Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Collective Creativity?

Somehow in the preceding posts and the conversation that followed I lost track of the question that set the series in motion. This had to do with Carver and Lish. Does the fact that the published versions of the early stories were a cooperative effort diminish their value? Are they somehow aesthetically compromised?

If so, why? How? (who wrote the Bagavid Gita? The Epic of Gilgamesh? Do we know the names of the authors of the Icelandic Sagas? ... know that they were not the work of many authors over the course of several generations? What difference does it make? (I ask that as a real question)

If none, or little, or a difference we can not identify or describe--what does that imply about how we are to understand the creative process, with the assumption, held by many, that the individual is the seat of creativity? This is why I mentioned Walter Benjamin; I see this, though I'm not sure I could spell it out now, as related to the problem of reproduction, a parallel: the problem of origin, as companion to the problem of originality.

Creativity and the Individual

Steven Augustine wrote in a comment to my previous post:
Jacob, I'd have to say that this question is as colored by personal value (the word "fetish" isn't a neutral one, in this context) as the comments. Then again, what of it? What opinion, on any matter, *isn't* highly inflected?

The question isn't whether or not our interpretations are "inflected," the question is, how? In what way? How does any particular set of these unexamined assumptions shape our perceptions?

I mean "fetish" in a psychoanalytic sense, not as a negative buzz word. Your defense of the right for economic return on your labor-something never challenged in my brief post, not even by suggestion--is itself evidence of the need to take a closer look at what's involved here.

To the degree that our belief in the individual source of creativity rests, not on an understanding of either the product, or the generative process, but through and in terms of what we believe about something else (economic ideology), then those beliefs will have been not merely colored by the secondary field, but replaced by it, such that we can never be sure, when we think we're talking about art, that we're not really talking about something else--which seems to be what happened in your response.

My question then breaks down into two parts: what are the assumptions that lead us to replace the real subject; and the subject itself (the individual and creativity).

The idea of the individual subject, standing outside and free of context, is itself a fetishistic notion. When you write, the language, which you did not create, is creating with you; you write in consort with everyone who has written and spoken in that language. You can say that what you write would not have come into being without you, but it does not come into being through you alone, no more than we become individuals other than in relationship to others. The consequences of ignoring these distinctions are not trivial--they affect our ability to recognize the disguises worn by the defining ideologies of our time, leaving us increasingly vulnerable to the manipulations of those most privileged by the dominant ideologies.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Authorial Voice: Carver, Nabokov... Where is Walter Benjamin when we need him?

Dan Green has initiated two discussions on the Reading Experience: a piece on Tess Gallagher's announced intention to publish early versions (BGL-- Before Gordon Lish) of Raymond Carver's stories: HERE and on Vladimir Nabokov's request that his final unfinished manuscript be destroyed: HERE.

To date, there've been 41 comments to these posts. I would like to add a question. To what degree are all the opinions expressed in these comments (my own included): on postpartum authorial rights, the integrity of the individual voice, the limits of the editorial prerogative, not merely colored, but virtually pre-defined by a largely unexamined fetish of the Individual Creator?

The difficulty of extracting the aesthetic and existential questions from those of marketing rights makes the question all the more interesting.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

My Name Is Red/ The Earth and Sky of Jacques Dorme

Going back a few years, but one you might have missed: a good review of Oran Pamuk's, My Name Is Red, from Chandrahas Choudhury's

The Middle Stage

I recently finished Andrei Makine's, The Earth and Sky of Jacques Dorme, and had intended to write a post on this book, but find that Chaudhury's 2005 San Francisco Chronicle REVIEW echoes my own thoughts closely enough, that I'll link to that review as well.

