Monday, November 18, 2013

Anxiety & Anonymity

My inspiration this week (and yes, this season, since I have neglected Nuances since February) comes from one of my favorite places: Bookends from the The New York Times. The article is "How Do We Judge Books Written Under Pseudonyms?" By Francine Prose and Daniel Mendelsohn. November 12, 2013. I would recommend giving the article a quick glance before attempting to understand my mad ramblings and ruminations. Because, well...I ramble and ruminate. 

Click Below! I'll take you to the article too!

My two favorite insights from this:

"Pseudonyms are especially attractive to fiction writers, whose work (inventing people and seeing the world through their eyes) requires an impersonation, of sorts. Writing under a pen name is like doing an impersonation of someone doing an impersonation...A friend who did something like this says he needed his alter ego, not to conceal his real name but to 'be' that fictitious person, who wrote a scene in which a father cannibalizes a family pet." ~Mendelsohn

"The critical urge to see family resemblances in an author’s work arises from a psychological insight: The creative mind is, like all minds, coherent, even if its coherences aren’t apparent. Like a psychotherapist, the critic looks for patterns, themes and repetitions not only within a work but across an artist’s career in order to uncover the hidden unities." ~ Prose

It's very true: analysis can become stale and lazy when a reader has already put significant effort into understanding an author's workask them to read another piece, and 7 out of 10 times, they will find similar "conclusions" about the author's intent or influences. You cannot unlearn something that you have learned through self-tutelage. Well, not without a lot of rewiring and maybe some amnesia!

If you look to Harold Bloom's "Anxiety of Influence"he asserts [my modest set of conclusions after that self-taught principle I just described]  that every generation is at creative war with itself.   We attempt to outdo the literary achievements of our ancestors, living in the constant fear that we will not surpass the innovation of the "greats" who wrote before us. And so one of two things will happen: a writer will try a technique and approach that deviates as far as possible from his or hero, OR a writer will first try to master and then elevate the very techniques of his or hero hero. It occurs to me now, that the argument Bloom made supported the notion that a constant comparison between the new and the old ends stifles new and innovative approaches to written expression. Anxiety for achievement distracts from the work at hand. That somehow we fixate on the past to try and inspire the new, which would hinder growth. I think looking to the past CAN hinder new achievements and voices, but it can also inform the historical canon, and push writers to invest in technique, and leave the changing world to continue to inspire new plot lines, dramatic and tragic twists and character flaws, and all those other little goodies (aka the story itself)!

So, the idea of an author using a nom de plume to escape (I infer) the anxiety of HIS or HER name being judged repeatedly in the literary canon, as he or she makes these adventures into technique, tale and talent, makes sense to me! To generate a fake identity so that he can write from a perspective not entirely his own, and thus be free to craft crazy, horrible plot lines that he (or she) would never otherwise attemptin deference to the past generation's written achievements and homage to "good taste"certainly speaks to the writer's love of  the craft. The nom de plume is a loophole; it provides the writer freedom to step beyond the constraints of literary study, the tastes and trends of the day, and even the expectation that he may have had for his illustrious career. In anonymity or alternative identities, we are free to write about "what we know" through a lens and with a style unique to a time, place, and perspective. It stands alone ready for analysis and comment but ripped away from an author's preceding body of works. It's a relationship between a reader and a writer that stands outside of preconceived expectations.

It's rather tantalizing when you think of it that way, no? 

~Written, shockingly enough, by a devoted follower of New Historicism (oops!)