Tag Archives: Author

Immortality – Mortally Stupid

I’ve been silent here for a few months for two reasons. One is that I’ve been struggling to find something to say. The other, that I was too busy enjoying the sunshine enjoyed by the otherwise rain-sodden isles I live in this summer. I’ll leave it to you to decide which factor was overwhelmingly dominant. Either way, I’m back at university – thrust back to thinking ‘intellectually’ if that is at all possible. What follows was sparked off by a lecture on Joyce.

I’ve put (into Ulysses) so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries over what I meant, and that’s the only way of insuring one’s immortality.”

(Joyce, Ulysses Annotated).

Joyce is right, professors will be busy for centuries over what he meant, but not that he’s ensured his own immortality. I’m not going to leap in and say everything we do, ultimately turns to dust. That’s a given, and an easy way out. That argument takes time in its entirety, it doesn’t recognise a span of time, just that it will happen in the vastness of time.

The flaw with Joyce’s idea here, is that he can hope to achieve literary immortality. When it comes to reading, there have been plenty of shifts in thinking that deny Joyce his immortality, but the main one is a change in the way we should read a text. Instead of trying to think what the author meant, we read the text purely as a text. It’s reader response, and personally, it’s a great recognition in literary and academic circles that what the reader thinks, and interprets, is important.

But Joyce has some sense of immortality. We’re talking about him. There’s no smoke without fire – and there is smoke here, but I’d say it’s more smoke and mirrors than a blazing pyre.

We’re complex,

Let’s consider death differently. It’s change epitomised. The ultimate change, the transition from life, a sea of constant changes, to death; a change that is such a paradigm that there is no change for those that experience it. Each present moment passes one after the other. Each moment is a passing; a death. I am not the same person, if you want to be really technical, as I was when I wrote the previous sentence. I’m not the same person I was yesterday. Stasis, in that sense, is impossible. Thus, since mortality is change, immortality is stasis. And that isn’t possible. Of course, we don’t change radically from day to day, but it accumulates. We’re not the same person we were ten years ago. Things have changed, we have changed. So how is it possible to preserve some immortality, when change isolates it?

Dreaming of immortality is ultimately, so stupid, because it ignores a clear lexical message. The word itself gives you the clue. Mortality cannot become immortality. Really, I think the ancient Greeks got it right. In classical mythology, Achilles chose to die and become immortal through kleos instead of returning home; nostos. Kleos is not immortality or living forever; it is simply to have great renown, enough that people still speak of him. What survives is the Kleos of Achilles, not Achilles himself. Regardless, Achilles is now a shade anyway. So when Joyce speaks of his immortality, his boast that scholars would be still trying to figure out what he meant, I’d say that’s more Kleos too than actual immortality. We’re not going and seeing a living Joyce when we read his works, or debate ‘him’ critically. We’re talking about something detached from the actual person that lived. What has survived so far to us is the work, not the author. Joyce hasn’t achieved that immortality. He just has renown.

Do Writers Alienate Themselves?

Yes, do writers alienate themselves? Let’s think. I opened up a post. It was one of the much discussed “why do you write” posts which all writing blogs ask. It’s obligatory, like some sort of blogging coming of age ritual for anyone calling themselves an author here. Now, looking at the responses, I just wanted to cringe. Honestly. The general gist of it was the usual – that writing is a hobby, that they enjoy creating characters, telling stories and the like. That’s fine, that does nothing. What struck me though were the comments that talked about writing in a frankly unrealistic way.

That writing is a ‘calling’ that cannot be ignored.

Really? A slight exaggeration.

Writing being some sort of necessity in life that one cannot do without.

Oh come on, it’s no essential process required to sustain life.

Writers would rather lose limbs than not be able to equate concepts to words.

We’re getting into the more ridiculous responses here.

That writer’s view the world from heights, and that they write in order to breathe.

I’ll deploy my absolute favourite all-time quote that for me sums up both the vanity and stupidity writers can conjure up.

Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world – Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Dream on Percy, dream on.

Please – but the best is yet to come.

People who criticize and belittle our “hobby” simply fear our independence. They are jealous of our ability to break away from the mould that so obviously ensnares them.

I’m not making this up. I’ve been watching posts like these, cringing and wanting to further distance myself from being identified as a writer. Let’s take a time out here. It’s fine to be passionate about your hobby. Really. I admit that some days I feel like I’ve wasted time if I haven’t written anything. Some days I feel like something was missing if I didn’t write. But I’ve also had many days where I’ve written nothing and felt nothing of it. There are days where I cannot care to write even a single word. That’s the reality of it – and every writer will be the same. We have a lot of days where it just feelings like struggling neck high up in mud. Still, I just laugh at life and continue – it’s no matter. You take each day as it comes.

