The POD People blog has the first in what promises to be a series of posts by Cheryl Anne Gardner on the craft of writing. What’s the craft all about? Judging from the two quotes listed, it’s about tearing away the veil — getting the reader or audience to experience something directly and completely.
To wit, Bacon: “We nearly always live through screens — a screened existence. And sometimes I think, when people say my work looks violent, that perhaps I have from time to time been able to clear away one or two of those veils or screens.” And Shlovsky: “Art exists that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things.”
There’s a few possible ways to regard all this. The first is something akin to what Robert Rauschenberg said: “I am trying to check my habits of seeing, to counter them for the sake of greater freshness. I am trying to be unfamiliar with what I’m doing.” Wiping away the patina of habit means you get to see something in ways not previously anticipated, and then thus charged with the joy of discovery, you run off to share that with others. That for me is the best one: you’re taking down one wall so that you might put up a bay window.
The other way to think about it is not through any one description of it but through a discussion of its symptoms: the escalating need to shock because that’s the only way you think you can “get through to people these days” or some variation of that silly formula. Lester Bangs put it this way in this discussion of Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music: “Why do people go to see movies like Jaws … ? So they can get beaten over the head with baseball bats, have their nerves wrenched while electrodes are being stapled to their spines, be generally brutalized at least once every fifteen minutes or so … This is what’s understood today as entertainment, as fun, as art even!” This is the death of Rauschenberg’s kind of questing: it’s what Jacques Barzun was talking about when he said that if the real reason any work of art existed was to give us a frisson, a thrill, then we should just dump art and substitute it for a charge of dynamite under the nearest bush. (Or in our mouths.)
Most people who know me know I am a champion of some pretty uncompromising things: Salò, Irreversible, Last Exit to Brooklyn / Requiem for a Dream, Journey to the End of the Night, Berserk, etc. Not because these things are in themselves over-the-top, but because they put back up at least as much as they tear down. Just like it says on the back of Einstürzende Neubauten’s Drawings of Patient O.T.: “Destruction is not negative, you must destroy to build” — sure, but you have to also remember to do both of those things. Otherwise you end up in the same position as Alfred Jarry, who wanted to not only reduce all that was to ruins, but reduce the ruins themselves to ruins — Sisyphus with a sledgehammer. The truth hurts, but that doesn’t mean telling the truth has to amount to sadism of a sort.
Final note. Cheryl says “My own work primarily deals with love, romance, and societal dogma, on the surface, but ultimately my stories are that of redemption.” I don’t know what my own writing is “about” or what it “deals with” because stuff like that is usually applied after the fact by critics who have a totally inapposite idea of what you had in mind when you sat down to write the thing anyway. I try to keep such thoughts practical: I have what I think is a cracking good story in mind and I’d like to share it with you. And if I have something above and beyond that to share with you, it’ll come through the story on its own accord. I don’t think I can force it out, like someone stomping on a tube of toothpaste to get out that last little bit. You’re going to embody the world-view you have in your work no matter what you do, so the best thing is to write the best damn story you can and let everything else take care of itself.