One thought I would add: in the scene early in the book where the narrator takes a manuscript of his first novel to an editor, who rejects it when he tells her the story of the flier was real ("Insufficiently fictionalized," she says, and sends him on his way): I had the impression that the book that resulted, with the story of Jacques Dorme excised, was Dreams of My Russian Summer. The scene with the editor didn't quite belong--as though pointing to something outside this novel, begging for speculation about the author's intentions. The general plan of the narrative, so much a reprieve of Dreams, seemed to confirm that suspicion.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Review: Robert Olen Butler, Severance

Robert Olen Butler, SEVERANCE. Chronicle Books, San Francisco

After careful study and due deliberation it is my opinion the head remains conscious for one minute and a half after decapitation.
--Dr. Dassy D'Estaing, 1883

In a heightened state of emotion, we speak at the rate of 160 words per minute
Dr. Emily Reasoner, A Sourcebook of Speech, 1975

So reads the epigraph to Robert Olen Butler's, Severance, a book of 62 decapitations, each 240 words in length. The idea came to him, he tells us in the dedication, while standing before the guillotine at the War Crimes Museum in Saigon

Like a sonnet, this formal limitation shapes the content and development of each piece. Aside from an occasional Em-dash or coma, and italics where quotes might be expected, there is no punctuation; otherwise, printed without breaks in a single block, continuous streams of thought, reflection, reminiscence and observation, they are more prose poems than stories. Narrative elements are compressed; and such stories as they might generate, with a few exceptions (like that of Gooseneck, court jester to Duke Eberhard the Bearded, 1494 or the nameless Chicken, beheaded in Alabama for Sunday dinner, 1958--narrative jokes, one black, one bad) more often than not remain hidden, or merely suggested.

A few are, as you might expect from the epigraph, last thoughts, post decapitation; most are not. Butler has allowed himself wide imaginative freedom, a choice which both compliments the formal limitations, and saves his book from becoming a parade of the macabre and grotesque.

I was a young man, hardly more than an adolescent, when I first reflected on a curious inconsistency in the ways I thought about death. On the one hand, stated as a fact, an item of knowledge, that we are all going to die, myself included; how was it possible that I could state this fact--given the existential enormity of the subject----alone or in company...with complete indifference? Why should this idea have so little affective resonance? We have no knowledge of death, no experiential knowledge, I told myself. In that light, there was no reason that an idea, absent of content--a mere word, in effect, should make one anxious. What then, I had to ask, was I to make of those brief moments of absolute terror: waking at night to an absence, a black hole that seemed to have replaced the world, and was, perhaps, it's true reality?

Looking in the mirror and seeing the skull beneath the face--brief, passing waves of feeling, always coming unannounced, by surprise... no way to reproduce, to will those moments. What was I to make of this?

If this was not knowledge of death, then it was surely knowledge of a deeper kind. Not about death, I thought, which remains always beyond experience or comprehension, but something else--a wiping of the slate--a bright light, and this was how I explained it--a light so intense it makes transparent--no, invisible, all the idols we've made and allowed ourselves to worship. Those moments of terror--nothing but the stripping away of our illusions, all those things, beliefs, attachments we thought we needed. Whatever remains, whatever we can hold to, believe in, cherish--in those moments of perfect dread--whatever remains solid, withstands, reflects back the light--that alone is real. The ultimate test.

Because I had expected the subject of these stories... poems... to be the bleeding away of consciousness, first to last, it struck me from the first entry (MUD, man, beheaded by saber-toothed tiger, circa 40,000 b.c.), that this was not the case. It puzzled me, briefly... as I tried to fit the stream of consciousness depicted here into that last headless dream. But then I saw, and found confirmed in the other pieces, that it was something much like how I had explained--and reconciled myself to those episodic moments of death-dread; that each piece is not about death (how could they be?, but about life, each of the lives named in these 62 poems, ranging from the prehistoric MUD to William Olen Butler himself, each one as seen in that same penetrating and revealing light, each of them... of us, a presence standing in the face of an absence we cannot comprehend, and only in our incomprehension... do we come to understand what matters.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Taking Risks?

Advice to writers. "You have to be willing to take risks," someone says.

Like political rhetoric. HERE One is lost to explain what it means. Advice I would venture you will hear most often from the most risk adverse sources: articles in Writer's Digest and its clones. But not only there. It works its way up, this idea of "risk."

But what is the risk? I mean, first of all, before you define the sort of risk you are supposed to take.. what is at stake?

Who knows.

It goes undefined, unexplained.

What do I "risk" when I write? I know what I risk when I cross the street. One doesn't soon forget six months in a wheel chair.

But for a writer? Sitting at a desk? Or in a Starbucks, sipping a latte and tapping out words on a laptop?

Failure? Is that it? If you don't take "risks," you will fail?