I mean, come on. Writer’s having to write out of some sort of necessity? That’s peeling back the hyperbole. At the end of the day, I think this just makes writers sound deluded and vain. I think the whole issue is that the entity that is “writing” has a huge inferiority complex hanging over it. The fear is that at the end of the day, someone could call a writer out on doing something useless. Writing is after all fiction – it is logically useless. So the response is to come up with such reasons like the ones above in order to raise writing above what it is and to some sort of divine level. In reality, storytelling is just telling stories – and we really shouldn’t hide from that. People like stories, so that’s good enough reason to write them. Simple. Besides, the strength of passion that conjures up such quotes means that such individuals get enough enjoyment out of it to continue despite what others might say.

But here is the question I am asking you: what happens when someone who isn’t a writer reads this sort of thing? It all  just sounds so very ludicrous. Inane. Utterly deluded. At the end of the day, what is writing, really? Just telling a story – which anyone can do and learn to do better. My fear is that it does nothing to help writers. It just makes them sound like they are wasting time writing fiction. I think it puts of people who aren’t writers, discourages those who are learning, and makes writers sound like a bunch of overly-dramatic want-to-be Shakepeares.

So, if you are a writer, I want to hear your thoughts on this matter. If you are inclined to think such lofty things about writing, I want to hear from you too.

What Do Your Characters Mean – Is It Ever Possible To Remain Aloof?

When writing, I’ve seen a general trend when it comes to characters and how their authors are meant to engage with them. Keeping it general, the attitudes seem to follow two distinct trends. On one hand writers are encouraged to care about their characters – to have some sort of bond with them, or that the characters are meant to be based in part upon their creator. On the other, the writer is meant to remain distant and impersonal towards his or her characters, and to sacrifice them to plot progression rather than shield them due to sentimentality. From this perspective, to do anything else would seem to suggest a dreaded Mary-Sue!

Yet as the title says, my question is can an author ever remain aloof about their characters? Is that a reasonable demand?

I have mixed feelings over this – I seem to be stuck as some sort of hybrid between the two. On the one hand, my first and foremost intention is to write a good story, and that inevitably means sacrificing characters so that the plot remains gripping, and thus not watered-down. Yet, as I write, as the words go down on paper, I find it hard to stick to that goal. Sometimes I end up rooting for certain characters as I write. It can be for a number of reasons. I might enjoy writing from their perspective. I might want them to succeed in their goals. I might even feel a bit sad when I do the deed – and set their fate.

It’s hard to ignore that as you write, you get attached to your characters. Perhaps for varying reasons, but in the end you have some sort of subtle bond with each character you create. You wouldn’t end up writing about that character at any length if you didn’t. I think this is due to two reasons.

First, that writers are limited in how much they can distance themselves from a character. It might be possible to consciously differentiate the author from the character when writing, but subconsciously? In the end, the character’s perspective is in fact the author’s perspective that has gone through various forms of moderation. If the author were to write a character that was a reader, the reader would not be a distinct “reader” character that is independent of the author. Instead, the “reader” is the author’s idea of reading – the character is the author’s reader, not just a reader. As such, each character is more the author’s interpretation of that character type than an actual distinct individual.

Secondly, as you write you get attached to characters. Let’s admit it. We’ve all had characters that we’ve enjoyed writing about – they’re those special few that transgress across being simply fictional characters. They in fact become more than characters; in some way we start to think of them as real people. It’s the same effect we have when reading – we treat the characters we read about as real. In the same way, we treat the characters we write about as real too. It comes from having to write about them. We have to think as them. We have to write as they would speak – we end up going through their adventures as they are created. Just by virtue of writing, we get attached to them.

The question I want to ask you all is do you remain aloof about your characters? Do you think you must remain impassive about them, or that it’s healthy to have some sort of attachment to them? Finally, is it acceptable for an author to have characters that are in part based upon themselves? Let’s hear your thoughts!

Escapism, Reality and Writing – Why Do We Create To Escape?

At the face of it, writing creatively is a purely self-destructive activity. Of all the things to spend your time, you choose to write on fictitious events, worry over imaginary characters and work to create the unreal. All when today, we retain the idea that we should do things of relevance, and that concept of what makes something worthwhile is intrinsically tied to a grounding in reality. In short, it is seen as productive to have a hobby that has some benefit to you in reality.

Here’s a hobby of mine. Rock Climbing. A good way to exercise; so it would seem. The practice of heaving yourself up vertical surfaces. Sounds bizarre, doesn’t it? Yet even now when we’ve long passed over the hunter-gatherer stage of human development when this kind of skill would have been relevant, we still view it with an air of justification. Instead of using it to heave yourself up or down steep terrain to get to food others might not be able to access, it’s good exercise. It has a benefit to the body. Exercise releases endorphins, which make you happy. A happy citizen, a happy worker, a more productive worker. So, that’s fine, go climb those walls.

