The Defamiliarization of Time: A Narrative Analysis on Pulp Fiction
Introduction: A Hero of Our Time, Battleship Potemkin, and Pulp Fiction
Defamiliarization helps round any given story element, and in the case of time, it can very easily provide insights into predestination. This would be much harder to uncover in linear time sequences.
Through studying how a polyphony of focalizers relate, it becomes apparent how characters, point-of-views, and plotlines end up influencing each other; furthermore, how the past, present, and future all work together. Even though certain story elements may seem unconnected, especially in nonlinear time sequences, when these components are placed together, they can help decode complex concepts such as predestination.
The following research intends to:
(1) define time, defamiliarization, and polyphony and how all of these variables relate to each other in literature and film
(2) examine the usage of nonlinear storytelling in A Hero of Our Time (1840), Battleship Potemkin (1926), and Pulp Fiction (1994)
(3) briefly examine the five main religious views on predestination.
Overall, by delving into the art of nonlinear storytelling, this research intends to prove that defamiliarizing time helps make the concept of predestination a more easily understood subject.
The Geometric Space of Time, Defamiliarization in Picasso Art’s, and Music Theory
In order to understand how time functions within space, one of the first assessments is to cover how geometry can be used to study time. Generally, time is viewed geometrically as running along a linear line in chronological order, as though it were on a grid with a horizontal X axis stretching from left to right with a vertical Y axis going up and down -- it operates this way to pinpoint and stop on particular instances. In geometry, essentially only three forms exist while all other forms are modified versions of these shapes: lines, circles, and triangles. Therefore, time expands beyond just a simple chronological left and right spectrum, but also has the capability to take a more dimensional shaping while also spreading across various dimensional grids of information. On a similar note, time is not just felt from one focalizer or character but from multiple view points. Time has a multitude of variables in the way it runs; as well as, the characters involved in space are all influenced by time and each character within time has a different perception on how the events transpire. Therefore, literature that intends to show different viewpoints while also showing different points in time will reveal a higher degree of defamiliarization than a play by play telling of one character from one event to another event. As the number of characters and plotlines are added into a storytelling medium, the complexity of the narrative thickens which causes time as an element to round rather than flatten to the stereotypical version of linear time that we typically address.
In regards to defamiliarization, examining visual art may offer some insight into how the individualized variables of a given form are all integral to an entire work’s whole. The hallmark of Picasso’s career was his craft to paint portraits of people with certain features of the face being rearranged to create a new whole. This example of defamiliarization shows how each aspect of the human face comes together in a precise whole, and if one thread is out of place, the human face therein becomes monstrous. Defamiliarization in film and literature often shows how integral every detail is while also going beyond that and rounding out given story elements: such as the characters, setting, or time itself.
Rounding helps to give a much more accurate view of life while flattening helps to make specific concepts more identifiable. Stereotypes are used so that the audience can follow a particular set of ideas and overtime be able to break down those concepts; however, this may in effect yield character development. Meanwhile, a rounded character is harder to contain; the momentum behind their thinking, actions, and choices is more complex. When we defamiliarize time we understand how (1) the past, present, and future all coordinate together, while (2) the members of a society held within a bracketed amount of time (whether a handful of seconds or from millenniums apart) may be much more connected through time rather than simply their DNA strands.
Polyphony in Music
Another art form to examine to help see how time, polyphony, and predestination are related is through music. Generally, as music develops, a series of notes will be played and overtime a pattern forms which becomes a leitmotif by which a song will use in order to find its shape. The melody in a song is like the up and down line of a character’s choices in the plot line of narrative space. Tones will rise and fall as the notes start to develop a central form; the pitches may stay within a certain range to exemplify a specific emotion or they may explore a range of sounds on a given instrument until some structure is formed and a song is clear. Harmony occurs when two or more pitches are simultaneously played. The progression of these two lines of music work together much like how polyphony develops in literature and film: when new focalizers are brought into the narrative, the amount of story offered thickens. With harmony in music, two lines may have completely different systems in how they treat a song — whether these two parts of action are on the same type of instrument or not, or whether these two lines overlap physically, such as two pianos hitting the same note or two vocalists working together to sound like one note — the two separate parts will influence each other and the tones they produce will create a new whole. A song complicates further by the addition of a third simultaneously played note, which may create a chord. A chord and its progressions are connected with each other and are much more complicated than a single line of melody. Music thickens as more notes are played and as more instruments are added; as well, time becomes more complex as more people are thrown into the narrative (especially when used as focalizers), as well as when more plot lines (like melodies) are created.
