Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Does it matter the world passed me by?



A month both without English media and the internet. The idea had been to keep up with things via internet cafes, but they were further away from the accommodation and more difficult to come by than imagined. Emails were answered but there was no time or inclination to stay online in places which did not have the comforts of my study.

Back a week, a few cursory web forays stirred little enthusiasm. Checking my weblogs for comments and to remind me what I wrote last, had a feeling it might be better to write all this stuff in private notebooks. What possible reason is there for using a public arena? There are two reasonable reasons for sharing: criticism and yet further information; addition and subtraction. The best thing the weblog seem to offer for the writer in me is an appearance of being forced to get thoughts down quickly straight to a post rather than to plan and prepare in advance. The best image: the newspaper editor with all those blank pages to fill.

With a reasonable novel written by a scientist acquired serependipitously while away to keep me occupied - and the renewed habit of reading fiction - checking lit weblogs didn't seem to have the urgency it once did. Where to start? How much to read? Why I don't know, but it started at Chekov's Mistress, where there was something new to me at least: Metaxucafe

A stir at mention of Musil's anniversary: still struggling second time around on vol 1, though know his life and of his work quite well through Burton Pike's Robert Musil: An Introduction to his work. A jolt on reading in Book World of the death of Fowles: re-read TFLW only a short while ago attempting to find best way to write a story I had in mind.

Fowles was of interest to me as much because of the way he was a writer than what he wrote. His fossiking with fossils and curatorship of the little museum up the high street from the cob in Lyme Regis was according to an interview he gave [http://wiredforbooks.org/johnfowles/ ] the need for a writer to have another smaller job.
How and why he included all that geology and biology in TFLW was part of his personal story as much as the story he wrote.

The general line of current criticism of his novels seems to be that he stopped writing them in 1985. The implication: young people read novels and they want to be seen to be reading the ones that count. You don't need to read the novels: read about them and the author. Read bits of them if you can't face the whole lot. Half the entertainment in reading is in why we could start or finish certain ones while other found no difficulty.

Many writers can't write any more novels and are left stranded like beached whales; many write more novels which they might have left unwritten. Fowles was not unique in writing a dud or two and living on long beyond his best work, though another example isn't coming immediately to mind. It seems rather unfair to throw his diaries at his ouvre. A person has to have somewhere to throw his bile.

A writer whose life went into his books like Fowles was Durrell: a tantalisation of the Alexandra Quartet is how much all the goings in the fiction he participated in or witnessed. Waugh too: we know he wrote book after book which were essentially brilliantly written transcriptions of a life. There are writers whose lives have no bearing on their work. Martin Amis comes to mind except only in his first novel, The Rachel Papers. A Fowles or Waugh or Durrell would be fascinating without their novels. Not true of Amis II, though quite true of Amis I.

One thing John Fowles gives is way for a
a way for an aspiring writer to imagine how he or she might end up once famous. Fowles: secluded in Lyme Regis at the top of the hill for decades: he, a nature lover; his first wife a townie by inclination. The extracts from the diaries in the Grauniad are pretty up front about this.

The writer, famous, conscious of his fame, framing his fame in a writerly context. We have learnt Fowles was a difficult man: the essence, or maybe stereotype - or should it be archetype - of the selfish writer, subsuming other lives to his grand project.

...

No desire to get my recent experiences down on paper immediately. Happy to let them stew. There is a physical reason, too. Being calm enough not to be concerned about losing everything is great. Feeling confident of retrieving the core of it - even hoping that when something does get written down it will be more essence than detail - and not being worried about whether I will be able to or not, is uplifting. Empowering is what someone might use rather than uplifting: I can't use that word because I hate it, and its connotations, to death. I can spend more time just thinking, in a diffuse sort of way, about events, knowing that in due course an idea or two will pop up.

....

One idea that arrived as I write is the notion about Rilke and Ronda. That's his bust above by the way, standing lonely on one of the many terraces of the gardens of the Reina Victoria. He looks west towards the mountains of the Guadiaro valley. I have been before to Andalucia several times for shorter stays. My original idea about him adventuring in the immediate countryside was probably false. The view from the Reina Victoria is enough for any man, poet or not.
...

One of the things i want to get into some writing (and by means of some of the many photographs I took) is the simple fact of how a mountain profile can completely change its look in a few degrees. Now it is understandable how easy it was for explorers to get lost. They assumed the shape of the skyline would stay pretty much the same, from which to orienteer, but would find a completely different picture in only a few more strides. Since I know this myself now, I want to find writers of fiction and non-fiction who have mentioned it, and how they have expressed it.

There are of course the analogical and metaphorical uses of such experiences. The changes of physical perpective fixed in a concrete and easily explained case to show how people are constantly changing, presenting unexpected faces.

Although a writer might be able to create fiction through sheer genius, it seems unlikely anything much could come out of such an effort without deep and meaningful experiences to back-up and underly the text. I have started Peter Robb's "A Death in Brazil", which is subtitled: A Book of Omissions. That is the thing I have always seen as important in writing and film. The break away has helped me to focus on it more and more as a route into the best in creativity. Less is more in art, yet in something like travel writing, it is the accummulation of little details which keeps the reader reading, not the cartoon brevity of sparse but meaningful and beautiful prose or poetry.


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