Yet writing? Oh dear. Oh dear. Oh dear. It’s just daydreaming. It’s just imaginary nonsense. Haven’t we grown up and learnt to focus on what’s real, instead of inventing things? Yes, oh dear. It’s a tenuous position, sitting and dealing with imaginary people, treating them as if they were real. We’re adults now, not children, we must focus our minds in the real world, upon all that is real and nothing else. Why is that? Because we’re meant to ‘grow up’, a concept that involves expunging childish practices from us in order to become a rational adult. With that in mind, the following paragraph will sound mad.

I spent several hours today inside my head, thinking about a world I created. I wasn’t just thinking about characters, I was imagining myself as them. I thought as them, felt as them.

Sounds like a mental problem, doesn’t it? Especially if you know the characters I write about.

It’s worrying when you break out of the daydream, blink, and realise for a split second, you were thinking and feeling like that character.

Really, writing in first person present screws with my mind at least. Not that I was complaining. Oh, take that society!

In short, this is why I opened by saying writing is self-destructive. Perhaps we spend our time inside our heads too much, imagining an escapist world like a child does, instead of being a good little worker and getting on with our lot in this world. Or rather, instead of learning to cope with the world itself, coping by proxy.

But hey, I don’t actually believe that at all. I wouldn’t say writing is self-destructive. But why did I just lead you on that tangent? I had to explain that in order for you to understand the next idea. Well, there’s a refuge in the word ‘writer’. The practice of writing is a refuge for imaginative process that would have been culled around the time you go to secondary school. That begins when you’re 13 if I remember correctly. Think back in your education. When did the emphasis on creativity and imaginative practice go? When instead of writing a story in English you had to start writing essays? When did they focus shift onto getting good grades for oh, that seemingly distant job? See, it’s an implicit part in the practice of ‘growing up’. The imaginative gets sidelined for the practical. Creativity is preserved only if it can serve an economic purpose. Learning suffers the same as well. Cram your head with the facts to pass the exams. Who cares if it’s something you want to learn about.

Creative problem solving. That’s useful, it means you’ll be a good worker that can better deal with unforeseen problems. What about being a writer? You’re using the imagination to write stories that sell. That’s the refuge. So all day, I’m not potentially wasting time indulging a denial of reality. No, I’m working to create a product. The thing is, unless writing can justify itself by selling, creativity for creativity’s sake alone is cast of as void. It becomes a nice thing for children to do. Paint a picture, write a story. How many artists and writers have we lost because they never thought to keep their creativity into adulthood? I look around at the people I know here at university. Of the English students, how many that say they are writers are? Few. Precious few. They’re here for inspiration. They’re here to learn how to write. Perhaps. But how many go of and write? Of them, who writes regularly? Who is really working on that book, and not just stuck in some limbo falsely labelled as work in progress?

Let’s say I haven’t found one yet. None isn’t a word I want to hear, but that’s another topic.

The continued existence of the refuge of writing presents a strange idea though, and why do I label it’s existence down to consumerism?

Well, it exists because it’s a balm, a slave for all the dreary existence we find ourselves trudging through. Working 9am to 5pm, seeing the same sights, living a life of routine without any change. It creates a craving for adventure. In all ways, all stories tell one. Whether it is as literal as that doesn’t matter. There are changes. There is excitement. It is novel. Buy a book, or better yet, write one and you can create your own adventure, with all the security of the current existence intact. I don’t doubt that anyone will ever be truly content with their lives. We can always find something more we want. Perhaps loosing yourself in a wood full of elves helps. Perhaps not. But the need for this alternate reality still exists, and it is a healthy one.

The question is, why do you start writing (if you are a writer) and if not, what do you think about creative endeavours? Do you indulge in escapism?

The “Author” Self.

I know precisely why I hate the idea of the archetype “writer”. I have a bit of a long running scepticism against the cultural stereotype of being a writer. I now know why I actually hate it.

The process of writing, and being a writers, is so very contrived. The process of writing and being a writer is an insular process; it is a self-absorbing action that increasingly demands interest in itself. When writing something, you draw yourself as a person into the process – you become increasingly wrought in the story as you write. In effect, the longer you spend writing, the more concerned you become with the process of writing. As you write, you mould yourself into both the writer and into the text itself, so much that you become invested in the text, and your text invests in you. Thus, the writing reflects itself upon you as you become the writer, and this writing persona is then reflected in the text. People look for the persona in the text, and draw parallels between it and the “writer”. What remains is that your real self is sidelined by the authorial identity that is constructed by the process of writing and signified in the written works.