A Hero of Our Time: A Russian Novel’s Take on Nonlinear Storytelling
A Hero of Our Time is separated into five short stories with three major narrators: (1) the unnamed travel writer, (2) Maxim Maximytch, an old staff-captain who served alongside Pechorin during the Caucasian War, and (3) Pechorin himself through his own diary. The novel is told in a shuffled chronology starting with Bela (1832), then Maxim Maximytch (1837), Toman (1830), Princess Mary (1832), and lastly the Fatalist (1835). By shuffling time, the author is able to reveal how a seemingly fragmented world comes together even if in the midst of living from moment to moment our individualized perspective fails to see how we operate within a given body of society. The longest tale, Princess Mary, reveals the more complex desires of the human heart and the wrecking of individuals around one central character in a given society. Pechorin flirts with the character Princess Mary while conducting an affair with his ex-lover Vera, not to mention the novel opens with another love interest of Pechorin’s: Bela. And even more villainous, Pechorin ends up murdering his friend Grushnitsky in a way that looked as though his friend had committed suicide. Pechorin moves through society as though people are props, he seduces women even if he has no desire to marry or create a lasting relationship with, and if an object comes into his field that is altogether dissatisfying — he kills it. His translation of existence leads to depression, bruised hearts, and an emptiness all relating back to his fear of an oppressive version of predestination; he fights destiny even though his life is interweaved with other characters, and his actions affect their plot lines.
In the confines of Pechorin’s world, we find that we only have so many parameters in which we can exist, and “As such, literature functions as a cognitive frame and a filter lens, and the literariness of the characters’ perceptions of the world and of themselves determines what will be perceived and understood of that world and in what manner. Thus, the role of literature… is directly engaged with the process of focalization” (Lešić, 1067). Therefore, in dealing with the makeup of Pechorin, all that is available are the focalizers that are presented around his narrative, and whether or not these focalizers as lenses are distorted or in pristine condition for framing reality, these are the only tools the reader can use to unveil Pechorin, and through this network of focalizers by which Pechorin lives out his destiny, the reader can see how his fate, his decisions, all under the scope of time, are what motivates his actions.
Pechorin exercises his own authority while also questioning his existence and despair against potential higher power or powers. According to the introduction of the novel in the translation by Marian Schwartz, A Hero our Our Time is a masterpiece that translators dream to have come to their desk, for it offers a large amount of complexity in its structure while also standing as a predecessor to the types of nonlinear works to be found later in film:
It is a sensual pleasure, elegantly proportioned, cleverly structured, and, despite its easy categorization as both an adventure and a romance, crowned with an existential question in its final pages –“[I]f predestination truly does exist, then why were we given free will and reason? Why must we account for our deeds?” that magnifies the entire work, unties it, and bestows upon it the immortality it deserves.
