Forum / Writing: self-communion or communication?

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    Marcus Speh
    Jan 02, 08:35am

    In his review of David Lodge's [excellent] novel 'Author, Author' (biographical novel about Henry James) Terry Eagleton points out a paradox at the heart of writing:

    «...There is no literature without an audience, and authors have precious little control over their readers’ interpretations. Writing is supposed to be for its own sake, so that any purpose beyond itself would compromise its integrity; yet if it needs a readership to be itself, how can it be autonomous? And who judges such autonomy, if not a reader? How can literature be at once self-communion and communication? »

    He highlights that Henry James was "...perhaps the first major novelist in England to confront this dilemma head-on, living as he did at a transitional point between Victorian writers, for whom it was still possible to be both highbrow and wildly popular, and Modernist ones, most of whom turned their backs disdainfully on the general public."

    The link:

    ...and the question: how's that working out for you? How do you straddle the writer's paradox of self-communion and communication?

  • Frankie Saxx
    Jan 02, 08:50am

    I don't think self-communion precludes communication (or vice versa) because I don't think it's a dichotomy, but more like a bell curve.

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    Marcus Speh
    Jan 02, 10:42am

    I don't as much about the exact geometric shape of the problem. I do care about the question of the paradox or dilemma in the sense of two equally important drives that at first glance seem to compromise if not exclude each other.

    My confidence that there is a real problem comes from the writing experience itself: it does not affect the right brain/ creative phase but it does affect the left brain/structural phase.

    When I structure a story, outline the plot, think or philosophize about a scene or my theme, or when I talk to my agent or my wife or a friend about the work, then I am very much in touch with the communication aspect of writing. When I wonder, as I do, if my subject, my creation, my personal suffering turned into words will find approval with readers, publishers etc., then I am all communicating.

    On the other hand, when I sit down and manage do enter the river of my own making, swim with the flow, drink and dive, splatter and sputter sentences, and I'm communing. Not just with myself, but with my ancestors and with the human and cultural field at large. (I think that Eagleton's Marxist perspective may shut him off from seeing wider spiritual aspects of writing).

    The question still is if, how and when writers reconcile this issue/dilemma/paradox. Perhaps some of you care to share their stories.

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    RW Spryszak
    Jan 02, 11:54am

    I'm not a Modernist then, I guess. I write for an audience. What writing I do for my own benefit stays in a journal which no one is intended to see.

    I am not angry at the audience. I'm trying to engage them. It's up to me to do that.

    In all honesty, and not trying to sound either dismissive or unaffected, I don't think I have this dilemma.

    I write to be read. To be read I have to engage. To engage I have to take what is in me and transfer it to an audience. Sometimes it seems only that "modernists" have built themselves a trap.

    I suppose it is old-fashioned or even - I don't know - uncool or counter-revolutionary (or whatever) to admit you write for an audience. But I didn't care what people said when I was steeped in dada and surrealism. So I guess I won't care what people say now that I work mostly in traditional forms and modalities.

    Most likely they'll go their way and I'll go mine.

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    Gabriel Orgrease
    Jan 02, 01:42pm

    I feel that there needs to be a subjective balance defined by the character of the individual author.

    On one hand I enjoy serial fiction in short bursts and the gratification of the response of an engaged readership, howsoever small the count of readers. On the other hand I enjoy to write material that I never feel very highly inclined to share.

    That said, the audience is always something 'other' than myself and in that respect the communion is always an exploration of other and self. A relationship not always one that is the most pleasant, as one may presume if they are external to the situation of the artifice, as it can be full up with tension and dissociation when one is tragically misunderstood.

    A moderate example being a recent correspondence in which what I wrote was interpreted as nearly the clear opposite of what I had intended. It always being a curiosity as to how comprehension on the part of a diversity of readers is of a highly fickle nature. In that singular and brief act of writing it became not so much important to me that any desired message was delivered or received, as that I as an author was made more sharply aware of a dynamic of the writing process to fail in a primary intent to reach an audience. Regardless for myself it was a loss rewarded. As so it seems with James and what he may have learned of his theatrical experience.

