What artists have to do, it seems to me, is work with their obsessions, their singular world-view, their personal way of making sense, while not ceasing to be in dialogue and collaboration with a shared reality around them. Before we ever get to the point of writing for “the reader,” we are readers of our own lives. Meaningfulness is not made or imposed by us alone; writing is not “I have the idea and now I will make the work fit it.” Writing involves more humility than that. It is more like “There is sense, there is meaning, in the imaginative material, in experience itself, in life of which I am a part but only a part.” It is more like “The common experience is ongoing and I am a locus of its knowing itself; when I write I am a place where human experience becomes aware of itself.”

In short, what I believe is that there is such a thing as human experience that we have in common. We get there not by climbing up into our idea of what experience should be, but digging downward into the earth of what it really is for us, subjectively and without apology for our subjectivity, because that is where the stuff lurks that will finally connect with other people’s experience. (This unabashed respect for subjectivity differentiates our field from many other parts of the academy.) Not only do we slowly learn to write this way, we learn to read this way. Not from “should” but from a certain willingness to admit what we really are. If we write a text that admits to some of our secrets, then our text knows some of the reader’s secrets. If we read in a spirit of owning up to the reality of the self, then we can open the gift that has been planted within the text by the writer.

This is not something one ever finishes learning to do. Instead, it’s a way of life.

Advertisements