cutting on the action

photography and film – facts, ideas, values

Writer’s Rooms





Writer’s Rooms from the Guardian

Not going to help to do that novel but somehow irresistible. On the other hand, maybe you have been writing a story about a novelist…..



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October 24, 2008 Posted by | Writing | | Leave a comment

On Wood on How Fiction Works



James Wood article: A Life of their own

From Jane Eyre to Jean Brodie, David Copperfield to David Brent, whether solidly realised or lightly sketched, fictional figures can be as vivid to us as real people. But just what, exactly, is a character, asks James Wood

Guardian 26 January 2008

Reviews of :

Frank Kermode’s The New Republic review

Peter Conrad Guardian 17 February 2008

D J Taylor The Independent 3 February 2008

Gideon Lewis-Kraus Los Angeles Times 20 July 2008

Mark Thwaite Ready Steady Book blog 12 March 2008

Wisdom of the West blog

He does it chapter by chapter and there is a lot of it.



July 21, 2008 Posted by | criticism, fiction, Literature, narratology, Novel, Novelist, Writing | | Leave a comment

Wood on Chekhov



What Chekhov Meant by Life by James Wood

Catching up on some of the newest links in 3 Quarks, saw mention of Wood’s essay in

Nobody’s a CriticOr they’re at least terrified to be one.

The Wood was not linked to but luckily the title came up in a Google.



July 18, 2008 Posted by | art, criticism, fiction, Literature, Writing | , , , | Leave a comment

Is Google Making Us Stupid?



Nicolas Carr writes in Atlantic Monthly (link from 3 Quarks) on reading and writing styles and technology. Though it deals with surfing vs. old fashioned reading, it also picks up on such fascinating arcanerie as Nietzsche having to resort to a typewriter when he couldn’t write by hand any more and what effect this had on his writing style attested to by contemporaries.

John Naughton [Observer, 22 June 2008 ], I Google, therefore I am losing the ability to think, takes up the cudgels bringing in mention of Sven Birkerts’ The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age and the  notion that having it so readily to hand removes the need to remember it. Then he finishes with:

But people have worried about this since… well… the Greeks. In the Phaedrus, Socrates tells how the Egyptian god Theuth tried to sell his invention – writing – to King Thamus as ‘an accomplishment which will improve both the wisdom and the memory of the Egyptians. I have discovered a sure receipt

for memory and wisdom.’ To which the shrewd old king replied that ‘the discoverer of an art is not the best judge of the good or harm which will accrue to those who practise it… Those who acquire writing will cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful… What you have discovered is a receipt for recollection, not for memory.’

If you are talking about the web you are talking about hypertext, which can be revised by checking out The Electonic Labyrinth. One of the main points is that hypertext existed before the web. This particular website deals with the creative implications of digital hypertext — pointing out that hypertext itself existed before digitally hyperlinked hypertext — which can be read starting from the page, The non-linear tradition in literature.

I have written on the web as hypertext, including what a blog is and isn’t in this respect( e.g. TiddlyWiki ). When checking this post from Moleskine Modality, make sure to go to Eli Springer’s home page, then open up links in it to see how the new information is added to the original home page text. Stage I: open link Eli Springer in the home page then in that page, as an example, the link ‘moral change’ to show how all three sets of text are available on the same page. Note in each new text box, in the top right-hand corner, there is a choice to close the box down. It is possible to open every link in the home page, and every link in (for simplicity) the Eli Springer page.

In the Carr is the argument that something radical is happening to both reading and writing, in the suggestion there might be some sort of cognitive change going on. This, from the background of writing being something we learn as opposed to spoken language which we are essentially born with the ability to use.

Since the brain is an associative organ (but this only works because it had something stored away in memory) it seems more likely that the web, as the ultimate, though not infinite, hypertext, is echoing what the brain is already good at. And that linear texts, though traditional and popular, are the anomoly. It is just that the technology took time to catch up with the the way the brain works. Saying this does not mean that surfing is more efficient than reading books.

