Plots of Time: An Inquiry into History, Myth, and Meaning

Plots of Time: An Inquiry into History, Myth, and Meaning

Plots of Time: An Inquiry into History, Myth, and Meaning

Plots of Time: An Inquiry into History, Myth, and Meaning


"Original and thought-provoking.... Wonderfully free from jargon."--Kathryn Hume, Distinguished Professor of English, Pennsylvania State University

"A powerful, beautifully written, highly engaging book that offers an important contribution to human understanding.... A brilliant analysis of the ways in which human beings plot both fictional stories and the story of their individual and collective histories."--Bernard Paris, University of Florida

Meaning occurs in life partly through the association of events--through plots, says Allen Tilley. Basing plot form on the stages of life (birth, puberty, adulthood, midlife transition, and death), he argues that for Western cultures the most significant plots have arisen from the Bible.
In Plots of Time he claims that Western plots have embodied a denial of the darker side of human nature. He applies findings in literature and psychology to some of the fundamental questions of life, asserting that humanity today is "in the process of finding out what it means to be adults at home on the earth."
Drawing on textual examinations of philosophy, religion, and world literature, Tilley describes a general development of human consciousness that relates the rise of feminism, the near-disappearance of chattel slavery, the diminution of child abuse, and the emergence of telepathy to what he calls a general plot of the emerging Other. Building on traditional perceptions of love and evil, Tilley offers his personal spiritual testament that cultural despair is unwarranted. The plot is shifting, he says. He finds "nonsectarian reason for hope, for faith in the future." In the process he addresses such concerns as the form of myths of history and the question of whether the myths serve this century.
Allen Tilley is professor of English at the University of North Florida. He is the author of Plot Snakes and the Dynamics of Narrative Experience (UPF, 1992).


We adults usually try to pretend that we no longer occupy ourselves with questions which continue to demand our attention anyway. I propose as the base question, Is anything going on? At all? If not, what's the point? If something is going on, why doesn't life make more sense?

Ancient and immense institutions supply answers. Mythologies, every one, plump before us the condition of Things as They Are, letting us know at least where we have been and where we are, often where we are going. Since we know of no traditional peoples without a mythology, we can observe that the question of meaning on the grandest scale moves us to provide answers which, however provisional, are stated with an emphasis contrived to forestall further curiosity. We like to have that question settled so that we may proceed to other things such as making a living. Our cultural institutions, particularly, would rather we spend our time supporting worthwhile things--such as them--and less on bothering ourselves and others with fruitless questions.

But curiosity is stubborn. How did those stories arise which provide our answers? What do they have to do with one another? Why do they compel our interest? Why do they locate us now rather than then? More personally, what is the best story I can devise about what might be going on, the one most true to the best I know about the world?

Or perhaps what is going on is not a story at all. If not, what might it be? and why are the answers so often told as stories?

Like many childish things, these matters are centrally important. Our earliest experiences echo throughout our lives, however long. As these questions are general to whole cultures and ages, their answers echo with particular force. a culture which views the earth as a kind of stage for a morality play develops breeder reactors and styrofoam trays as props, always with an eye toward the moment when the stage will be struck. a culture which assumes that nothing is going on--never has been, never will be--produces careless house guests and bad neighbors, not to mention drive-by shootings. We seem currently to accept both those contradictory solutions, the morality play and the immorality play.

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