Surrealist Doodle

Surrealist Doodle
This was used as the cover of Karawane in 2006 and I have included it in on a number of bags and postcards over the years. Someone on the subway asked me if it was a Miro. I was very flattered!

Friday, September 09, 2016

What is Writing? (Revisited)

What is writing?

Writing is a technology that people use to communicate with one other, which can include personal expression and creativity but also includes passing along information, which may include discussion, instructions, news reports, etc.
I have done every type of writing there is to do, including technical manuals, how-to instruction manuals, business reports, resumes and cover letters, creative writing, and of course academic writing. This is why I take the expansive view of writing and see writing within a context. For me to teach my professional writing or tech writing students to express themselves would be absurd and useless to them,

I do not take Derrida’s view that writing or text includes speech. I think that is a way of hedging your bets and saying that everything is writing. I understand the desire to bring non-literate societies, if that is his intention, into the realm of writing or to set writing beside speech.

The act of composing, whether through writing or speech, whether it is thought out and planned or spontaneous, is another matter. But being raised in a literate household within a literate society, I also am/have become someone who thinks by writing but who also rehearses and composes out loud, so the process is more symbiotic for me than privileging one over the other at this point.

I love Roland Barthes and I spent Monday frolicking through his writings, including revisiting Death of the Author, which I find somewhat more interesting and nuanced than Foucault’s “what is an author,” which was published almost a year later, and I also revisited from Work to Text. I like Barthes Death of the Author because with the death of the author comes the birth of the reader and I firmly believe that the reader is, as has been explained to me, “a co-creator of meaning with the author.” Barthes’ Death of the Author also then gives rise to reader-response theories as well, which I, being an aberrant reader of books, pieces of theory, and of all media, tend to appreciate. Foucault does not appear to make much of this birth of the reader, as far as I can tell. He is more focused on the “author function” and what makes up a body of work and whether the Author Function should include laundry lists, for example, from Nietzsche, which is now going to be the title of a book or poem that I will write in the near or not-so-near future.

Probably a poem as I have determined that I do not have the attention span to write a book, although I will have to ostensibly write one for my PhD. So, I have determined that when I write expressively, I do not have such a long attention span and that is why I write poetry and something like short stories that may possibly include creative non-fiction or possibly what Kirsten described to me as flash-nonfiction. But I digress. Which I often do when I am writing expressively rather than to communicate. The Dadaist, the Surrealist in me loves to digress. There are few things as gratifying as a good, well-placed digression in writing/on the page.

I read Trotsky’s Literature and Revolution and I was somewhat surprised/somewhat not to “hear” him say that artistic impulses should not be subservient to political ideology. I think of Helene Lewis, author of Dada Turns Red who wrote that “The Surrealists, in their collective and anonymous art forms, succeeded in creating an anti-elitist art that acquired a new social meaning. Their belief that talent is irrelevant and that everyone has creative potential in his unconscious could be a perfect vehicle for a truly revolutionary art.” Surrealism tried to align itself with the new Revolutionary Russian government, but was rejected by the Supreme Soviet as, ironically, bourgeois.

Finally, I disagreed with Trotsky’s rejection of Russian Formalism/Futurism. He is very critical of Eichenbaum, Jakobsen, Schlovksy, et al, dismissing their poetry as mere linguistics, but one idea from the Formalists that I truly like is Shklovskij’s definition of estrangement or defamiliarization. The point of literature is to defamiliarize language so that we can see things again as they really are. Trotsky would also prove to be historically wrong in his support for Italian Futurism, which directly supported Fascism.

In the end, though, I am somewhat catholic in my beliefs about writing. There is a split in me between the English teacher who believes that everyone can be taught to write reasonably well and teaches all kind of writing, and the poet/writer/theorist in me which is attracted to all kinds of theory and finds a little bit of truth in each one, who can be swayed by contradictory arguments, for “I am large and contain multitudes” and I can hold several different ideas about writing, speech composing, and text in mind at the same time.

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