Monday, November 10, 2008

How to Talk About Writing and How to Write About Thinking

Is it me? I sometimes don't quite follow the Author, Author pieces in Saturday's Guardian Review, those articles in which authors talk about their own take on the writing process. Maybe it's something to do with the essentially idiosyncratic nature of the writing process for each writer: either those authors are talking to themselves in their own private language, using their own private short-cut associations, or I'm so caught up in my own that I can't always relate to the whole of their arguments. On Saturday Adam Thirwell wrote about the difficulty of representing thoughts and psychology truthfully in novels, but if you can sort out the difference between the description in the first paragraph here and the intimate third person, or between the two modes in the two separate paragraphs, then you're brighter (or more patient, or less hung up on your own writing obsessions) than I:
In an essay, I once wrote about how Franz Kafka invented a strange style in his novels about this man he called K: where, although it looks like a third-person narrative, it is in fact a disguised first-person narrative, belonging to K. And suddenly I thought that I understood more precisely why Kafka wanted to do this. It was a way of inventing a subterfuge, so that he could be true to the cloudiness of thoughts. In a diary entry, on January 12 1911, Kafka noted how he hadn't been writing much, partly because he was lazy, true, but also "because of the fear of betraying my self-perception". Because, he continued, if a thought cannot be written down "with the greatest completeness, with the incidental consequences, as well as with entire truthfulness" - which it couldn't - then what was written down would replace the vague thought "in such a way that the real feeling will disappear while the worthlessness of what has been noted down will be recognised too late". This is why Kafka needed to write in the third person, while really describing the personal contours of a character's thoughts: it was a way of outwitting the imprecise solidity of language.

This is one technique in the art of the novel. Another, however, is to use the completeness and truthfulness of the third person, while still talking as if it's really you.
Even so, there was something that seemed to chime with my own current thinking about the matter. Thirwell describes a thought of his own:
...there could be a way of describing reality which was both true to the seriousness of the world and yet also true to its absolute flippancy, because even the most passionate of experiences, especially the most passionate, were weightless.
That seemed akin to my current struggle to find narrative modes which don't deny the complexity of the emotional reality I want to convey or subtly change it.

Or was it? And is this last statement of mine too obtuse for anywhere but my private writing journal?

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