    One caveat to that revelation though is that I am also aware, from experience, to hesitate to tell the reader how happy it makes me feel to be misunderstood as they will tend to an impression that I was playing cat and mouse with them all along, then again, that can be a worthwhile occupation for a writer.

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    John Riley
    Jan 02, 03:07pm

    What's true about writing is true of all arts. An audience is part of the work. It is inside the work, one of the tensions that hold it up. One of the ways an audience provides the necessary tension results from the writer asking: How far can I go before it isn't accessible ("accessible" is not a great word choice but I can't think of a better one right now) to a self-selected group of readers. James wrote for an audience. A narrower audience than Dickens wrote for but he intended to be read by a segment of the population of readers. The most obscure artist has to have an audience or he/she hasn't created art. Even if the audience is small and few of them fully understand the work they must be willing to try. (What book worth reading is ever fully understood?) My point is an audience is a tent pole of all art. Writing without an audience, however defined, is like playing a piano without strings. (OK, someone could perform a piece composed for a piano without strings, but only once, and even then must have an audience willing to "listen" to it or he/she is sitting in an empty room, which isn't a performance.) (Cage has already done it, except he didn't bother to take the strings off.) If you publish a book of blank pages you do it hoping there is an audience who won't think it's a diary.

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    Gloria Garfunkel
    Jan 02, 03:32pm

    I write simply to tell my tales to someone, hoping some souls out there will find them compelling and feel enriched in some way, whether through deep emotional resonance or simple absurdist humor. As I write, I write for me, but my ultimate goal is to expose it to an audience. It would feel dead to me, just sitting in a journal, as it has for many years. It's a mode of human connection.

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    James Lloyd Davis
    Jan 02, 03:34pm

    The writer who disregards the concept of readership is a curious case. I don't understand the concept, so I'm hardly one to judge.

    A man stands on the Jersey shore, an ocean away from the object of his desire, Gretchen in Denmark. He can write with his finger on the sand, "I love Gretchen!" He can put love letters to Gretchen into bottles, seal the bottles with a cork and launch them into the surf, sit back in the sand and hope for a swift current.

    Or, he can go home and send Gretchen an email. Which is the correct path? It depends upon the intent of the writer, doesn't it?

    Writing as art sensibly shares a balance with reading for the purpose of listening to thoughts outside the reader's mind and expoerience, writers reaching to readers in an act of communion in expression. In terms of literature, it's pretty much a one way street... writer to reader.

    At the risk of sounding simplistic, I have to question the motivation of a writer who even artfully conceals his story and thus purposely impedes the process of communication. It's tolerated in shorter works, to be sure, but in novels it will find fans only among those who prize the esoteric beyond all reason.

    I am much a fan of James Joyce, but even though my education derives parallels in the peculiar referential twists found in his writing, I begin to lose interest in the task of interpretation. There is a raw power and beauty to the prose, but there is also confusion in meaning.

    Henry James' prose is not inelegant, but his stories had enormous appeal to the people of his day, drawing as it did on new and spooky predilections. Did he write to please our own contemporaries? Of course not. He could never have imagined the world we live in and celebrate, tolerate, endure.

    But we, on the other hand, can get his point, dance to his rhythms because his language is less referential, more communicative.

    The writer who is purposely obtuse is no less deceptive than any other fiction writer... it is fiction after all. There is even an advantage to putting your meaning through the prism of referential metaphor and then squeezing it through the glitterati cheesecloth of the avante garde pose. By forcing a reader to jump through interpretational hoops, the writer explores new modes of expression, tomorrows accepted norms. But there had better be substance beneath the facade, because you can definitely fool a fool, but not everyone is foolish. You will be exposed.

    What was my point?

    I forgot.

    Never mind.

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    Gessy Alvarez
    Jan 02, 04:51pm

    I never think of my writing as self-communion. I write because I'm pissed off about something. This wrong is sometimes personal but mostly not. It's a wrong I've witnessed. A wrong I may have perceived or invented. It's a bit insane but this sets me off. It's a communion of sorts, this act of purging, but my ultimate goal is to trigger a response from my reader. Get them to understand this wrong. To see the gradient clearer than I can, because I may be the writer, but the wrong is black and white to me. It's only when I've transformed the wrong into a work of fiction that I can see the changes in temperature and concentration.

