04 June 2011

Thoughts for the Day: Imagination

The fact of the thing is this: We don't get to choose our teachers. If you're going to be an artist, or a thinker, or even a full person, you better be able to make yourself into something more than the shadow of someone else's bankrupt philosophies. You better be more than an obvious and predictable reaction.


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As imagination is considered a childlike, and often childish attribute, writers don’t learn to cultivate their imaginations. When writers don’t use their imaginations...state and capital do. So we arrange our white men up front and put the black men behind, parade our own pasts to the public for collective amusement—Look, I was poor, but then I wrote a book! Look, I drank too much, but then I stopped and wrote a book!—and retell the adventure stories we remember seeing on television as kids.  

Our first step is to see this stuff when we do it, to realize that we didn’t make this up. It was made up for us. The second step is to clear away as much of the mediagination as we can. And the third this step is to write, to really write from one’s own brain. Resist the “real”, as the real that can be articulated in a five-act dramatic structure with a likeable protagonist and a satisfying dénouement is not the real. Find your own imagination, and use it.

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Gertrude Stein: "It can easily be remembered that a novel is everything."

Accuse me again, if you like, of over-reaching.

The novel's capacity for failure. Its promiscuity, its verve. Always trying to attain the unattainable. Container of the uncontainable. Weird, gorgeous vessel. Voluptuous vessel.

Room for the random, the senseless, the heartbreaking to be played out. A form both compressed, distilled, and expansive enough to accommodate the most difficult and the most subtle states of being.

Musings, ideas, dreams, segues, shifts in key, athletic feats of imagination, leaps and swirls. Or small, nearly imperceptible progresses. The unarticulated arc of our lives.

Many fiction writers do not, I believe, acknowledge reality's remoteness, its mysteriousness. Its inaccessibility to us and to our modes of expression, though the novel is one of the very few good places for this sort of exploration.

Together, many novelists, now commodity makers, have agreed on a recognizable reality, which they are all too happy to impart as if it were true. Filled with hackneyed ways of perceiving, clichéd, old sensibilities, they and the publishing houses create traditions which have gradually been locked into place. They take for granted: the line, the paragraph, the chapter, the story, the storyteller, character.

I love most what the novel might be, and not what it all too often is.

Reach.

2 comments:

  1. To paraphrase Malcolm McLaren, learn to be a magnificent failure.

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  2. Fortunately I had time to follow the links to Coates and Mamatas. I thought the isolated quotes were cryptic, maybe even misleading.

    Might Coates' main point be usefully rephrased, that understanding people is part of writing; that your emotional reactions can't be validated by their intensity; that you have to examine yourself for deep ideological prejudices; that all these are consequences to the inability (or lack of desire) to imagine another viewpoint.

    Out of context, Mamatas' injunction that dramatic structure with hero and resolution isn't the real seems like another dreary insistence that the world is absurd and stuff just happens. In context, isn't really pleading for a deeper understanding of the distinctions between reality and realism in fiction and drama, implying a validity to non-realist modes of writing?

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