There can be no better analogy to this than conversation. There are different styles, but in the main we latch onto keywords and respond to them, much in the same way we are attracted to a particular link in a webpage. When we pick out a keyword from someone else’s speech, we might intervene if we know something about the subject and want to say what we know or think. We often semi-switch off our concentration when someone is saying something we feel we already know a lot about, but switch back on (if we are good listeners) when words and phrases alert us.

A conversation between two people, is often surrounded by other external events such as other people talking who may not be connected with that particular conversation and other things going on which the couple talking are not interested in. It is not unknown for a person to be distracted by something happening even if the conversation is riveting. A child falls off his tricycle; a car backfires; a light-bulb blows; a woman breaks down in tears. This can stop a conversation and lead to the two people talking about the ‘external’ event. What is this if not coming across something startling in a webpage and taking the link to find out what it offers?

Leaving aside surfing as a way to pass time, there is ‘good’ surfing and ‘bad’ surfing just like good conversation. Good surfing is a discipline in which the surfer does not stray too far from the intended object just like good research from books. The worst surfing is a kind of Freudian free-association, in which at the end of the session you have no idea why you started, and may be a bit vague as to why you began. A good surf always stays within bounds or reason because there is a limited goal and because within each brain is a core of what the individual possessing it considers important or significant. So a fact already known or an idea already familiar, will be skipped or rapidly scanned. Isn’t this what we do in books? Book index people check what is in a book by checking its index. This may lead one to decide not to read a particular book because enough keywords do not appear to overcome a threshold of interest or relevance. So what is the difference between all this and leaping over web pages to get to one you think is important?



June 19, 2008 Posted by | books, culture, digitisation, hypertext, Internet, Literature, narrative style, neuroscience, Nietzsche, reading, science, Writing | , , | Leave a comment

More Naipaul: the art and the Life



A 21 May 2008 Times Literary Supplement article/essay by novelist A. N. Wilson, V.S. Naipaul, Master and Monster, makes me – again- think of Koestler. Is this not a species of pathological narcissism? In the jargon: Narcissistic Personality Disorder. There is also Borderline Personality Disorder, which has a slight overlap with the former syndrome. But maybe Schizoid Personality Disorder fits the bill better, with its elements of narcissism. By the way the last has a table comparing over and covert aspects of SPD.

For some reason the phrase master and monster evokes rather, Master and Commander, from the nautical novels, with the image of the captain having to be in tight charge of the ship in order for things not to fall apart: clear objectives, setting the right course, navigating the difficulties, the rest.

Does it matter if the writer is a complete four letter word? I am on the side which says it does, partly because, once known, a fact about a writer cannot escape the works themselves; psychology pure and simple. It is possible to epoche (accent on the final e but I can’t get hold of the character set right now) the writer from the work, but it is a conscious decision to assess the quality of the writing despite the character and personality of the author.

Stalin was a monster: he had people killed; Lenin was, too, though not many people tend to think that. Naipaul is more what one might call an utter bastard – he is welcome to sue: I ain’t got a su, or a reputation to uphold. A cursory reading (even of the outdated Shub) demonstrates Lenin’s methods pre-power, as a exiled emigre, essentially terroristic and anarchistic. When he ruled he became totally totalitarian eschewing the anarchistic, opportunistic methods he partly used to achieve power, coming down hard bureaucratically on those he suspected : but he was always of a terroristic, psychopathic disposition from the beginning. It might be argued – it always is; he claimed it himself – that he had to be that ruthless to achieve the task he set himself. Lenin, once a hero of the Left, is now less revered as it becomes known what a gangster he was: Stalin is taken to be the gangster, while Lenin the Robespierre. Lenin, while having certain political principles – one questions the psychological roots of his modus in knowledge of the state execution of his elder brother for terrorist activity when Lenin was a young boy – was totally unethical in most of his political life. The image of the London conferences where he removed the best brains of the wider movement to achieve his objectives, shows this. So does the way the movement was financed: mostly by bank robbery inside Russia, not unlike the IRA with robbery and drug dealing in its time, with a bit of ad hoc assassination here and there, home and abroad, thrown in. His left-hand man in the emigre years, whose name now escapes me, was an out and out psychopath.

