Saturday, September 20, 2014


A Consciousness-Based Look at the "Immaterial Reality" of Story

The term the modern short story is somewhat of a misnomer if we examine the origins of the American short story. Irving, Hawthorne, and Poe, for example, come to us from many different manifestations of story—fable, allegory, romance—story forms that go back to the earliest inceptions of story. These stories also include elements of realism that were beginning to emerge in literature in the early eighteen hundreds, so perhaps modern can be appropriate modifier.

Charles May, a contemporary short story theorist, has pointed out that the brevity of story forestalls the necessary inclusion of detail sufficient to create true realism. Consequently, he sees the modern short story as a combination of “realistic motivation” and “romantic projection.”[1] This romantic projection involves the higher experiences—the ideal, the world of imagination, in other words, the inner experience. May relates this focus on the inward experience to the length of the short story. He sees the short story as short “precisely because of the kind of experience or reality embodied in it” [2] And that experience, he extrapolates from other theorists and philosophers, as being that which is sacred and profound.

May sees the theme and technique of the modern short story as “focused on the power of metaphor” and storyness.” He feels it answers the question in each character’s heart, “Who am I?”  This inward-directed experience that he sees as the soul of story is an examination of the “immaterial reality” that he speaks of elsewhere.

Looking at this observation from a Consciousness-BaseedSM perspective, we may describe the short story as placing the self-referral consciousness of a character into a true-to-life situation so that the true nature of consciousness can be made manifest. It is the capturing of the infinite in a point—the collapse of wholeness into a point value. The reader then has the opportunity to experience the wholeness of story by experiencing the dynamism between the momentary collapse of wholeness—the still point—and the re-emergences of wholeness, together experienced as meaning.

The next several posts will look at a Consciousness-Based approach to literary theory as applied to the short story.


Nathaniel Hawthorne. {{PD-US}} – published in the US before 1923 and public domain in the US.

Thought Bubble. Downloaded from on September 23, 2013.


[1] Charles E. May. “Metaphorical Motivation in Short Fiction.” Short Story Theory at a Crossroads. Susan Lohafer and Jo Ellyn Clarey, (eds.). Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989, pp65–66.

[2] Charles E. May.”The Nature of Knowledge in Short Fiction.” The New Short Story Theories. Charles E. May (ed.). Athens: Ohio University Press, 1994.


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