A story is never an answer. A story is always a question.
∆ Ali Smith, Companion Piece
I have a theory that we all write in the way we lived our lives as children. Take someone like Suzan-Lori Parks, who was an army brat and lived all over––her plays are free-form, unencumbered. You don't feel the dome of conformity around them. Then there are people who grew up in small, tidy apartments, and as such their writing is spare and unadorned. And there is someone like me, who grew up in a brownstone with rooms of varying sizes that were cluttered with eclectic stuff, a lifetime of belongings––as a result, I wrote plays that are architecturally sound but packed with unexpected things.
∆ Lynn Nottage interview, The Art of Theater No. 19, The Paris Review 245
In every way, the literary life involves collecting: words and ideas, libraries and anthologies, yes, even architectural dictionaries. One of the writer’s essential duties is to gather—to filter and weave fragments, to refract perspectives and form new points of contact. The reader, in turn, acts the Widsith’s listening audience, learning from the sojourner’s song how to speak of the textures of life. Such is the ongoing, collaborative nature of a language we are not born knowing; we cannot express ourselves without first encountering the words of others. As is often remarked, effective writing serves not as explanation, but invitation—a bowerbird’s nest of noticings, calling other minds to take roost.
The premise of self-help books is simple: once the solution to a problem has been offered and easily memorized thanks to catchy acronyms, the reader will feel better and improve by identification with a fictional character depicted in the book. Like cookbooks (how often do we actually cook any of the recipes described?), or sex manuals (in which the pleasure is generated by reading the text much more than by any actual realization), the greatest satisfaction is derived not from the following the guidance but from fictional immersion. Self-help books function like literature; that is to say, they grant a cathartic release, leading once in a while to renewal and restoration.
∆ Gherovici, P., 2023. Why I Did Not Write a Book on Lacan and Tango. e-flux, [online] 29 March.
One must be drenched in words, literally soaked in them, to have the right ones form themselves into the proper pattern at the right moment.
∆ Hart Crane, from a letter quoted in Hart Crane: The Life of an American Poet by Philip Horton (Norton, 1937)