Self-image and Writing

Paul’s recently linked (via our Twitter account) BBC article on Gabriel García Márquez’s famous novel was interesting not just for the human aspect side to the story (carrying the characters mentally with him for so long, a sudden epiphany, an eight month burst of creative fervor, etc.) but for what was claimed about the novel’s effects. It is alleged to have reshaped all of Latin America, a tremendous, astounding result – yet how? Not through anything direct, not by fomenting the kind of on-the-street activism that leaflets used to and that mobile-based social media use sometimes still does, but rather through the more subtle renewal, the re-imagining, of the consciously held self-images and awareness that Latin Americans had of themselves. The novel, for all of those who read it, allowed readers to re-think the background out of which their own lives have unfolded, and in that to re-create their place and their selves. These are matters of deeply identitarian import, and they are at the core of human be-ing, of how any human is in the world. Existence, defining existence, the ego, “me”, that ever elusive and ever changing answer to, “Who are you?” Or better yet, “Who am I?”

This is the real potency of fiction, and it needn’t come in the form of a paperback although naturally we who write books are very grateful when it does. (Could it still? Who would read it? Frightening queries in this drippingly digital age…) An idea, any idea, can extend its influence into the furthest reaches of the psyche of its carrier via how it shapes the perceptions and outlook of the person involved. The conceptual determines the perceptual, the beliefs held (and possibly held quite dearly) structure, form, twist, warp, straighten, curly-cue, transform every morsel of input both sensual and mental through the resulting judgments made to all that external data: the famed perspectivism of continental philosophy, stretching in a straight line from Nietzsche to the existentialists to the phenomenologists. (On that and its relation to writing see a couple of posts from earlier this year here and, to a slightly lesser degree, here.) One Hundred Years of Solitude bequeathed readers with a chance for a new “me”, and from that whole other worlds suddenly opened up, possibilities blossomed. If we are products of our pasts – individually, of course, but collectively too – then what happens when that past changes? Presto bang-o! The Aladdin theme song rips through the speakers in your head and all the colors before you take on a new hue. That is power indeed (and schmaltz, given the song choice).

I think this same notion can also be applied in the opposite direction, to you as writer from you as writer. Many of us, maybe especially when it comes to self-pubbing, struggle with how we understand ourselves as “writers”. Yes, we write, sure, but without that outside acknowledgement, without those kudos (in whatever form) from somebody other than ourselves it can be hard to really take the label seriously. And without that label what have you got? An author supposedly in the making? A hobby scribbler? An up and comer? A not yet? A never was? A won’t be? That’s a lonely place, a hard place, a painful place. We needn’t though, I think, ever find ourselves there. Maybe in the end it is that simple, it is the conceptual-perceptual, maybe the mere(!) embrace of the title is enough, that one tiny step all that is necessary to jolt us with the confidence to keep at what we love because we love it. Does that make it so? Does claiming to be the world’s strongest man put you in the running for the actual championship belt? “Don’t be fatuous, Jeffrey” – except that in this case what is sought is not dependent on any group or officialdom, what is sought is rather the self-acknowledgement of one’s own pursuits and abilities, both of which can, should, and must be worked on throughout a life. If they are, I would suggest, then there is very little difference between the person who says she’s a writer and the person of whom X says she’s a writer. Self-image, and may it be so.

 

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