Monthly Archives: January 2015

… the gulf between writers and readers …

This post was sparked by a stimulating and taxing interview Philippa Rees conducted with the writer Vivienne Tuffnell  P1060427lower - CopyThe interview attempts to re-define the gulf between writers and readers in the way commercial algorithms define values for readers, blanking out the appearance of new green shoots.

This disrupted my sleep, in addition to lots of other stuff going on, so I tried stepping back for a wider perspective. No answers, only a few muddled reflections …

My generation, whose early years were without TV, needed to adjust to rapid periods of change, particularly the change from analogue to digital recording, – two entirely different metaphors. The true significance of this shift has not yet been absorbed by the general public.  In a dissertation during a sabbatical film degree as a mature student in the mid-nineties, I quoted Jean Baudrillard  who saw the forced silence of the masses no longer as sign of passivity or alienation, but as ironic and antagonistic. He commented on the strategy of the masses:

‘… refusal of meaning and refusal of speech; or of the hyper-conformist simulation of the very mechanism of the system, which is another form of refusal by over-acceptance. It is the actual strategy of the masses … it is the winning one today, because it is the most adapted to the present phase of the system.’ Moroc, Marrakech Riad roof, golden vision - low

I recognised this as the Zeitgeist  gradually reaching across the globe. My continuous studies, driven by curiosity and endless questions, prepared me, but I still find it difficult to accept a reality where, for many otherwise intelligent people, the beautiful term ‘soul’ has lost its impact. I place the word carefully in my work and in my writing to avoid bias. Marion Woodman  uses it powerfully … ‘Our very survival depends on spirit embracing soul.’  

The quote becomes poignant through experience, not theory.

Don Cupitt – a philosopher of religion who rejects authoritarianism, once said … ‘The soul, the self, has died. The self in an animal with cultural inscriptions on its surface.’ Sobering, and true, depending of course from which plane of experience one perceives.

In our present culture the commercial speed train whistles through every zone of life. Publishers are among many enterprises struggling to survive amidst overproduction. The ‘Road Closed Pending Repairs’ signs Philippa refers to in her interview grow like mushrooms. Small businesses, for example, vanish at an alarming rate, at least in my little town. Be it a supermarket or a bookshop, I’m bombarded with buy-one-get-one-free or two for three offers. Plenty of people I know look beyond the more-is-better and cheaper hype, but their numbers won’t topple the algorithm-driven logic of mass-cargo firms like Amazon (click for latest newsletter.) Their long term strategy is to please the consumer, which, now, increasingly, includes writers who self-publish … To make profit in an oversaturated market requires ever-new smart inventions.

Works not created from templates, but from inside out, which, sigh,  includes my novels, will struggle to find a position on consumer maps. Traditional meanings are collapsing.  New genres for books are proposed. The box marked cross-genre sounds like a stir fry of left overs. How, as a writer, does one shoulder the marketing speech for novels not fitting into boxes? Crime? No! Romance? No! Religious? No! Paranormal? No! Sci Fi? No! Fantasy? No!

The distillation of a life’s experience, a work of creative imagination? What’s that?

Authors of such ilk have the formidable and possibly worthwhile task of writing their own obituary. Are any of the thoughts a writer expresses original? I don’t think so. Thoughts happen to us. What’s original is their processing and linking based on personal experience, which may offer a new window of reference. I look at my bookshelves and ponder what I would have missed had the authors whose works snuggle up to each other had lost faith in their work. Few commercially produced genre books leave impressions that live on. They’ll drown in ISBN databanks. Our shelves at home hold unique books that surprised and inspired us over the years, and until we become cyborgs and can, with a mere thought, make book pages fall open on any surface of our choice, this will not change soon.

I admire self-published writers. Vivian published several novels herself,  as did Philippa, which speaks for their tenacity and belief in their work. And I admire Philippa’s poignant questions, and how Vivienne exposes herself to them …

the very uniqueness you want to write about? Could you define why that is so difficult? Is it simply too much surrounding noise? Or something else?

