chapter 10 - the domain of the word
- among the oldest symbolic systems in the world are those organized around the content and the rules of language.
- what makes words so powerful is that they enrich life by expanding the range of individual experience.
- but more important, the written words allows us to understand better what is happening within ourselves.
to be a witness
- Strand claims that often he starts writing without anything specific in mind. what gets him started is the simple desire to write. writing for him - as for the rest of the individuals discussed in this chapter - is a necessity, like swimming for a fish or flying for a bird.
the haven of words
- Domin's skill with words was not something that manifested itself early or suddenly. she became interested in language after she learned first greek and latin, and later italian, french, english, and spanish. as she learned to speak these various languages, she became fascinated by the fact that the same word may have certain set of connotations in one and a very different network of meaning in another. Or that one language could express some emotions or events more accurately tha another.
struggles with the field
- like many writers and painters, Domin is torn between endorsing two opposite images of the artist. one is the idealized version, in which genius triumphs no matter what obstacles stand in its way. the second is based on experience, and it recognizes the fact that jealous and antagonistic critics have ways to silence the artist's voice.
telling it as it is
- honesty is important to the poet for at least two reasons.
- the first is that if she lets ideology or undue optimism color the way she reports her experiences, the truth content of the poem will be corrupted.
- the second is that the poet must be honest with herself, always evaluating what she writes and not letting wishful thinking stop her from improving the evolving work
released by style
- it is fascinating how the pursuit of artistic domains such as music or poetry, and also of scientific domains like geometry and science, is motivated not so much by the desire to achieve some external goal - a poem of proof - but by the feeling of freedom from the threats and stresses of everyday life one experiences when completely immersed in the domain. paradoxically, it is the abstract rules we invent to limit and focus our attention that give us the experience of untrammeled freedom
- as powerful as poetry is, it does not resolve all one's problems. mastering a symbolic style - be it poetry or physics - does not guarantee one will also bring order to those events that lie outside the rules of the domain. poets and physicists may bask in the beautiful order of their craft as long as they are working at it, but they are as vulnerable as the rest of us when they step back into everyday life and have to confront family problems, time pressures, illness, and poverty. this is why it becomes so tempting to invest more and more energy in one's work and forget everyday life - in other words, become a workaholic.
- women feel responsible to their families of origin and extended relatives in ways that men do not. of course, the men in our sample feel a great deal of responsibility to their wives and children, and the depth of guilt they experience if they feel unable to meet their obligations can be overwhelming. but their sense of responsibility is generally limited to the role of husband and father, whereas the women's usually embraces a larger web of kinship
the survival of the human spirit
- in her own work, L'Engle feels that the enjoyment of writing comes first, followed by a sense of responsibility for what she writes. because she knows that her books influence a lot of readers, she is concerned about not passing on a destructive message. even when the characters in the book suffer and seem at the end of their rope, she believes that "you have to get them out, into some kind of hope. I don't like hopeless books. books that make you think, 'ah, life's not worth living.' I want to leave them thinking yeah, this endeavor is difficult, but it is worth it, and it is ultuimately joyful"
- "the amazing thing is that despite all the things that happen, the human spirit still manages to survive, to stay strong" - L'Engle
everything in the universe is interrelated
- L'Engle believes that telling stories in an important way to keep people from falling away from one another and to keep the fabric of civilized life from unraveling. helping the relationship among people remain harmonious is one of her central tasks. she believes her calling is to reflect on what she has learned from experience and share it with other people, especially children.
- like many other creative individuals, L'Engle attributes her success in large part to the ability to take risks. she has been adventurous in her personal life, trying to follow an inner sense of what was right even when it went against the norms and expectations of her social milieu.
- "human beings are the only creatures who are allowed to fail. if an ant fails, it's dead. but we're allowed to learn from our mistakes and from our failures. and that's how I learn, by falling flat on my face and picking myself up and starting all over again. if I'm not free to fail, I will never start another book, I'll never start a new thing" - L'Engle
adding to the world
- Saul Bellow and Philip Roth became particularly close, and eventually both Bellow and Stern went to teach at the university of chicago. during his travels he became acquainted with some of the most prominent european writers as well; Thomas Mann made a particular impression. contacts like these are necessary to the creative person for several reasons: they provide benchmarks for evaluating one's own work, they offer competition that spurts one to surpass oneself, they provide helpful criticism, and, last but not least, they open up opportunities and information that can be essential to one's advancement.
the conversation of the negative
- as we have seen several times already, one typically turns to writing literature in order to restore order to experience.
- to overcome the pain of existence, one must be honest with oneself, acknowledging one's faults and weaknesses. otherwise too much energy is absorbed in denial, or in ruminating over disappointments.
- as these five cases suggest, the domain of the word is indeed quite powerful. it allows us to recognize our feelings and label them in terms of enduring, shared qualities. in this way both the author and the reader can achieve a certain distance from the immediate raw experience and begin to understand, to contextualize, to explain what otherwise would remain a visceral reaction.
- all of these writers were able to make their contribution only by first immersing themselves in the domain of literature
- sooner or later, each of them also became part of the field of literature.
- another similarity among the writers was the oft-stressed emphasis on the dialectic between the irrational and the rational aspects of the craft, between passion and discipline.
- everyone agrees that necessary as it is to listen to the unconscious, it is not efficient. the real work begins when the emotions or idea that sprang from the uncharted regions of the psyche is held up to the light of reason, there to be named, classified, puzzled over, and related to other emotions and ideas.
- to do so it helps to have a broad base of knowledge that extends beyond the boundaries of literature.
- there were many similarities also in the methods these writers follow as they ply their craft.
- all of them keep notebooks handy for when the voice of the muse calls, which tends to be early in the morning while the writer is still in bed, half asleep.
- most of them have been keeping diaries for many years.
- they usually start a working day with a work, a phrase, or an image, rather than a concept of planned composition.
- the work evolves on its own rather than the author's intentions, but is always monitored by the critical eye of the writer. what is so difficult abou this process is that one must keep the mind focused on two contradictory goals: not to miss the message whispered by the unconscious and at the same time force it into a suitable form. the first requires openness, the second critical judgement. if these two processes are not kept in a constantly shifting balance, the flow of writing dries up.