extend and (to borrow Jenkins’ term) poach texts. When a work is introduced to an audience, adaptation is inevitable. This is not to say that Hollywood adaptation is great, but rather some forms of adaptation are inevitable.

It is interesting to compare how Moore describes his own works, as being carefully crafted and interwoven with particular influences, to specifically create commentary on both the original texts and contemporary events. Moore’s collaboration with Kevin O’Neil on The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is itself interesting as an adapted work because it borrows so many established characters from English literature. It is not an adaptation of another text, but it weaves characters and conventions from other texts to assemble a work. Perhaps because the script itself is original, Moore does not consider it to be an adaptation. When compared with something, such as Jane Austen’s novels, which have themselves spawned an entire textual universe of adaptations, some of which borrow from one specific novel, and others which borrow from multiple, the lines definitely begin to blur.

Scanned notes

[Games,General,Research,Talks] (02.16.09, 11:12 pm)

I’m in the habit of writing up pages of notes that are often difficult to transcribe into pure text form. Usually I keep these around with me as references until my thinking or work on whatever project has matured enough that the notes aren’t relevant anymore. I have a bunch of pages like this in my notebook. Right now with the simulating fictional worlds project, I am trying to come up with a preliminary system of classes and work out what their relationships to each other will be programmatically. Also I want to know what the major processes , interactions, and flowcharts are going to look like. Posted here is an early step.

How a situation is composed

How a situation is composed

Situation Cycle

Situation cycle. It looks like we might need more general classification of frame that encompasses both situations and other social codes.

Conversation cycle and context

Conversation cycle and context

Alan Ayckbourn: The Norman Conquests

[General] (02.13.09, 10:36 pm)

Several of Alan Ayckbourn‘s plays are trilogies, designed to be performed in Scarborough, which is a popular vacation spot in Yorkshire. The goal behind his writing of the plays is to fill a theatre house for a full weekend, three nights, but under several constraints. One of the constraints is that they were only able to afford six actors, so the actors would need to be shared between the plays. The second is that the plays must not be arranged in such a way that to appreciate any one all must be seen, and the plays must not be arranged into ordered parts, as either of these would drive away the interest of potential theatregoers. The resulting project is a set of plays that would be able to stand on their own, but would be arranged so that viewing one would pique one’s curiosity to see the others. Much of my analysis comes from the recorded BBC television performance in 1978.

The most interesting element in the plays is the relationship between plot and story. The individual plays are logical wholes, but together they make something more complete. The plays take place in different parts of the same house during the same weekend, featuring the same drama with the same characters. The plays have different pacing and focus on different pieces of the same plot.

The experience of watching one performance is of a comedy, a drama centered around the personalities of the characters. Events that occur in the other plays are alluded to, but the references to the other plays are sufficient enough to complete their relevance to the current action, without making them overtly mysterious. When put against the other plays, enough information is revealed to turn the plot into something which becomes more like a puzzle. References that were previously only background elements become central, and elements that were central to the drama in the other plays take on a passive role when viewing a new one.

What remains constant between the plays is an overall story arc, and the characters. In terms of digital adaptation, it logically makes sense for the trilogy to be treated as an encyclopedic text, and allow navigation between the different parts of the action. This is the subject of Hot Norman, a digital project put together by Janet Murray and Freedom Baird. This project enables the viewer to observe what is happening at the logical diegetic moments occurring in the different timelines. When one character leaves one set and goes to another, the user would be able to follow them. Additionally, Hot Norman enables the user to follow the references between the different plays, so when one event is referred to in one timeline, it is possible to look back at the source of that event.

This approach seems appropriate, due to the multiple nature of the narrative, but seems like it would be ultimately somewhat unsatisfying. Because the events are referential, and used as props for the dramatic flows of the story, it does not seem like a great deal stands to be gained from switching between the individual plays. Having viewed each play, it does not seem like there is much to be gained from navigating between them. Each play in the trilogy has the same plot, but offers different narrative perceptions of the plot. Weaving between the perceptions offers little more beyond being able to access them in the first place. I think the center of the viewer’s attention is not on the plot of the character’s lives, but on the characters responses and means of handling the plot that is taking place around them. The plot itself is not primarily about action that takes place within the plays, but it is about action that has already taken place or has failed to take place. The entire body of the trilogy is derived from the characters reactions to these events, both past and unrealized.

