Monday, 13 October 2014

Working towards the Muse

I spoke of work last week, and somehow, at some point, I bumped into the Muse issue. For most of my post, I dealt with writing in its professionalized form. But now I want to start by saying a few things about the other forms of writing, the ones that are not so glorious - the non-professional ones.

Source: DVO
I return to my favourite example: the shopping list. Let's think about it. What is there, in the shopping list, that may be said to enable writing? A couple of weeks ago I suggested that this may be the disappearance of the body. And I do believe the same now. But I need to stress that the disappearance of a body (that anonymity of the author of a shopping list which makes it impossible to anybody else to recognize who he or she is) is doubled by the appearance of a self. It is the self that we perceive when we read that list, since the body is invisible to us. And that self is the metadata that gives us a wealth of information about the author: about his choice of words, the page he's picked up, the pen he used, but mostly about the mental energy that made it possible for the list itself to come to light. Before the list there was darkness. And the darkness could only be dispelled with effort.
What do I need? What do I lack? What do I have to replenish in my cupboard? What have I run out of? All these questions are prompts. They facilitate the coming into the world of the shopping list I am now confidently composing, knowing exactly what I am in need for, and more importantly, knowing perfectly well the words I need in order to express that lack on the piece of paper I have chosen as my canvas.

Of work (again)
In order to do all this I need to put myself to the task. I need to toil in an effort to clear the ground and to make things possible. It is only in the void (in that state of blindness I mentioned last week) that the appearance of objects is noticeable. In a fertile field full of bloom and growth (which is what all efforts of clearing aim for), the blooming of one flower or the rising of one plant from seed is not a noticeable event. There are too many similar events that compete for supremacy there, and because of this they all end up invisible. But make that field blank; make it a field of potentialities. Now the Muse can come. Now there's room for her to feel good, to feel cherished, to feel useful. And the Muse will come as soon as all that is acquired. It will come easily. Her coming will be made easier and easier, as the toil extends, as the effort intensifies.

Source: Anatoly Karlin
This is how I like to contradict the myth of the benevolent Muse, who comes to impregnate the writer's mind. I believe it is the other way round: it is the writer that impregnates the Muse. That's why the Greeks made Muses into feminine creatures: because they presuppose, these Muses, the potential to carry. Good Muses are pregnant Muses. Good Muses are carriers of a writers' own efforts.

Working towards the Muse
So when someone says you need to be in your Muse's good graces to be able to write, I say no way. In order to be able to write you need to work. In order to write you need to have already written. Not in the sense of being familiar (from accumulated experience) with what the act of writing implies, but in the sense of having paved your way towards the real moment of writing (the one that produces the real satisfaction), by means of a working-towards-the-Muse.
It takes work to write and it takes determination. To return to the writing profession, i.e. to the writers called "writers" in dictionaries and encyclopedias (read the Wikipedia entry for the word and you'll be edified), let's say without work there won't be a name on a cover. There won't be a cover, there won't be a name.

And working some more
When asked to write about her writing, Margaret Atwood admitted she was in an impasse. Writing, her own writing, did not appear clearly to her. The only thing that she appeared to be clear about was the idea that there had been work involved. Work and other peripheries of writing (location, events, circumstances), but not writing itself. That may very well be because writing is almost exclusively work. And we have this strange tendency of remembering little about our work.

Source: This Recording
We only seem able to remember the end product  which is a silly thing to say, of course, because it's self-apparent that the final product is the one that stays (in memory or elsewhere), since it is the only thing finished. Work itself is not finished; it is a process, and a process that doesn't end. It requires fortitude insofar as it presents itself not as a possible end but as a sure continuation. The final product is only an end to the work: to the work that came with the task, but an end that will be posed anew with the next task, and the next, and the next. Work is only struggle. It is masochism at its best. It is pure extraction from life's easy moments.
Margaret Atwood:
"You need a certain amount of nerve to be a writer, an almost physical nerve, the kind you need to walk a log across a river. The horse throws you and you get back on the horse. I learned to swim by being dropped into the water. You need to know you can sink, and survive it."
As an end note: Atwood's piece, called "Nine Beginnings," is the 15th essay in Curious Pursuits. Occasional Writing, a collection of essays published by Virago in 2005. It appeared initially in The Writer and Her Work 1, a book edited by Janet Sternburg (New York: Norton, 1990, 2000). "Nine Beginnings" is a series of nine attempts at answering the question "Why do you write?" A self-imposed question that gets no full answer, only a litany of incomplete attempts, of failures to define what proves to be, in essence, impossible to define: Writing.