Sunday, November 25, 2007

Peace and Literature

Been reading links from the internet written by Israeli writer Amos Oz and about a speech given by 2006 Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk, a Turk.

Both of them talk about the power of literature to enhance understanding between people and nations. I particularly love this quote from Amos Oz:

If you are a mere tourist, you might stand on a street and look up at an old house, in the old part of town, and see a woman staring out of her window. Then you will walk on.

But if you are a reader, you can see that woman staring out of her window, but you are there with her, inside her room, inside her head.

As you read a foreign novel, you are actually invited into other people's living rooms, into their nurseries and studies, into their bedrooms. You are invited into their secret sorrows, into their family joys, into their dreams.

Which is why I believe in literature as a bridge between peoples. I believe curiosity can be a moral quality. I believe imagining the other can be an antidote to fanaticism. Imagining the other will make you not only a better businessperson or a better lover but even a better person.


It's a heady feeling to imagine that you might be influencing others' thoughts, emotions, even their long term mindsets. I think that maybe this is one of the "drivers" of writers (given that there are few other obvious material benefits... certainly not money or even fame!) To create, initially, person-to-person understanding, even if one of those persons is fictitious. And then to extend that to groups of people (as in Pamuk's gorgeous flying couches image), nations, and then the earth... what better feeling can there be? Maybe that is why the possibility of being published (even for no monetary gain) brings a hopeful glint to the eyes of even the most cynical, "I-don't-go-in-for-that-vanity-bullshit" writer.

This is a warming sentiment, and gives me hope at a time when people are starting to have even their private poetry scrutinised for "terrorist" sentiments and are convicted of murder partially on the basis of unpublished manuscripts. From what I'm reading on message posts, here is an increasing nervousness within the writing community. The task many of us set ourselves is to plumb the depths as well as the heights of the human experience, and sometimes that means getting into the mind of a terrorist or murderer, or in Lloyd Jones' case, the mind of a paedophile in his novel Choo Woo, which I am reading at the moment. Even just declaring yourself a writer appears to be hazardous. Worryingly, it seems to be increasingly normal for courts to admit the line, "he's a writer, so he's a pathological liar" as an actual valid argument.

But there is a huge difference between wearing the shoes for the sake of "Art" (discussing what Art is is a whole other topic!) and wearing the shoes for real. I've had to struggle with this in my own work, as many of my characters have attitudes which would not be appreciated in the outside worlds in which I move. And not everybody, apparently, understands the difference between fiction and reality.

If my novel ever gets published, I figure I will have to deal with lots of questions about what my novel *might* indicate about my internal milieu -despite the fact I have made efforts to make it entirely "fictional." At times during the writing process I discarded chapters, even entire plot lines and characters, that might seem too "autobiographical". But after a while I found I couldn't do it and that certain things kept creeping back in. Discarding things were against the "emotional truth" of my characters, and ignoring this risked turning my work into mere PC drivel.

They don't tell you you have to be brave to be a writer. Yet it takes a lot of guts to "Write the truth, publish and be damned."

1 comment:

Luigi said...

"Which is why I believe in literature as a bridge between peoples"
I believe music is the same. I guess in many ways song lyrics are just poetry with backing, well, for some of us, in the spirit of drawing people into a story or having them feel like you are telling their story.

Of course poetry is often more subtle, or more complex as its structures, as music has to be to have appeal.

Rene, you said "The task many of us set ourselves is to plumb the depths as well as the heights of the human experience, and sometimes that means getting into the mind of a terrorist or murderer", I don't know where my song You Oughta Run came from (and yes, I shouldn't have sung it at the Rose Festival:( ) Sometimes when I sing it I feel breathless, but I can assure you it is not an autobiography. Before I wrote it I remember thinking that I could never write stories, like Stephen King does, and then I realised I do, I just leave about 400 pages out:D

I hear you with your footnote. Some of the songs I have written in the past, I scrapped because a guy, especially a Kiwi guy doesn't open himself out into the world and outside of my music I rarely do, but if I am to be sincere, I realise that sometimes I must.

I was just passing by and now I'm in danger of leaving a comment longer than your blog, but back to the beginning, can I leave a word written by my late grandmother who moved to Holland from Germany? In Holland she was German and in Germany she spoke German very well:D

have emigrated
from my land
from my language-land
thought:
land everywhere
language everywhere
my mistake
only one land
my language-land