Friday, April 08, 2005

Recklessness

Since the brouhaha in the Guardian lamenting the abundance timid, domestic women writers and the lack of (manly?) risk-taking ones, I’ve been thinking a lot about recklessness in writing. If great writing is writing without a net, writing that surprises and shocks, then how can we encourage more great writing—to be read, to be written?

Some, mostly in the New York Times, it seems, have been saying that the lightness, the self-referentiality, the parasitic journalism, and the ubiquity of litblogs feeds into a culture of mediocrity. But this (what I write here at Fernham, what my virtual friends, colleagues, and blogging heroes write) is a different kind of writing than great writing. Somewhere between reviewing and a salon, I would say that litblogs form a deep backdrop from which genius and greatness can emerge: we can look for it, tell each other about it, and, in the face of goofiness and mediocrity (which we’ll gleefully tease and expose), continue to encourage each other to read. Developments like 400 Windmills, The Valve (in spite of my reservations about it) and the LitBlog Coop bode well for continuing a conversation that, too often, doesn’t happen in our newspapers or elsewhere.

As for my own writing, I think that blogging has encourages a kind of recklessness: revising my chapter for my writing group, I felt free to move huge chunks around, felt able to bang out long readings of passages, felt less afraid of the blank page not only because I’m in practice but because I’m in practice in public (small but public still) a few days a week. But then, I’m not sure of the relationship between recklessness, craft, and genius. Great writing takes risks, but, do great writers, in taking them, feel reckless or painstaking? Sometimes recklessness is sloppy.

Thus, I was really attracted to this quotation from an interview with Dave Eggers, whose work I like:
I think the Jon Stewart book is really funny, partly because it's totally reckless. I had no idea it'd be that reckless! That and the Onion -- they're funny because they're unbridled; you just don't know when they're going to say "motherfucker" or just jump the rails in some way.
But now, when I read it, it seems to repeat what’s always a little disappointing about Eggers: it’s ultimately immature and unsatisfying. Merry as it is to read his commendations for Jon Stewart (not that he needs more), and nice—better than nice—as it is to laugh, this is a shallow take on a cool idea. Saying “motherfucker” isn’t reckless in 2005; it’s not even shocking. “Jumping the rails” is a cliché, not a rich description of what writing can do. Still, as I said, I like Eggers, and I’d rather read something that jumps the rails than, to mix clichés, something that colors within the lines.

Not reckless but cool: some Friday linkage
Mark Sarvas has pulled together an amazing Literary Blog Coop: bloggers will be recommending one book a quarter for us to pick up, read and consider. Get ready.

I found this on Oprah’s site (via Literary Mama). After a lot of writers talk dutifully about guilt and making time, and setting alarm clocks for 4 am, Toni Morrison writes: "While I was writing, he spit up orange juice on the tablet that I was writing on, and I distinctly remember writing around it, because I thought I had this really perfect sentence that might not come back if I stopped and wiped up his puke."

But all my best links are from Chekhov’s Mistress: first, mark your calendars for this celebration of those odd wonderful NYRB classics and then, while you wait, check out this stunningly moving collection of portraits of writers, the kind of portraits to make one welcome each gray hair, each wrinkle.

6 comments:

Jai said...
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Jai said...
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Jai said...

great post. recklessness becomes genius when people accept you and stop thinking you're a nut!

Dave Munger said...

I can never decide if blogging makes me more or less reckless. On the one hand, it somehow seems less "important" than "real" writing, so I'm a bit less likely to stew over every sentence.

On the other hand, it is public, so in that sense I do have to be careful about what I write. Back when I kept a private journal, I was much more reckless. But most of that writing will (hopefully) never see the light of day!

Sarahlynn said...

After a lot of writers talk dutifully about guilt and making time, and setting alarm clocks for 4 am, Toni Morrison writes: "While I was writing, he spit up orange juice on the tablet that I was writing on, and I distinctly remember writing around it, because I thought I had this really perfect sentence that might not come back if I stopped and wiped up his puke."

I love this.

Anne said...

'sgood, isn't it! :)