Makes no sense. If you have to "take risks" to avoid failure, than the risk-taking is something that reduces the possibility of failure, which, without taking risks, is apparently guaranteed.

When I cross the street, I risk my life. When I play poker, I risk the money I bet.

If there is no more to this than semantics, rhetorical white noise, it wouldn't bother me. But it does. Every time I hear or read the word "risk" in advice of this sort, or in reviews... I cringe, I grind my teeth.

I've been going over this all day. In those interludes when the mind is otherwise cast adrift. Riding the subway. Walking home. Preparing my evening meal. Why does this irritate me so? And I can't come up with a coherent explanation. One that doesn't sound as contrived, as clichéd as the implied and unexamined assumptions that have me cursing and talking to myself as I ride--or mince and chop and steam...

I remember how long it took me to call up a girl I was attracted to... more than 50 years ago. I wanted to ask her to go to a dance--to be my "date." How it turned me in knots... what I wanted, and what I feared. Nothing less (looking back at it now) than my sense of myself... those most essential delusions one needs... simply to function... or so I thought. That I could not imagine how, given failure, ... could not imagine existing.--should she turn me down...

Facing the abyss.

A failure, to be sure, of imagination. Of understanding how we construct our sense of "self" and self-worth out of received notions... illusions. A trivial example.

But it wasn't trivial to the 14 year old I was then.

My problem here, is that I don't know how to connect that association with the risk, I in fact, do experience, at the most critical junctures in my writing. Not about failing... no. Not at all. It's about exposure. And not even to others. To myself.

To say... that is, to write, what I feel impelled to write, exposes me to myself. Exposes the delusions most essential to my feeling--no... to my belief in my self worth...as illusions.

This "I" so important to me... where is it to be found? And if it is not... then why do I fear its loss? Death, where is thy sting?

It sounds like a cliché... but there, again and again, at those passages where I have to push past the wall... the risk I feel, is nothing less than loss of self.

Either or. I live.

Or I write.

You tell me what that means. I don't know...

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Literary Links: welcome, Blog Lilly

I've recently deleted a few links, and added few new ones. I've been thinking about this... about who I want to link to and why.

Like who I would want to invite to a dinner party--with music and talk late into the night after. People who I have a sense I could converse with... whether or not we will agree... better that we don't! Otherwise, how boring!

So when I add a link, I should offer a word of welcome. And when I delete one, add a word of explanation.

In this case, I welcome Blog Lilly, who I found through "Litlove's" Tales from the Reading Room.

I want you to know that you are more than a "link" here. You are a welcome part of a conversation I hope you will join.

And that goes for every blog I've linked here. I would be more than happy to invite you to any party I might throw... (had I more than a one room efficiency!)... and I would be.. .and am... honored to join in conversation and dialog with each of you.

Blog Lilly

Another New Yorker Story--another world: E. L. Doctorow, Wakefield


A perfect compliment to the Updike story in the January 14 New Yorker. I wish I had time to do this justice, but there are classes to prepare for, laundry to do. Ah Duty...

E. L. Doctorow's Wakefield, a wonderfully strange evocation, moving in stages through the impossibility of a return to nature, into a semi-fantastical realization of the dream of dying and returning to spy on the familiar world we've left behind. It's funny and heart breaking and leaves you with nothing whatsoever resolved, your imagination reeling, having taken up the most ordinary daydream subjects and recharging them with a new sense of wonder. This story succeeds exactly at the point where Updike's fell short... Doctorow never loses the initial impulse--doesn't lose courage when he skirts the edge of the convention. The voice of the narrator imprints itself in your mind--this is not rote representation, but a glimpse of the world through a mind you would never have know but for the mystery of language.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Novel and the Book

Posted on Spurious...

here seems to have in mind the "novel" the modernists challenged... seeking to replace it with the "book" ...

The novel [Jabès] explains [...] is the very opposite of the book. While the novelist exercises control over the writing, while he or she turns the space of the text into the space of the story to be retold, the writer of the book allows the writing to dominate. The book 'recounts' or, more precisely, activates not a story but the movement of writing.
The novelist masters his or her writing in order to put it at the service of the characters. By imposing on the novel a word that is manifestly exterior to the writing, the novelist assassinates the book. Ignorant of the rhythm and respiration puncturing the book's circular and enigmatic writing, the novelist is word-deaf. He or she does not know, as does the writer of the book, how to listen to the page and to the reverberations of its whiteness and silence.
The true writer, who is not a creator but a listener, is sensitive to the book's orality, to its freedom as uninterrupted language, to the void and silence that hide within it, to its rejection of closure, and, above all, to the invisible, forgotten, absent, always virtual book it shelters.
Richard Stamelman

yes... yes... yes...

