The sublime one whose place is at Delphi neither discloses
(only) nor conceals (only), but rather hints, gives signs, points
-- Heraclitus, Fragment 93
Man acts as though he were the shaper and master of
language, while in fact language remains the master of
-- Martin Heidegger
I've found that my reading habits tend to mirror my writing habits -- I have always preferred short, sharp pieces to long, overly complex ones. I enjoy literature that is as complex as it needs to be. When I write, I'll write for hours until I find the one line I want, then delete the rest. I've burned boxes of poetry, because I had culled what I wanted from them. I will also, when looking for a new book to read, look for something that grabs my eye or attention.
Which I feel is important for writing strategies. I believe you should allow the piece to go wherever it wants to go. Like in Robert Johnson's 'Phonograph Blues', where the image of the phonograph that won't play his record, and the woman who won't lay him, and his own sexual impotence, weave in and out of each other, as if there was no separation of the images, as if all the images where the same.
Now we're getting into word theory, and I'll stop here. The stuff is maddening. The idea that a poem could be one word long, and if that is the case, maybe all poems are really only one word, and because of our kindergarten notions of language, we mistakenly perceive poems to be made of words, when they are really just one word -- most damning of all, perhaps every poem is just the same word, repeated over and over. What's the word? Dunno--mebbee that's why we keep writing?
Now all of this is a lesson, I hope you understand. This is about not allowing your education to hinder you. I've got nothing like a main point here. If I could put it in one sentence, I wouldn't be writing all of this, would I? Man, if I could just write a really good haiku -- that'd save ya'll some time, and me some time. But what is time? But, to paraphrase the great Groucho Marx -- "Time is time, isn't it?" But then again, water is water. And east is east, and west is west and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does. Now, uh...Now you tell me what you know.
Okay, something like that. Love the language, it will love you back. Only sometimes like a German mistress. But don't you see what I'm driving at? This all exists in a space, a space that is real, a space that is either real or imagined, but exists nonetheless.
By existence I don't mean some brute existence. I'm clarifying terms 'cause I'm a former philosophy major, and whether or not something is real or imagined is beside the point. Husserl knew all about that debate, but he could have learned it from some good poetry (or maybe not). What matters is its presence. When you're a kid, who's more real, the CIA or Santa Claus? I bet I know which one, and if you were more concerned with the CIA (as I was), don't you see what a difference it makes? A lot of my friends who are conventional Christians (I like to think of myself as a nuclear Christian) always ask me if I believe Christ really lived, and I keep telling them, "That's not the point." Because Paul's whole theory/equation was B.S., and any good poet who reads the Bible knows that Paul is not a poet, and the poetry of the Bible is what's really important.
Regardless of your opinion of Kerouac (mine: He tried, tried, tried, tried, tried, tried; and failed, failed, failed, succeeded! failed, failed), you should realize many authors developed their own styles from him, and there is an important bit of advice from Kerouac--"No time for poetry but exactly what is." In other words, life is simply too rich as it is to complicate with anything else. (See also, William Carlos Williams). Another important rule (from the man behind Kerouac, Neal C.) -- "Art is good when it springs from necessity. This is the only guarantee of its value; there is no other."
This necessity comes from many places. With Burroughs, it is somewhat discomfiting to think, when reading him that the only reason he had become a writer was because of the death of his wife Joan. So in other words, if you're happy Burroughs is a writer, you're happy his wife died. Or, if you really happy Kurt Cobain wrote music, you're happy he was depressed and suicidal. If you're a fan of Neal C.'s famous raps and adventures with the Merry Pranksters, you're happy he felt like a dancing bear when he performed, which drove him eventually to the San Miguel railroad tracks to die. Your glad that Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil, and was reborn as Jimi Hendrix nine months later, only to have the devil catch up to him and Janis and Morrison.
That's where it all comes from. The devil, the drugs, the booze, the emotional imbalances. That's why Greek tragic characters are so damn interesting, still -- they suffered! Even the Greek comedies are tragic in the consequences, and in what they hint at -- Lysistrata is ultimately a failed attempt to suppress our natures in the interest of peace, and it doesn't work out, and The Clouds is a prelude to the death of Socrates.
We should speak, and pick up on what has been spoken, of everything that has transpired in the world, the lebenswelt; life-world, the world of our immediate perceptions. Don't write about something half-a-world away from you. Write about what is immediate, present. Attempt to find new ways (that perhaps are just old ways) to understand (or perhaps not to understand at all, maybe this is the answer), the immediate perceptions of the world. This is necessary, because too many people have allowed themselves to have their own immediate worlds conform to the Big Picture. Which is a mistake, because no one has eyes that big, and so we know it's not you or me that can control the Big Picture, but something beyond our perceptions.
As for imagination, I haven't gotten that far in my own development as a writer. I'm more concerned with discovering how to be truthful about myself, about my life, and figuring out what truth is like, before I attempt to create a fictional lebenswelt where I have to use lies to create truth. I have come to the conclusion (after my lame attempts at fiction) that just being truthful with the truth is hard enough, and I'll work on that first. If you create fictions, use them, if not, non-fictions are just as valid. Do not discriminate whether a story is factual, or bothers with facts. Facts, has Mr. Burroughs once said, are not truth. " 'I have no whiskey' is a fact, not a truth," says El Hombre Invisible.
I, for one, agree. In our national media, and our national character, we are obsessed by facts, and are turning into the decedents of Mr. Gradgrind's ilk. And, of course, the number of Mr. Bunderbies is on the rise as well. Objectivity has become just another way of saying, "Re-state the party line."
And, of course, this is exactly what writers should never do.
But most writers do this. I think that seventy-five percent of what is written create no new spaces, offer no new insight. They do not point to things that as of yet have had no words or language with which to describe them. Instead, they act as tour guides, gesturing to established landmarks and monuments.
This is a very generous estimate -- It's probably a lot
higher. And all writers write, at various times, things that are
just the party line, and other times, write things that point
somewhere else. Whether or not the tour guide simply tripped
and pointed at something they didn't even want the tourists to
see, or if it is the intentional gesturing of a man on the street, it
really makes no difference.
© 1999 Stan Blakeman, all rights reserved
appears here by permission