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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Tomorrow, We Begin: a Brief Note and Question #1

Hello, good morning, on this Sunday morning.  The weather is typical, clear, and boring here in Utah. 

Tomorrow is the day.  If you're book isn't in the lead (East of Eden is the clear leader), get other people involved.  Of course, I understand the difficulty of this for most of you; how many people does anyone know, after all, who actually wants to take an extra English class? 

This isn't an English class.  Call it Book Club.  "Come join the book club!" you might say.



Is it possible for an author to dissociate himself (excuse, please, the generic masculine (women, consider the respect I offer by not so vainly using your gender)) from his writing?  Consider extremes: something so simple as "In a Station of the Metro," by Ezra Pound, or the Lord of the Rings trilogy, by Tolkein.  Why would an author attempt to remove himself from his writing, or, on the other hand, is there benefit to permitting his blood to flow across the page?  Please provide examples from your own reading experiences that may apply.


  1. It's difficult whether to say it is possible. You and I have discussed LOTR often, and I think you know where I stand on whether Tolkien removes himself or not (for the benefit of everyone else, I think his thoughts are (almost) literally on every page). Now, I tend to think that, "In a Station of the Metro," is actually a fairly personal experience, too. Yes, it's simple, but a vivid image, such as described, cannot come from nowhere. We instantly start thinking about the manner in which Pound draws up the scene, and what it means to the viewer. I know that Wallace Stevens was always trying to remove himself in his work, such as in "The Snow Man," or, "A Study of Two Pears," and I think he fails. Why? Well, one of the reasons is that, in trying to do this, he has created a transparent statement about what he thinks writing should/could do, which again inserts him into his work.

    Further, even if it were possible, it would be inadvisable. One of the reasons we read literature is to learn what it tells us about life, people, and the world. If the author removes himself, we lose that valuable perspective. What's left? Not much.

  2. Right, and, in addition, the surgical style is a writer's preference in the first place.

    So, I don't think it's possible. But I'm willing to be convinced otherwise.

  3. There is a book, which I've never read, by an author I've never experiences, Alain Robbe-Grillet, called "The Erasers," which, if I remember correctly from a lecture series called "Masterpieces of the Imaginative Mind: Literature's Most Fantastic Works," by Eric S Rabkin of U of M, as fate would have it, does or attempts something interesting (and more interesting even than this ridiculous sentence's structure). (If I do NOT remember rightly, then it was some other book, which I hadn't read from this professor's series, that did what I'm about to explain.) This author wanted to write a book that used entirely objective writing. One of the examples that issues from the book is the description of a bisected apple. The problem, Rabkin points out, is that even in the attempted objective--surgical, even--description of the bisected apple, any adjective used or modifier or even noun selection imposes, immediately, SUBJECTIVITY, which is all by itself and indeed immediately the author's presence in the text. So again: is it possible? Is there an example anyone can find?

    And I agree with James, why would someone WANT to remove himself from the text? Grillet was part of a group of French experimentalists, who wanted to do new things just for the sake of doing them. The biggest problem, though--and they must have known this--is that we can only write through our own experiences, our own eyes; even if we write of another's experiences or re-narrate another's story, we are telling it through our eyes and our experiences (think Peter Jackson's rendition of Tolkein's LOR). This is the very definition of subjectivity.

  4. (just corrected the post--sorry for the jump in sequence)

  5. Ugh, your part about wanting to do things, "just for the sake of doing them," reminds me of Gertrude Stein. I'm about to vomit. Worst week of poetry ever. She almost single-handedly ruined my enthusiasm for my college poetry class.

  6. Speaking of which, she might be the closest I've seen to removing herself from her work. And it was bloody awful. I am not sure if I would go as far as to say that she did, but it came close at times.

  7. I've heard of, but never read, her. Any examples or excerpts short enough to post?

  8. Hmm... here is a link to only an excerpt of her poem: "Picasso." http://www.learn.columbia.edu/picmon/pdf/art_hum_reading_45.pdf

    I am not sure she really removes herself. But it feels more detached than other writing. I don't know. I find the whole style very annoying. Just playing with words basically.

  9. Creation is an intimate process in every iteration: whether painting, sculpting, singing, procreating, or writing. When creating a character, the author gives that character a personality that is often developed far beyond what we read (this process is similar to how a character actor prepares for a role). The characters that an author sets in type are only believable if he has drawn from his own experiences to make them, and often, they are facets and projections of his own subconscious. People naturally enjoy characters and stories that they can relate to. If an author were to successfully remove himself from his writing, his characters would be bland, inhuman, and unrelatable.

    Every piece of writing offers a window into the author’s mind. Let's look at two titles in particular: The Glass Castle, and Lullaby. Both are therapies. Walls was advised by her therapist to write her story, and Palahniuk wrote his to cope with his father's death. The Glass Castle was downright impressive, and Lullaby was perhaps one of Palahniuk's most cohesive (and enjoyable) works. There is also speculation that Mulholland Drive, one of the most ridiculously amazing films ever, is David Lynch's self therapy. These show that when an author pours more of themselves – their innermost thoughts – into their work, the benefits are twofold. In these cases, they benefit through the therapy, and we [the audience] get a higher quality of literature.

