Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Feeling around for Feeling

All fiction, however intellectual, propagandistic, or political, is based on emotional foundations. Even such a notably novel- and short-story-of-ideas writer as Aldous Huxley, after riding his wit and curiosity to remarkable heights, saw the need for such incursions into the emotional smorgasboard as professional and romantic jealousy, guilt, revenge. Through experience with reading, we have the opportunities to take sides with and against characters who respond to things that seem calamitous, often going against the grain of the author's intent, not so much out of perversity as the simple fact of being attracted to one whose response seems to jibe with our own sense of what is correct and effective.


As we approach our own writing, we are drawn to authorial voices that seem to agree with our own, but even there, care and consideration are needed. You, for example, have fought a running internal battle with writers such as Huxley, Isherwood, and Auden, admiring their smarts or, to put it another way, envious of the moral choices they made and the chances they took in service of those choices, while edging more toward the noir writers whose characters seemed more grounded in the everyday mystery rather than the more cosmic ones. Isherwood was particularly vexing because he seemed to be able to do both, and while there is no credible argument to support Huxley and Auden having no sense of humor, Isherwood first and foremost was able to laugh at himself, telling you endearing stories about ways he attempted to appear humble and rumpled, the better to seem humble and spiritual.

The passive nature of the expression "care and consideration are needed" should not detract from the importance of the observation; you need to chose words and movements with care lest they emerge too elaborate for your own taste, too operatic perhaps or too wallowing in self-pity or sentimentality. John Steinbeck has not been accused of sentimentality for mild reasons; there were places where he was pulled in beyond the boundaries of restraint. Philip Roth may, on the other hand, never be accused of sentimentality, nor may he be accused of over elaboration.

This is what you are working toward, the right choice of words and actions to evoke, not describe, the response you float out for each character. Two towering examples of such splendid restraint occur in music you admire. Each is the adagio section from a concerto. Look or, rather, listen, to the adagio of Mozart's Clarinet Concerto in A Major, then move into more modern times, the early twentieth century, to be specific for Joaquin Roderigo's Concerto de Aranjuez for Guitar and Orchestra. Each is a wrench yet neither topples into literal and figurative opera of Canio's aria, "Vesti la giubba" from I Pagliacci. Wherever there is performance, be it dance, singing, architecture, poetry, short stories, charcoals, or even trompes l'oeil, you watch for signs of deliberate choice and restraint. Naturally, you reflect the same tastes in real life. If you did not, there would be unresolved conflict you'd need to sort out and deal with.

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