conditions of remoteness...

In one of her essays, Jeanette Winterson explores the notion of identity and craft – specifically the work of Gertrude Stein – and comments on Wordsworth’s often misquoted and misrepresented mantra ... emotion recollected in tranquility:

Tranquility is not the cozy atmosphere of the fireside pencil, it is the condition of remoteness that allows the writer artful access to her work. ‘Write from your own experience’ is fine for the writing class, useless to the writer. What the writer knows has to be put away from her as though she has never known it, so that it is recalled vividly, with the shock of memory after concussion. In the act of writing the emotions of the writer are returned and recharged.

       from “Testimony Against Gertrude Stein,” Art Objects


I agree with Winterson – experience, autobiography, and history do conspire against the writing potential. They get in the way – clutter the voice with noise and weight the truth with propaganda – albeit well-intentioned ... but misinformation nonetheless.

       * * *

Experience, certainly, will enter the writing process, but it should not be the genesis. Raymond Carver, near the end of his life, read a biography of Chekhov, and became fascinated by a seemingly insignificant but unusual act carried out by Chekhov’s attending physician, just prior to the writer’s death. Carver then set out to write about that moment in a short story, “Errand”. He does have the experience of his reading and his knowledge of Chekhov’s life and death – but the story begins with Carver’s connection with a moment. It’s not the life or even the death of Chekhov that is vital to Carver; it’s the emotional connection that Carver makes – or finds is a better word – with that that moment, that act … with words on a page and a world inside his own head.


Suzanne said...

I've been thinking about this all day -- fascinating post, Sam, and I'm inclined to agree.

sam of the ten thousand things said...

This one keeps me thinking as well, Suzanne. Thanks for reading.