Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Space and self

Writing in the Guardian on re-reading E M Forster's Maurice,  Lawrence Scott finds that the novel's plea for private space, psychic as well as physical, has supreme relevance in the age of the internet.
This instinct for withdrawal and obscurity speaks to present critiques of digitised life. In a world increasingly patrolled by online analytics and social media, Maurice's political dilemma still resonates: how might you not be in hiding while not being on display?
I've often written about the way that social media encroach on the time and attention necessary for creative production, but this article has made me think more about the impact on writing process. It's that reference to online analytics that set me thinking. Nowadays we are all out there, on line in more ways than one. Facebook operates precisely to break down the public and the private, and through it we - including our apparently private selves - become sets of fixed data owned by other people. The whole project of writing fiction, though, for me and I'm sure for most others, is precisely to question outward appearances and assumptions, to get beneath the concrete and the quotidian to a deeper resonance, and to question the concept of the fixed nature of reality. We approach a piece of fiction with the sense that there are things to discover in the process of writing, in the unravelling of the story, things about life and truth and even about ourselves, that we haven't yet imagined. This requires a particular openness, to possibility, to ambiguity - we ask what if, we have to slip into other views and other psyches (which is why I also say writing is like acting) - and a certain divesting of ego and identity. So, my question: if we are spending time (for the sake of our book sales) working on fixing on the public consciousness (and the data banks) our particular personalities, do we boost those particular personalities to such an extent that we endanger those creative moments requiring our fluid, uncertain and unpredictable selves?