Lermontov leads us to this question with striking ingenuity, through time shifts, flashbacks, and multiple narrators. In many ways, Lermontov’s narrative style anticipates the world of cinema; its influence, direct or not, can be found not only in the work of early Soviet filmmakers such as Sergei Eisenstein but also in more recent postmodern films, most notably in the fractured narrative of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction...
a work equally concerned with questions of predestination and accountability. (Lermontov, ix)
In regards to diachronic time studies, the structure does not necessarily uncover the whole mystery behind the beliefs in predestination but exposes truths, such as how plots work together, which may be far more difficult to examine in straight line storytelling. A Hero of Our Time has been the subject of literary study since its creation, for it brings compelling questions to the table for its unique plot structure, multiple uses of focalizers, and extreme cry for authorship that some scholars account as a demonic telling of Pechorin’s character:
Pechorin’s demonism manifests itself most obviously in his rebelliousness, proud alienation, sense of desolation, and in his estrangement from normal human contacts, feelings, and values. These ‘qualities’ along with his destructive egoism, ennui, and desire to take revenge on a world he feels has spurned him—mark him out as an archetypal fallen angel, at odds with the world of nature, man, and God. (Leatherbarrow, 999)
The sequences of the water nymph (Lermontov, 64-71) and the suggestion of vampirism in Bela’s death (Lermontov, 41), help to build this demonic case theory; although there may be a whole dimension of demonic activity shadowing the human realm throughout the novel, part of the tension is in trying to gain authorship of one’s life and not be set in a stereotype that binds one from creating his or her own destiny. Leatherbarrow proposes that: “While arguing that the existence of fate is inconceivable in a world where man has been endowed with free will, and while asserting in his bet with Vulich that ‘there is no such thing as predestination’ [Pechorin] reveals himself to be an acute reader of destiny, an essentially passive and submissive role” (Leatherbarrow, 1013) which therein lies that “Pechorin is not satisfied with the role of mere reader of destiny—his overwhelming need is to author it… but it is clear that Pechorin takes on Effymych not in order to ‘test fate’, as he claims, but in order to assert the authorship of his own existence and to wrest control of it from any force other than his own individual will” (Leatherbarrow, 1013). Leatherbarrow finds these qualities to be demonic, but I think this shows the true nature of man’s heart in that we struggle to face time and how these various plotlines that we can decide to partake in ultimately define our role in society which are all just designated locations graphed within a grid of predestined existence. The grid of time as laid out before with an X axis and a Y axis is full of plotlines running across the board, and each given line journeys from the X axis from a beginning (birth point) and an end point (death). A human life is incapable of flying off this chart for then it would literally surpass existence, and a plot line cannot be created outside this grid and still adhere to the same rules of time that apply to the finite existence bound on humanity.
The Development of Montage through Eisenstein and the Battleship Potemkin
As mentioned earlier, Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein took the ideas of what Lermontov implemented in his writing and made those nonlinear techniques a viable reality for cinema, which would be part of the development in Russian Soviet montage — one of the most complex structures of any convention in film history. While other modes, such as French impressionism or German expressionism, used styles and emotions to help focus on the narrative of a given set of characters or plots, Russian montage branches off in a completely different way that’s reminiscent of A Hero of Our Time. Russian montage does not focus on one sole protagonist or even a sole set of plots but rather examines various events that occur within a bracketed set of time in order to reveal, dissect, and compare the emotions, thoughts, and decisions of a moment: “For Eisenstein the juxtaposing of two disparate shots was not narrative, it was creative: The basic fact is true, and remains true to this day, that the juxtaposition of two separate shots by splicing them together resembles not so much the simple sum of one shot plus another shot—as it does a creation” (Begin, 1120). According to Eisenstein, montage is the correlation of two images and how they influence each other; just like in music, two notes played separately may have no relation, but when played together they create a certain tone through their collaboration. Through this method, Eisenstein plays with the montage of attractions, meaning through these images we are repulsed, amazed, amused, and so on. By placing two seemingly unconnected events together, a connection between them is made which Eisenstein deliberately used to “create ambiguity and, therefore, requires the participation of the observer” (Begin, 1120). In A Hero of Our Time, the focalizers surrounding Pechorin help paint a picture of who he truly is through the eyes of many while Eisenstein asks the observer to connect seemingly different views in society together to reinvent our understanding of two images and what concept they make together. Eisenstein wants the audience to be involved in order to piece the contrasting images together, otherwise without the audience the images displayed on the screen would be meaningless; Eisenstein believes that the unique relationship between a film and its audience is what makes the shots resonate.
