Monday, July 6, 2015

Once more unto the breech, dear friends

In the process of preparing commentary on your candidates for the essential hundred novels you had to read to give you the equivalent of understanding and the ability to take on your own novels, you're drawn with some frequency to your first encounters with your essential hundred novels.

Some of these early encounters had you as early as pre-teen, (Huck Finn) with a number in your late teens, then onward toward the defining decades of thirties, forties, and fifties.  Your list includes more recent discoveries.  In your attempts to measure, even classify these, you've come to a curious awareness.

The earlier the encounter, which is to say the earlier the time of first reading, the greater the likelihood your response would be emotional as emotions related to the cumulative effect of the novel.  

You first read Fitzgerald's Tender Is the Night in your mid twenties, when you were still not over the cusp that divides reading for the emotional pleasure and reading to discover the greater joys yet of author's intentions and the means by which the author accomplished or did not accomplish these goals.

Fitzgerald got away with a good deal of telling, his ease at being to slip more into the character's head impressive, but starting to make you a bit impatient when you took the time to examine your own tendencies to tell.  

At times, you found yourself all over the narrative, wishing to put in your own observations as though you were providing footnotes on your characters.  Later, after you'd begun hosting writing groups with Leonard Tourney, you became aware of him using the expression "emotive gloss" to take in this kind of explanation.

The more you looked at your work, the more you discovered your tendency to bustle your way into the story, render opinions, judgements, even warnings.  All this discovery was you, gaining a momentum by which you'd want to distance yourself from these intrusions.  This process led you to resolve once and for all to get yourself as distant as possible as soon as possible.

Leave things to the characters.  Eventually, leave things to the readers.  Even today, you get comments from readers of one particular story, "Absent Friends," in your recent collection.  The events are clear to you and were clear enough to the editor of the journal that took the story in the first place, and then to the publisher of the collection in which the story appeared.  That is, until the publisher began to tell you things about the story that did not exist and the new editor wanted you to clarify things that were in fact not associated with the events in the story.

You gave the story another run through, offering as many clues as you could filter through the characters and events, then drew the line.  You are not being contentious, merely stopping at the border of what you consider intruding on your characters.

Dealing with these hundred novels, which you've winnowed out of perhaps as many as a thousand, you're made aware of how your first read of the work of another writer has undergone a sea change from the strong satisfaction you first felt at the conclusion of Jim Harrison's A Return to Earth, in which manmade laws and conventions are flaunted in favor of more personalized and mystical beliefs.

You're even more to the point aware of the conversation going on within you as you write your five-to-six-hundred-word essay on each of your hundred choices for things that not only impressed you with their power, they floored you with their technique.

Finding one hundred archetypes of your own is no small thing, identifying what they taught you is even less a small thing, channeling the discussion between you, the discoverer, and you, the civilizer is flat out daunting.

This makes for a comforting equation.  You read to be daunted, you write to be farther daunted, and you seek to discover things that by their discovered presence will knock you flat on your ass, whence you must pry yourself upward to write about it.


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