‘… is writing the way in which we confront out existential loneliness, and are readers who ‘get’ and share that now the substitutes for lovers?’ 

MercatsSuch questions and similar ones are worth their salt, and expose our vulnerability … do writers, any artists, want to be truly seen? Is one person’s interpretation of truth going to be interesting to others? Will the public feel preached to? Such questions haunt many of the most inspired artists, poets and writers who weave works from layers and layers of their psyche. To expect an instant resonance from crowds will bring deep disappointment.

And yet, the most deeply personal experiences, combined with some magic ingredient of presentation, can, over time, have universal appeal. Stan Brakhage, an experimental filmmaker, put it this way … ‘I had the concept of everything radiating out of me, and that the more personal and egocentric I would become the deeper I would reach and the more I would touch those universal concerns which would involve all men.’

If I’m positive about the future it comes from an understanding in tune with Walter Benjamin  … ‘Technology, instead of liberating us from myth, confronts us as a force of a second nature just as overpowering as the forces of a more elementary nature in archaic times.’

To me, this means learning and unlearning accelerates in condensed time. Think how we make ourselves visible by blogging. How brave and scary to step in front of a public mirror … Virtual or not, the psychological process of engaging with virtual friends and foes is totally real. Sherry Turkle expressed this … ‘I believe that our experience with virtual reality, with artificial life are serious play; our need for a practical philosophy of self-knowledge has never been greater.’ My self-understanding is now aided by the relationship with people I have not met face to face – I never shook hands with or exchanged a hug with Vivienne, but I emphasise with her loss of joy, and her frustration with the ironic and antagonistic attitudes of people who belittle deeper strands of truth for fear of looking inside, and the sense of being a square peg that doesn’t fit the neat round hole of genres and algorithms.

Many writers will recognise these obstacles, including Philippa, and myself. How do we attract and persuade people to sample the green growth in our plot? At the same time, I’m convinced we are co-creating artists of our continuous self-invention. Mourning a not-yet existing frame for our work  might hinder this process, which moves and dances naturally through each breath. And I’m heartened by how writers and poets influence us over time.

A poet and mystic from over 800 years back examplifies this phenomenon …

‘The minute I heard my first love story I started looking for you, not knowing how blind I was. Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere. They’re in each other all along.’ – Rumi

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… time to appreciate my work …

Yesterday a friend called my home a little palace. The semi has a lot going for it – road & off-road parking, a lovely back garden which opens additional living-space in summer, provided there is enough of a sunny summer. Over the years I had my share of annoyances coming through the adjoining walls – the TV of an old man who didn’t believe in hearing aids, a couple who screamed at each other every other night, and recently a developer who put up an extension and is now gutting the house to create an open-living space …

P1070069 - smallerSo when I saw the ad for a Chapel not far from where I live, my imagination soared – I envisaged part-ceilings with upstairs galleries and features of functional beauty – a little palace without adjoining walls, right?

That was until I popped over to look at the place. I guess the Parish cashed in on the adjoining land before they sold the Chapel as bargain to someone with a dream, who, unable to realise it, let a few years go by and is now hoping for profit – from another dreamer.

While the green roof enchants, the boundaries of the plot permit only a shoulder-hunched walk around the building. There is no room to park a car, let alone a builder’s van, without blocking a footpath or the narrow lane.

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P1070070 - smaller

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My sudden surge of energy, I understand, is in line with spring and, to come to the point, my need to overcome an obstruction that is pervading all else in my life, namely the dwindling hope that a publishing contract I signed nearly two years ago is going to result in the launch of my novels. The chapel with its constricting plot inhibiting development reflects precisely my deflated spirit and the state of mind I trapped myself in.

Given the nature we are, spring urges in us for scope and inspiration to move forward in different ways. For me – it’s time to appreciate my creative work and count my blessings. It would be marvellous to be in Chuang-Tzu’s position, but unlike him, most of us must summon an inner Kingship that keeps patient faith with our art.