A great many writers have been equally tough-minded and ruthless — within their paradigm, or milieu — as these political monsters in creating their works and in defending their reputations even if they haven’t stooped to killing to do so: character assassination being of a different category from straight old physical elimination.

::

In the literature: Othello.

Narcissistic characteristics that either Othello or Iago show include high self-esteem, selfishness, underestimating the abilities of others, greed and envy, lack of empathy, and emotional coldness.

::

As if by default, this always leads back to Nabokov. In literary monstership terms, how do Naipaul and Nabokov compare? Lolita is said to be autobiographical: the correspondences tight: Nabokov’s relationship with his uncle, who despite abusing him a child, left him his fortune. In the most simplistic psychobabblish terms: Naipaul was just born a bit nasty (he adored his father) while Nabokov (we have to examine what he said did in his life) lost his parents early and was sexually abused so had a perfectly good reason to have a jaundiced view of the world.



May 25, 2008 Posted by | A N Wilson, fiction, general, Lenin, Literature, Nabokov, Novel, Novelist, Stalin, V S Naipaul, writers and works, Writing | | 2 Comments

Smorgasbord {2} science, writing



Three from the inestimable 3 Quarks:

Evolving Thoughts science blog : Basic concepts : A List

If a non-scientist mostly reading fiction but wanting some science, then this might be the place to start.

Even Tierra Fuegans Do IT

The Uncashed Metaphor of Natural Selection

Long essay by Justin E.H. Smith

How Daphne du Maurier wrote Rebecca Telegraph 19 April 2008

April 29, 2008 Posted by | science, Writing | , , | Leave a comment

Evolution of literary Darwinism



Literary Darwinism popped up again in 3 Quarks, so thought a few markers might be useful here. It mentions a new short article in a The New York Times blog, Papercuts, How Would Darwin Read? by Jennifer Schuessler which links to D.T. Max’s 2005, review (‘The Literary Darwinists’) of Literary Animal, The Evolution and the Nature of Narrative, Edited by Jonathan Gottschall and David Sloan Wilson

David contributed a talk to The Science Network forum in 2007.

Here will be a links as I find them on (for and against) literary Darwinism:

(1) Literary Animals? a post in Valve mentioning an essay:

(2) Signposts for a Naturalistic Criticism by William Benzon

(3) The Pleasures of Fiction Denis Dutton, Philosophy and Literature 28 (2004)

(4) Reading Homo Sapiens David Michelson (Skeptic Magazine 2005)

(5) The Nature of Literature Michelle Scalise Sugiyama ( a review of Madame Bovery’s Ovaries)

February 23, 2008 Posted by | reading, Writing | | Leave a comment

You won’t believe my eyes



colophone.jpg


Strange to enjoy reading about a colour {colors/mauve : Shelley Jackson, Cabinet Magazine} without being able to see it, or to be able to distinguish it from others, to even name it ! I’m red-green colour blind and find any pale colours or diluted colours impossible to name.

I felt sure somewhere there was a patch of labelled mauve on the web that might help me appreciate the essay more. Wiki:mauve. It only helps because it is named. “Oh, that’s mauve!”: though take it and its label away and re-present it without a name….

But then the first mauve I saw on the wiki was a pale mauve, not the deeper reddish colour (as it seems to me).

A side-track into other colours which seem like the paler mauve to me. Lavender looks pretty much the same. You could give me any number of colours of a similar saturation {colourfulness }, or is it {luminance}, and I could be persuaded this was the colour which went with the mauve words in the essay.

If I hadn’t read the enchanting essay I’d never have realised it was possible to enjoy colours by having them laid out in profusion and labelled for me. It may become addictive: but I may need to stay close to the colours with the names, light mauve, mauve, opera mauve, mauve taupe. Taupe ? Taupe Grey, pale taupe, sandy taupe, rose taupe, mauve taupe….mauve taupe? Take the names away: no point looking at them.

