Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Character Development

The first sense, while arguably the more interesting one- although in great danger of being didactic and dull- is perhaps the more esoteric. One often hears laments over a work of temporal art's lack of character development, or some other, equivalent statement (nearly always involving my arch-nemesis, cardboard). I must admit that I too think the second meaning nearer to "correct," as Hal points out, it is quite close to the meaning of development in photography. After all, it could be argued that the former type of character development does not even exist, or, more weakly, that to name such changes a 'development' is an overambitious bit of teleology.

The term, interestingly, also finds currency in music, where this distinction is much more complicated. It would at first blush seem akin to the first meaning; just as there are classic literary devices to advance a character, there are classic musical devices. But one could also view musical development as being more aligned to the second meaning, where the various changes in instrumentation, tempo, key, time signature, and so on are all used to more fully express whatever it was that the theme expressed. The distinction here is nearly impossible to draw, and certainly seems to strike at more basic distinctions: does a piece of music mean anything other than precisely what it is? If so, the second meaning is precluded; there is nothing more to be heard than what is in fact heard. Conversely, if one does ascribe to music having some abstract significance, the second meaning is inextricably caught up in the first one, how can the development of a theme fail to further explore it's significance?

In either case, musical or literary, it would seem the two meanings are in technique nigh indistinguishable. A novel might have wooden characters and fall prey to pedantry, but if so it is not for a lack of development, but simply the ineffectiveness of the development- done properly, the same tale would have both meanings. Certainly any novel with development in the second sense will admit of debate over whether it had development in the first sense (or else the high school essay would cease to be!) And in music, one might argue over whether or not a composition has any development (obviously, Bolero comes to mind, but so too most 'minimalist' works), but this is really an argument of effectiveness- once one has admitted that a piece of work is indeed developed, picking only one sense of the word becomes impossible. Or, more precisely, it becomes a philosophical question, largely outside the grounds of the work itself.

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