    The communication part is the big surprise, at least it is for me since I don't have a book published yet. I write something. I put it out there. Sometimes (oftentimes) it's ignored. I stand behind every piece I write because I rather be a fool than a coward. I promote as best I can given the limited channels available to an "unpublished" writer.

    By taking risks, I've cultivated a small audience. I don't take this audience into consideration when I write something new.

    I like what Steinbeck says about the audience: "Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one."

  • Michelle Harmon
    Jan 02, 05:32pm

    So, if you ONLY write for the reader, you're a whore and you'll write zombie/vampire/werewolf novels when that's the latest thing (or whatever). If you ONLY write for your "self" you'll have no readers; or, like David Foster Wallace, you'll have lots of people start your books but very few finish them. Kurt Vonnegut says write for someone you love, and I think love is the key. You write with love for the thing you're writing AND for the readers.

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    James Lloyd Davis
    Jan 02, 06:28pm

    Love is a fine motivation; and clarity is a good thing. We all have our various motivations, but if I could suggest anything, it would be that the writer should respect his or her reader.

    Respect is enough and easy to accomplish. A writer can remain true to self and still respect the readership. They are, after all, the other half of the equation whenever we accept that art is an expression that is incomplete without an audience.

    I don't agree that you should always write fopr someone you love. I tried that in the past and realized that it's severely limiting in the way that loving relationships inhibit the brutality of truth.

    I very much doubt that Vonnegut followed such a discipline, but that's only my opinion. All of us tend to dictate aphorisms that lean toward a delightful ideal, while all the while slogging through the mud of life and the harsh realities thereof. It's only human to aspire and pretend we are so much better than the sum of ourselves. To quote one of my favorite writers, Terry Southern, "An angel has no memory."

    It's a universal trait and the eternal wellspring of all the best satire.

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    RW Spryszak
    Jan 02, 06:35pm

    "All of us tend to dictate aphorisms that lean toward a delightful ideal, while all the while slogging through the mud of life and the harsh realities thereof. It's only human to aspire and pretend we are so much better than the sum of ourselves."


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    stephen hastings-king
    Jan 02, 06:45pm

    I'm not sure that I find the distinction communication/self-communion to be useful.

    Any long-term engagement with a medium is necessarily self-referential, even if the genre that is given in advance pins the language into fictions of representation. This because you still have to write the project. So any project is necessarily shaped by what pleases the person making it..and that may or may not be turned out toward a putative readership. This because if a project doesn't provide feedback in the form of pleasure to the person who makes it, then chances are that the project would never get finished.

    At a second level, language is a social environment so its manipulation is not simply talking to oneself----it involves an invocation of another---even if the other does not come, be that non-arrival a function distribution in an irrational capitalist space (redundant expression for which I apologize) or of however "difficulty" comes to be interpreted assuming people do find out, one way or another, that the object you have fashioned exists in the world....

    Which brings us to the question of "the difficult" or "the Modernist" and how they're interpreted strangely.

    It's like people see themselves as being owed something because they interact with a work, like you pay for access and goddamn it you're supposed to be given the Secret as if that follows from how you are as a person so very very Special.

    So it is that Snippiness often follows from being made to work at understanding something, as if you're being cheated of what is rightfully due you from your artist-servant-pet as a Sovereign Consumer.

    Perhaps this expectation that the Sovereign Consumer is owed the Secret Key follows from the simple fact that consuming a work is mostly about the sense of social status particular to the consumer.

    If the Sovereign Consumer doesn't get the Magic Key which they are owed, then they get all huffy and make stuff up about those who produce work that may not provide them with the Magic Key that is owed the Consumer by virtue of the Consumer's special, special status...for example that writing which does not allow from the Consumer to immediately play the game with an illusion of mastery if "self-communion" whereas those objects that do more readily admit Consumers to enter the game with an illusion of mastery is "communication."

    Creative work is supposed to affirm the consumer's sense of social position. That means the consumer's knowledge of the rules that shape interaction with a particular cultural object in a particular context.

