The week’s mailbag is finally back, readers! It’s time I got back to your thoughtful comments and kept the dialogue going here at Writerly Life. It’s been a busy summer here with many family obligations keeping me from writing and blogging as much as I’d like to, but that’s no reason to be lax about these two important things. So let’s take a trip back today, readers, to my post about looking for the odd one out in your fiction, and my review of the quite astonishing book, Leaving the Atocha Station, by Ben Lerner.
Whilst I don’t like rules, perhaps we all conform to this and don’t know it! Interesting read. Felicity Fox
Thanks, Felicity (and welcome to the site). I think writers have a distaste for rules in common — it can sometimes seem soulless to follow a rubric or formula when writing. However, it’s surprising how many rules and conventions in storytelling there really are. We rely on these rules for audiences to understand our stories. And things like pacing and suspense tend to follow very strict rules. So it’s useful to know about them — and then break them thoughtfully!
Very sound advice – thank you. I think this will help with the chapter that’s been haunting me for weeks. It is about an “odd” occurrence with which I was having trouble. Your insight has helped unstick my mind.
Thanks, Stacy. A little insight into the structure governing our own stories can often help get us going again — rules like the odd one out rule are like scaffolds that can hold our story up, getting us to the next page when it’s difficult.
Readers were interested to hear about Ben Lerner’s book, Leaving the Atocha Station. It’s still one of my favorite books that I’ve read this year, and an absolutely fascinating wrestle with modernism and post-modernism. Mary said:
This sounds like a good book, BLH. Normally I don’t worry about whether or not ‘ART’ is one thing or another, but I’m regularly quite moved by it. Sometimes I’m moved to profound emotion, sometimes I’m moved to slam shut a book & toss it over my head–but moved all the same.
Would you consider doing a column on ‘modern’ & ‘post-modern’ art, i.e., what these two terms mean? I’m confused. If something is modern, is it not the most current? How can anything be ‘post’ or ‘after’ modern, if modern IS the current form?
Thanks, Mary. I agree that I’m in the modernist camp — I find art deeply moving all the time, and am resistant to this anxious, distancing, intellectualization of it. I think Lerner is on that side too — he’s just showing the anguish of his character’s self-discovery.
I would be happy to write a post about what “modernism” and “post-modernism” actually mean, and what the difference is — I’m actually teaching a college course on this topic in the fall, so most likely you will see quite a few posts on the topic. Look out for that soon! If I have to sum it up in one sentence right now, though, I’ll whet my readers’ appetite by saying that modernism questions whether it is possible to depict reality in art, and post-modernism declares it impossible, dealing only in the fact of art’s artificiality. So, readers, it’s time to take a side: can art really truly capture real life? Or can it only approach and simulate real life, in a vanishing asymptote of approximation?
Michael Washburn said:
What does the narrator, Adam Gordon, say at the end? Something about himself reading the originals of poems, Theresa reading the translations, and the translations becoming originals? To me this was not just another of the novel’s endless solipsistic musings, but an acknowledgment that the perception, or mental reconstruction, of reality, has a reality of its own and becomes a final answer to solipsism. “I can’t tell you for certain what happened — but I can describe the sensory experience of someone who was there.”
Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Michael. I think you are talking about the fundamental question of modernism and post-modernism as well. Both of these artistic movements acknowledge the strange disconnect between real life — what’s Out There, really happening — and our fumbling little efforts on the page or canvas. I think science, particularly neurology, is following the lead of modernism as well these days, acknowledging that a great deal of the world we think we know is a question of subjective and often faulty processes in our brains.
I love it when science and art intersect! Until next time, readers.