What this means is that when you first set about writing your first piece of writing, you do so as someone who is not an author. As I’ve said before, the notion of the author is a loaded term that comes with a huge baggage train of philosophical and cultural expectations. Thus, as you begin to write (and crucially show your work to others) you move from being you, the person, to you, the author of various works. What happens is that the created “author” dimension to your person grows and becomes the dominant mode, or trait people recognise you for. The example of this de-centring of the “real self” for the “authorial self” is right here.

Let’s ask, how many of you primarily see the identity, “Words” as an authorial one? In effect, what does the name signify when you see it? What do you associate with it? For the majority, it signifies the “authorial identity”. It thus acts as a locus of created written persona that you attribute works to, and from those works you attribute traits to the idea of “Words”.

But the problem is that it is not real. It is not the real me – instead it is created by the process of writing and reading. Written actions, preserved in text create the status as a writer for “Words” but the problem is that writing has no inherent truth, as language itself is arbitrary and only referential to itself. Here’s another example of what I mean – through written works and our reading of those written works, we create the idea of the authorial self. We see J.K.Rowling first not as the person, but as a perceived experience constructed from reading her writing. We have a notion of the author, but not of the real self. Reading J.K. Rowling’s works does not bring you any understanding of the actual person.

This is the reason why writing is contrived – it is so self-absorbing that it creates an other self for the individual that writes, and it is this authorial self that comes to replace the individual.

Thus, your experience of this blog even  is one located, created and reinforced by written works – not by any personal experience from meeting me. Your expectations will be dictated by your reading – you expect that I should post some writing soon, that I should write to a certain style or subject, and you shall seek to draw in impression of personal investment in my writing.

This is the very problem with writing, and the notion of being a writer. Being a writer – I just said it then, comes to define you. It becomes the single stand-out action about that person. Thus, you no longer cease to be an individual, with multiple interests and a complex personality. Instead, you become the writer – a creation that confines you. A “writer” is a constrictive chain upon identity – it speaks of a sole activity that all your other experiences can be linked into as contributing factors to the writing, not as separate parts of your identity. Your hobbies then become means for understanding what you write, not as things you enjoy and are then expressed in your work. In short, things you do become a means to an end of writing. I do rock climbing, and to explain what I mean, if climbing were mentioned in some fiction I wrote it would not be there because I personally enjoy it. Instead, the climbing I undertake in life becomes something that contributes to what I write. In an abstract way, it functions like research. I’m doing it so I can write about it, rather than I’m writing about it because I enjoy it.

It’s this fact that writing comes to absorb your self is what I hate about the idea of being a writer. The phrase itself signifies its aim. Being a writer. It leaves no room for anything else – you are a writer. But remember, it’s also something people impress upon you. Which is why I must caution you – to go looking for “the self” in writing is pointless. We read and interpret stories in our own individual ways, so we don’t need to look for authorial guidance. Does the person who created a story have to be found within the story? No. Remember, as soon as the character’s voice begins, the author is dead.

 

What’s In a Name?

Yes indeed, what is the point of names? It sounds silly at first, so I must qualify the context. For a writer, is a name really relevant for you? After all, people read the text you publish, not the name you add on to things.

True, some people do organise their reading by authors, and thus names, but that’s exactly my point.

I’ve never found the reason to attach an actual, real name to anything I’ve written because it can subtly change the way people can view your work. The most important one is the argument of our goof friends Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault, who have fun deconstructing what our conception of an “author” is. In short, authors are looked to for textual authority and the “author” is more a persona that bears no reality to the actual person who wrote the text. Besides, they both say there’s no point in listening to the author because we’re reading the narration of a character in a book, not the author.

That’s why I don’t want to put my real name onto something I’ve written. When it’s an alias or pen-name (whatever term suits you) as long as it’s not a real name, I can let people know what I’ve written, but that’s all. You can’t really start asking what the author meant when all you have about the author is an arbitrary selection of words. I’m not there to provide any set way of reading something, because that just defeats the point of reading isn’t it? We all read in our own ways, we all interpret things differently.

But really I don’t want to put a real name onto my writing because I don’t want people to create an alternate version of myself. A version whereby I am only known for a single act of writing, and therefore being a writer. The author becomes this sort of being that people create for you as they read your work, and then they try to box you into that construction in real life. Your work then can become something oppressive, where you are being pushed by social consensus to preform a certain idealised role because that’s what people have come to interpret you as. It’s vain, but more importantly futile to think that you can understand the person who wrote a book by reading that work. Creativity has a capacity to throw up random results without warning. And be warned, I am one of those writer types who just sits down and has ideas hit continuously as I write. There’s no plan planned, it just seems to end up in some order. Somehow.

That’s my feelings about it. I realise someday I am going to have to put my name to my work, but until then.