Being the contrarian, I think that the ideal way to explore the content of the play would be to expand it. Instead of being able to switch between the different views, it would be interesting to be able to command the characters, or arrange scenes with several of them present, and then see what happens. The dimensions of the underlying plot would not change, but new scenes would result.

Reading Info:
Author/EditorAyckbourn, Alan
TitleThe Norman Conquests
Tagsfiction, media traditions, specials, narrative
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon

Victor Turner: The Ritual Process

[General] (02.12.09, 11:17 pm)

Victor Turner is a notable figure in anthropology alongside Clifford Geertz and Erving Goffman. Turner’s focus is on ritual, and the role that ritual plays in life and culture. I also examined Turner in On Narrative, where he compared the ritual process of the Ndembu in Zambia to the Watergate crisis in America. Turner had an interesting role within American academia. He helped connect education to the social and political movements in the 1960s. His exploration of the rituals of other cultures manifested in a subversive way of looking at American culture. This is specifically applicable in this book, where, toward the end, he develops the ideas of structure and anti-structure, comparing the hippy movement to a spontaneous community which is analogous to liminal communities in other cultures.

Turner is very strongly influenced by Arnold von Gennep, who sees ritual as being composed of three parts: “separation from the everyday flow of activities, involving a passage through a threshold state or limen into a ritual world removed from everyday notions of time and space; a mimetic enactment of some dimension of the crisis that brought about the separation, in the course of which enactment the structures of everyday life are both elaborated and challenged (he called the co-occurrence of these motives “structure” and “anti-structure”); and a reentry into the everyday world.” (p. ix)

The idea of ritual as taking place in a special sort of zone, where activity takes on new meanings outside the realm of everyday life, reverberates with the idea of performance as described by Schechner, and with play, as described by Huizinga. All of these approaches are anthropological, and all of them seem to be describing the same sort of material. (more…)

Reading Info:
Author/EditorTurner, Victor
TitleThe Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure
Tagsspecials, media theory, sociology, anthropology
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon

Pride and Prejudice: Literary Criticism

[General] (02.12.09, 6:06 pm)

This reviews some scholarly essays on Pride and Prejudice. Also included is a snippet from the Norton Critical Edition of Northanger Abbey. There is a wide range of Austen literary criticism, and this reflects just a small part. What is included here are essays that are particularly relevant for the process of adaptation, and looking into the mechanics of Austen’s world.

Susan Morgan: Perception in Pride and Prejudice

In a quick overview, this article is about Elizabeth’s development over the course of the novel. Like the character of Emma, Elizabeth’s understanding of the world and perception of others is frequently incorrect, for instance with Wickham, with Darcy’s intentions toward her in the second part of the book, and with her impression of Darcy’s thoughts when she reveals Lydia’s running off with Wickham. Morgan asks what is the moral lesson of all of this, and observes that there is a transition in the development of Elizabeth’s character.

Morgan argues that Austen’s works (her world, as it were) contain a sort of philosophical message, even if this message was not consciously put there by the author. The essence of this is about generalization and the relationship between the world of the mind and the physical world. Generalization is a means for characters to use social expectations and small observations to make broader predictions and expectations of behavior. The central generalization that is present is the one described by the opening line of the book.

Elizabeth’s greatest strength is that she strives to look at the world from many points of view, and respond to them accordingly. This is not perfect, in that she always has levels of partiality, but it distinguishes her, in that she always seems to be engaged in figuring out what others are thinking or doing. Her weakness in the earlier part of the novel is that she does not take life seriously, and does not significantly value social status or her family’s financial situation. This gives way to some of her early indirectness and lack of willingness to commit herself to things (as opposed to Jane, who is eager to commit herself on very short notice). This changes toward the end, as Elizabeth matures and acquires a directness that she did not possess early on.

The themes of perception and generalization lend credence to the perspective that characters understand the world in terms of models.

