I’ve received some wonderful feedback from people about “Sea Change” – one person wrote: “Your words remind me of the way I feel when I read her [Jeanette Winterson’s] work.” And then I felt so humbled. As if I’d emptied inside and a field covered by snow and silence expanded within me.
Of course I went to Jeanette Winterson’s website and read. And added Weight to my to-read list on GoodReads. And of course I found brilliance. This is the line that stopped my monkey-brain thinking and made me sit up and pay attention: “Autobiography is not important. Authenticity is important.”
Weight is part of a series that re-works classic myths: Jamie Byng of Canongate (publisher of Life of Pi) came up with the idea of writers from around the world choosing a myth and re-working it. Winterson decided to “explore loneliness, isolation, responsibility, burden, and freedom” in re-writing the myth of Atlas holding the world.
In context, that wonderful line blooms (looms?): “WEIGHT has a personal story broken against the bigger story of the myth we know and the myth I have re-told. I have written this personal story in the First Person, indeed almost all of my work is written in the First Person, and this leads to questions of autobiography.
“Autobiography is not important. Authenticity is important. The writer must fire herself through the text, be the molten stuff that welds together disparate elements. I believe there is always exposure, vulnerability, in the writing process, which is not to say it is either confessional or memoir. Simply, it is real.
“Right now, human beings as a mass, have a gruesome appetite for what they call ‘real’, whether it’s Reality TV or the kind of plodding fiction that only works as low-grade documentary, or at the better end, the factual programmes and biographies and ‘true life’ accounts that occupy the space where imagination used to sit.
“Such a phenomenon points to a terror of the inner life, of the sublime, of the poetic, of the non-material, of the contemplative.
“Against all this, a writer such as myself, who believes in the power of story telling for its mythic and not its explanatory qualities, and who believes that language is much more than information, must row against the tide rather like Siegfried rowing against the current of the Rhine.”
There’s so much going on in those few paragraphs. My body was singing as I read this! Exactly! We are beset by “a terror of the inner life, of the sublime, of the poetic, of the non-material, of the contemplative.” This is what we lose when we are plugged in 24/7. We are gluttons to “fact” and what we term “reality”. We prostrate ourselves to the tyranny of reality at the cost of the destruction of the non-material, the contemplative, the things that do not hold up to the harsh killing floor lights of “fact” because that’s not where all the world lies. We need poetry for viewing the ephemeral, the sublime, the sub-atomic physics that cannot be measured…
Consider what is “real” as opposed to what people consider “reality” to be.
I talked with a physicist in my cab last week and mentioned to him that I imagine sub-atomic physics to be like poetry. “Yes,” he smiled and agreed, “it is poetry.”
Too much contemporary storytelling is impoverished. Too many people have forgotten the beauty and wonder of fantasy, poetry, the power of myth.
From the introduction of A Life on Paper: Stories by Georges-Olivier Chateaureynaud (English translation published by Small Beer Press):
“… Chateaureynaud is a founding member of the contemporary movement La Nouvelle Fiction: “New” because it rose up against the prevailingly minimalist and confessional tendencies (autofiction) of recent French writing, seeking to rouse it from what critic Jean-Luv Moreau called “the slumber of psychological realism,” and to restore myth, fable, and fairy tale to a place of primacy in fiction.”
Is this not unlike Winterson saying she believes in “the power of story telling for its mythic and not its explanatory qualities… that language is much more than information”? Is this not why our “gruesome appetite” for reality t.v. costs us our inner life, that seat of fantasizing and fancy, the link between ourselves and nature?
Is this not isolation and loneliness? The irony that we lose such a vital connection to ourselves and to others when we abandon our inner lives to constant (false?) contact.