For the first time in my life because I carefully considered one colour through words describing it and associated with it {List of colours. } I realise from looking at colour charts I can really name only two colours with certainty: {blue}. There is a yellow streak midway between green and red, but I am not confident enough to name it. I can name blue only only as dark blue bright blue and yellow the yellowest of yellows. Pale blues – periwinkle blue, powder blue, are out of my range. They could be other colours for all I know. I might guess a flower was pale blue when it was pink.

Now, too, I realise for the first time where there is a neat example where empathy might break down: colour! There’s madness and autism, but colour has all the controls in place. You can read my mind and predict my behaviour but when it comes to colour we are from different species. We are both fooled by visual illusions.

Maybe the mirror cells which activate when we are reading minds don’t fire in my brain when you report a colour!

Did you know the black birds looks black to us but is multi-coloured (blue spectrum) to other blackbirds?

This colour graph is a way of illustrating what I can see: I recognise red and blue corners but infer the green. I can’t name any colour in the middle as you probably can.

Mostafa is red-green colour-blind. But he can’t see the coloured boxes, 1-10, whereas I can, but couldn’t tell you what colour they were except bright yellow, which I think is 5.

Wiki: colour-blind has three colour tests which shows I’m deuteranopic.

In this one I see no numbers.

Same colour illusion

Works for me too…

Colours of the Mind

A cornucopia of colour delights.

February 19, 2008 Posted by | colour, Writing | , , , | Leave a comment

Nearly finished? {3} – Raymond Chandler


From the moment I picked your book up until I laid it down I was convulsed with laughter. Someday I intend reading it.

Groucho Marx, on S.J. Perlman’s first book

I try to leave out the parts that people skip.

Elmore Leonard

Having paraphrased the Raymond Chandler quote about almost writers, which does exist somewhere, and later ogling for it without success, came across this page by Mark Coggins – himself a private dick novelist – about a visit he made to the Bodleian Library to look at Chandler’s papers. Good stuff.

I can’t understand why a person will take a year to write a novel when he can easily buy one for a few dollars.

Fred Allen

There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.

Red Smith

In a very real sense, the writer writes in order to teach himself, to understand himself, to satisfy himself.

Alfred Kazin

Any writer overwhelmingly honest about pleasing himself is almost sure to please others.

Marianne Moore

A book is a mirror; if an ass peers into it, you can’t expect an apostle to peer out.

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

If I read a book that impresses me, I have to take myself firmly in hand before I mix with other people; otherwise they would think my mind rather queer.

Anne Frank

The reason one writes isn’t the fact he wants to say something. He writes because he has something to say.

F. Scott Fitzgerald

{1} {2}


February 18, 2008 Posted by | Writing | , , , | Leave a comment

Nearly finished? {2} Timothy Hallinan’s writer’s resources


“Advice is like manure. You need to use it sparingly and consider the source.”

— Dolores Feldon

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”

— Pablo Picasso

At first I thought I was going to be irritated by lists of how to do it. Now I see there are lots of quotes and references to other writers, I’m much happier. And, yes, just a moment ago I saw the name Raymond Chandler on one page. So, hopefully, there’s going to be that quote (paraphrased here by me as): “There’s nothing quite so sad as an almost writer.” Something like that. Well, no, probably not: Tim’s trying to encourage writing not put us off for good.

From

Part 2: Getting started / 2. Work Habits:

The writer with the most impressive work ethic was probably Anthony Trollope, a contemporary of Dickens’ who is one of my favorite novelists in the world. Trollope wrote by the clock day in and day out, wherever in the world he was. He set up that clock and wrote at home, in hotels, at his club, on the road, in his cabin on ships, and for all I know, while he was visiting America, on a stage coach. When the time was up, he quit. Here’s the part that got my attention. If he had, say, eleven minutes left on the clock, and he had just finished a novel, he didn’t sit back and enjoy a celebratory cup of tea – he started a new novel. Eleven minutes later, he quit for the day. (By the way, Trollope wrote some 45 novels.)