In Battleship Potemkin (1926), Eisenstien uses montage to bridge the various emotions and peoples involved in 1905 when the crew of the Russian battleship Potemkin rebelled against the Tsarist regime. Film theorist Pudovkin believed that montage was “‘the complex, pumping heart of the film’, but he also felt that its purpose was to support narrative rather than alter it” (Begin, 1119). Pudovkin seems to be hinting that through montage in cinema that filmmakers are preserving narrative and raising it to a level of authenticity by showing a more open set of perspectives rather than limiting the story to one character or plot. Early Russian filmmakers found that through montage, film comes to life by allowing the observer to take in more complex sequences with intentional contrasting images or a selection of images to centralize around a particular event or emotion. Furthermore, one of the limiting factors in film is that each shot is a strategized attempt to capture one particular moment and exclude much of the capacity of a given event; this is where montage attempts to mask the fault of catering to one specific focalizer— montage helps to round events in cinema.
Just as in A Hero of Our Time, the Battleship Potemkin is separated into five sequences: “Men and Maggots”; “Drama at the Harbor”, “A Dead man Calls for Justice”; “The Odessa Staircase”; and “The Rendez-Vous with Squadron.” In the first sequence, “Men and Maggots”, the sleeping attendants of the battleship are juxtaposed against the crashing waves of the sea. A slide appears with Lenin’s call to war in 1905, and then we are taken back to the men on the ship who discover their food is covered in maggots, which is “not fit for pigs.” At the end, one of the crew members focuses on the bread with an implied message of: “Give us our daily bread.” This episode transitions to “Drama at the Harbor” where the crew members working together resemble robots. Their masters shout orders at them, until the apparition of a Moses, or Apostle John like character, calls the crew members into a full blown revolution. This catalyzes the main event of the film.
The most famous scene in Battleship Potemkin, which is paid homage by such directors as Alfred Hitchcock, Woody Allen, and Terry Gilliam, happens on the Odessa steps when the Cossacks shoot a woman who subsequently crashes into her infant’s pram. This causes the baby to tumble down the stairs to the audience’s horrified interest. There’s so many contrasts in this scene that it is difficult to pinpoint all of them, because Eisenstein’s film intentionally captures an array of perspectives which all happen with minimal lingering; it was done this way to avoid creating a plot or character driven narrative. For instance, rich nobles stand at the top of the steps with impoverished children sitting at their feet. There is the contrast of land and sea as the battleship approaches. A mixture of children and elders clamor on the steps toward safety. And most importantly, an opening of peace and delight with society mixing all these societal layers together until the Cossacks appear and force the people into emergent fleeing. Children covered in blood lay on the steps while the pristine soldiers in their heavy boots trample over the hardly clothed children. A woman rushes to one of the fallen boys and pleas with the soldiers to stop — but instead, they fire at her. This multitude of perspectives offers a great deal of focalizers centralizing around this made up event that took place around Odessa, which helps the audience to see the intricacies of the Soviet class system during 1905.
