. , . The Minimal Plot

This article approaches the problem of minimal complete plot. We define the minimal complete plot as an indivisible integer of narrative (from the point of view of its semantic significance for creating an independent nucleus of plot as a whole), on the one hand, and the main structural element of any complex plot composition on the other hand.
 
The definition of minimal complete plot is still at issue, as previously defined elements of plot, including the Proppian functions, do not constitute an independent nucleus of plot as a whole. We assume that it is possible to isolate such indivisible structural plot units, which represent the minimal complete plot.
 
In the most formal terms we define the minimal complete plot (indivisible integer) as a final result of cyclic transformation of a given (initial) relation or situation into a semantically reverse (inverted) relation or situation. From this point of view any narrative of varying complexity can be considered as a complex, multi-level composition of elementary minimal plots based on cyclic structure. 


We define cyclic structure or cycle as a transposition of the pair (twin) elements of plot which initially are arranged in one form or another of semantic opposition to each other (e.g. slow fast, weak - strong, less more, top-bottom, right-left, cause-consequence, initial-final, past - future, poor rich, dream - reality, life - death, this world the other world etc.). That kind of cyclic transformation represents deep, archetypal plot structure and constitutes both the minimal complete plot (independent nucleus plot as a whole) and minimal building block that form any complex plot composion.


The cycle as minimal complete plot structure can be conveyed by the formula: C (P (S, O), P (O, S)), where P is a predicate, S the subject of action and O the object of action, and C is a transformation of the initial plot predicate P (S, O) into the final plot predicate P (O, S).


The accomplishment of that cyclic inversion of initial pair of opposites (which constitutes the nucleus of an independent minimal plot as a whole) is possible only on condition of double reality in the artistic space of narrative as those pair elements are irreversible in physical reality.
For our model of cyclic minimal plot we define predicate as irreversible (in physical reality) relation between subject and object of action.
Therefore the sequences like: John left home John returned home or John fell in love with Mary Mary fell in love with John do not, in our terms, constitute a minimal complete plot (plot nucleus) in contrast to minimal plots like: A kills B B kills A. 


There is a deep structural interrelation between cyclic structure of minimal plot and an archetypal idea of the Universe divided into two realms (a kind of a double reality or double world) where those two realities or two worlds are symmetric and mirror-opposite to each other and where cyclic inversion of objects and qualities belonging to each of the realities takes place.
 
 
Neither Propps functions (as elements of plot), nor Todorovs equilibrium model constitute an independent complete plot as both deal with a surface structure of narrative and minimal elements of plot and not with minimal plot proper as a basic, universal and archetypal structural plot nucleus which is a buidling brick of any complex plot composition.
 
We argue that cyclic transformation results in neither a restored equilibrium nor a similar (though not the same or not identical in Todorovs terms) situation, but what is most significant a semantically inverted relation or situation.
 
We take Propps idea of invariance of the functions sequence (acts of dramatis personae) for a starting point to develop his theory of functions as stable elements of plot structure into the concept of the minimal plot proper i.e., basic universal structural unit of any complex plot design.


From Propps functions to minimal plot
In terms of the Propp functions, the minimal plot can be defined as a pair of functions which cyclically supplement each other. One of the fundamental plot-creating cycles in the Proppian formula of folktale is based on the pair (twin) functions of "lack-liquidation". In our terms the minimal cyclic plot which is attained by and through the transformation of lack-function into liquidation-function (due to double reality), can be conveyed by the following predicative formula: C (P (S, O), P (O, S)), where is a predicate Inflicting damage, S Villain, O Hero and C is a transformation of the predicate P (S, O) Damage inflicted by Villain in the realm of Hero into predicate P (O, S) - Damage inflicted by Hero in the realm of Villain.


The lack-liquidation cycle is conjugated with another plot-creating cycle of "Rendering assistance, when the assistance rendered by Hero to Donor results in receiving of a magical agent or helper (donor) by Hero which is a must for liquidation of lack (damage) inflicted by Villain. The predicative formula of the minimal cyclic plot "Rendering assistance" can be expressed as a transformation of the function Testing of Hero by Donor (Rendering assistance by Hero to Donor) into the function Receiving of magic agent or helper by Hero from Donor: C (P (S, O), P (O, S)), where rendering assistance, S Hero and O Donor and C is transformation of predicate P (S, O) Rendering assistance by Hero to Donor into predicate P (O, S) Rendering assistance by Donor to Hero.


Thereby cyclic transformation of the initial situation of "Inflicting damage into a final situation of "Liquidation of damage is carried out by means of cyclic transformation of predicate Rendering assistance by Hero to Donor (Propps First Donor function: Testing of the Hero) into predicate Rendering assistance by Donor to Hero (Propps function: Receipt of a magical agent).