I was wondering whether to leave the parenthesis at the end out.

February 18, 2008 Posted by | Writing | , , | 3 Comments

Nearly finished?



J G Ballard’s memoir {review by Nicholas Shakespeare. }, Miracle of Life, was serialised on Radio 4 this week.

In one episode, relating a meeting the future Mrs. Ballard, in which on learning he was writing a novel she asked him, “Have you nearly finished? “, he replied “No, (but) I’ve nearly begun.”

::

“Do not reduce your story to outlines and sketches, notes and 3×5 cards. You will make your story finite this way and it will suffer because it cannot grow beyond your outline.”

Too late, unfortunately. I did once explain to another blogger who appeared to be trying to write – complaining in a post she couldn’t get on – that I thought I had discovered a half-way house. On any particular day, if you find you can’t write what you thought you were going to, then write notes (and even notes on the notes, if you feel you have to). With luck the mood flips out of notes into something which feels like writing – – a snatch of dialogue suddenly comes to mind, perhaps, or a description. Change the colour of the font and get it down. Or ordinary to bold, why not.

The problem with this is remembering you’ve done actual writing amongst the notes. If you were very efficient there would be the immediate copying and pasting of the ‘writing’ into a file of their own a the end of the session. But they would probably make no sense at all when re-read a week later without the surround of explanatory notes, which themselves in places might look suspiciously like narratorial voices being practiced in some sort of complex metalepsis.

In my case there is often a dialogue going on in there amongst the ideas. What if this? Could do that. Nah. Would the reader….? Dunno.

Then the other writing displacement activity: reading about writing and maybe even taking notes. Not even reading more good writing itself, which might be more useful: but reading how to write, or even some fancy narratology. If this happens, you will almost certainly feel the need to add to your notes the links which lead to the accumulation of articles on writing you come across. Notes. Notes on notes. Links to other people’s notes. And so on.

This sort of thing can be thoroughly absorbing: you might be excused for forgetting you were meant to be writing at all. One day I came across the word diagesis. By the time I was into the homodiagesis and heterodiagesis, I had completely forgotten what I woke with for my own story. It didn’t seem to matter when so much progress was being made on how to tell stories and their possible structure.

Just now I came across the original place where I picked up the diagetic lingo: Narrators and Narrative Situation from Basics of English Studies, which looks like a desperation measure by some determined lecturer in the face of the general ignorance of his or her undergraduate students. Quite useful though.

This section of a website dealing with The Narrator and Storytelling, has even resorted to “PowerPoint”- style slide presentations of the essential features. For example a slide sequence subtitled: What kind of story telling?

Oh and look here’s another one with all the terms nicely boxed-up: Chapter 7: The Narrator from Narrative theory.

Never ending. You can learn too that diagesis is a term used a lot in film (though it seems not a lot by film-makers but a lot by film students and their teachers). You might have come to the idea that this never going to be a novel. What about a film script?

By the time you are through with:

An Attempt at Universal Subjectivity: The importance of mirrors for self-consciousness, the importance of self-consciousness for cinema, and the importance of it all to Andrei Tarkovsky’s Mirror. David Wishard

or

Scene shift, metalepsis, and the metaleptic mode by by Monika Fludernik

the day is gone. Pretty sure in your mind that tomorrow when you start afresh aiming to write your own words, the narrative voice will be sorted. Or will it?

February 16, 2008 Posted by | narratology, Writing | , , , , | Leave a comment

War and Peace study



Movable Types: How War and Peace works

by Michael Woods

New Yorker, November 26, 2007

deals with the novel but also the new translation, and so ‘lost in translation’.

