Tag Archives: Stan Brakhage

… 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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… surfing the virtual waves …

I first accessed the internet while doing a sabbatical film degree as a mature student in the 1990’s.

Struggling with basics, feeling the fool among bright young computer literates, I typed surrealism into the search engine, a subject that rhymed with my passion for transpersonal psychology and fascinated me. Take yourself out of your familiar environment, lose the original context into which your identity had been projected, then gaze and ponder. I had done precisely that. During my first year on the film course I felt displaced and, like my son at a stopover, did a trawling assessment of the oracular unknown.

Yesh, Nurnberg station -smaller

I was going to write an essay, on how Freud’s work influenced art and film during the 20th century, a glittering subject that led me into a dreamlike maze. Each follow-up link on the screen led to another site – another artist, philosopher, writer, page after page, world after world opened until I was afloat in a sea of rich associations. Gripped by Alice in Wonderland sensations, I thought – unless I stick to the context of my essay, the web will suck me into a whirlpool. Exploring the unconscious for its potentiality and its poetic combustion via dis-identification  was of course the surrealists’ impulse, to the ends of tricking the rational mind by using trance to break out of trance – which may well be the ultimate purpose of the internet.

One of the lies would make it out that nothing

ever presents itself before us twice.

Where would we be at last if that were so?

Our very life depends on everything’s

recurring till we answer from within.

The thousandth time may prove the charm.      – From ‘Snow,’ by Robert Frost

I had worked as photographer on film-sets in a former career, so I grabbed the opportunity to study the ultimate trance in its historical context, and play with it. Manipulated by high-angles, close-ups, masking, dissolves, and cross-cutting during editing, underscored by sound, images could be displaced, speeded, up, slowed down or distorted. The surrealists were among the first to love fluid images, using them to disrupt unconscious processes of identification at the same time scientists’ deconstructed particles, and time, and space in good measure. The search within, long pursued in the east, was taking hold in the west. P1090946 - Copy

Deconstruction is the prelude to creation. Having learned that we are conscious of only a tiny island of our psyche, much like we can only see the tip of an iceberg, had affirmed my lifelong desire of seeking what is behind the mirror of appearances. In that vein, I recall feeling an awesome sense of responsibility when I first held my new-born son, imagining that my every gesture, my every tone of voice, and even my very thoughts might subliminally influence his pristine being. I was quickly grounded, adapting to the routine of being present to my little one’s basic needs, and soon realised that he had brought along his own world from another sphere, and that beyond my stimulating mirror, he would shape his own destiny.

So here was a kind of baby – an essay on surrealism. To deal with the mass of on-line leads, I took capacious notes, plundered the college library, and relied on intuition to guide me through the process of writing, allowing the essay its own agenda. It was when I first acknowledged that my sixth sense made writing a pleasure. Years later, starting my first novel, responding to subtle influences became the only way I could write, trusting that the unconscious – rather like a digital binary system – condenses and displaces material that can re-emerge with the right prompts.

Spending several months co-editing a beautiful book of reminiscence about a remarkable teacher, printed as a limited edition (also available in E-PUB soon), I started my second novel, and forayed into the on-line publishing world. Armed with the intention of finding a publisher my trust deserted me. I felt suffocated by the genre jungle, the flood of how-to-does and the racing schemes offering self-publishing. I scolded myself for procrastinating, being lazy, not believing in my work, but nevertheless stubbornly held back. Having ordered a few print-on-demand publications by friends I made on a writer’s site, who had got their act together, I was disappointed by the poor presentation of most books – cheap paper, cramped layout, narrow margins and too small fonts. Is this how small publishers and self-pub schemes treat writers who spent years on composing their epic? My heart sunk. I observed my frustration, took stock and decided to relax and wait for a beacon.

In any case, I had been fooling myself, betting on the wrong horse. Being a published author has its perks, but what truly matters to me is the actual process of writing, which is alchemy, a sculpting of feelings, a release, being other than what is familiar, uncovering myths and creating new ones, digging for treasure, a journey into the unknown that reveals horizon upon horizon.  Copy of Child at shore, colour, lowres A metaphor for my life, about the how, about the journey inside with my others, relationships woven from layers of experience into something new, each time, and time again … life writes its stories through us.

Apart from receiving vague out-of-the-blue proposals offering dubious contracts, I had two chance-encounters with publishers who welcomed a read of my MS, encounters resulting from surfing the web on the crest of my interests, often as unsubstantial as a keyword from a dream. It’s no different from how I live my live. Not exactly a structured approach, I sometimes scold myself. But for better or worse I don’t attach myself to goals, only to transitional containers, which could be an object, a character, a dream image or a place, and the rest follows. My stories emerge from kernels lying in wait, and they pursue their own agenda. I let them, and trust they will find a readership.

Like Stan Brakhage, one of the early experiential film-makers, I think of the deeply personal as universal and conceive of the real world as invisible ‘… thus in the physical or spiritual or light world all forms are beings – stones, trees, stars, streams, men, flames and turds are really facts of invisible presences. Mineral, wood, fire, water, flesh are terms of dense soulful sense.’

In this way, rather than going nuts, as I feared when first exploring the global mirror of the internet, I’ve made peace with it, relating to it as a spacious, time-freed being that interconnects all our stories and projections and offers its content according to the container I bring to it.

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