I am so glad that both Laval Subjects and Spurious are posting again, after a too long winter break!

Elmore Leonard's Rules of Writing

From Mark Thwaite at ReadySteadyBooks:
"If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it."

Elizabeth A. Brown reviews Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Good Writing over at
Brown says, Leonard wants the writer to be invisible: "Good writing is not about the writer (and the way he sounds or the size of her vocabulary), but about the story."

Not for me.

For me, good writing is precisely about the writer and their struggle to write what they are writing (for sure, I'm not interested in the size of anyone's vocabulary!) Otherwise it is merely a story ... and I'm not that interested in stories. Or -- better -- I am interested in stories, but my interest is second to my interest in why this particular writer thinks that this particular story is important enough for them to write and me to read. A self-consciousness about the act of writing and reading needs to be folded into the writing for the writing in front of me to become more than merely a vehicle to carry a plot. Only with that self-consciousness -- adroitly brought about and not merely some clever postmodern intervention where the writer tells you (s)he is writing -- can I be sure that the novelist hasn't simple taken the general shape of your typical literary fiction novel for granted and merely filled in the gaps. If that is the case, the novel becomes artless, empty, and I quickly lose interest in ... yet another story. No matter how accomplished, a novel that simply tells me a story also tells me that the novelist hasn't thought enough about exactly what they are doing when and as they write.

Mark continues with a brief review of Dino Buzzati's The Tartar Steppe HERE

Monday, January 14, 2008

John Updike: the Limits of Realist Narrative: Outage

Where precisely does John Updike's recent story in the New Yorker, Outage, go wrong? HERE

It would be too easy to generalize: the mildly titillating well past middle age sexual fantasy, the well worn territory--New England or Middle States middle class ennui... but why bother? Failure is all too common, and pointing it out even more so. It's not failure in itself that deserves attention. What does, is falling short. And what matters, is not the failure, but what it suggests, and fails to realize.

Updike is a consummate stylist. For pure "Sentence Lovers," he delivers. Like Cynthia Ozick. Though Ozick, perhaps, drawing from a deeper level of Jewish angst, tries harder--not necessarily with greater success. But there's more there, as a few of his earlier stories show. As Outrage hints at, and misses.

Again, where precisely, does it miss?

Brad Morris is working at home. By computer. His wife is in Boston, where she manages a boutique. Brad is not impressed by the news reports of an approaching storm. Rain as come and gone, and come again.

The worst seemed to be over, when, in midafternoon, his computer died under his eyes. The financial figures he had been painstakingly assembling swooned as a group, sucked into the dead blank screen like glittering water pulled down a drain. Around him, the house seemed to sigh, as all its lights and little engines, its computerized timers and indicators, simultaneously shut down. The sound of wind and rain lashing the trees outside infiltrated the silence. A beam creaked. A loose shutter banged. The drip from a plugged gutter tapped heavily, like a bully nagging for attention, on the wooden cover of a cellar-window well.

Here is the promise. More than finely crafted description. A contrast, multileveled, compressed--nature and our technologically conditioned projection of reality, repressed memory of an unmediated sensual perception.

He opened the refrigerator and was surprised by its failure to greet him with a welcoming inner light. The fireplace in the den emitted a sour scent of damp wood ash. Wind whistled in crevices he had not known existed, under the eaves and at the edges of the storm windows.

He drives into town (surprised that his car still starts). A list of the businesses... all gone dark. A world both new... and old.
... and there it is. The possibility to penetrate the veil of conditioned notions of what is "real"... an awakening. Even if it be an awakening beyond the consciousness of Brad Morris... or the narrator--an awakening like that of Edna Pontellier. Keep it within the fictional universe Updike is competent to deal with. Let the awakening be ironic? Metaphorical? But let it be for the reader, a lucid dream!