The complexity of Eisenstein’s film replicated such a reflection of reality that from its inception, and even still today, some people have believed the footage to be real documentation. With such an exploration of focusing on so many aspects of one event and the polyphony of voices inside it, Eisenstein reached a plateau in cinema by which film pioneers today still use in reference to their work. Eisenstein built a piece whereby the audience is implored to take their interpretation into the screen; in fact, Eisenstein requested the film’s score to be rewritten every twenty years so that the power of the film would remain relevant for each new generation. Eisenstein wanted his film to remain relevant throughout time, and for audiences to connect with it regardless of generational changes: “Eisenstein asks the viewer-participant to focus on the ‘content of the whole, of the general and unifying needs.’ He goes on to say that: We should have occupied ourselves more with an examination of the nature of the unifying principle itself” (Begin, 1121). The Soviet film director desired for art to reveal a realistic version of society, and so he searched incessantly for how to bridge various concepts together in a way that showed the interconnections of people within a given event. Eisenstein’s obsession of montage suggests:
An extreme Formalism in which photographed reality ceased to be itself and became instead simply a stock of raw material—attractions, or ‘shocks’—for the filmmaker to rearrange as he saw fit, was also paradoxically describing a system in which the observer was a necessary and equal participant. This simplistic dichotomy between Expressionism and Realism thus no longer holds. For Eisenstein it was necessary to destroy Realism in order to approach reality. (Begin, 1121)
Narratives driven by plot and character were not enough for Eisenstein; he wanted to break free from the concepts of realism in an ironic twist -- to reach a closer version of reality. The scene on the Odessa steps with the baby’s pram falling along its bumpy plot line to a much ill fated destiny, that never happened in the real historic version of the Battleship Potemkin, but the detailing of this scene is so powerful that to this day people speak of the steps as though it were a true occurrence. From Cossacks, crew members, the noble elite, and the impoverished, Eisenstein captures the reality of his generation by using multiples focalizers from the society, allowing a polyphony of voices to take the center reigns of his film, and by rearranging structure to reveal truths about time.
Pulp Fiction – A Postmodern Exploration of Defamiliarized Time
Pulp Fiction (1994) is the Tarantino classic that has set the stage for modern nonlinear sequences; this film is depicted as if each chapter switched by the flick of a new radio station. Three interrelated stories are dissected out of chronology and show how each of these plots work together in a rich detailing of the post modern 90s generation. The story is broken into seven parts: (1) the Prologue—The Diner, (2) Prelude to “Vincent Vega and Marsellus Wallace’s Wife”, (3) “Vincent Vega and Marsellus Wallace’s Wife”, (4) Prelude to “The Gold Watch”, (5) “The Gold Watch”, (6) “The Bonnie Situation”, (7) Epilogue—The Diner.
Before delving into the narrative as a whole, Tarantino has a text screen define pulp: “a soft, moist, shapeless mass of matter, (2) a magazine or book containing lurid subject matter and being characteristically printed on rough, unfinished paper” (Tarantino). From the very beginning of the film, Tarantino outlines the structure which will be used to tell the story. Instead of clearly defining pulp as the first cited definition as a soft, edible fruit, Tarantino intermixes the definition of pulp with three different interpretations pertaining to the key word of soft: (1) “the soft, juicy, edible part of a fruit”, (2) “a soft or fleshy part of an animal”, and (3) “any soft, moist, slightly cohering mass, as that into which linen, wood, etc., are converted in the making of paper” (“Pulp”). Therefore, Tarantino’s definition of pulp that he applies at the very beginning of the film is much more complicated than one would perceive at first glance.
In the first run through of the definition, pulp pertains to several words in line with temptation such as fruit and flesh, and in regards to those words there is a vulnerability in the makeup of a fruit and an animal. There’s a huge tie in with the carnal implications of this word, and it is complex in how it circulates around the realm of carnivorous and herbivorous food while priming this definition with the tender and raw aspects of what makes it readily edible. The word pulp is so integral in understanding the structure of the film that delving into it may help one to understand the artistic devices Tarantino hints at using in his nonlinear film. One of the most important aspects of the definition of pulp is that Tarantino intermingles “slightly cohering” mass — which cohere means to stick together, be united, and hold fast as if it is slightly holding its weight together and yet giving room for individualized parts to flow — with the definition pertaining to being converted into a “whole of a blanketed sheet of paper” (“Pulp”). In regards to the concept of pulp, the film examines how various plot lines may seem disconnected at times, but in the end each plot line comes together as a whole narrative, and each individual plot influences all other plots. As well, we see how the influence of each event defines the present and how it leads to the future. Tarantino’s second definition of pulp pertains to the actual subject matter that is printed on rough, unfinished paper relating to the fact that these stories -- even though connected in vulnerable, fleshy, and cohering ways -- is still moved into the sphere of infinity... and that the subject matter continues forward, unfinalized within a whole blanket of space.