    What does NOT affirm the consumer's sense of social status is work that puts them in the position of maybe making a mistake in the interpretation, which is a Bad Thing because in the game of social status reflected back at people through their consumption patterns the world is apparently very fragile and fucking up with an interpretation has dire consequences.

    The sticky bit is that any cultural object has to provide levels of payoff to keep the consumer engaged. But this engagement without stabilizing Magic Key just adds to the perversity of the situation, being pulled along through some erotic interest in a text into a situation that undermines your position.

    It's as if Someone Watches Consumers All the Time and Judges whether they really deserve this sense of social position they walk around with or not.

    It's quite odd to think about that, really: why it is that Consumers get so riled up about this sort of thing as if a Mistake in Interpretation that follows from not knowing the rules that shape a particular work (object/world) and the whole edifice of their social authorization can come crashing down.

    Of course, if all this is really about the sense of social position of consumers, it's clear that we can't really talk about the extent to which this is all about the sense of social position of consumers.

    So, logically, the narcissist in the scenario has to be the writer who fails to provide the appropriate Magic Key.

  • Photo_00020.thumb
    Jan 03, 12:32am

    Thinking of Mikhail Bulgakov's marvelous example with his novel The Master and Margarita: like other Soviet writers, Bulgakov was enough of a realist to know when to "write for the drawer", and indeed he went through the multiple drafts of his novel composing for the drawer. Bulgakov seems to've been more resigned to this fate for his beloved novel than he felt for his plays, he complained about the indignity that a playwright faces who cannot get his plays produced in his lifetime. The novel, we know, languished for over a quarter century after Bulgakov's death, and so his work seems to have been composed with little regard for his contemporaries (excepting Stalin, of course). Posterity (and not contemporaneity) thus may be the only actual audience for anything that actually qualifies as "literature" (cf. Cousin Flannery's idea that if a work is still being read ten years after its debut, it must possess some merit, if in spite of itself or its author). Lautreamont-Ducasse was even less well received by contemporaneity, but then contemporaneity sometimes resents being spit at or on. Perhaps the lesson from all three is that a literary work's life only begins with the author's death.

  • 0001_pabst_blue_ribbon_time.thumb
    Jan 03, 02:37am

    I've recently discovered the frittata .

    It's a tasty good way to use up leftovers.

  • Frankie Saxx
    Jan 03, 06:50am


    "I'm not sure that I find the distinction communication/self-communion to be useful."

    I agree with this.

    I have had a hard time answering the question because, to me, it is very much about geography, and where these things lie in relation to each other in my own mental map. I can't construct a meaningful answer (or one that feels true, anyway) within the framework that they are mutually exclusive. What I come back to is that humans love false dichotomies because to set things up in opposition and say "this thing or this thing" simplifies the question and makes it seem as though there is a binary answer.

    If it comes down to declaring for Team Self-Communion or Team Communication, I guess I'll go see if there's any beer worth drinking at the concession and then come back in a while and check the score.

    RW Spryszak: "What writing I do for my own benefit stays in a journal which no one is intended to see."

    I realized this morning, as I was exploring Marcus's question further in my journal (which may sound a fuck load more pretentious than it was, or maybe not) that my journal is also written to a reader. In the case of my journal, the reader is my self (which ties neatly back to the topic at hand) at some point in the future. The entry began with, "Marcus Speh asks the question..." because my self in a year or ten years would likely have long forgotten the context.

    Which just reinforces my opinion that self-communion and communication are not mutually exclusive.

    @McGruff: Tasty crime frittatas?

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    Letitia Coyne
    Jan 03, 12:14pm

    An X-In-law writes all of her many private journals with a view to posthumous publication. Because of that, all her histories are fiction.

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    Gary Hardaway
    Jan 04, 01:59am

    Either/or constructions are annoying and an affront to the way the world really works- as continuum. One can write for a tiny audience while alive and delight multitudes for a long time after death- Dickinson comes to mind. I think all art begins as the maker talking to itself. It can exist in that narrow confine for a long time. Its survival beyond the death of the artist does depend upon the kindness of strangers, however, and the success of the artist's second self as a stand-in for sympathetic others.