But no. There's no escape in this story from the middlebrow American delusions; the only awakening--from a middle-age wet dream, and here is the deepest betrayal, an awakening he tells us, to "reality."

That's it. Updike leaves us the choice: our masturbatory delusions, or their repressive denial.

Not only the limitation of our choice, but of "reality" itself. A fictive universe no larger than the fantasy of what a man would like to have done to his penis, and the necessity of foregoing that illicit pleasure... for the sake of "reality."

As though that were an "insight." As though that were enough to justify the failed promise...

Three posts on Critical Narrative analysis

Friday, January 11, 2008

For Those of us who keep Journals

Vol. 44:
After 5576 pages (since 1987... earlier volumes destroyed), nothing could be clearer. My journal in no way aspires to "literature." And never has. Another enterprise. As though the words come from different universes.

To be sure, there are moments--caught up in passing enthusiasms--whole volumes when plain insanity has worn the mask of "art" --but day after day, page after page, what I've compiled is nothing more (or less) than a verbal equivalent of the middlebrow albums of snapshots my family used to keep.

Moving pictures.

Like reels and reels of 16 mm family movies--long since lost. Moments, images, brief visual narratives I hope to return to--and save from the ever changing sequences of organic memory. Something external, I tell myself. Like a photograph. Like those lost silent movies. No less subjectively framed, so no closer to "truth", but at least--external. Free of alteration.

Vane hope. Every reader, and every reading... rewrites what is read. But at least, I tell myself, the words remain. There. In their original sequential order.

So many pages, so many words--an embarrassment of false memory, a presence that begins to weigh on my life (is that why I've burned ten-year segments--twice?... since my earliest entries... 50 years ago?)

Memory serves us to our advantage--only to the degree that we retain the power to transform it.
Anything less, is slavery.

If this is so for us as individuals... how much more is humanity burdened by the false memory of history?

And yet, as Adam in the morning... we would only have to do it all over again.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Not Qute Here, but Yet at Hand

In Hermann Broch's novel, The Death of Virgil, the dying poet and the Emperor Augustus enter a prolonged dialog, an argument on statecraft and poetry, on duty, and--what is ultimately at stake here, the survival of the Aeneid. Their discussion turns on Virgil's claim to the right to his own work, the right even to destroy if it does not fulfill what he believes to be his more profound duty to it, to the duty of art.

There is a mild earthquake in progress...

Without comment:

Caesar paced back and forth over the swaying floor; with every dip of the wave he turned round so that he was always walking up-hill; but now he must have reached the top for he stopped--yet maybe he did feel the Poseidonian movement--and held on to the candelabrum: "Again you speak of things that cannot be proved."

"In art we are everywhere imitating the Greek forms, in the conduct of the state you are forging a new path. You are fulfilling the task of your time, not I."

"That proves nothing; the newness of my path may be argued, but eternal form remains eternal forms."

"Aye, Augustus, you simply do not want to see, you do not want it to be true, that the poetical task no longer exists."

"No longer exists? No longer? You sound as though we were standing at the end of something..."

"Perhaps it would be better to say, not yet! for we may assume that a time for artistic tasks will dawn again."

"No longer and not yet," --Caesar, much dismayed, was weighing these words--"and between them yawns an empty space."

Yes, no longer and not yet; that is how it sounded, how it had to sound, lost in nothingness, the lost, passed-away inter-realm of dream...

... isn't this where we always find ourselves ?

Monday, January 7, 2008

Realist Narrative/ Political Propaganda

In an additional comment on the Shakespeherian Rag, I wrote:

I would stretch Dan Green's idea here... that I think it is precisely the motive to represent reality with precision and honesty, that is the greatest driving force pushing artists to move beyond established conventions.

It's an open question as to what has contributed to the confusion since the innovations of the Modernists, and their more insistent inclusion of the artifice as part of the reality. After all, this is far from new... think of Stern, Cervantes, Shakespeare.

