… 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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20 responses to “… the gulf between writers and readers …

  1. Several threads to follow in this reflective post, but I was reminded of and want to share Penelope Fitzgerald’s “The Bookshop,” which is a kind of dramatic representation of your theme here. Wonderful book, if you can get hold of a copy.

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  2. Viv

    I had a dream some years before I began blogging. Short of recounting the whole content, rereading the entry in my dream journal I believe that I had seen the arrival of both ereaders and e-books, but had been unable to understand them within the dream because I had insufficient language to describe in adequate terms what I saw- ” a not-yet existing frame for our work”.
    On my good days I can accept that I cannot perhaps predict where things will go next but I can trust that a way will be found. A year or so after the predictive dream, I had this one: I dreamed I was travelling down a river, towards my home. I don’t live near a river, and never have lived close enough to one to the scenario I knew was true in the dream, that my home was only a very short distance from the water. In real life, I’d never choose to live so close to a body of water that can be so temperamental, but in the dream I accepted this as normal reality.
    Until, that is, I rounded the corner of the river bend and where I had expected to find a short stretch of water and my home a little way beyond it, the whole topography had changed. The river had become a dead end, a lagoon of cloudy water, almost like a T junction. I could go no further, unless I took to the water, and even then, I couldn’t see my home at all. The water swirled, like flood waters, full of eddies and a milky wash of clay from the fields, and I knew it to be deep and dangerous.
    I turned to the left hand side, where the arm of the T led me and found that as well as the work to change the course of the river, work was in progress to build a footpath through what were fast becoming marshes. Brand new duckboards had been laid across the mud, and a new bridge, all resinous with fresh pine and larch, ended near the duckboards, the steps rising to greet me. As I approached, a woman came down the bridge steps and told me, “They haven’t finished it yet, you can’t get through that way,” and encouraged me to try and follow where the duckboards led me. I couldn’t see where the new path led, but I climbed over the foot of the bridge and began to try and follow the wooden path.
    By this stage I was feeling very frustrated that I couldn’t get home and angry that “they” had changed the route without giving me either warning of the work or any alternative route to my home. The woman had vanished and I was alone again, standing below the bridge, unable to either see where to go or make a single step forward because the duckboards had given way to thick sticky mud and no path was visible at all.”
    That was in 2009. Now to read it again and to say to myself, “They haven’t finished it yet; you can’t get through that way” and believe that something is in progress.

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  3. Viv

    And one day, I hope we can indeed meet in the flesh and share a hug. You have inspired and encouraged me many times. Thank you.

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  4. As always Ashen you delve wider and deeper, and philosophically extract the pith of what shoots to the surface. I am tempted to reblog because this follows so immediately on the interview with Viv, and derives a great deal of universal importance, and offers comfort. I am sorry if it cost you sleepless nights! But the depth of what you have extended and derived all the way to Rumi encourages me to believe that such posts are worthwhile in what they create and what continues. One has to hammer a lot of flint, pan a lot of streams to find gold. Viv’s river may yet yeild her way home?
    Thank you for giving it such deep reflection- an honour.

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    • 🙂 Thank you Philippa. I’m glad this finds resonance with Viv and you, representing so many artists who are perfectly happy to flow along with the river to the sea – if big corporations would just leave a little bit of space in the comercial landscape for water to flow the natural way.

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  5. Bravo, Ashen. Your post really resonates in a place where my struggle is deepest. I know many more writers who will be able to relate to this as well. Thank you.

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  6. I wonder what our parents (for those of us who are baby boomers) thought when the 60’s exploded on the scene …

    But apart from that, your post is relevant Ashen because it is heart-felt and beautifully written. I’m glad the soul has been given exposure and I think it is getting attention these days, albeit slowly and brave are those who write our experience of it in whatever way we do …

    I enjoyed Viv’s dream – thank you Viv for sharing it. The dream world is a powerful source of wisdom for those who pay attention it,

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    • In the 60s my parents were gripped by a travel bug, Susan. We lived near the Alps and crossed them often, to South Tirol, Switzerland, Northern Italy, climbing mountains, always exploring new routes, often just for the weekend. Venice was only 2 to 3 hours away. Great food for the soul and sustaining memories 🙂

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  7. Didn’t have time to read the whole article..(!?) but i quotation by (can’t remember have been reading too much lately) came to mind.
    “Never before in history was there a time when so many writers wrote for so few readers.”

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    • True, Gert. Though there must have been the inner audience people wrote for. Thoughts and stories that landed in drawers.
      I assume the quote you can’t place relates to blogging.
      What’s your thought on this phenomenon?.

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      • After this lamenting debate ( which I began and celebrate its expansion) I have to mention that today Creation answered with what feels like a beautiful raspberry. The publication by a perfectly perceptive and generous reader his analysis of all my published work. So in the maelstrom and clamour one finds the perfect jewel. Makes it all more spectacular when it happens. I had to mention it, to balance the lament a little.

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  8. I love your ‘life microscope’ sweetie. A great thought-provoking post, I’ll be chewing this over for sometime methinks. 😀

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  9. Reblogged this on PHI lippa. Letters of Love and commented:
    This re-discovered interview merits re-exposure. Particularly in te light of a recent review ( of another book by a different author) rejected by Amazon ( without clarifying any reason) which may well have been this post! Tragic that the little one has to offer ( merely a spontaneous response) is now suspect because the world is full of people who abuse the liberty of reviewing for spurious reasons! It was good to rediscover this!

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