A LITTLE STORY ABOUT TIME

Among Chuang-Tzu’s many skills, he was an expert draftsman. The King asked him to draw a crab. Chuang-Tzu replied that he needed five years, a country house, and twelve servants. Five years later the drawing was still not begun. ’I need another five years,’ said Chuang-Tzu. The King granted them. At the end of these ten years, Chuang-Tzu took up his brush and, in an instant, with a single stroke he drew a crab, the most perfect crab ever seen.

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… musings re: photography, art, secret hoards …

When I take a photograph I stop time, from where I stand, from where I walk, from where I look. The image becomes inner, a pregnant, eternal moment. Artists who engage with the intimate reality mirrored in their surroundings might admit, or not, the erotic dynamics at play in this search for a glimpse of the beloved, an essence shining through the cracks from beneath fleeting surfaces. It’s not only artists who frame flashes of significance, everyone selects, does the stop-motion of perceiving, it’s how stories are made.

A self-portrait of Vivian Maier

A self-portrait of Vivian Maier

In 2007 a photographic archive was auctioned off to recover debts for storage rent. Most of her life Vivian Maier (1926 – 2009) worked as a nanny. In her free time she recorded what caught her eye, predominantly in the streets of New York and Chicago. She captured poignant moments, like soul mirrors, in brief encounters. Read the tale of how her archive was discovered and the puzzle of her life was assembled HERE

During my stay in Amsterdam I visited a retrospective of her work from 1950s to 1980s at Foam Gallery

It is my guess that, while she was without means to have innumerable film rolls printed, Vivian Maier distinctly memorised each unpredictable encounter she captured. What makes me think so?

Photo by Vivian Maier

Photo by Vivian Maier

The memory of defining and framing something on the move is powerful, with or without camera, though a creative record helps structuring and symbolising our perceptions. During the 70s, when I worked as photo-journalist, using analogue cameras, a Rolleiflex, like Vivian, but also Nikons, and a Hasselblad, I never wasted film. Each image was taken by choice.

Certain frames live on in my memory as iconic elements, and I recall the exact instant when I pressed the shutter, encapsulating something of essence.

A number of years ago I lost three 35 mm film-rolls on a plane from Berlin to London. I thought they were secure in my make-up bag, but the bag slipped unnoticed down the seat and I never recovered it. I mourned. It was the first time I re-visited Berlin, my mother’s city, since I was 7 years old.  Yet the images I took in Berlin and of the friends I travelled with are still crystal clear in my mind.

I recall the massive amount of negatives and prints I burned at an earlier point in my life, not to be burdened with storage, not to sit on my laurels, and for other reasons – profound stupitity, I know,  a self-destructive streak haunted me at the time. The vanished portfolio is now a secret hoard lingering in my memory. It is also a scene in my mythic poetic novel, still awaiting publication.

The story of the discovery of Vivian Maier’s secret archive grips the imagination. Why? Maybe because we all yearn to evidence our existence. Even if only one person holds up a mirror of approval, can GROG us, we are affirmed.

With the cornucopia of individual creativity unleashed through the new technologies of recent decades, the chance of public recognition is fickle, sponsors look for novelty, notoriety, eccentricity, looks, hard elbows …  A good deal depends on timing, and luck.

Yet no individual perspective is alike. The passions we pursue in communion with what we encounter inside, outside, our search, our uniqueness, is forever in need of expression. We want to be witnessed for the coherence and ingenuity of our individual world, our deeply felt values, skills and insights. And yet – I heard it said – if Einstein’s equation of relativity had never been published, it would still have influenced and shifted the collective consciousness.

I deduct that since we all benefit from the inspirations and inventions of individuals who may never have received credit for their genius, their life’s work, and since nothing is ever truly lost (I believe,) there can be solace in our giving, be it acknowledged or not, while we keep on the lookout and ready ourselve for a glimpse of the beloved’s curl.

And of course, nothing prevents me, or you, from expecting miracles 🙂

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