Somehow this has been cast as a quest for the new. I think critics of the visual arts have contributed more to this impression than literary critics. My idea here, is that this misrepresents a deeper and more telling impulse. We do want to represent reality--but reality eludes us. Again and again, we discover that all our attempts have fallen short--mere conventions mirroring, not "reality," but the projections of the age.
There's a weak analogy here to scientific theories, with a difference that makes the difference--and this would be my main point: that the representations of art are self-deconstructing, in that they INCLUDE the artifice in the presentation itself, they do not hide it. The naive view of "realist" or "naturalistic" narrative is a reactionary misreading, ignoring the foregrounded structure... like ignoring that the pleasure of trompe d'oeil painting resides in our very awareness that the fly on the rose petal is made of paint!

The triumph of a Flaubert set piece--the wedding in Mdm Bovary, or Zola's race scene in Nana, resides, not in our making ourself stupid enough to believe it's real, but in knowing, even while we physically and emotionally respond to its evocation, that it's made of words!

The reactionary response pretends the artifice doesn't exist--or is only there to make us forget it (the so called, "suspension of disbelief")... not at all unlike the rhetoric of reactionary politicians.

Story telling that demands the suspension of mindfulness is not innocent entertainment. It is the fundament of propaganda, its necessary precondition. Those who write in this mode are the servants of the tyrants of our age.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Paglia on Religion and Art

Camilla Paglia holds a special place in my heart and mind, if for nothing else, for turning me on to the Faerie Queen. I confess, that after Sexual Persona, she lost me. But here's a piece I can warm up to.

I have no supernatural inclinations, do not even get what it means to "believe" in the gods.. or God, but religion has always fascinated me. I majored in comparative religion as an undergrad. Assigned to Martin Buber (without his consent or participation) the job of guiding me from adolescence to intellectual maturity. I loved the J narratives in the Hebrew bible enough to teach myself Classical Hebrew--even did a few years graduate work on Rabbinic texts, where I proved myself more fecund in imagination than scholarly acumen. Religion is the font of the arts. There's no way around it, and Paglia, I think, gets it mostly right in this piece from Arion.

Here's an excerpt:

I would argue that the route to a renaissance of the American fine arts lies through religion. Let me make my premises clear: I am a professed atheist and a pro-choice libertarian Democrat. But based on my college experiences in the 1960s, when interest in Hinduism and Buddhism was intense, I have been calling for nearly two decades for massive educational reform that would put the study of comparative religion at the center of the university curriculum. Though I shared the exasperation of my generation with the moralism and prudery of organized religion, I view each world religion, including Judeo-Christianity and Islam, as a complex symbol system, a metaphysical lens through which we can see the vastness and sublimity of the universe. Knowledge of the Bible, one of the West's foundational texts, is dangerously waning among aspiring young artists and writers. When a society becomes all-consumed in the provincial minutiae of partisan politics (as has happened in the US over the past twenty years), all perspective is lost. Great art can be made out of love for religion as well as rebellion against it. But a totally secularized society with contempt for religion sinks into materialism and self-absorption and gradually goes slack, without leaving an artistic legacy.

Read the rest HERE This is a long piece, but worth downloading and reading at leisure.

Enjoying the Story Without Losing Our Minds

A mistunderstanding: Realism/ Story Telling

Steven Beattie, in a recent post on That Shakespeherian Rag sees in my (and Dan Green's) reflections on narrative realism, a "dogmatic reaction against realism as a legitimate--or, indeed, interesting--literary mode;" a significant misunderstanding, certainly of my own thoughts, and I would assume, of Dan Green's as well.

I responded in a comment to the post linked above:

My complaint is not at all that "realism" (however defined) is not or cannot be an interesting literary mode. My point is--that realism isn't, and that it is profoundly important to acknowledge this and incorporate our awareness into the work. It's not the use of older conventions that troubles me, it's the absence of mindfullnes, the pretense without attending to what it means that we feel the need to pretend a work is real to enjoy it, the need to suspend disbelief (in the common misunderstanding of Coleridge's idea)--as though this were an essential and necessary aesthetic element.

Story telling gives us what we think we need. Story telling weaves the illusion of understanding, hushing our critical impulses, silencing our questions, or robbing them of their sting. Story telling that aspires to art gives us a story we can enjoy without losing our minds.

Friday, January 4, 2008

What is Real? ... yet again. Who has it right for our time?

It goes on and on... This Space

Cut to the chase, what's it all about?

Since the Renaissance artists have sought to represent reality. With a few "art for art's sake" diversionary slights of hand, conventional shifts have rested on the same defense: that new discoveries had made the old conventions obsolete. Modernists had begun to realize, and their Postmodernist successors confirmed this in spades, that it was all convention.

