A sometimes half-arsed record of the process of writing in its' variegated many forms.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

part II (sort of)

So, this isn't really part two, in that I am not going to being relating the thoughts and experience I had after seeing the Hurtlocker. But I did want to talk about some few ideas I had while I was riding the T over to Cambridge to meet my mum and see Aurelia's Oratorio (unfrickin' believable). My subway book is a slender volume by Roland Barthes called Mythologies. It's a collection of essays about aspects of what Barthes seems to feel are the modern day myths, which are the banalities of modern lifestyle lies (kind of a thing).

I had this idea that this is true. That mythology has been reduced to empty signifiers, and that the secularity of society has drained the mundane of the potential for the type of insight that can flash from the spiritual experience. And the repetitiveness and universalness of mythic structures (the origin of genre?) are this way to inspire a reminder in the imbiber of said myth that they are on the hero's journey already in their own life.

There's this connection between individuality, spirituality, and both the loss of individuality and the insistence on the primacy of the individual that comes out of techno-modernity. And I really had that hook while I was riding the train, but I didn't have anything to write with. Now I'm trying to recreate the sequence of thoughts, and I'm struggling a bit.

Yeah, I'm having trouble reconstructing. Let me just quote a passage of James Altas's Bellow, in which he pontificates on SB and then quotes him at length:

But there was nothing abstract about Bellow's theme: The cataclysmic events of the century- the two world wars, the Holocaust, the rise of mass society- had made art superfluous. The modern world had conspired to drown out the novelist's- his- distinctive voice: (now quoting from Bellow's letters)

The enormous increases in population seem to have dwarfed the individual. So have modern physics and astronomy. But we may be somewhere between a false greatness and a false insignificance. At least we can stop misrepresenting ourselves to ourselves and realize that the only thing we can be in this world is human. We are temporarily miracle-sodden and feeling faint.

Now I do feel that Atlas is a little rough with his subject, but regardless, the idea here that our individuality is getting lost. Individuality that is quite possibly the experience of a fully conscious self (which I consider to be the spiritual experience, but we can quibble over terminology if it's totally necessary), and this experience is attenuated and frustrated by the modern secular economic society; a society that places its highest values on materiality, which the ethnographic record tells us is the antithesis of the valuations of the saints and mystics of the world.

William James is right when he says that the saintly disposition of early christian saints to remove themselves from the world is not bad but not particularly helpful either. The problem of staying a saint while surrounded by the sins of material secularity pose a greater challenge than the pure asceticality of a monastic cell. And those saints are needed to help steer this spaceship Earth away from the abyss of foolish, infantile destruction that we are currently flying right for, at no less than full throttle.

So, what we need are saints who can live in and effect change in the way we all live in this wild, wild life we call the global society of planet Earth. We need exemplars of the saintly life who can teach how to live within the insanity of modernity and maybe help deflect the collective consciousness in a direction that's a little more sane and really rational. And saints are inspired by the symbols that deeply unlock that spirit of self, the great myths, and when those myths (those symbols of authentic artistry) really tap the universal human archetypes, they can inspire the human creature to unseen heights of generosity, compassion, and love. A level of furor only otherwise met through greed, aggressiveness, and rational self-interest.

One of the things that might be useful, that might be valuable in this direction, would be to try to bring to the mundane this spiritual perspective, and by staying present in the banal moments of life, it might be possible to bring to life the majesty of the mundane in words or images or somehow. Okay, yeah, so that was basically the idea I had on the T today. That quote kind of knocked it loose. And trying to concentrate and follow those ideas on a train full of people was no small task, I can tell you.

Friday, July 17, 2009

trying to think things through on a subway platform (pt. 1)

So, I was sort of taking S. Bellow's advice last Thursday. In James Altas's biography he quotes a letter of Bellow's where Saul writes that in order to overcome writer's block he says he goes to the movies every day for a week. Which I really love. Course, I don't have the time or the inclination (in terms of available movies) to go to the movies every day for a week, but I figured it would be good to get out of the house and my own head and try and get over a sort of obstacle that I've found in the way.

That obstacle being, of course, trying to edit a piece of work that's overly sentimental, and, as it turns out, is substantially too 'small world', uninteresting in it's current form. I don't say that just to be self-deprecating. When I wrote the first draft, as a first full draft of a novel ever completed by me, I suffered from a usual symptom of first novelitis in that I kept the world of the novel too small. Now, the fact that there is too be a series of three novels (and potentially more, as there are concurrent storylines for both the male and female protagonist, but we stay with the male as narrator, etc.) makes the need for a larger world just that much exponentially bigger. It does seem that you need to expand exponentially in order to fulfill the requirements of a longer work.

So, I've been doing little bits of actual editing. Both going through the work on the computer and doing a full dress edit, as well as working through a printout copy and doing a sort of minor tweak edit. And, as well, I've been doing substantial conceptual, world creation, work in terms of making the characters more interesting, breathing more life and detail into their half-empty forms, and expanding and coloring in their world.

But I'd been sorta' stuck a little bit recently. I was having trouble fully gearing up and getting into the fight because I was realizing just how much was going to have to be rewritten (most of the material [very little of the original 1st draft is going to be alive past draft two or beyond). It's a daunting task, especially as I'm also trying to gear up to start the 1st draft of the second novel and can't wait much longer.

So, as I said, I decided to take Bellow's advice and go to the movies. The two choices that I somewhat fumbled between were Woody Allen's Whatever Works and Kathyrn Bigelow's The Hurtlocker. Ultimately, the fact that the hurtlocker was playing at the cinema right in the area where I've set some of the novel (the place where the protagonist works is a fictional bookstore close to the Loews Boston Common) decided for me. And what a decision.

Clearly, the intensity of this movie had something to do with the explosion of ideation that occured after. Although, as I was walking from the Park St. T I did have a few interesting ideas about personality and how the main character's personality is dis-integrating (as in breaking apart and not entirely of his own control) for various reasons and also the idea that it would be both fun and unusual to try to warp yr own personality to make yrself the antagonist. In something. It being that a little dash of anti-hero might be useful for the complexity of our protagonist, Thomas. And that that anti-hero element comes out as a result of this dis-integrating personality.

So, I was having a few thoughts as I went into the plush theaters three stories up at the Loews by the Boston Common. And then The Hurtlocker got underway. Holy effin' shiite. That movie is an intensity of tautness and tight wrapped, adrenaline filled life of a solder grit and realness that hasn't been seen very often committed to film. The movie doesn't preach or moralize about the characters or who's right or whether the war's right, it stays with the individuals and examines what it means for these three people (mostly) to be experiencing this war now.

And partly the experience is traumatic for the audience because the realness of the violence is so close and not outlandishly cartoonish. So, there's this distance that you might naturally feel to your own emotions as numbness is a common response to trauma, so there was this numbness for me, but a numbness that was hiding that deeper well of (potentially) hysterical emotions of trauma. Which started to come out as the movie went along, and I became more invested with the characters. By the end, I was feeling it all deeply, all scrunched around in my big, comfy movie sofa chair with my feet up on the back of the empty chair in front of me.

So, part two will be the ideas that organically sprang from the this experience as I made my way through the Boston streets and subways to my house. The power of the ideation that grew out of the experience was such that I was having trouble navigating public spaces but was afraid to let them fully out of my range of concentration lest I lose the jist. It was really tough.

And a side note: Is it true that no woman has ever won the best director Oscar? If so, I think we've got a viable candidate (as this is one of the best movies I've seen in years and certainly one of the best war movies ever committed to film). There's been a slight shift in the masculine nature of film direction, but let's push that even farther and break that barrior. Anyway...