  • 0001_pabst_blue_ribbon_time.thumb
    Jan 05, 02:51am

    I've also recently rediscovered the wonders of Braunschweiger (from my childhood mid-western Germanic upbringing) applied to this recently updated transport device:

  • Frankie Saxx
    Jan 05, 03:07am

    @Letitia: I've long suspected the best way to guarantee one's journals remain under lock & key posthumously is to liberally sprinkle them with embarrassing facts (or fictions if no facts are available) about a great many people. Strong encryption may help also.

    @McGruff: Your snack is not living up to its full artery hardening potential. You should slap some cream cheese on there too.

  • 0001_pabst_blue_ribbon_time.thumb
    Jan 05, 03:09am

    Got it. AND smoked oysters (you really MUST try the garlic-butter Ritz...)

  • Frankie Saxx
    Jan 05, 03:34am

    I don't think we have Ritz here. Definitely not flavored Ritz.

  • 0001_pabst_blue_ribbon_time.thumb
    Jan 05, 03:41am

    ...and Summer Sausage with dijon mustard...

    A day without Ritz
    is like a day without
    taking a good...

    sleeve of Garlic-Butter Ritz out of the cupboard and slicing and melting a big chunk of Extra Sharp cheddar cheese by the fire and dolloping it on like the sharp yellow heaven it is...

  • Frankie Saxx
    Jan 05, 04:12am

    Now you're just being cruel, Crime Dog.

  • 0001_pabst_blue_ribbon_time.thumb
    Jan 05, 04:28pm

    and BACON!


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    Marcus Speh
    Jan 06, 11:39am

    Despite the assurances that there isn't really a problem, or if there is one, it's not a problem for you, or that this dichotomy is not useful, this issue seems to have hit a nerve— I will try to summarize at least some of the view points so generously shared by many of you before this thread goes the way of all sausage aided by our grim McGruff.

    Almost all of you seem to think of, in John Riley's words, "an audience [as] a tent pole of all art." There is some recognition of special circumstances, such as persecution (the example of Bulgakov shared by Strannikov: "a literary work's life only begins with the author's death), shyness or a desire to ensure a posthumous place in the literary Pantheon, or Gabriel Orgrease's observation that misunderstanding between audience and writer can be a rewarding experience, too.

    A minimal relationship between writer and reader was summed up by James Lloyd Davis with: "The writer should respect his or her reader." (Don't think I didn't notice the use of the personal pronoun: it made me wonder if the question qualifies as unisex or if fact it is a gender-dependent proposition.)

    The so-called "modernist" position, perhaps unfairly characterized by Eagleton as disinterested in audience and self-communing in the extreme (rather than communicating with an external audience) was summarily dismissed by most. Stephen Hasting-King, arguing like a grown-up version of JK Rowling, thinks that the modern consumer is looking for a "Magic Key"which must be provided by the writer if the writing should qualify as 'communication' from the consumer's point of view.

    In one of her later (but not yet sausage infused) contributions, Frankie Sachs suggests "that self-communion and communication are not mutually exclusive." Gary Hardaway thinks of both states lying on the continuum: "I think all art begins as the maker talking to itself." But also, as Bob Spryszak asserts, "I write to be read. To be read I have to engage. To engage I have to take what is in me and transfer it to an audience."

    We live in a time when it seems easier and easier to reach arbitrary online audiences and mould them to become fan groups, as opposed to the past with on average much longer periods until your writing could be read or published. Many of the beginning (like myself) and/or younger (unlike myself) writers seem to oscillate between the two positions proposed by Eagleton with dizzying speed and self-confidence.

    Personally, the more I write and the longer I'm around, the less I care about engaging readers early in the process. This is a marked difference to my way of working only a few years ago and it may have to do with my recent focus on novels rather than flash. Or it may have to do with getting used to short-term gratification and filling the needy hole of self-assurance while moving from the timid question "Can I do this?" to the conviction "Yes, I can do this!"