Claudia L. Johnson: Pride and Prejudice and the Pursuit of Happiness

This paper examines the the delicate interaction between pride and happiness. Happiness is clearly one of the central variables at stake for the characters in the novel. Happiness of course has many dimensions and flavors. The means of happiness also is accompanied by a moral dimension, where one’s tendency to be placable takes on moral dimensions. Darcy’s disdain and implacability (stemming from his pride) are negative traits, and they harm his moral reputation in the minds of other characters. Similarly, characters who are overeager to be agreeable are also considered to be morally flawed, for instance in the cases of Lydia and Sir William Lucas.

The different means by which characters find happiness indicates a system for modeling characters standards and preferences according to some set of parameters. Characters also feel that they have a right to happiness, which is a characteristic of their pride. Pride is a quality that has a mixed role within the novel, being both a subject of steadfastness as well as moral failure. Elizabeth uses her pride as a means for chiding Darcy’s. Even in Austen’s moral system which critiques the aristocratic moral system, pride has some important value. In contrast to pride is a dimension of magnanimity, which is the quality of someone’s attention to the happiness of others. This is a variable which highly valued in Austen’s moral system, and is something that Darcy lacks (or appears to lack) early on, and then seems to possess a great deal of later.

Sue Birtwhistle and Susie Conklin: A Conversation with Colin Firth

This is an interview with Colin Firth, who plays the part of Darcy in the BBC television miniseries adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. The interview is important for several reasons. The first is that it gives a perspective into the process of an adaptation, and secondly it gives a perspective on Darcy’s inner thoughts as expressed by Colin Firth’s portrayal. One of the appeals of Darcy’s character is that he is inscrutable and it is very difficult to tell what he is thinking. Colin Firth thus came to this role and developed his own understanding of Darcy’s motivations which drove his restrained performance. From the perspective of simulation and adaptation, these insights are very useful because they indicate an internal state to reproduce, that would lead to the execution of the character’s behavior.

An example of Firth’s perspective on Darcy’s inner thoughts comes from his behavior at the Meryton assembly. Darcy’s distance and aloofness are explained as being driven from insecurity and shyness. This is amplified by Bingley’s ease in social situations, which puts Darcy in a more awkward state. Firth’s explanation here is important because it gives a valid sense of motivation, and it also does so by representing Darcy’s snobbishness as due to vulnerability, which is not a view that is ever conveyed in the novel. Firth describes Darcy’s attraction to Elizabeth as due, initially, to boredom, because he has never met a woman who has intrigued him before. It is this initial bit of being intrigued that leads him to follow her around, because he wishes to find out more about her.

The approach of Darcy’s first proposal is also very interesting, as Firth sought to find a way to look at how the proposal might be seen from Darcy’s point of view. In this view, his love for Elizabeth is strong enough to overcome the many reasons why such a marriage would be improper for him, and in this particular light it is very romantic.

Dr. John Gregory: A Father’s Letter to his Daughters (1774)

This particular essay comes from the Norton Critical Edition for Northanger Abbey. The excerpt is from a “conduct” book, which is aimed to educate young women on proper conduct in polite society. This particular section advises women against the use of wit, humor, good sense, and learning which are dangerous and unseemly. Wit is to be guarded because it can create enemies, and Dr. Gregory explains that wit can lead to intoxication with vanity. Humor is dangerous for the converse reasons, it will win friends, but if used liberally will threaten a lady’s respect. Good sense and learning are subjects which will embarrass others and make one’s company jealous. The intent of conversation is to make one’s company pleased with themselves. Dr. Gregory finally advises his daughters to act with great modesty and avoid indelicacy, even though the lady may be thought ridiculous, prudish, or reserved. The alternative is to be contemptible and disgusting.

This is especially interesting, as it gives a list of many of the rules broken by characters within Pride and Prejudice, but paints a landscape of the social expectations put upon women in society. Under this view, social conduct is a dangerous activity fraught with explosive hazards with lasting consequences.

Reading Info:
Author/EditorGray, Donald
TitlePride and Prejudice: Norton Critical Edition
Tagsspecials, fiction, settings, specials
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon
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