Friday, August 29, 2014

Angry Writers

A recent encounter with a new title from the adept and insightful novelist, Carl Hiaasen, once again reminds you what a splendid narrative tool anger can be.  You are also reminded that you are one of the few teachers of creative writing and fiction studies who spends any significant time trying to find out from his students the things that piss them the most.

It is one thing to look at Hiaasen's novel, The Bad Monkey, as a mischievous entertainment, yet another to tie elements of its plot to contemporary social issues that should have been dealt with sooner, and another thing altogether to give Hiaasen the close reading he deserves in terms of how to convert pissed-off writers into dedicated men and women with missions.

There is no lack of published authors of whom it can be said and demonstrated that they are truly pissed.  Nor can it be denied that certain among them have understood the potentials for power, imagination, and narrative tone inherent in anger.  This group is relative in its ability to demonstrate artistic control as opposed to indulging outbursts of bombast.

For every Carl Hiaasen or Franz Kafka, there are five or six unfortunate antipodes such as Ayn Rand, Brett Easton Ellis, and Donna Tartt, writers who are so driven by their anger that instead of inspiring them, their anger incites them.  Way back in the day, Laurence Sterne (1713-68) understood.  "When a man,"  he said, " gives himself up to the government of a ruling passion,—or, in other words, when his HOBBY-HORSE grows head- strong,—farewell cool reason and fair discretion.''

You have carried that, and much else of Sterne, with you from your first encounter in your mid teens, delighting in the thought that books such as The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman could make their way in the world.  Angry as you were and eager to use it to lash out at what you considered injustices, hypocrisy, and sentimentality, the screed and rant never held appeal for you.

The literary magnets attracting the random iron filings of your youth were the likes of Mark Twain, James Thurber, and the satirists of whom it was scarcely possible to detect their ridicule.Then came the stunning work of the nearly forgotten twentieth century humorist, Peter DeVries.  

Looking about you now, you are beginning to see emerging patterns in readings you care about.  Your own personal reactions to things now differ from what would in earlier years have you overreacting.  

There are also your observations of published angry authors and unpublished angry students, guidelines as it were toward making anger, outrage, and that boredom-on-steroids feeling of being fed up more easy to convert into useful tools, say characters, in stories.

Anger was not always as much fun as it is now; there are still frequent potentials for anger getting you in trouble, but it is a more nuanced and satisfactory trouble, the consequences much more satisfying.  Things are less apt to get out of control in negative ways, where anger can cause things and relationships to break.

By now, you are so used to getting anger responses that you cannot  imagine what life would be like were you no longer susceptible.  Anger is an integral part of life in much the same way fear is.  When you feel anger, you're responding to a message, perhaps from the Cosmos, perhaps from some random outside source, perhaps even the kinds of notes from your own conscience that you used to leave under the windshield wipes of cars whose owners had done something you considered offensive.

Anger wishes to be blended with other feelings, other kinds of awareness, all in order to give you the most intriguing path home to work at writing.

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