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Monday, February 05, 2007

Andre Aciman, Saul Bellow, & E.L. Doctorow

Reading "Writers on Writing" has been a tour de force about writing from the perspective of different authors. Some are serious and some not so serious, but they all share the same premise: why write? Andre Aciman explains it beautifully: "We alter the truth on paper so as to alter it in fact; we lie about our past and invent surrogate memories the better to make sense of our lives and live the life we know was truly ours. We write about life, not to see it as it was, but to see it as we wish others might see it, so we may borrow their gaze and begin to see our life through their eyes, not ours." This is why I believe we lie. Ultimately we all want to put our best foot forward and expect characters we invent to fulfill lives we would never get to live. Like the parent living his/her incompleteness through their kids, writers often demand more from their characters than they can give. Inventing a past also erases the bad taste of unfulfilled dreams, broken hearts, tremendous defeats, etc. I know for a fact that that is why I lie--to safeguard myself from embarrassment.

Saul Bellow takes up issue with how a new trend of competition between literature and film has left an audience fragmented in attention. He cites a "Wall Street Journal" reporter who states that "[f]or Americans under the age of 30, film has replaced the novel as the dominant mode of artistic expression." That may be true, painfully so. I know for a fact that most of my students' cultural references come from films that they have watched. We might be losing the literati generation to the visual seduction of film. Some will say that films need to be written, and that writing is inarguably part of the process. But it is not so much being part of the process as it is on how to consume the product. Books force you to pace yourself; films are basically instant gratification due to the fact that we process it through visual/auditory paths. Bellow concludes that technology will never be able to give the audience "what they so badly need."

E.L. Doctorow picks up where Bellow leaves off. Neither one is a Luddite of any sorts, but they both attack the film establishment in their defense of literature. Doctorow states: "Film deliterates thought; it relies primarily on an association of visual impressions or understandings. Moviegoing is an act of inference. You receive what you see as a broad band of sensual effects that evoke your intuitive nonverbal intelligence." The defense of literature is an edgy movement. When one becomes a reader, it is nearly impossible for one to understand why people watch so much television, or talk "intelligently" about films that they have seen. One wonders if the current trend continues, how would we discourse on the aesthetic? What would we implied about the visual that the textual hasn't already given us (that is if we decide to accept it). I might really be a Luddite, but I do enjoy some television. What we have gotten away from is the idea that the visual of the textual takes place in the mind, and that those mental processes are all different. To each one of us a Borges story evokes different visual (mental) context. All three of these authors questioned where do we go from here. Literature may very well be on the way out. I fear not.

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At 9:51 PM, Blogger Lover of Books said...

I hope that books are not on the way out. I love them. I may not have a lot of room but I LOVE them!

At 10:44 PM, Blogger Susan Abraham said...

What a fantastic, enriching post you offer as always.
A few individual thoughts:
I was a reader and writer from very young but have always loved the cinema & television. It's like I present a balance for myself with all these passions and don't feel that one enroaches over the other. I have learnt so much from talk shows eg. - on how to present and answer controversial interviews & arguments. I have cried over beautiful dialogue in films and used surreal scenes & moods to shape my dreams, my stories and my destiny.

I also became an avid collector of world films - such an easy way to embrace foreign traditions & cultures and it started from first watching films on the telly especially Ingmar Bergman's swedish films where he produced such crisp curt dialogue underlying intese emotions in its tightest form, that it became a living art.

As for what Anchiman says about writing, I disagree that he would speak for me, even if he does speak for others.
I write simply because I love to write and not because I need characters and plots for a more fulfilling life. I also tend to write a lot on my past without making it sound happy in times when it wasn't - but I capture the plot differently from when I wrote it - not with lies but with a deeper sense of introspection and hindsight.

Thank you, JCR. :-)

At 5:41 PM, Blogger Orange Blossom Goddess (aka Heather) said...

movies and tv help to provide a visual accompaniment - I personally am able to imagine up something very enriching most of the time but for instance the Lord of the Rings became and even more amazing experience for me.

sorry for rambling.

At 2:01 AM, Blogger Susan Abraham said...

Thank you once more, JCR, for stopping by and leaving a lovely comment on my post yesterday. Much appreciated. :-)


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