15 October 2009

the nature of writing, thinking, existing


I was struck by reading this quote, several years ago, when organising a photo diary.
We saw that Life did not narrate, but made impressions on our brains. We, in turn, if we wished to produce on you an effect of life, must not narrate but render impressions.
Ford Madox Ford, writing to Joseph Conrad

It helped me understand what I was doing, organising an impressionistic photodiary with written content... before the rise of Web2 technologies, using the beauty of old html.

The statement also impacts my writing. There is a strange tendency in reading, for many if not most to want a clear story, when in most of our lives, stories around us are far from clear, the inside of our heads are not clear. So one objective in my writing is to stay inside this 'disclarity' or reality, not make it all too easy. It is valuable to read about the unreality of reality to keep balance in all this. Start here perhaps.

This however brings the writer into the arena of consideration of 'tacit knowledge'. We all have things in our head, local, personal, family knowledge that shapes what we say and how we say it and how we interpret what others say. The difficulty in being too impressionistic is the extent to which the writer may fail to make clear the tacit background, without which the impression is meaningless.

As a first step, the impression obligation is to describe rather than put a value on the object. Too easy to poison a text with own values, not just in saying "he was ugly" rather than that "he stood in the shadow and seemed part of the shadow, dark, short, eyes fixed on me, mouth open as if about to damn me." That's pretty obvious, but in writing I am trying to step right away back from judgement; the characters have feelings, that's for them, they are articulate, but their credibility depends also on depth of reader empathy, which means the reader needs to be able to understand why their feelings are thus and be willing to share that. I am now committed (after several other starts) to the opening in my entry below "Writing fiction" (12 October, my time) but it has seemed too mysterious, so I have added this current day reverie ahead of it:

  1. Slow Steam Train, Xining to Beijing, March 1975
You sit on the top of this hill and look to the sea, alone with this view this early morning. You are alone; it is hard every day to connect, hard to connect also with your own life so much of which seems so far away. People around you seem to have lives they regard as complex, they look at you as nothing, as outsider, some as unwelcome; or, some of them, as foreign trophy. You must be, it seems, the refugee who can’t really be a refugee because she doesn’t seem to have anything wrong with her. Wrong with you? What these days is right? What has been right when? You look back to when you were eighteen, to one of the many hinge points of your existence, etched with acid on you at the other side of the earth. Your mind drifts to sharp recall, always you can recall that time. You sit in warming sun and drowse and jerking through your sleep you can recall it all, the cold of the Qinghai plateau north of Tibet, the comfort of routine in the prison farm, the fear of travelling back from there…