Sunday, August 28, 2011
The relative "storylessness" of blogging is, to me at least, simultaneously one of its most terrifying and attractive features. In order to understand this, please put yourself for a moment in the shoes of a young man with literary dreams. How do you begin to pursue those dreams? More importantly, how do you articulate what the realization of those dreams would look like to you, were it to happen?
The simple answer to both these questions is probably quite similar to the one you'd give a young person pursuing any other type of achievement: you model your life after your heroes as best you can and then hope, wish, pray that your own talents fit or perhaps refit the world. For a fiction writer, at least as I have understood it, such a mimesis basically boils down to an apprenticeship spent accumulating notice, then the big breakthrough (novel), then, ahem, the rest of your life, which is both a continual trial and a sort of Swiss dale, over whose daisy-covered fields you twirl like James Franco in a habit.
Fair enough - but then what about blogging? Compared with such a solid, straightforward, though admittedly quite trying quest (for, as Rilke says, an artist is "In love with the difficult") it looks decidedly shaggy. Young and unofficial, it compares to the larger career-narrative the way waitressing or a summer hiking would - that is, as a diversion from, but also preparation for, something much more serious. People who spend too much time at it might enjoy themselves for a while, but their self-indulgence may put them at risk for that most dire of conditions, Unpaid Eccentricity. They may find their energies diverted, into tide pools that, while comfortable, will eventually force those same energies to adopt their own stunted proportions.
In describing the problem this way - as a choice between embracing one's plot or punking out (as my most aggressively-narrative teacher wrote in the margins of one of my stories) - I am of course being stinkingly American, which both means something and doesn't since these days anyone can become American by brushing their teeth. I am describing the plot lines of countless movies and books, which is both completely natural and also strange, since who says my life is ever going to look anything like what I've seen or read? But then how do I not think this? How do I somehow step outside the story I've been writing around myself without trading my status as hero for a bit part that asks me only to deliver my catchphrase once an episode and then leave, so that the real drama can proceed without me?
Blogging vehemently refuses to answer these questions, which is one of the things I find most appealing about it. There's no story to it yet; and because there's no story, there's nothing to distract me from the actual moment and act of writing. The sweet spot seems so much closer, my face so much closer to the page. Ridiculous, given that there's no page for my nose to be close to... but there it is. The world outside the story, before the story, nameless, which is to say utterly able to call names out of us. In David Malouf's beautiful novel An Imaginary Life, which I finished last night as lightning stepped around Portland like a giant looking for his dropped glasses, Ovid (imagined Ovid, real Ovid) imagines this state:
The earth, now that I am about to leave it, seems so close at last...Round the base of these roots, seeking refuge amongst them as in a forest, finding food, are the smaller creatures - wood lice, ants, earwigs, earthworms, beetles, another world and another order of existence, crowded and busy about its endless process of creation and survival and death.
For me, Malouf here is describing the world beyond stories, or rather (as he perfectly intuits), the world beneath them. This is the world I need - not "want", but really need, since why would I open my mouth (which I am of course not really doing, any more than I'm putting my face close to a printed page) if not to name even the smallest part of it? Mimesis, which entails both imitation and, beneath that, attention, praise, generosity, remains the whole fucking point, no matter what the medium. Organs are useful insofar as they facilitate our part in that process, bringing us closer, not just to the literal earth, but to the shared and personal ground of lived experience.
But can novels still do that? Can blogging?
Images: Publicity still for Circle in the Square production of Ovid's Metamorphoses; Publicity photo from New Platz's production of same; Poster for Whistler in the Dark's adaptation of Ted Hughes's Tales from Ovid