I began reading this on Megan’s recommendation. I was interested in ideas that Lessing talks about in her introduction: the contruction of a single mode of criticism, and therefore a singular influence on artists which forces them to write in a particular way. As Lessing describes, it does seem like a lot of critics sit down as if about to mark an essay. They look for particular things in a work, and if these thing are not present, then the writer is bound to be marked down.
It got me thinking about Foucault, and the construction of knowledge and truth, and how these things change with each generation, each revolution. It made me think about the value of our feedback in workshop, and whether we are right to try and persuade each writer of what we believe their story needs. Didn’t they set out with a feeling? Something that had to be communicated? Didn’t they have some pure intention to begin with? I guess a lot of our work tends to deal with uncovering that pure intention, making it clear. I’m not sure. I can’t be sure if what we’ve done amounts to a lot of posturing that will be forgotten quickly, or if we’ve made some real progress (as a group of writers, not for the sake of writing in general).
Sometimes I feel that we’ve been wading through mud, trying and failing to get to some elevated spot of land. I often feel that my brain is, in some sense, a mess, trying to grasp upon something fleeting and insubstantial. And then sometimes I feel that some great seismic shift was taking place in there, as if my mind was land that could be subject to some great upheaval, then settle back to its original shape, but not quite.
I read an interview with Michael Leunig the other day in which he laments the younger generation’s lack of chance to flirt with impossible ideas, to begin projects bound to fail. He says there is too much pressure from glamour, too much pressure on our inner authenticity and originality. I think of how everything we believe now may be seen to be narrowminded pap in one hundred years, and the way we’ve lived our lives and the things we’ve chosen to hold up as art may look like a waste.
Of course, some things survive. Great works survive and live on to be read and appreciated by other generations. Not everything we believe is crap surely. Our purest memories (pretty influenced by Cheever here, I think!) may still be worthy, if only because of the hope we had when we wrote them down.
I know my work has changed this year. I feel like I’ve gained something and lost something at the same time. I feel like I’ve come a step closer to knowing how to write a proper story. It’s not the great leaps and bounds I imagined at the beginning of the year. It’s a reasonably sober feeling, actually. Like, ok, the work and the thinking will never stop. You will never get to a place where this is easy and words flow from your pen like blood. And it shouldn’t be easy. I hope that I can keep getting closer to writing a good story and at the same time keep questioning everything that I write and believe. I imagined that I would finish this course and let the dust settle and everything I had learned would become clear. But now I think that probably won’t happen. Things will always be cloudy and moving just as you think you’ve got a hold on them.
I found the Te Papa session with Gigi Fenster, Kirsten McDougall and Lawrence Patchett very heartening. Just as I believed everything I’d written this year was terrible, formulaic and so on, they vindicated me in those thoughts. It is crap, they said. They didn’t continue with the work they’d done in their masters. They put it away and forgot it, wrote something new and better. But it was the experience, the churning of the mind that helped them get there in the first place. I hope something of the sort happens to me. That I can put away these little stories that seem so hardwon and then pick up my pen and write again, and again, each time getting closer to some thought that struck me like lightning, and then I couldn’t find again.