Saturday, August 16, 2008

Will the Real Self Please Stand Up

A quote from an essay by E.B. White found its way into my memory, where it describes some eccentric orbit, recurring from time to time, leaving me to wonder what it means this time around, and in what ways it has taken on meaning to me this time. "Whoever sets pen to paper," White wrote, "writes of himself, whether knowingly or not."

When I first came upon the quote, I seized upon it because it meant to me that there was no such thing as objectivity. At this time in my life I was pondering a career in journalism, thinking how shaping news stories, looking for more than one source, and questioning authority were all splendid goals, not at all incompatible with my goals for fiction writing. At the time, I favored a path of some minimalism. The quotation from White led me to wonder what it was of myself I was writing when I wrote for and cashed my paychecks from the Associated Press. Soon after, I found a fork in the road that led away from journalism, where the question began to emerge, Who or What was the Self who was writing? Good-bye journalism for sure. But, alas, hello to television, which held for me infinitely more pitfalls than journalism. The self who was writing about itself was by degrees cynical and more cynical, which brought the Self to another crossroads which I will call the Kafka crossroads because that becomes the place where the self sees all about it as conspiracy theory writ large.

You move away from the formula/expectations of most dramatic television and you have to open yourself to the vulnerability of you before you can consider the vulnerability of others. Once that opens for you, it is difficult if impossible to go backwards because you've reached the point where if you cant see it, feel it, trust it, what you set to paper emerges with all the integrity of a replica watch and what you are doing is no longer art, it is artifice.

1 comment:

Matt said...

A good treatise on honesty.

What complicates matters more is the business of business. When you discover that you can make $-to-the-power-of-ten, particularly in TV, expounding on already-tired formulae, the temptation to take one's conscience into the woods with a blindfold and a shotgun must be great.

Thankfully, television is finally becoming a medium capable of dictating innovation (as opposed to theatrical films).