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can we talk ?
June 26 / August 20, 2011


So much experience in a life can selectively gravitate into imaginative remembrance and prospecting, figured as characterization, as if naturally belonging to another actual person. That’s no simple displacement of oneself, as if a named character stands for displaced self reflection of the writer, since the fictionist may be a kind of ethnographer or circumspective psychologist.

The comic, too, draws broadly from our ethos; also, any dramatist, as The Drama of It All belongs to our shared ethos. The writer draws from the air (which reminds me of John Ashbery’s selections from his later poetry, notes from the air, of which I want to write in light someday.)

Indeed, characterization can be so inestimably constructivist (though contrary literary critics and biographers proffer their confident estimations about authorial genesis) that the writer may only find self reflection in her/his narrating of character; i.e., narrating is the displaced character of self reflection portraying characters telling this-and-that to each other.

Meanwhile for the characters (in characterlogical time), “we are persons and deserve your respect! We are not wandering in search of our author,” contrary to religious humanity. The literary reader gives them the benefit of the doubt through absorption in their story.

Classically, we’ve loved the omniscient narrator whose access to everyone’s thoughts and feelings could only belong to god[desse]s, inasmuch as the conceit isn’t made thematic (i.e., the omniscient access is a “natural” channel, regarded unwittingly as some natural order of insightfulness in unfolding stories, like folktales apparently originating in the woods). Thereby, the reader can pretend to be a god[dess] entertaining a creation unfolding through recognizably social time.

The gods always were a conceit of literary estate, which illiterate hunters, gatherers, agriculturists, craftsmen, and legacies of mothers found constitutive because we need to feel confident about the origin of our mysterious births, reconcile tragedy, and accept that ultimate mystery is fated to remain unresolved. God is necessary for children.

Such was the premodern appeal of characters speaking their hearts thanks to an omniscient author (reliable like a god witnessing), as if a pure transparency can live between us, endeared other and reader, in the filial intimacy of our silent, secret garden of pages.

Then, along comes the modernist who makes the narrating another character, secretly foretold in creating the omni-singular character God in place of so many personified forces of Nature, followed by scholastic exposure of the committee of redactors finalizing what The Story was to be (distilled from incongruous versions), including the pretense of there having been no redactors creating God’s Cohering, as if just mystical transportation channeled it from some singular resort (including the conceit that God preceded the mountains).

In other words, there came to pass that literary powers of narrating God-begotten lives were modernly disrobed as having been merely-narrative ethoses of naturally-begotten lives (as anthropology, too, was born from the literary hand), lives increasingly self-begotten (e.g., as admirable artistries of modern living), especially exemplified by overt literariness (self-begetting authorship instilling writerly/narrator difference by design, i.e., narrating itself is characterological, even designed to be symptomatic), which the reader may have longed for (or long suspected): Literacy always was about an appeal of self understanding in a world more complicated than the channeled stories implied. A dissolution of the theistic mask is not too surprising. We knew in our hearts that suffering nature was no God’s will (no god worth validating). We knew in our hearts that meaningfulness and joy and beauty affirmed our nature.

The postmodernist makes all authorship part of creation, now (to this mind) voices of a species (we, the species of voices) gradually learning how to write our evolving, beautifully we hope.


But that’s not how our narrating condition appears to my aestheticist friend Greg, professor of English and last resort when I want to understand being “Literary.” He doesn’t favor any evolutionary take on being literary. Old school.

My problem (or challenge) is having so much information from actual others (including my dead partner Janna’s client notes from decades of psychotherapeutic practice, as well as much correspondence of my own) which is sometimes stunning, some seeming too implausible as overt fiction (i.e., re: readerly expectations about How We Are, relative to which an author sustains credibility: “Real people don’t do such things.” Yes, Virginia, real people do such things. Isn’t life strange?).

Reality easily outstrips fiction (or reality is more interesting than my capability for plausible fiction). Journalism has deconstructed pretenses of fictional characterization. Fictional characterization can seem to be an outmoded form of prospecting, given our confessional culture (a vanity of prosperity)—as well as due to the private information that some of us unwittingly gain (as the therapist doesn’t ask for such exposure that’s so vital to the alliance). Fiction easily becomes a lame pretense of others’ journalism and psychology in a world of so much actual journalism and confessed psychology, you wouldn’t believe.

I’m more interested in actual psychology than fictional fabrication (partly due to Janna, part of my life for 24 years). However, we can’t fairly represent the lives of persons who don’t give their permission (e.g., her clients—or Greg, spoiler). Just change the names? No, factuality eventually locates the life in HyperNet City. My fascination with reality outstripping fiction echoes a waning of privacy on the green planet. (For example, two lovers were recently pic’ed by cell phone kissing on street pavement relatively far away from the lens but in the middle of a violent demonstration in Syria. The phone capture went viral on the Web, and the lovers were identified through Facebook algorithms several days later.)

How much can I say about Greg’s romantic life before he’s identified involuntarily? How far can one directly go with finding The Ecstatic Quotidian in another’s actual life without ruining the friendship?