December 7, 2007 Posted by | Tolstoy, translation, Writing | Leave a comment

Conrad



A discussion of Conrad on Start the Week this morning, compared current nihilistic tendencies with those depicted in The Secret Agent [e-text]. 3 Quarks (my once a week check up) mentions a Guardian article, The Moral Agent, by the very man who was on the radio, Giles Foden.

Conrad hits the 150 year mark. The Secret Agent was written/published in 1907.

wiki: The Secret Agent

is a short entry but mentions the Unabomber, Theodore Kaczynski.

Searchable e-text of The Secret Agent at The Literature Network.

December 3, 2007 Posted by | Conrad, fiction, Literature, Novel, Writing | , , , | Leave a comment

John Fowles, book and film.



Litlove (Tales from the Reading Room) has written an exemplary post on The French Lieutenant’s Woman. However, if you are curious, if you haven’t read the book, it has the spoiler built in, so beware.

One thing she hasn’t tackled is book vs. film, which I have always been obsessed by, partly because I believed it told me so much about film writing.

Karl Reisz directed. Harold Pinter wrote the screenplay {1}. Having later heard in the BBC radio version what he did with Proust in The Pinter Proust Play, {2} which itself is an object lesson in screenwriting, though never used, I can now turn back again, being reminded of the FLW , to the way he ended up doing Fowles:

wiki: The French Lieutenant’s Woman

Screenplay of The French Lieutenant’s Woman

(Not sure if these are Pinter’s ‘stage directions’ – just a few- or if they have been created afresh in lieu of the real thing, but the dialogue seems true to the film)

There is a long essay by Mary Lynn Dodson, which was originally published in Literature Film Quarterly, in 1998, which takes the book vs. film discussion in its full context, including Fowles’s other books, his own attempt to adapt the book, and his attitude to filming The French Lieutenant’s Woman.

The French Lieutenant’s Woman: Pinter and Reisz’s adaptation of John Fowles’s adaptation


{ SEE Moleskine Modality post Petit pan de mur jaune for a soupçon of Pinter’s Proust.}



November 15, 2007 Posted by | fiction, film directors, film [its techniques], John Fowles, Karel Reisz, Literature, Moleskine Modality, movies, Novel, Novelist, Proust, screenplay, screenwriting, Writing | 1 Comment

Little Rock, Pasternak

It suddenly occurred to me, as I listened to the first episode of Dr. Zhivago on BBC Radio 4, 1957 was the year Pasternak’s book was first published in the west. When I searched for the radio programme, I came across The Years of Billy Joel’s “We didn’t Start the Fire”

which which quotes the lyrics:

Little Rock, Pasternak

Mickey Mantel, Kerouac,

Sputnik, Chou En-Lai,

Bridge on the River Kwai

explaining each reference.

1957, it reminds us, is the year in question, Pasternak-wise ( though strictly-speaking 1958 in English), but the Joel song deals with all the years between 1949 – 89, which this page lists with each of its reference points from the song. Another page does the same thing Billy Joel : We Didn’t Start the Fire at The Octopus’s Garden.


What can one make of this? Anything you like. I feel inclined to ask questions about other songs and what they refer to (in the world outside), but in particular to what books they refer to, if at all. And if not why not. Or, if songs refer to book less than other things like people and places, why?


A history or sociology teacher might find this useful for a lesson or two!


Though I don’t want to chase this rabbit right down it’s hole right now, but post immediately so that it is side by side with the other post, Blogging added value , it will give someone enough to write something more substantial, perhaps in a newspaper – for which they will receive a fee. Why – knowing someone else might end up with money in the bank having got an idea from my post – should I post it in the first place? Because I got pleasure from recollection, finding some facts, writing them down and throwing a quick idea in for good measure. And doing it quickly. But why publish it? Why not keep it to myself for a later date? Maybe I could use it to write a musical based on Billy Joel songs?


One answer to posting for free instead of writing for money is too obvious but needs repeating: because humans have been shown often to prefer short-term to long term gain. If someone thinks up something (or is passed a tidbit), the pressure to pass it on is great. Chatting and gossip (which includes blog posts including intellectual ones) can’t wait. You just gotta tell someone the news! If you don’t someone else will.




