“Setting words in some recoverable format is the tactic of a secret bully,” and other selections from Why I Write

“Setting words in some recoverable format is the tactic of a secret bully,” and other selections from Why I Write

The question of what propels creators, especially great creators, is the subject of eternal fascination and cultural curiosity. The curtain on one of the most celebrated and distinctive voices of American fiction and literary journalism to reveal what it is that has compelled her to spend half a century putting pen to paper in”Why I Write,” originally published in the New York Times Book Review on December 5, 1976 and found in The Writer on Her Work, Volume 1 (public library), Joan Didion—whose indelible insight on self-respect is a must-read for all—peels.

Needless to say I stole the title because of this talk, from George Orwell. One reason I stole it was I write that I like the sound of the words: Why. There you have got three short unambiguous words that share a sound, together with sound they share is this: I I I In many ways writing could be the act of saying I, of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying pay attention to me, notice it my way, change your mind. It really is an aggressive, even a act that is hostile. You are able to disguise its qualifiers and tentative subjunctives, with ellipses and evasions —with the entire types of intimating as opposed to claiming, of alluding rather than stating—but there isn’t any getting around the reality that setting words in writing is the tactic of a secret bully, an invasion, an imposition of the writer’s sensibility regarding the reader’s most private space.

She continues on to attest into the character-forming significance of living the questions and trusting that even the meaningless moments will add up to one’s becoming:

I experienced trouble graduating from Berkeley, not due to this inability to deal with ideas—I was majoring in English, and I also could locate the house-and-garden imagery within the Portrait of a Lady as well as the person that is next ‘imagery’ being by definition the kind of specific that got my attention—but due to the fact I experienced neglected to take a program in Milton. Used to do this. For reasons which now sound baroque I needed a diploma by the end of this summer, plus the English department finally agreed, if I would personally come down from Sacramento every Friday and speak about the cosmology of Paradise Lost, to certify me experienced in Milton. Used to do this. Some Fridays I took the Greyhound bus, other Fridays I caught the Southern Pacific’s City of bay area on the last leg of their transcontinental trip. I will not any longer tell you whether Milton put the sun or the earth at the center of his universe in Paradise Lost, the central question of at least one century and a subject about that I wrote 10,000 words that summer, but I am able to still recall the precise rancidity associated with butter in the City of San Francisco’s dining car, write an essay for me free together with way the tinted windows on the Greyhound bus cast the oil refineries around Carquinez Straits into a grayed and obscurely sinister light. In a nutshell my attention was always on the periphery, about what i possibly could see and taste and touch, from the butter, while the bus that is greyhound. During those years I was traveling on what I knew to be an extremely shaky passport, forged papers: I knew that I happened to be no legitimate resident in any world of ideas. I knew i possibly couldn’t think. All I knew then was what I could not do. All I knew then was what I wasn’t, plus it took me some years to see the thing I was.

Which was a writer.

A person whose most absorbed and passionate hours are spent arranging words on pieces of paper by which I mean not a ‘good’ writer or a ‘bad’ writer but simply a writer. Had my credentials been in order i might never have become a writer. Had I been blessed with even limited access to my very own mind there will have been no reason at all to create. I write entirely to learn what I’m thinking, the thing I’m looking at, the thing I see and what it means. The thing I want and the thing I fear. Why did the oil refineries around Carquinez Straits seem sinister to me in the summertime of 1956? Why have the lights in the bevatron burned in my mind for twenty years night? What’s going on within these pictures in my mind?

She stresses the effectiveness of sentences whilst the fabric that is living of:

Grammar is a piano I play by ear, since I appear to have been away from school the the rules were mentioned year. All i understand about grammar is its infinite power. To shift the dwelling of a sentence alters the meaning of the sentence, as definitely and inflexibly once the position of a camera alters the meaning associated with the object photographed. Lots of people find out about camera angles now, but not so many know about sentences. The arrangement for the expressed words matters, and the arrangement you want are available in the picture in your head. The image dictates the arrangement. The picture dictates whether this will be a sentence with or without clauses, a sentence that ends hard or a dying-fall sentence, long or short, active or passive. The picture tells you how exactly to arrange the expressed words plus the arrangement regarding the words tells you, or tells me, what’s happening in the image. Nota bene.

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