Tarantino however does not define the other half of the title; he leaves fiction off the screen and has the audience focus merely on pulp. Fiction comprises of something imagined, not on something that actually happened, even if elements of reality or a real story may be present. Pulp Fiction, as a title, refers to the very aspects of society in all its fleshy, interrelated, and vulnerable ways while admitting that this is a film of its time on the study of predestination in our generation just as A Hero of Our Time and Battleship Potemkin provided its own definition on their respective societies.
In going back to the makeup behind pulp, one word to have the most striking resonance in the definition is that hidden word of “converted” in the third dictionary definition. In today’s society, the word conversion has a heavy negative connotation and is almost at the level of expletive; it is rarely heard and at the sound of it people tend to cringe, most moan at their past memories pertaining to the word, and altogether there is an unhappiness at the blunt intrusion of the word conversion into every day conversation. The word itself does not have anything particularly wrong with it, and it promotes change, but the problem is that people have used it as a word of control, essentially in that systems of peoples will fall under this word to be forced into a new view of thinking.
By constantly fearing this word, it shows that in general society may lack a well-rounded understanding of the term conversion. In the definition of pulp, we see that conversion is a major factor because essentially through the transformation found in conversion we arrive at the predestined version of interlocked paper, rather, the whole of society. Conversion is actually something that occurs all the time from conversation to conversation, moving from places to places, meeting with new people—all experiences are capable of influencing how we perceive the world. Pulp Fiction is not only a study on defamiliarizing time, but also defamiliarizing our understanding of the word conversion:
The conversion account in Pulp Fiction frames the whole film, which follows several story lines through a jumbled temporal sequence. At the beginning of the film, viewers watch the events leading to the conversion, but they do not witness the ‘divine intervention’ that prompts it. Alleva (1994) describes the initial scenes thus: ‘Two hit men…murder some drug dealers who have cheated their boss…
Then something happens to these killers…The pair look [sic] bemused, wrung-out, almost slaphappy. What happened?’ All we know is that an unknown character has stuttered, ‘I don’t understand,’ before being ‘blown off his feet and out of frame by bullets that tear him to shreds.’ (Bidwell, 331)
Pulp Fiction shows how in each moment the characters can be influenced by the plot lines around them. Sometimes, characters are conscious that they are changing who they are step by step while others simply are not. Even still, we choose what roles we want to partake in and whatever that role may entail will lead to a particular path as dictated by what character we want to be:
At the beginning of the film, we know as much about Jules as we will ever know: not much. We have listened to him talk about fast food and foot massages on the way to the massacre, and we have seen him stop outside the apartment prior to the shooting… saying, ‘That’s an interesting point, but let’s get into character’ (Tarantino, 1994, 22). In the next scene, he tells the drug dealers his name is “Pitt” (29).
Jules seems to be a man shifting from one identity to the next, playing one role and then another. It is a way of life for him: ‘Let’s get into character.’(Bidwell, 331)
Through the interpretations the characters have of their world, they end up picking which roles they want to have -- and we see through the course of Pulp Fiction how all these seemingly unrelated plot lines run together, holding the body of characters into a pulp. The characters may change their role and avoid becoming more interlocked with the pulp of people who influence them, but the more the characters press into each other’s lives, the more they are entangled into the conversion of the fabric of society. In the case of Jules, we find that “the film is framed at the beginning and the end by a ‘divine intervention’ that evokes a religious conversion in a Los Angeles hit man. Given the ‘film reveals the current state of mind in what is increasingly becoming a global village’ this portrayal in Pulp Fiction suggests that… many contemporary Americans are shaped… decisively by popular culture” (Bidwell, 327-328). Conversion is not just a religious phenomenon, it is the active immersion into a particular concept whether pop culture, education, language, drugs, sex, or even food. Through conversion into a culture, the character involved will act like a convert of its given culture, this sets it into a bank of easily predicted plotlines held within that particular sample of a time grid; for instance, if a fourteen year old joins a gang instinctively it is known what realities this child will face as compared to a student who will be sheltered from those type of realities. There is the potential to change and take a new path, but often this does not come with ease considering there’s a “slightly cohering” in the development of a mass. Essentially, why the process of conversion is so important to understanding plot lines and how it relates to predestination is that the character that one chooses to be is directly connected to the type of destiny this character will end up having.
