Wednesday, September 14, 2016

What's Going on When We Read and Write

“I believe my greatest service to honest men is to warn them against the imbeciles and bastards who cynically exploit their deepest fears.” 
~ Georges Bernanos    

“When customers visit the bookstore and tell her Amazon is cheaper: ‘I’m like, ‘You cannot come in, soak up what we have, talk to the staff, get recommendations, then go home and buy the book on Amazon. If you do, I will hunt you down and smack you around.'”  Ann Patchett: ‘If writers are to survive we must take responsibility for ourselves and our industry’

So Wells Fargo Does Like Artists? The bank launched a new ad campaign that suggested that artists were the “before” state on the path to the “after” of successful careers. After artists protested, the bank quickly pulled the ads. But the fact that the ads could get through the agency that created them and the bank officials who okayed them suggests a mainstream attitude about the place of artists in our culture. “Wells Fargo’s misbegotten ad campaign was merely the latest salvo in the ongoing disparagement of the arts and humanities as academic concentrations and career destinations, a refrain that is almost always paired with cheers for ostensibly more lucrative fields. … And it reflects a particular American tendency: to place the blame for massive social problems on the individual.”

"I like saying things you’re not supposed to say."

Made of Sterner Stuff: On Roald Dahl and ‘Love From Boy'

“You are utterly familiar with the rule of ablaut reduplication. You’ve been using it all your life. It’s just that you’ve never heard of it. But if somebody said the words zag-zig, or ‘cross-criss you would know, deep down in your loins, that they were breaking a sacred rule of language. You just wouldn’t know which one.” The Rules Of Language We All Know But Can’t Name

The metamorphosis of Adrienne Rich. Patronizingly praised by Auden for poems that “speak quietly,” she developed a voice of Towering Rage 
When Plath encountered her, Rich had ostensibly settled into marriage and maternity. Her husband, Alfred Conrad, a Harvard economist, was simpatico and reasonably supportive. Yet soon enough the young poet began to rebel against the implications of her own decision to bear children in her mid-20s. In Of Woman Born, another classic text of  ’70s feminism, Rich examined with unusual frankness the anxieties and ambivalences of maternity. Though she confided that she loved her sons deeply—and was evidently close to them throughout her life—she argued that “every mother has known overwhelming, unacceptable anger at her children.” And at her husband. For like Plath, Rich was slowly skidding toward a marital breakup. Unlike Plath, she survived the pain. Instead, seven years after Plath gassed herself in a London oven, leaving two children for Ted Hughes to raise, Alfred Conrad drove in a rented car to the family’s Vermont country home and shot himself, leaving his wife with three young boys and a weight of grief that went for many years unwritten.

A rambling 1950 letter from Neal Cassady to Jack Kerouac that helped inspire “On the Road” will be auctioned next month by Christie’s in New York, apparently bringing to an end an 18-month legal battle over its ownership.

The 16,000-word typed letter, which carries an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000, had been considered lost before it surfaced in the discarded files of Golden Goose Press, a now-defunct small San Francisco publisher, and listed for sale by a Southern California auction house in 2014. That auction was suspended after the Kerouac estate and Cassady’s children said they were the owners.

Jami Cassady, a spokeswoman for the family, told The San Francisco Chronicle this week that the three parties had reached “an amicable settlement.” She also said the family, which owns the copyright on the letter, intended to publish it at some point.

The missive, known as the Joan Anderson letter, after a woman with whom Cassady described an amorous relationship, had been known only from a fragment, apparently retyped by Kerouac, that was published in 1964. In an interview in 1968, Kerouac said he had got the idea of the “spontaneous style” of “On the Road” from “seeing how good old Neal Cassady wrote his letters to me, all first person, fast, mad, confessional, completely serious, all detailed, with real names in his case, however (being letters).”

“It was the greatest piece of writing I ever saw, better’n anybody in America, or at least enough to make Melville, Twain, Dreiser, Wolfe, I dunno who, spin in their graves,” Kerouac said.

After receiving the letter Kerouac lent it to Allen Ginsberg, who passed it along to another poet, who was living on a houseboat, who “lost the letter, overboard, I presume,” Kerouac said. Instead, it was sent to the offices of Golden Goose for possible publication, but went unnoticed for decades, according to Christie’s

`What's Going on When We Read and Write'

“It is not wise to look too hard at what’s going on when we read and write, for in both we are dithering around on the boundary between the demonstrable world and the inviolably private world of our minds.”

It surprises me, but I think more and become more self-examining while reading than writing. Reading is intimate. Our minds mingle with others. Reading, by definition, is collaborative. No one reads alone. We read many pages and think: “I remember nothing I have just read.” Or: “I want to read that again.” Or: “I must copy that in the notebook.” All suggest an ongoing engagement with the author, a conversation of equal parts censure and congratulation.

Writing is more instinctive, less self-conscious; more like turning on the faucet than tossing the salad. The first sentence has already appeared. We transcribe it, and it leads to another. It’s as though we clear the mind of distraction in order to read the words that already exist, inscribed with the aid of every worthy writer we have ever read. Then comes revision. “Dithering” is dangerous. The words are a gift. 

The sentence quoted above is from Guy Davenport’s postscript to Twelve Stories (Counterpoint, 1997). Davenport also says each of his story collections “was meant to be the last,” and the final story in Da Vinci’s Bicycle(Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979), “A Field of Snow on a Slope of the Rosenberg,” “ends with a farewell to writing.” Here is the third-to-last paragraph of that story, narrated by Robert Walser in his Swiss asylum:

“And their books, these people who keep writing, who reads them? It is now a business like any other. I try not to bore them with an old man’s talk when they come, the few who want to ask me about writing, about the time before both the wars, about Berlin. I do not tell them how much of all that misery was caused by writers, by men who said they were writers. I do not tell them that I quit writing because I had nothing at all, any more, to say.”