Sunday, June 1, 2008

On Defensiveness

It is a truth not universally acknowledged, in fact completely overlooked, that within the rant and venom of the despot is a large grain of self-inflicted defensiveness. To express the matter less formally, Harold Ickes, in his protestations yesterday that the presidential election was being hijacked, took aim at a target and shot himself in the foot. While it was and is clear to many observers and indeed (to build toward a metaphor) passengers, The Titanic of Hillary's presidential bid had struck a gigantic iceberg, sprung a rupture, and was taking on water, Mr. Ickes insisted in his way of the splendid engineering of The Titanic, augmenting his rhetoric with the notion that The Titanic was better able to stay afloat than, say, The Pequod.

Mr. Ickes was, of course, being defensive.

Politicians can afford to be defensive. Writers cannot.

Writers must stand behind their visions as sincere believers, bordering more on dithyramb than choler, more on satire than cynicism, more on rigorous observation than the self-justification of explanation.

Typical writer defenses:

It gets better in the next chapter.

But it really happened that way.

Everyone in my writing group liked it.

Tom Woolf does it that way all the time.

People of my generation will understand.

I'm a writer because I love words.

There are others of course, What I particularly like about the last defense is the implicit notion that musicians don't like notes, dancers don't like steps, artists don't like pictures.

Of course they all do like their various platforms but do not use them as excuses to parade techniques so much as the platforms are considered tools to convey a feeling, a meaning, a choice that must be made.

We may portray defensive characters and in fact frequently seize upon such individuals with great tantivy thanks to the dramatic trampoline they present us, but we ourselves must have a vision which we pursue without thought of defense, with no excuse for the honesty of our vision it will reveal.

We are all of us equipped with survival devices that we listen to (on occasion) or ignore completely. It is no easy thing to set forth among our characters with such nudity, our scars and wrinkles, our foibles and hair growing in all the wrong places glaringly visible. Nevertheless, we go, alert to the settings we invent and the denizens of these settings with which we populate our own alternate universe, hopeful and alert for those moments where we are no longer aware of our nudity or foibles, having for the moment transformed ourselves into pure story as we engage our craft. In those moments, there is no room for defensiveness. Then, whatever our age, we are at another age, the writer's age, where there is all the drama and interpretation we can possibly accommodate.

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