Religious Views on Predestination
To cover all religious views on predestination would suffice for a paper in itself, so this section intends to cover these views in a generalized manner with emphasis mainly on the five main religions of the world. Predestination is a heavy topic in some religions while but a shadow to others. This is due to each religion’s lens. Hinduism does not allocate an important role to predestination due to their highly involved belief in karma and how this cycle is appropriated to freewill. The Hindu interpretation of time has a higher preference for cycles than any other geometric translation of time. With a belief in eternal rebirth, the idea of destination blurs; however, Madhvacharya believed in a caste system similar in regards to predestination:
In the terms of the caste identity of Madhva’s audience… Madhva conveyed via his doctrine of an eternal gradation and predestination of souls. Several scholars have noted that Madhva does not consistently link this spiritual hierarchy to caste. However, his adherence to caste-based rules restricting access to Vedic texts deemed essential to salvation effectively linked social position to spiritual destiny. (Stoker, 53-54)
Clearly, we see here that Madhva believed that in regards to predestination that this is ordered directly in line with the position one holds in society; this view states that what you are born into socially ordains your destiny, as if there is no room to rise or fall on the X and Y axis of time: every plot line remains at a perfect rate, everything is parallel, and there is less emphasis on the influences over other forces in everyday life.
Chinese Buddhism’s translation of predestination is most tightly found in the concept of yuanfen: the predetermined principle of magnetism in relationships and encounters, a binding force that links two people together but without the hand of a divine entity. This term refers more to the attractions in relationships and how fated some friendships, enemies, and the like seem as opposed to the magnetism of events and their conclusion. Yuanfen puts a great amount of emphasis on fate, but not destiny and so this view can determine why certain things come together but yet are not destined to stay together. This view of predestination neglects spacetime as an element by which plotlines run and influence each other; rather it is more like two magnets being attracted to each other, having a pole reversal, and the construct of being repulsed from one another. In Chinese Buddhism, there is not as much emphasis on predestination because unpredictability can enter into the grid of time and therefore allow chaos to reign—which would cause some vulnerabilities in the expanding of time whereby outside forces are capable of intervening with what is written into the finite universe, as though new matter is somehow capable of being created into the universe even though matter cannot be created or destroyed within the body of a finite universe (at least... not easily). In a sense, Chinese Buddhism has openness to what the universe is capable of producing and that other factors may be out there to influence an individual: this may or may not be an entity as well as it may be within the universe or outside it. Other religious views hold a tighter frame on the universe which may be in effect why they have more to say on predestination.
In Judaism, Islam, and Christianity the preference for predestination is to a much greater degree than Hinduism and Buddhism. Judaism has no formal doctrine on predestination, but in examining the Torah there is a clear study of lineage and the plotting of how these lines created the resulting generations. Judaism has a rich study of how people are born, their relations with the people around them throughout society, and an examination of human hubris as depicted by the fall of mankind in Genesis 3, the murder of Able (Genesis 4), the sibling rivalry for the birthright to be passed by Isaac (Genesis 27-35), and the fate of Joseph as he is thrown from his family and into the slave handlers of Egypt (Genesis 37). There may not be a formal doctrine of predestination in Judaism, but there are obviously examples of how the outcomes of situations and the potentials surrounding it result in each individual’s and society’s destiny... and into their future.