November 15, 2007 Posted by | 1957, blogging, blogosphere, Chou En-Lai, human nature, kerouc, Novel, Pasternak, Sputnik, Writing | Leave a comment

Showcase: DailyLit

Stephanie at So many Books has been using DailyLit, which I only heard of through her. Several of her readers say they prefer a book in the hand, mostly because the instalment was too short: they just couldn’t wait!

I decided to go for Anna Karenina. But when the confirmatory email came through, I got the option to order the first episode straight away, which I felt compelled to do. Though the intro to AK is so often quoted

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way

I forgot how funny the first few paragraphs were.

Experiencing such a small dose of Tolstoy it is obviously not going to suit many ardent readers. But there is something to be said for having to wait. Let the small, enjoyable dollop stew for 24 hours. Build up the anticipation for the next part. Spend some time reading around the book and author while waiting. In any case you read so much about so many things, the next episode will be there before you know it. (Actually, in advanced settings you can chose from three size settings to get more per email or even get the next episode straight away…). Let’s face it, this is for people who are meant to be working, trawling through the emails first thing in the morning.

::

For an inexperienced writer puzzling over which narrative voice to use, the first part of Anna Karenina could be as a reminder to how an intimate tone can created from the limited omniscient point of view. No need to be Tolstoy to see setting off in the first person can end up with too much of the author in the narrator.

I mentioned alter ego in the last post. There has been a study of avatars and their authors in gaming, called Alter Ego, which may have something to offer to the perennial questions about the author insinuating himself/herself in his/her own fiction.

Here are two over-views of Philip Roth’s oeuvre from on alter ego {1} {2}.

November 6, 2007 Posted by | alter ego, fiction, First lines, literary persona, Literature, narrative style, Novel, Novelist, Openings, Writing | , , | 3 Comments

The persona in literature



This short NPR interview with Dr. Wayne Flynt, retired professor of history, on whether Truman Capote wrote Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, presents as evidence a letter by Capote about the book (he was his friend of Lee’s) but also asserts ‘writers simply do not assume other literary personas’. Which is another way of saying it is possible to identify someone as the author of a set of books. To avoid muddle, this is not about a character being identified as an alter ego of the author, but what features of the text on the page makes someone say this is by a certain writer.

It’s not that they can’t, but don’t in the main, write in a way that might make you think the books were written by different people. This begs the question whether the voice of the author is just there, like a finger print, or whether it is a conscious effort to maintain consistency. Academic analyses abound. Winifred Gérin’s biography of Charlotte Bronte, illustrates how a writer develops to a mature style. This doesn’t mean to say some don’t write from the beginning as if how they write was built in.

W hat I am interested in is the authorial voice set against the narratorial voice.
A nub is in the wiki: The persona in Literature, where it writes of the mens auctoris.

There is the question of upfront parody. Most book saturated readers with above average writing skill can throw together a reasonable Jane Austin. What are they doing to make it seem pretty close if recognisably an imitation?

If it were possible to epoché the detailed knowledge of the author’s works – all the passages they know by heart which identify it – how easy would it be for the professional literary analyst to say they were the work of one author? If Jane Austin wrote a novel about the immigrant community in East London in 21 century London, would it be immediately recognisable as a Jane Austin novel?

The answer to all this might be not in any fingerprint of the author detectable in the works but that superior writers are consistently superior in their writing (when they get to it, so to speak).

When unknown score by a long dead composer appears some bright spark always pops up to say it can’t be by {insert a famous composer}.

This all reminds me of the Andre Previn Morecambe and Wise Show. This is the straight one on YouTube {1}. But in another version with commentary {2}. A certain jjo2 comments in the shorter version:

One beautifully subtle joke in the sketch – Eric is in fact playing the right notes, in the right order, but in the wrong rhythm.

Which might be the point in the business of the authorial voice in a novel.