There are a large number of examples in which both minimal cyclic plots Lack-liquidation and "Rendering assistance" constitute an independent plot core of a complete literary text, especially in minor genres. The evangelical commandments and maxims from the teachings of Jesus give a graphic example of cyclic schemes of the most typical minimal plots:


Do not judge, or you too will be judged/For the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measued to you (Matthew, 7:1,2).
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets (Matthew, 6:12).
And last not least here are the examples of a complete scheme of the minimal cyclyc plot from Matthew Testament:
So the last will be first, and the first wil be last (Matthew, 20:16).
For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted (Matthew, 23:12; Luke, 14:11).


The fox and the crayfish
That scheme of minimal cyclic plot is most common for animal tales and realistic tales (Aarne-Thompson classification). A good example of such minimal plot is a well known tale about competition of a slow animal with a fast animal. The initial expectation that the fast animal will get first to the finish line and the slow animal will get last, is being cyclically transformed into a final situation where the slow animal comes first to the finish line and the fast animal comes last.


In a folktale The fox and the crayfish from Afanasyevs Russian National Folk Tales there is an evident cyclic mechanism even in the method which makes it possible to transform the predicate of the Initial Situation the fox is faster than the crayfish into the Final Situation the crayfish is faster than the fox:


The fox said to the crayfish: Let us race one another. The crayfish replied: Well, fox, get started! Hardly had the fox begun to run when the crayfish held on her tail. When the fox got to the finish line, the crayfish did not come unhooked. The fox turned around, looked back and wagged her tail. The crayfish came unhooked from her tail and said: I have been waiting for you for a long time here (Russian Folktales, Afanasyev Collection, Moscow: Nauka, 1984, vol. I, p. 46).


The cyclic structure of minimal plot, in which the a priori slower or weaker animal appears to be faster or stronger than the faster or stronger one, can be conveyed by the formula: C (a> b, b> a) where a is initially faster or stronger animal, b initially slower or weaker animal, > - predicate To be more, and C is a cyclic transformation of initially given opposition of dramatis personae a> b into a final (inverted) opposition when it turns out that b> a.


Its is important to note that the cyclic tranformation a>b, b>a is possible only due to the foxs movement turning round and looking back (at the crayfish getting off her tail). 


Cyclic plot of Jesuss Maxims
The cyclic structure of minimal complete plot where Subject and Object of action exchange their positions (which results in that the Subject starts to act in the Object role, and Object - in a role of the Subject) is sometimes not so obvious.


A Jesus Christ maxim: Do not resist an evil person from Matthew can serve as a good example of a latent, deeply hidden cyclic structure:


If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the another also (Matthew: 5: 39).


At first sight it looks as if we deal with a repetition of the action of striking a blow, i.e., a simple doubling of a predicate inflicting harm where Subject and Object do not exchange their positions. However it is not the case. After the first strike on the right cheek  along with the action of turning to him another (cheek) there takes place a change of person on whose initiative the action is performed. In other words, there happens a change of a dramatis persona who is the author of the action of striking a blow. Indeed, in the case of the first strike - on the right cheek - the authorship of action belongs to the Subject of the action, i. e., the person who strikes a blow. However in the second case, when the person who was struck - on the right cheek (victim) - turns to him (to the offender) another cheek, the Object of the action becomes author of the action i.e., the real Subject, while the formal Subject who in fact is just a passice executor of action, becomes the Object.


The cyclic structure of minimal complete plot always and everywhere includes the fundamental mechanism of inversion of basic cultural oppositions, first of all such binary oppositions as more-less, top-bottom, right-left, cause-consequence, initial-final, past-future, dream-reality, life-death, this worldother world.


Plot in Aristotle's Poetics
Aristotles main focus in the Poetics is on the genre of tragedy, but his fundamental theoretical stipulations about the essential nature of plot apparenty apply to all genres of literature. Making important comments on the notion of plot and those components the plot of tragedy must possess, Aristotle gives a model example of a plot design which is necessarily finer than others:
 the statue of Mitys at Argos killed the author of Mitys death by falling down on him when an onlooker at a public spectacle; (Aristotle, Poetics, 9 http://www.authorama.com/the-poetics-10.html).


Aristotles example demonstrates a typical cyclic tranformation where murderer and victim exchange roles in the course of the action: murderer becomes victim, and victim (whose role is played by the statue) becomes murderer which results in a cyclic inversion of the opposition "alive" and "dead". 


