Thursday, May 29, 2008


Joan Didion Says

Speaking of The Writer on Her Work, I found a letter inside my copy of the book. Obviously it belonged to the previous owner. It is dated 12/16/88 and reads:
"Dear R---

Well, I've thought about writing a couple times to let you know that I still feel a kind of relief and satisfaction that I felt after talking to you on the phone, that I received your postcard and was pleased to copy a paragraph out of an essay by Susan Griffith (okay, so I lost my parallelism in just the 3rd phrase--sue me)."

Oh, you writers and your weird flirting. Anyway . . .
"It's a pleasure to write to someone who may pay attention to writing. I don't often get a chance to worry about construction. Construction. A good word to refer to writing--solid."

Gold, man!
"Anyway, I was also trying to think of something I might send you for the holidays. Having finished the Griffith essay and having checked its front of its back . . ."

Hunh? I think he meant "front to back."
". . . to see that by some coincidence I did not write my name and # in the front immediately, this book seems an appropriate gift.

Perhaps you can view J as some thoughts from some of your colleagues.

Happy Holidays.

Love Steve"

At this point there is a peace sign combined with a smiley face.
"PS--Think back to last Halloween and to my wall at 2110 and see if you can guess which paragraph I was going to copy. If you can't get it, no biggy. Just say so and I'll let you know.

PSS--Alice is indeed, once again, I think, brilliant.

131 bathetic (bathos?)"

The front of the book also has an inscription by Steve. He writes:
"R--I'm sure there'll be room in the 2nd volume (if only you could write "I")
Love, Steve"

Well, what the hell was Steve talking about? I think I know. Here's an excerpt from Joan Didion's essay in The Writer on Her Work.

In many ways writing is the act of saying I, of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind. It's an aggressive, even a hostile act. You can disguise its aggressiveness all you want with veils of subordinate clauses and qualifiers and tentative subjunctives, with ellipses and evasions--with the whole manner of intimating rather than claiming, of alluding rather than stating--but there's no getting around the fact that setting words on paper is the tactic of a secret bully, an invasion, an imposition of the writer's sensibility on the reader's most private space.

From The Writer on Her Work.

Well, I don't know. I would agree that having a vision at all is a messianic thing, and wanting to bring that vision to life requires enormous ego. But how hostile is it really when people have the choice to listen to you or not? And can you really get at any kind of truth if you are concerned, while working, of the need to impose your will on others?

Most of the time I feel that writing is this tremendous struggle to accurately get down some observation or feeling of my own--writing feels more like self-flagellation or an act requiring enormous discipline and focus than it does an imposition on others. I rarely see writing as an act of bullying other people. If writing is bullying, then just being alive and being different from everyone else is bullying, I think.

Then again, I'm a year away from having a book in hand, and I might well change my mind and understand this quote much differently by then. Either way, I found it intriguing and it will probably stick in my brain for a while.

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