    Why would an author want to remove himself from his writing? I believe the answer lies in Second Life. Many people, by nature, are unhappy with themselves (whether it be their physicality, financial situation, love life, etc.) – they use Second Life to separate themselves from reality. It’s the same reason we drink, smoke, and go to the movies: there is a naturally occurring escapist desire in everyone. The attempt of self-removal is really quite ironic: often, it imbues the writing with more personality (especially if the audience can realize the attempt and therefore that he is running from something).

    I stated earlier that all poets keep their feelings on display in their work, and Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro” is no exception. Finding his feelings, however, is a more daunting task, as we are given very little material to work with and tear apart.

  10. Ben:

    I really like the examples you posted, and appreciate, especially, your dominantly filmographic perspective. The idea of Second Life is intriguing, and I see two sides to it. First (and devil's advocate), in the very act of removing one's self in effort to escape one's self, the self is yet shone. I came across the origin of the word "silhouette" today and couldn't help making the comparison: cut out the self from a photograph, the negative space remains, and we yet see the outline of the self. On the other hand, (second)the artist becoming someone else (which, of course--though I'm no longer advocating the devil--can only ever be another piece of that very self, the ego, id, the oz, whatever). I've (not to say I'm an artist, despite aspirations) felt very much the same, particularly when I'm dealing with music. I become, or seek to become, someone else, and leave myself aside. I remember loving that part of acting on stage, or even performing in an orchestra, a nameless and miniscule piece of the whole. Contrastingly, very different parts of myself--yet they are ME--are exposed via different media--paint, charcoal, music (drums/piano), prose, poetry, essay, fiction, whatever. There are times when the expression of self via art is a catharsis releasing me from/to something....


    Crap, dude. That Gertrude S stuff reminds me of the least successful of the French society, Oulipo, who, through apparently randomly chosen permutations and patterns, attempted to discover new potential in lexical (I say lexical rather than literary) expression. Examples: write without using the letter E; write an overly long--as in thousands of words too long--narration of a brief joke; write a new line of story for every potential turn/choice of a plot for a monstrous and potentially/essentially pointless story. However--though old Gertrude, via your example at least is no example--some of these experiments are surprisingly successful and expressive. And I think, simply by virtue of their mechanical development, they may actually be without human voice or natural attribution to the author. I'll post some examples tomorrow.

  11. Ben --

    I really appreciate your examples and comments. I particularly appreciate your uniquely cinemographic perspective. Your reference to Second Life leaves me two lines of thought: first, and as devil's advocate, doesn't the very leaving of one's self aside for another attempted self reveal the self? I came across the origin of the word silhouette today. This reminds me of that derivation: the very removal of the self from the paper leaves an outline that speaks definitively of the self in negative space. Like a black hole you can't see, but can see the effects.... On the other hand, permitting yourself to become another self (though, technically speaking, the "another self" could never be more than a different piece of the self--the ego, the id, the oz, whatever) is something most artists attempt to do and enjoy. I've experienced it personally--this artistic catharsis--especially via stage acting in high school or, more recently, performing in an orchestra where I am an entirely nameless and miniscule, though essential, piece. But is this another self, or just a piece of the original me, more focused? What I experiencee in artistic expression changes depending on medium: pastels, paint, steel drums, drum kit, piano, poetry, prose, essay, fiction.... When I've looked deeply into things I've written--let's say with explicite good and bad guys--it is very clear, at least to me, that both the good and the bad are simply pieces of me focused and tweaked. But this brings me to James' example:


    Crap, dude! Gertrude Stein, if this is indeed quintessential G Stein, is a load! It reminds me, though less successfully so, of the French experimentalists, the Oulipo, of which we read some once upon a time in Language Arts concetration. They, through apparently randomly assigned limitations of pattern or extrapolation, attempted to discover new lexical (not literary, I think) expression. Examples: write without the letters e, s, p, or q; take a super brief joke and expand it dramatically to a short story (by thousands of words); take a simple story idea and, for every choice the protagonist makes, fully expound the consequences in narration of those choices. Interestingly, this may be the answer to our question. James, I can't say that I find the voice of the author you Stein's piece. I find the voice of the machine that she seems to be operating. Can you always see the hand of the operator in the output of the maching? The Oulipo are essentially, from what I've seen, without voice, as it is nearly, if not always and/ore entirely, erased, as it is so mechanical. Surprisingly, though not so with Stein's, some of these experimental results are indeed insightful and interesting, but are they expressive? And if so, what is there to be expressed if the self is gone?

  12. Okay, that's really annoying. I thought the first one deleted--or didn't go through--and now there it is, twice, with slight variations. I'm leaving both because I'm lazy and tired.

    Oulipo to be posted tomorrow.

  13. As to your question, what's left to be expressed, I think the answer is that they are not trying to express anything through the words, but rather about words. They are trying to show the arbitrariness of language. But after a while, it's just like, yes, we get it. Now, take this a step further and tell us about something else, while you play around. The redeeming quality of Ulysses is that Joyce actually does this, but you have to read very carefully, and it's easily the hardest thing I've ever done in literature....

  14. Joyce just does it right, and that's why he's remembered and Jezebel Stein--I mean Gertrude--is forgotten!


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