The most recent paper came out somewhat differently, and I've been thinking of posting it here for weeks. It seems to belong here, even if a lot of the context around it is missing. Since I haven't gathered my thoughts on writing very well recently (I'm okay, I just keep butting up against bad timing and other things to occupy me), here it is.
Rachel Blau DuPlessis says a poetics gives us permission to continue. The 38 women in that workshop in Ojai: many if not most needed permission. They needed to be told that they deserved to take up space, that their stories were worth hearing, that they were loved, that their voices were beautiful. I did not need to hear any of this. I do not need permission to continue. I am continuing; it’s not a matter of deserve or desire. It is. Like the sunrise. Like the smog.
Filmmaker --> writer. That’s how I see my progression. My poetics was once obsessive recordation of eyelines, “was verbing” to give the sense of the reader having walked in on a scene, blocking, incessant narration from over the shoulder of the narrator. Film is how I learned to see, and seeing is how I thought writing worked. So for years I mashed the two together, film and language, and nothing I wrote was good.
Now I am interested in Woolfian and Proustian and Faulknerian sentences, and the infinite variety of English syntax, but I don’t know if I integrate a genuine philosophy of language into what I write. The Ceremonials project might help me to answer that. In the meantime, I listen. Carefully.
That goes for the conversation I want to have with other writers. I am not interested in political writing, except for the personal being political. I am not interested in the Great American Novel, or in experimentalism that is mainly, in one professor’s word, peacockery. I am interested in placing my work in a tradition, but I’m befuddled by what that tradition is, whether it is the Biblical and Roman and Greek stories that informed the entire Western canon until the mid-twentieth century, or…not. I really do think it’s a problem of American writers of this age, that we/they have no foundation from which to work, no agony of Bloomian influence. Should I get myself a classical education? Should I call the strange twentieth century itself my bedrock?
I am listening for an answer. I read and I listen. But there is no baritone note beneath so much contemporary American writing, no might that feels as elemental as Melville or Faulkner or even (George) Eliot.
We Americans, we are orphans. That’s fortunate, as I, a military daughter, am an orphan of place.
I’ve just reread my first strike at this poetics paper. I like it well enough. I wrote about film and language being my weft and warp (the linen is my life); later I found these words in What Our Speech Disrupts [my professor's book about writing]. The chapter on poetics convinced me to take the longer view in this essay instead.
Let me restate that permission to continue is not what I require. A dim understanding of what I do well and what I do better hampers me, often. Truth, and what is for me a maddening liminal space between nonfiction and fiction, is almost certainly my triggering subject, although I have not yet satisfactorily written about it in nine damn years.
I thought I wanted to write about pop culture, but I’m not sure of that anymore. Only inasmuch as John Haskell does, I suppose. I write probably too much about violence against women, and I doubt that will change. Hamlet is sewn into my synapses. Do I possess a missing Derridean center in the place where literary tradition ought to be?