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    Gabriel Orgrease
    Jan 06, 06:42pm

    I am not sure that there is an audience but I enjoy the image of Tibeten long horns, several of them together as in a communal authorship of noise, played out with the intent to reach an audience on the other side of death. For whom the horn blows though you may hear it, not for you.

    In this the author can be writing for an audience that perhaps they are the only ones to perceive, and in which case to ask if the author is communing with themselves or with others requires a point of perspective.

    I also like the image that in the primitive cave paintings that the representation of hands painted on stone is not the placement of the hands upon the wall, but an evocation of hands that reach out of the wall toward us as their so long past intended audience.

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    Mathew Paust
    Jan 06, 09:05pm

    I just got here, working backwards from the discussion on "inner editors", which seemed to reach a consensus that we write for ourselves, period. I subscribed to this consensual view on that thread, but can see now a need to clarify. Playing off Vonnegut's quote that one should write for someone one loves, I recall similar advice to public speakers to pick out one person in the audience and address him or her while sweeping ones gaze across the audience to make fleeting eye contact with as many as possible. I like that one better than the other advice to imagine everyone in the audience naked or in their underwear. Much too distracting.

    For me writing is all about telling stories, nothing more, nothing less. I practice my craft around that objective, to most effectively tell a story. This has a special importance to me because I am a diagnosed, Ritalin-taking, attention deficit disordered person. The distractions, second thoughts, misgivings and uncertainties that enter my mind while I try to tell a story orally tend often to distract my audience as well. I find myself at the peak of a story arc, or even on the downslope and my audience is gone, talking amongst themselves or asleep (well, that's a slight exaggeration, because that would really piss me off and I would end up shouting until someone shot me a really ugly look). It frustrates and infuriates me to lose an audience this way. Thus, I take to paper or keyboard and get the damned story down in a compelling, engaging way -- and even then I have to fight the distractions that are constantly demanding a part in the play. I've learned to give some of my fictional characters ADD traits so that some of *my* distractions can be woven into the story as theirs.

    At the same time, I love hearing stories. I'm a great audience for a good storyteller, partly because a good story told well can quiet the routine distractions and tangents and questions and contradictions that will bombard me unless I'm held in a narrative thrall. So when I write stories I try to write them for me, so that if I'm reading them or hearing them they will hold my interest over whatever little imps are itching to tug and poke at me to come look at this or imagine that...

    Rationally I figure if the story I write has a narrative pull strong enuf and characters interesting enuf to hold *my* interest it should work well enuf for other readers.

    Yes, indeed, I write for others. I'm even hoping to make some money at it. But I won't pander to sensibilities I do not know, if only because I simply can't. Pandering to myself is the only reliable way I know to have the best chance of reaching outside myself. If it doesn't work, well, I guess I can always try a proven genre. Afraid, tho, trying to write that stuff might put *me* to sleep.

  • Frankie Saxx
    Jan 07, 04:23am

    I find it supremely boring to listen to people tell me what they think I want to hear. It's a little more interesting when people tell me what they think I need to hear, mostly because of what it says about them. It is much more interesting to look at someone's private bits, the parts they keep covered in polite company.

    So maybe self communion vs communication is the difference between undressing with the drapes open and burlesque.

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    Mathew Paust
    Jan 07, 11:46am

    This could explain in part the explosion of Amazon's direct publishing phenomenon, offering promise to writers and readers of exhibitive freedom and voyeuristic thrills.

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    David Ackley
    Jan 08, 02:42pm

    Very late to the party, but ever since Marcus posted the question, I've been thinking about it off and on. No doubt when I write there is out there on the periphery the eye of a reader in mind, but it seems more monitor than target--Would this "someone" get this sentence? For the most part I seem to be writing to the story than to either my self or someone else, that is to what the story itself is trying to become. Is this what you ( the story ) are trying to say? No? How about this? So we plod along, it and I, in this odd exchange rather like a sculptor talking to his stone. In the end, I usually have no idea to whom it might speak and am always pleasantly surprised to find that it occasionally has to someone.

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    Marcus Speh
    Jan 08, 03:42pm

    @David @Mathew @Frankie I really like your meditations on the question. It makes me wonder (not to fan the flames) as I have before, if the story doesn't write us rather than the other way around—or some other scheme which boils down to "I must" rather than "I want".