November 6, 2007 Posted by | fiction, literary persona, Novel, Novelist, Writing | , , | Leave a comment

Fact or fiction?



Here, Susie Linfield’s essay reviewing both fiction and non-fiction on one place, Zimbabwe. I started reading this at a different site which did not show, as it does at the top of the full article in Dissent Magazine, that it was an essay review of a set of books on Zimbabwe. But because Doris Lessing was mentioned at the end of the first paragraph, I wondered if her descriptions of the country, fictional and non-fictional, might come into it, so carried on. There is already a link to Doris Lessing’s return to Zimbabwe with her brother, African Childhoods: indentity, race and autobiography. Link directly, or you can find it in a previous post by clicking the side-panel tag link African childhoods.

Before I got beyond the first few paragraphs, struck by the vivid and detailed historical, journalistic account of Zimbabwe, I was wondering about if fiction or no-fiction was better at describing a place, a time, a people. In other words, is it the nature of the method which gets at the truth or the quality of the writing? A soon as I got to the first review, on Peter Godwin’s, When a Crocodile Eats the Sun, I was forming a view.

Slowly, as the books are revealed and reviewed there is an answer to this question: that no fiction could possibly do a better job than a well crafted non-fiction: except that this leads inexorably to the paradoxical notion of all writing being fiction.



October 27, 2007 Posted by | African childhoods, Doris Lessing, fiction, fiction vs. non- fiction, non-fiction, Writing | , , , , | Leave a comment

The fate of books depends on the discernment of the reader


Pro captu lectoris habent sua fata libelli.
The fate of books depends on the discernment of the reader.

– Terentius Maurus, De Literis, Syllabis et Metris (1286)

 

 

The task had been to find something to explain simply Barthes’s, “To Write: An Intransitive Verb?”. There was nothing I could understand much of. The surf came to a natural end with an essay, A Blueprint for Melville’s “Bartleby”, by Steven C. Scheer – not what I was looking for but clearly written, not full of jargon, interesting and informative: a serependipity – arrived on my screen because he cites Barthes’s essay at the bottom of the page, which in turn led me to his home site and two nice long essays, The Art of Reading, from which the quote above came, and A Writer’s Notes on Writing.

He has a blogspot, Words Matter, which he has written occasionally to, but there are several very interesting posts, including one on Hellen Keller.




October 15, 2007 Posted by | Barthes, Book, Literature, non-fiction, readability, Reader, reading, The fate of books, Writing | , , , | Leave a comment

Doris Lessing – Nobel Prize for Literature 2007



Common knowledge already – news travels fast in the digital age. On British TV this evening we see Doris disembarking from a black cab outside her house in London, to be given the news by what sounded like an American TV man. A younger, large man behind her inside the cab – holding a large artichoke in one hand and what looks like a long string of onions in the other – who, it appears from other reports, was a journo on the scene doing a good turn.

‘I couldn’t care less’ about Nobel Prize: Lessing

CTV.ca from Associated Press

The Daily Express accurately reported the next bit:

As she got out of a taxi at her north London home, Lessing told reporters: “This has been going on for 30 years. I’ve won all the prizes in Europe, every bloody one, so I’m delighted to win them all. It’s a royal flush.”

Harold Bloom thinks it’s political correctness: Reason.com

….pure political correctness. Although Ms. Lessing at the beginning of her writing career had a few admirable qualities, I find her work for the past 15 years quite unreadable … fourth-rate science fiction.

There’s a longish biography in Dorislessing.org

Appreciate some advice on the best starter Lessing.

I have posted somewhere in Moleskine Modality about her and her brother re-visiting the old haunts in Zimbabwe which is retold in this 1999 academic article, similarities Between Virginia Woolf and Doris Lessing.

Also, African Childhoods: indentity, race and autobiography

by

Tony Simoes da Silva, School of English, University of Exeter.



October 12, 2007 Posted by | Doris Lessing, Fame, fiction, Literature, Novel, Novelist, Writing | , , , | Leave a comment