Good! said the middlebrow reading public and their marketing pimps. What's new? Fiction is stuff we make up. Wow! What a revelation! So let's enjoy it, eh?... and make some money while we're at it!

But "fiction" ... at least since Cervantes... has never, not for those who wrote it, not for the artists and dramatists, been nothing more than bread and circuses... it was always an attempt to ... how do we say this now? evoke? represent? To break past the conventions we've seen through and used up, and offer something closer to the world as we experience it.

The analogy with science is not frivolous... writers, artists, poets.. are no less concerned with the "real" than sub-particle physicists. This is a tradition that goes back to the beginning of everything we now recognize as art and literature.

Science and its discoveries pose problems for us, for established constructions of our habitable world, and artists, in foregrounding the conflicts between old and new ideas, are not defenders of the old, but REALISTS, even when, as individuals, they might want to return to an earlier age (I'm thinking of Dostoevsky). This is what we have to confront!

We seem to have retreated into a profoundly conservative--nay, reactionary age.

Reviewers and critics in the popular realm don't ask: what does this tell us about our altered assumptions of what is "real?" They compare literary representation with their own, conservative, received, unexamined notions of reality...and find that what they read doesn't match!

Lo and behold! It must be the writer... who doesn't know how to construct a nice conservative, make-me-feel-good sentence, who is at fault.

Never does the question occur: is what I'm reading representing a reality I would rather not acknowledge?

As a writer... reality is my chief concern. It's why I write.

In a sense, I think ALL writers, all artists, are "realists." The question is, then... who has it right for our time?

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Narrative Voice and Character

In surfing through Reading Experience, I came across Dan Green's post from last May on Sara Greenslit's The Blue of Her Body.

I vowed (weakly), to bring no books into my house this year until I've done some significant chipping away at the babbling tower of next-to-be-read-volumes swaying precariously on top of my dresser. Ah well, we are weak and sinful creatures... I want to get my hands on this one.

This style reminds me of something Shirley Hazzard does at her best (Transit of Venus, and stories like "In these Islands)... and of Dickinson. A pause before the thought is quite complete, and then a sudden alteration, a new thought or image that emerges, both perfectly commensurate with its generative phrase, and yet startling in its power to transform.

In the sentence, "She likes the windows, large and filled with trees," it's all in the placement of the comma. The pause--just enough to let our eyes turn toward the windows--then, fill the space before we've completed the image, and fill it with what is more than image alone, but a projection of pure desire comingled with its figurative complement.

Here, I thought, is another example of what's missing in Myers proscriptive injunction against the authorial Voice trumping character. HERE . Style that fully embodies a distinct authorial Voice can forego mere psychologizing and its externalized correlatives, approximating individuation for the reader by plunging us into the psychic tension of a character in context. This is characterization of a particular moment, not anything we can reconstruct as psychological profile, giving us a far more fluid (and more "realistic") representation of Self than the ventriloquist's puppet show Myers would have us prefer.

Andy Rants at the Movies

Here's a couple of nutshell movie reviews from Andy Rants

There's a whole string of them. Take a load off and check 'em out.

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill 8.5 Stars

No, Polly quite definitely does not want a cracker, thank you very much. This is a delightful documentary about parrots, and, like all good documentary films, it is also, by extension, about everything else in the universe not covered under the rubric of “parrot,” which is quite a lot, actually. It’s about love and life and death and the soul of the cosmos and the ineffable but undeniable truth that is everywhere and . . . ok, maybe I’m over-interpreting. It’s mostly about parrots.

Grizzly Man 8 Stars

Exit, pursued by a bear. Shakespeare scholars will get that joke. The rest of you can look it up. This is a documentary film about a guy who thinks wild grizzly bears are his big fuzzy wuzzy friends. Does this make him much crazier than the guy who befriends the parrots? Yes. Much, much crazier. Because parrots don’t weigh 1000 pounds, possess 6-inch long razor sharp claws, and eat documentary filmmakers for lunch. It’s very entertaining though, watching the soon-to-be-bear-lunch do his crazy thing. Note to those who like to emulate what they see in films: Parrots are really cool.