Aristotle's story about Mitys has developed into a story about Don Juan, a fictional libertine of Spanish folk legend, where the statue on the tomb of the Commander, who had been killed by Don Juan, takes revenge and kills the murderer. In both plots (Mitys and Don Juan) the murder of revenge is carried out by posthumous statue of the killed person (victim). As a result one work of art (the statue of the killed person) literally becomes a dramatis persona of the other work of art (literary stories of Mitys and Don Juan). Here, as well as in any cyclic plot about revenge, a role of avenger is played by the double of the killed person in our example, by a miraculously revived statue of the victim.
 
The Dorian Gray cyclic plot
In terms of cyclic plot there is a striking resemblance between the Mitys-Don Juan plot structure and the plot structure in The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. In the novel a role of the double who takes revenge for the murder is also played by a revived work of art. But instead of a statue it is a portrait of Dorian painted by an artist Basil Hallward. Dorian wishes that the portrait would grow old in his place. He sells his soul to ensure his portrait would age while he would remain young and handsome. The wish is fulfilled and the portrait serves as a mirror reflecting Dorians sins and debauched acts that become displayed on the portrait as disfigurement of his form or through a sign of aging. One night Basil arrives to question Dorian about rumours of his indulgences. Dorian does not deny his debauchery and takes Basil to the portrait, which is as hideous as Dorians sins. In anger, Dorian blames Basil for his fate and stabs the artist to death. Then he picks up the knife that killed Basil and plunges it into the portrait. Finally the servants find Dorians body, stabbed in the heart and suddenly aged. Beside Dorians body there is a portrait that has reverted into its original form depicting a young and handsome Dorian.
(quote from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Picture_of_Dorian_Gray).
After murdering Basil, the author of the painting, Dorian tries to "kill" his portrait which has become a mirror of all his sins. However the portrait of Dorian kills Dorian who takes the shape of an ugly old man from the original portrait while the portrait conveys the image of a young and handsome Dorian. As well as in the Mitys-Don Juan plot the avenger is played by the double of the killed person i.e. the portrait which is on the one hand is the double of Basil (as author of the portrait) and on the other hand of Dorian himself. In that sense there is a latent meaning of suicide in the novel. It is worth noticing that there is a hidden cyclic gender inversion in the plot as a young man Dorian semantically is also the double of Basil as he is the artists ultimate muse (feminine gender).


Cyclic plot in the Iliad by Homer
In the Homers Iliad a cyclic plot of revenge takes an absolutely unexpected turn. In contrast to a typical situation when the revenge for murder is carried out by the double of the killed person (e.g. a blood relative or a statue of the victim) in the Iliad, on the contrary, the double himself who is killed while the revenge for that murder is carried out by a person whose fatal image (or identity) the double assumes.
Consider, for example, a critical episode in the Iliad when Trojans break to the Achaean ships and want to set those ships on fire.


Patroclus asks Achilles to let him don Achilles armour and lead the Myrmidons into combat. Achilles agrees and gives Patroclus his armour. Having caught sight of the armour belonging to Achilles, whose image (identity) is in this way is being assumed by Patroclus (he is disguised in the armour of Achilles), the Trojans are horrified and turn back. Patroclus, carried away by success, persues the Trojans all the way back to the gates of Troy, defying Achilles order to break off the combat once the ships are saved. After Patroclus has routed the Trojan army, Hector, with the aid of Apollo and Euphorbus, kills Patroclus. The death of Patroclus is a punishment for his defying the order of Achilles. Before his death Patroclus prophesies that Hector will be killed (revenged) by Achilles. Hector strips the armour of Achilles off the fallen Patroclus and gives it to his warriors to take back to the city. Glacius accuses Hector of cowardice for not challenging Ajax. Stung, Hector calls for Achilles armour, puts it on and uses it to rally the Trojans.
Achilles was overwhelmed with grief for his friend Patroclus and rage at Hector who put on his armour. He returns to the fighting and kills Hector.
(quote from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patroclus).
There is an interesting cyclic plot structure in the Homer story involving the inversion of the basic paired opposition of double-original: the murder of the double (Patroclus disguised as Achilles is killed by Hector) is revenged by the original (Achilles, whose image was assumed by Patroclus). But it is important to notice that revenging his friends death, Achilles kills his own double (metaphorically speaking, himself) as Hector dons Achilles armour (assumes Achilles image). In terms of teleological determination Achilless revenge (killing his double Hector) foretells his own death. Achilles death, as predicted by Hector with his dying breath, is brought about by Prince Paris, son of Priam and King of Troy, who kills Achilles using his arrow. 
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Double reality
As previously mentioned the accomplishment of cyclic inversion of initial pair oppositions is possible only due to the presence of double reality in the artistic space of the work of art, as those pair elements (e.g., alive dead) are irreversible in physical reality.
At a certain stage of development of art the reality itself starts to be portrayed as a world divided into two realms where one realm is perceived as real and another realm as its reflection, distortion or transformation - in the imaginative world of art created by a sculptor, artist, poet or dramatist.
The artist himself turns out to be a hero within a work of art, a kind of a dramatis persona who creates a second, imaginative, fictional reality within artistic reality of the given work of art. The action of that type of dramatis persona is his creative act, while the process of that creative act not only becomes a plot base of that work of art, but the essence of its aesthetics. A plot of that kind of work of art can be defined as cyclic structure where inversion of fiction and reality takes place and where fiction is perceived as reality and reality is perceived as fiction.   


