Monday, May 12, 2014

A Voice a Little While Ago (Una voce poco fa)

Your world was cheerily exploding deadlines about you as though this were a Fourth of July fireworks extravaganza.  For some days, you have been whittling away at these, and although the subject you have in mind right now is not so much a deadline as a kind of anniversary, you've thought, what the hell, why not have a go at it as well?

The matter at hand is your regular review of the order of importance in which you place the essential elements of story.  Which one thing deserves the place at the top?  Is it character?  Suspense?  Motive?  How about conflict?

True enough, story relies on all these to the point where it may well be argued that the removal of any one of them is enough to send the edifice of story tumbling like a Hollywood Hills cantilevered home after a drenching rain storm. But you have good reason to maintain your vow of listing all those elements that come to mind, then assigning them a numerical hierarchy.  Your good reason includes the fact of your most recent book splaying out over three hundred seventy such elements.

In past years, you'd chosen character for the top rank, and you'd done so in the sincere belief that story was all about character from the get go, ab ovo, as you are sometimes wont to say in a plonking voice.  Most all the other essential events can in some way be given a direct link to character.

But then you moved on to what you'd come to consider the one element that determines and defines the characters.  Voice.  Tell a story in one voice, it is a tragedy.  Tell the same story in another voice and it becomes transformed into side-splitting laughter.  Voice, you argue, determines the sorts of characters to be brought into a story.

You've squirreled away some moments of relaxation and rebellion wherein to consider your choices of rank, but the jury was scarcely dismissed to deliberate on the arguments before you, in a flash of prescience, understood that they had indeed reached a verdict.  When they all settled into their seats, you polled them on their decision.  

No surprise.  Voice won, once again, and did so for reasons beyond your last deliberation.  This time, you want voice to reflect the significant number of polarities inherent in our culture.  Perhaps there were no increases in the number of polarities, rather then the matter balanced on the growing disappearance of "things we no longer talk about."

Not to worry about the disappearance, the melting, if you will, of nuance and subtext.  There are still any number of things deemed best left unsaid or reserved for special moments between partners or, if you will, conspirators.  significant among these, you believe, is race, closely followed by gender, which is being edged along by the near paranoid fears associated with the g-word, government.

Today's equivalent of the n-word is Big Government, capitalized to emphasize the stress on the concept.  BG is the source of all our social, political, and financial ailments, its polar equivalent, BB, or Big Business, getting a free pass on taxes and, for all it has been anointed with the status of an individual, its failure to observe with any comity the Social Contract.  BB has done its best to marginalize the Social contract, having some success in causing it to be equated with Socialism.

You, who do not always intend to turn political seem always to do that very thing.  You are political and it shows.  Like some of your acquaintances who are, by degrees conservative and Libertarian, you are by degrees Progressive and More Progressive.  If in such matters as your book reviews or essays where there is no political center, you nevertheless sound like a Progressive.  True enough, there are times when your open discourse has a ring of civility to it, but in fact you are no more likely to change your views than are your polar opposites.

Things grow grim for you when, within the arc of a story, you find yourself being properly accepting of characters who are likely to be contrary to your own beliefs.  The writer's social contract protects them from your spleen.  You are under obligation to be as understanding and sympathetic to them as you are to characters of your more preferred stripes.

Writers such as Yeats, Pound, and Eliot exhibited traits in their personal lives for which you have no brief, yet Yeats and Pound in particular have produced work to move you to a teary-eyed admiration.  There is satisfaction aplenty in the awareness of their poetry casting light on human beauty and tenderness while, at the same time, their personal lives were as redolent as a food truck taco.

Such awareness causes you to replay moments and events within your life where your own behavior may have had less integrity than your writing.

In any case, you are led to consider personal voice and literary voice.  You can do little to change another, but you can and do work at the bringing together of the two so that you speak as you write and write as you speak, any excesses in your personal life offering no excuse or justification for the excesses in your writing life.

Sometimes, amid all the clutter and activity, you strain to hear voices, that you might render them with a blend of respect, honesty, and insight.  Amid such clutter and activity, you need to examine your own voice as well.


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