Can we really talk? If not, our future (lack thereof) is written. Given that, all that’s left of us is a story to tell.

So, a singularity that appeals to my own very un-psychotherapeutic exploration turns me into a textual paparazzo, a voyeur of another’s mind—which the omniscient narrator always was anyway: indulging an eros of others’ psyches, psychalities, minds, lives, whatever.

What a bother creating fictional detail for a story born from singular life. I should rather mine Janna’s records for portions of others’ lives I gel through fictional names.

Maybe the psychotherapist is even a kind of voyeur at times (running joke with Janna), redeeming herself (most therapists anymore are women) by co-writing with the client an ultimately-flourishing story, but purely in the client’s interest, of course (fees thereby earned). My use of closed cases would just be transporting a high beneficence of earlier storymaking into overt fiction, as even genuine lives may be led by an eros of their supreme fiction (or ownmost potential).

Anyway, composite characterization is necessary, if only for the sake of manageable narration. (Even straight biography is selective.) So, selectivity becomes displaced confession? Those traits composing the (”my”) characters reflect the mystery of what I don’t yet understand, my longing for resolution? Maybe, maybe not.

Whatever. There’s an integrity of narration “perpendicular” to exact distinctions between reality and imagination in the resonance, the appeal, of a phenomenology we readers may impersonate or inhabit (though my deliberate abstruseness here is certainly not wholly habitable—but just you wait). It’s you after all who finally writes the story by way of perspectival reading. Self-understanding is perspectival. We’re all characters to ourselves, as suits our mood, hydras dressed with cohering stances, dramatists witting and un.

Besides, real friends inevitably inhabit characterological horticulture because creative freedom flourishes by inspiration by real life. Potentials, chances lost or found, in real life are so much more appealing than pure imagination. Resonances of difference between facticity and imaginative prospecting require the facticity. Greg understands that; so he understands my “exploitation” of the eerie “journalism” that fiction always was. (But he doesn’t buy into being the subject of the venture.)

Long after literal gods have been excommunicated, we’re stuck with narrative relativity anyway, as if our being the gods all along (their mirroring our aspirations) can’t be displaced.

Even actual, healthy Love Is A Story (book title), according to leading psychologist Robert Sternberg, as lives aspire to lastingness. (I’ll spare you actual links to titles, which you can find at Amazon.com—or in the library of my cave.) Our romances are so often enactments of stories we longed to embody.

“I was well versed in the tender passion, thanks to novels,” writes the Victorian novelist Elizabeth Gaskell (quoted as epigram to Erotic Faith, mentioned yesterday).

However, Greg would disagree that my interest dispassionately mimics that of the literary educator, because my interest in his romantic life has to be (he gently jibes) my displaced longing for “archetypal possession” by what’s missing from my life: The appeal of Isis and Osiris (sibling gods of ancient Egyptian lore) is allegedly my incestuous longing for a familial sisterhood I never had (also acted out in my feminism, he claims). My belief that Eve was Adam’s daughter allegedly acts out my longing for actual parenthood (Janna and I didn’t have children). My interest in the “Song of Songs” acts out longing for a really-godly romanticism. My interest in the myth of Psyche and Eros mirrors my gender identity issues (i.e, my affection for notions of androgyny). My fondness for romantic tragedy echoes Tristan and Iseult, mirroring my trite longing for eternalization of romantic meaning, if not a trOpicality of my longing to master some Concept of our evolving, to merge with a godly estate.

Whatever. We all have our issues—including literary theorists wishing they were psychoanalysts. So, one side of me isn’t too concerned about making material of a presumptuous, pretentious, elitist friend who has no guilt about persiflaging my interest in Literary living. What are friends for? And Janna’s ex-clients will never know. (My rhetorical bush protects me from ever being found by any of them.)

Which reminds me: When lovers are friends, their intimacy gains promise of lasting (i.e., becomes love) because—don’t you know—it’s deepening friendship that makes Love lasting. One psychoanalyst’s Anatomy of Loving, on our human “quest to know what love is,” is actually (I think) an allegorical longing about what marriages are at heart: quests through the eras of shared lives to learn how love grows—evolves?—through time. Depth of friendship is the vessel that so well sails Time.

We talk so readily about “stages” of life as structural abstractions, but it’s the love(s) across the eras (including all that we may love: places, music, books, food, gardens, etc., as well as dear others, old friendships, intimates) that give a vining (telic) weave to time. Passionate Life may be about “stages of loving” (the book attests) because eras of a life shape our passions. Why Him? Why Her? begins out of deep Time’s Mating Minds, but gains something other than increased population (or child burdening reason to live) only by otherwise orienting our lives by way of our own flourishing—ultimately, I feel, a kind of joyous, beautiful Art of Living (by philosopher A. Nehamas; there are so many books with such a title), which philosophy was originally—and philosophy parented Literature?

Why We Love: To wholly live!

Really live, if you can afford to buy what matters (time!)—which is helped by containing one’s horizon of value within a range one can afford—one reason I love walking (obsessive observer, I am—but also, it’s good for health). And books!: Rich thrills for cheap—lovers that don’t leave (or die).