Friday, February 24, 2006
Caddy Smelled Like Trees
(Hannah asked me to post it where other people could see. I always do what Hannah says.)
I wasn't crying, but I couldn't stop. I wasn't crying, but the ground wasn't still, and then I was crying. The ground kept sloping up and the cows ran up the hill. T.P. tried to get up. He fell down again and the cows ran up the hill. Quentin held my arm and we went toward the barn. The barn wasn't there and we had to wait until it came back. I didn't see it come back. It came behind us and Quentin set me down in the trough where the cows ate. I held on to it. It was going away too, and I held to it. The cows ran down the hill again, across the door. I couldn't stop. Quentin and T.P. came up the hill, fighting. T.P. was falling down the hill and Quentin dragged him up the hill. Quentin hit T.P. I couldn't stop.
That's Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury. I first read that as a college sophomore, for Comp Lit 208. This was on page 24. I didn't know what the hell was going on; the narrative was all over the place chronologically and lots of things were unclear--at least in this first section, which was written from the POV of Benjy, who clearly was mentally challenged (the book's title comes from the Shakespeare quote about life being a tale told by an idiot).
Despite that, I was into the book. It had lots of weird imagery (see above) and family drama. I just felt sort of dumb and left out.
Then, in lecture, the instructor talked about that very passage above. And she pointed out something that I hadn't gleaned from the text--at that point in the narrative Benjy was drunk. T.P. had gotten him drunk, and Quentin (Benjy's brother) was pissed about it. Benjy had never been drunk before, and he didn't know what it was to be drunk. To him it wasn't that his equilibrium was off or that his eyes were bugging out on him. It was that the barn was moving, and the ground. It made such wonderful, vivid sense, and was such a perfect invitation into the perceptions of a character who saw things completely differently than I. I was stunned. Once given that insight, my approach to the book completely changed. It's still one of my favorites.
Faulkner is difficult. I don't think even most of his partisans will argue that. I know that he polarizes folks, and I can't think of a writer that I've heard the word "hate" about more often. But he uses language not just to evoke time and place but also to pull the reader completely into someone else's thought processes. And that's the tension of this entire revived discussion about accessibility and self-indulgence, as far as I'm concerned; the mediation between self and other, and the question of how palatable to make the self.
Transparent writing says, there are no barriers between you the reader and I the writer, at least none that we can't overcome; I'm going to tell this story and you will understand it. There may be other, deeper things going on in and around the story, but you don't have to worry about that if you don't feel like it. Just enjoy.
Difficult writing, on the other hand, says there is a barrier between you the reader and I the writer, and that barrier is ourselves. The words I use may not mean quite the same thing to you as they do to me. I might overcome this by using words that are less loaded, but when I do that, they become less my truth; they become something which digests more easily, but signifies less of the message I am trying to send. This is a choice I have made as a writer; you may choose, as a reader, not to care. For my story to be told will probably require more work on your part, and you may not find that work worth the effort. In that way, reading becomes like human interaction.
(I will disclaim that I am talking in both of the above cases (so-called transparent and so-called difficult) about writing of quality. I would submit that there are many, many more ways to fail to write well than there are to succeed, and crap just doesn't concern me much.)
For what it's worth, I don't privilege one type of writing over the other. There is perhaps a greater level of satisfaction in finishing and getting most of what is gettable out of a difficult text, at least for me. But it takes a lot of time and effort, so I don't read as much Faulkner (to stick with my example) as I used to. At Odyssey Jane Yolen reminded us that a lot can be said with a simple declarative sentence. More than in an eight-page sentence filled with ellipsis and not much other punctuation? Depends on who you ask.
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
"Screen" at Pboz
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
Donkeys in Stocking Caps
Now that the contracts have been turned in and it's all officially official, I just wanted to let y'all know that my essay "On Making Noise: Confessions of a Quiet Kid" will be appearing in Kate Bernheimer's Brothers and Beasts: An Anthology of Men on Fairy Tales, which will be coming out from Wayne University Press. You may recognize some of the other contributors' names; the list I've seen includes folks like Charles de Lint, Christopher Barzak, Gregory Maguire, Neil Gaiman, Ben Rosenbaum, and Jeff VanderMeer. If you saw Kate's previous antho, Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Women Writers Explore Their Favorite Fairy Tales, you can guess how excited I am to be included.
