What’s so important about the author? How do I subcreate the world of my books if that world is only me, the writer? Am I the world?
“It concerns our present purpose more to notice the assumed, and concealed, major premise that the cynicism and disillusionment put into the mouths of some Shakespearean characters are Shakespeare’s.” — CS Lewis, writing in THE PERSONAL HERESY: A CONTROVERSY; a book containing arguments, his and one other’s about the complete authorial personification of a given work of poetic art.
I fall on his side of the argument, believing that, as its maker, the work is not about me. I’m looking at something else and pointing out, or suggesting a view of, something–something else. The novel writer, in this case, works out of her knowledge and what she is learning, along with the muse (who is also interested in something besides the author). The only one who is making a work explicating the writer is the Maker of the writer, God. God is making me while I’m making something else. I would not want to spend two minutes let alone two years writing a book that is about me.
Others may interest themselves in that subject–writing about themselves–but, unlike the critics’ surmise I’m guessing they are aware of it when they do. Oneself as one’s subject can be engrossing and not unfair. But is it fair to take a work and psychoanalyze the maker of it from the words (art in poetry, prose)? I do think it doesn’t serve a work — the writer having put in much effort to share a thing — and then the reader’s maybe not interested in its contents, but using it to springboard …to something personal. Oddly, had the thing not been written I’d guess the critic practicing this disservice wouldn’t care two pennies, or spend two minutes thinking of or enjoying the actual person had he or she not written this particular something…. Unless the would-be critic was already disposed to such guesswork about the waitperson serving him or her from the kitchen?…
That’s what I love about words, humble things pointing to something else, not themselves. As a writer, especially when working on subtext, you pay close attention to which individual words you are using. It’s part of the craft that you have been practicing.
What bothers me, I think, besides the presumption of “the personal” approach, is the real disregard of what is being pointed, presented, or shown. It is almost like, or not unlike, my objection to using real people as “raw material”. There can never be enough care given our subject. We just don’t know enough about whatever the subject is. But careful crafting will show you what belongs and what doesn’t.
When I read–and write about–The Scarlet Letter I want to think not about Hawthorne, but about what he is tenderly delineating. I want to think about the story (especially), the people, the culture, setting, atmosphere, themes, the craft. I would not have cared for Hawthorne at all had he not written. Because he wrote I do care but it is impossible for me, in reading even the range of his work, to see much more of him than his understanding and sensibility. He is showing me what he sees. Why he is showing me (as reader) is more than I can say… except possibly that he cares very deeply about it. Because of his artistry I am very interested in what he portrays. In the end I can only guess at what it cost him to make something. And in writing about The Scarlet Letter, for instance, I do… guess at it. I use a single word to help me think about his work and what it cost him. The word is bosom.
Bosom means something besides its humble look of b-o-s-o-m. B-o-s-o-m looks like the word bosom on the page, some very tiny lines, circles, and squiggles. Or—in the mouth—a couple of rounded syllables. The bosom of Hester Prynne, I assume, was round and coupled. When I see or hear the word I’m not thinking of the word… but of what it points or suggests, especially metaphorically. A student trying to make sense of a work in a paper might wrestle it to the ground using this method: a single word can explicate a work (if not the work entire).
pet peeve: picking out a particular character as a writer’s express representation of self. –like culling a swedish meatball from a feast and calling it the cook.