Wednesday, January 19, 2005

I was at the library yesterday, and spoke briefly with my friend, who is a reference librarian there. She was faced with a disturbing situation--a patron had contacted her (I think by phone); he said that he wanted to join the KKK, and wanted to know how to find them. My friend told me she wasn't sure what her responsibility as a librarian was in such a case. She was tempted to tell him to go find the information, himself. She also wondered if perhaps the caller was doing an academic study just to see whether someone could get that sort of information through the library. I am curious to know how it all unfolded (D, if you're reading this, please let me know.)

This got me to thinking--what is my responsibility as a writer? This is something I think about a lot, actually. Part of me feels that my only responsibility is to become transparent, to tell the stories that want to come through me without imposing my own agenda. I want to be an open, unbiased, channel. At the same time, I feel a real responsibility to keep the voice of dissent alive, to speak up about the things that disturb me, to give a throat to those who are voiceless. The honors I have received (not to mention the current oppressive political climate) have made this feel even more imperative to me, but it can be a tricky balance. I like to think that if I allow myself to be an open channel, my passions will find a way to seep through. At the same time, I have to be open to anything; if a character who wants to join the KKK speaks up inside of me, I need to listen, to follow that story. And I think that is ultimately where the most healing aspect of fiction comes in--it allows us to look into the heart of the other (even if that heart is a dark one); it helps us realize that the other isn't so other after all. Which ultimately helps increase our capacity for connection and compassion. That, I think, is the best goal of all.


Anonymous said...

Hi Gail,

I've been thinking about this a lot lately too. I'm reading "A Room of One's Own" by Virginia Woolf and she talks quite a bit about how the women of her time -- angry because of discrimination and the limitations of women's lives -- are not the best writers because their anger comes through and hampers their writing.

In contrast, she claims that minds of Shakespeare and Jane Austin have "consumed all impediments" so that their writing excells. Specifically about Jane Austin, Woolf is surprised to find "a woman about the year 1800 writing without hate, without bitterness, without fear, without protest, without preaching." By letting our anger, or anything other than the story itself, interfere with our writing, our books will be flawed and will rot like so "pock-marked apples".

I've also thought that Susan Sontag's political writings are not as eloquent or refined as some of her other writings because her anger is not tempered.

Something to think about but, in the end we can only be who we are.


gayle said...

Hi Donna! So wonderful to hear from you. Thanks so much for posting and for sharing Virginia Woolf's thoughts.

"By letting our anger, or anything other than the story itself, interfere with our writing, our books will be flawed and will rot like so 'pock-marked apples'."

This is so interesting to me. I can totally see where she's coming from--I think that when we have an agenda for our work, it can diminish our work rather than have the impact we hope it will. At the same time, I think anger can be galvanizing and inspiring and can give a work more power.

I once took a seminar on politics and art, and someone gave a definition of propaganda as a piece where the art was secondary to the ideas behind it. If the art and the ideas meld, it's no longer propaganda. I am not sure if I fully agree, but I find it interesting.

I think of two films I saw last year--"What the Bleep Do We Know?" and "I Heart Huckabees". Both were very philosophical movies--I love that philosophical movies can be made these days and people will go to them!--and I enjoyed both of them a lot, but I think that "What the Bleep Do We Know?" might be categorized as propoganda. The stories in the film were obviously there to serve the central idea of the film, whereas "I Heart Huckabees" used the ideas in the film to further the film's story. I'm not sure if I'm expressing this well, but there was a palpable difference to me, and I found the latter to be more satisfying overall, even though I was glad I saw the first, too.

"Something to think about but, in the end we can only be who we are."

Ain't that the truth! And I think that "what we are" is what we need to infuse into our work.

Thanks again for posting--what a treat!