I wrote my piece on "The Bremen Town Musicians," and I was even able to dig up the ragged old copy of Grimm's where I initially encountered it. The cover depicts the musicians mid-performance:
My essay is about noise, of course, but it's also about the way I interpreted the world as a child--rules of what was real and what wasn't on TV, strategies for dealing with robbers, reasons that a story about talking animals was acceptable fare while stories about giants or people turning into swans were not. Also, why a donkey is like Mike Nesmith. (I was a weird kid.) I'm really looking forward to the rest of the anthology; I hope you'll all keep an eye out for it.
Monday, February 20, 2006
Headlines + a Personal Note
Some U.S. zoos are rethinking elephant captivity. The Bronx Zoo is phasing them out. In Los Angeles, Bob Barker pleads with zoo officials to release their elephants to a sanctuary. More about the Reid Park Zoo elephants. A CNN reporter rides with Billie and Frieda to Hohenwald. The Nebraskan bill to ban mistreatment of elephants is stuck in committee and unlikely to pass.
A brief profile of former Newsweek theatre reporter turned leading elephant expert Cynthia Moss.
More evidence that elephants are traumatized by violence and may attack humans as retaliation. (Just another way in which they're like us.) This one's been widely covered. Another study confirms that elephants "hear" through their feet; this could explain things like coordinated migration of scattered herds, and the panic of elephants far from culling or poaching sites. Yet another study debunks the "drunken elephants" idea, suggesting that the average pachyderm would have to eat about 1200 fermented fruit to get intoxicated.
The Indian government is considering repealing restrictions on the sale and movement of domesticated elephants.
In Malaysia, a wild elephant sanctuary.
Land mines in Sri Lanka kill three elephants.
In Zimbabwe, elephant-human clashes are expected to worsen.
Kenyan ice carvers at the Olympics.
Kenya news you may have heard: 10 U.S. soldiers killed off Djibouti in a helicopter crash. In tangentially related news, the U.S. plans to spend $208 million for AIDS relief in Kenya.
Kenya's border security is beefed up in anticipation of possible election violence in Uganda.
Vatican worries over a Kenyan splinter sect of the Catholic church. The Holy Cross Church is part of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), working in the tradition of Bishop Marcel Lefebvre, who "believed and made his followers believe that the church had been taken over by pro-communists, Jewish, protestant, Zionist, satanic and Freemason forces and that . . . the series of the world's bishops meetings known as the Second Vatican Council that ran from 1962 to 1965, was nothing more than a collection of people from this extraction." The East African Standard points out that they've been in Kenya for at least twenty years. In other religious news, Kenya has also seen its share of protests over the Muhammed cartoons.
Failures in compensation for those tortured under the former regime.
Corruption: they're calling it the Goldenberg scandal now. Exiled corruption investigator John Githongo is naming names, and he's got evidence on tape. The energy and education ministers have followed the finance minister in resigning. Accused participants are being ordered to give up their passports. The World Bank wants major economic reform. Last Friday, protests in Nairobi against the corruption. The "Sons of the Mau Mau" on the rise.
The drought: the human tragedy. Millions may starve. Meningitis breaks out. Bird flu fears. Skirmishes over water. Four women tried to dig a well and were killed when the walls collapsed on them. Al-Jazeera puts it all in context. Again, the citizenry blames government corruption. Will the drought mean the end of nomadic life?
The drought also means more bad news for wildlife. More questions about the new status of Amboseli: chiefly, can the Maasai be trusted as stewards for scarce water resources, when their admitted priority will always be their own cattle?
In South Africa, the planned elephant cull in Kruger National Park has been postponed, at least for now.
Finally, last week was unpleasant in and around Dave's head. I tend to take the wounded-dog approach to depression; curl up in the dark and growl at anyone who comes near. I'm feeling much better now, but if I growled at you last week, I'm very sorry. Luckily the weekend was good, with some "Sky High" (predictable, yes, but funnier than you think, and with some genius casting) and three-count-em-three shows, two of them on Saturday; Marianne's old-timey band at one location (still in need of a better name, leave your suggestion in the comments) and the Returnables' CD release and last-ever show at another. Last night, Mucca Pazza again! Love those guys. So, in summary, life is pretty good. Might be time to start writing another novel . . .