    Century-old evidence: in the brilliant essay on Henry James, Ford Madox Ford ( writes:

    «The novelist ist not there to write what he "wants" but what he HAS, at the bidding of blind but august Destiny, to set down. Not what he wants but what he CAN, finally and consummately, put on paper is the final duty of the writer.»

    Destiny as the ultimate audience.

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    stephen hastings-king
    Jan 08, 06:52pm

    I like the way Proust described this relation of writing to readers:

    In reality every reader is, while he is reading, the reader of his own self. The writer’s work is merely a kind of optical instrument which he offers to the reader to enable him to discern what, without this book, he would perhaps never have perceived in himself.

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    John Riley
    Jan 08, 08:19pm

    @Marcus, "Destiny as the ultimate audience" remains an audience of humans. When the idea of an audience as being indispensable is rejected the logical next question is "If I write a work that no one will ever see what have I done?" What changes about a work when another reads it? When "Action!" is called, if you will. Isn't one consciousness, the artist's, touching another, the viewer/reader/listener's, axiomatic? Can a work (project) exist as art, does it come into being, if it is never allowed to make that touch? It isn't a question of writing for an audience, although I'd argue James was keenly aware of who composed his audience, but a question of what a work of art does in the world.

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    Marcus Speh
    Jan 08, 09:37pm

    @John I have this belief that just as we take some of the source material for our writing from the field of humanity surrounding us, the collective unconscious if you will, we also return something to it when we make art, independent of anyone consciously registering or reading the result of our art-making. A simpler way to put it would be that art always changes the world even if only you are changed by it. If I write a story this changes me even if nobody sees it and in effect my behavior changes...and the world has moved on a little. Some may call this extremely tiny and meaningless but we are not talking about ego here but rather, I suppose soul or field of influence and meaning.

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    John Riley
    Jan 08, 10:12pm

    @Marcus you make an interesting observation, one I hadn't considered. It's highly ponderable. We know tiny isn't meaningless. Meaningfulness isn't easily quantified. If what you think is true--and it is if that is what happens to you--the change resonates, I'm sure, more than a tiny bit.

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    Marcus Speh
    Jan 08, 10:53pm

    yes, when there's resonance, of course then we talk about the beginnings of success in the world...and the great writings keep resonating in the tubes of every new generation until they are one day completely absorbed...

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    Letitia Coyne
    Jan 09, 01:32pm

    I think, at about 10000wrds, novels begin to refuse to be directed. Their characters take charge.

    An author who writes specifically and only for their audience, eg Stephenie Meyer or EL James, can tell the story without concern for how the words are laid down.

    An author who struggles to perfect their delivery, might struggle more with their own fears, and preconceptions, and expectations and ego than with the story itself, even if it seems to be the story they are wrestling.

    Maybe the story is. Just as Carole King said, her songs are already written and they come through her fingers to the keyboard. Most stories always were, in one form or another. And as Proust said - a mirror to the reader.

    Or maybe the difference between storytelling and Literature in the original quote is in the delivery, and that is the dilemma.


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    Mathew Paust
    Jan 12, 02:48pm

    We're the midwives of our stories? I like it.

  • XXXX
    Jan 13, 02:26pm

    Self-communion is the very condition of communication, insofar as before you may truly express "yourself," this "self" must first be known in its fullness, including its misgivings, weaknesses and humiliation.

    Writing is therefore, for the writer, a self-communion as it is an unfolding of himself through the medium of language; and at the same time a means of communication, for his readers, that leads toward the sentiments of the author.

    Perhaps this is why bad writing can sometimes be neither here nor there in its sentiments: it does not come from a real "self." It fails to communicate insofar as its writer has failed its "self-communion."

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    James Lloyd Davis
    Jan 13, 04:44pm

    If we are to believe the zen masters, true revelation of self would be silence. The unfolding of a flower is temptation for the insects and nectar drinking birds of the field. Symbiosis for the mutual satisfaction and sustenance of both. Communion. Writing is temptation for the reader.

    My opinion only.

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