The Pygmalion cyclic plot
This kind of plot structure is common for a variety of literary and mythological texts. A vivid example of minimal plot in which cyclic transformation of reality into work of art and work of art into a reality, is represented by the story about Pygmalion from Ovids Metamorphoses. In Ovids story, Pygmalion was a sculptor who carved a woman out of ivory. His statue was so beautiful and realistic that he fell in love with it. At the Aphrodites festival Pygmalion, making offerings to the altar of Venus, wished that his ivory sculpture would be changed to a real woman. When he returned home, he kissed his ivory statue and found that its lips felt warm. He kissed it again and touched her breasts with his hand and found that the ivory lost its hardness. Venus had granted Pygmalions wish. He married the ivory sculpture changed to a woman under Venuss blessing.  
(quote from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pygmalion_(mythology)).


The cyclic Pygmalion-plot is accomplished by the inversion of opposition real life - work of art: in real life an artist falling in love with a woman would immortalize her image in a work of art. Sculptor (artist) Pygmalion in Ovids Metamorphoses passes that way in the opposite direction: first he creates a work of art embodying a females image (statue) not existing in real life, and later, having fallen in love with it, begs the goddess of love to embody it in real life.


Creation story
The cyclic plot of revived statue created by artist is identical with a Biblical story of how God created man:
The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and the man became a living being (Genesis, 2.7).
At first, like the sculptor, God creates the first man Adam from the dust of the ground or earth (it is worth mentioning that the name Adam comes from classical Hebrew and means earth, man and soil) and then revives his creation breathing the breath of life into him. From Adams rib God creates Eve: So Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the mans ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man (Genesis, 2.21-22). And Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all living (Genesis, 3.20). The name Eve comes from Hebrew and means living one, source of life.
Like God, Pygmalion first embodies his artistic idea in a sculptural image, and then a wonderful force of love transforms the dead sculpture into a human being. There is one more interesting detail the biblical creation story and Pygmalion-story have in common. In the Bible God creates woman from Adams rib (bone) and in Ovids Metamorphoses Pygmalion creates sculpture of a woman from ivory (tusk bone). The artist is like God-creator, and God-creator is like the artist.


In the Bible God literally acts in a role of artist (writer): the Ten Commandments were written on two tablets of stone by the very finger of God. The first set of Stone Tablets was inscribed originally by God himself while the second set, later cut by Moses (acting like God), was rewritten by God. The Ten Commandments are a summary of the hundreds of laws found in the Old Testament and the basic sacred text of the Bible.


Prophetic scenario
The image of "book" in the Bible has not determined its title as collection of holy texts (from Greek biblia the books), but also became the basic principle of the Bibles structure as books within a book. The presence in the Bible of the text of Ten Commandments written by the central dramatis persona God furnishes the clue to understanding the basic plot structure of the collection of texts in the Holy Scripture as a whole.
Gods words received by Moses on the top of Mount Sinai and later inscribed by God on Stone Tablets play a plot-organizing role of the prophetic scenario of a large number of events in the Bible when violation of a divine prohibition results in a predetermined divine penalty.


The books of the Prophets which deal with the lives and messages of prophets who lived at different times in Israels history play a special role in the Bible plot structure. The prophetic books and the prophets carry out the cyclic transformation of a sequence of real historic events (fabula) into a prophetic plot predetermined by God, where the prophet plays a role of the fortune-teller, while the revelation received by him from God plays a role of divination. Narrative always include explicitly or implicitly a special type of providential structure. We assume that plot begins at that point where there is a prediction or a presage of the future events, and the plot is accomplished when the prediction or presage comes true, i.e., is actualized. The accomplishment of minimal complete plot by and through transformation of pair elements, initially arranged in one or another form of semantic opposition to each other, is always connected with presence in the text of either explicit (prediction, guessing, prophetic dream) or implicit (presage, presentiment, omen) providential element.