Eve’s decision to hand her will to the serpent and taste the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil ends up redesigning the whole picture of reality by allowing death to take a seat into humanity’s existence. Cain’s will to murder his brother results in neither of them carrying the birthright and ends in death and condemnation, while a new herald is born to carry the birthright: Seth. With Isaac’s sons, Jacob and Esau, the promise that was supposed to be given to Esau was rewritten to Jacob through deception; this then alters what could have happened in the family of Esau and is thus handed over to Jacob and his family. Joseph’s exile to Egypt tore him from his family and the potentials of what could have happened if he stayed with his family. This opened up the doorway to his own personal suffering for several years before he was raised as a councilor for his gifts in predicting the future from dreams — Joseph is an early example of a student of time and being able to read it and surpass the soothsayers of Egypt, who honored his seat next to the Pharaoh. Jewish history is riddled with how decisions end up guiding and transforming the future while people actively notice their point in time and have the ability to predict what may be ahead.
As for religious schools of thought on predestination, Islam and Christianity bridge their concepts the most eagerly with this notion; as well as, within each of these parent religions many denominations have been born under each due to differing views on predestination. The split for these denominations is generally over freewill and predestination which is the main struggle behind Pechorin in A Hero of Our Time: the need to author one’s life with freewill but being boxed in by predestination. With a flat view of predestination, it is easy to box the view to an almost suffocating paradox, but defamiliarization and seeing how time can be translated in a number of ways unravels the paradoxes of time and helps us to see man’s connection with destiny.
Islam finds that Allah’s will encompasses everything; any choice and thought belongs to Allah first, that he wrote everything in the universe and therefore all occupants of space are bound to those laws. Through Allah’s allowance, an action occurs, and therefore, everything that happens falls under the dominion of Allah. This may be the highest degree of outside authorship dictating the freewill of man; although, humans do have freewill in Islam, but one is not able to do whatever they desire for it must be granted by God who has foreknowledge of all human action. Therefore, all evil deeds that occur in the world are a price of entertaining freewill, and therefore man’s hubris against Allah creates imperfections in the system.
Christianity has various denominations dedicated to the multitude of interpretations on freewill and predestination. For instance, Calvinists believe in unconditional election to salvation and damnation meaning that before a person was even born he or she is predetermined as to whether he or she is saved or not, but of course one still experiences his life and makes choices, it just happens to have already been set in motion. Arminianists believe that there is conditional election in view of foreseen belief or unbelief; in this view, there is more preference for freewill rather than predestination in the map. However, the power to elect to be found through grace is given to man rather than having salvation at the expense of God; it’s through man’s hubris to conditionally find faith rather than through God’s power of intervening that enables a person to take the plot line into accepting salvation.
Kismet Destiny? Or star crossed death?
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There are a multitude of religious lenses to be found on the subject of predestination and what is offered here is only a glimpse of what can be found in these territories. Predestination is not always directly at the forefront of a religion’s doctrine, while in other cases it separates a religion into further sects due to all the controversy and analyzing of the concepts of predestination, freewill, and the concept of an overarching entity. It is much harder to delve into this terrain without defamiliarizing time; by doing so it allows one to have a more open mind on how time functions and how all the parts within a grid of time are integral to the overall big picture. If we focus too closely onto one aspect of time without acknowledging the rest, it may cause our perception to be too narrowed in to recognize a more authentic version of reality. The problem with many interpretations on predestination is that often there is too much focus on the concepts of predestination and freewill at the same time. It comes off too much like a riddle if we reduce predestination to just a linear equation rather than a galaxy of options to be explored. In the end, predestination is merely the map by which choices are laid out and not a predetermined map whereby one must follow a given set of choices and one’s will ends up being sacrificed for the grid of options itself, which sounds more like damnation than actual freedom. In deciding what role a character wants to take this enables the type of destiny the character will be headed toward, and at any given point, a character may convert to a new path, but the character may in effect face complications in following the said new plot line and how it operates around a body of characters all slightly cohering in a pulp.
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