Thursday Thoughts: Why I Write III


Thursday’s Thoughts
Why I Write III
29 March 2018

            In exile, in La Torre de Juan Abad, the Spanish poet Francisco de Quevedo wrote a sonnet entitled Retirado en la paz de estos desiertos / Withdrawn into the peace of these deserted lands. The first quatrain reads:

            Retirado en la paz de estos desiertos, / con pocos pero doctos libros juntos, / vivo en conversación con los difuntos, / y escucho con mis ojos a los Muertos. Reduced to an instant rough and ready English translation, this reads: ‘Withdrawn into the peace of these deserted lands, / together with a few quite learned books, / I live in conversation with dead men, / and listen to them speaking through my eyes.’

Talking to the dead by reading their live words on the page: this was my first introduction to the theory of intertextuality, written words speaking to written words across the medium of written texts. Intertextuality, then, living texts talking to living texts, be it in print, be it in digital form on the computer.

How does this relate to Why I Write? Orwell writes an article entitled Why I Write. Joan Didion reads that article, replies to it, and also writes an article entitled Why I Write, and her article is, in certain measure, an intertextual dialog with George Orwell. I read both these articles and I, in my turn, join in the conversation, responding, in my own way, first to George Orwell, and then to Joan Didier. Now I have introduced Francisco de Quevedo (Spain, 1580-1645) into this tripartite series and he too has joined the conversation linking why I write intimately to the theme of why I read. For a fuller discussion of Why I Read, consult the full version of Quevedo’s sonnet, particularly the final tercet. As you read these words, you too are drawn into this intertextual conversation, one that has gone on for much longer than we realize.

So, why do I write? In part, it is to join in and continue these conversations and thus to honor the memories of those who have gone on before, Quevedo writing to González de Salas, Joan Didion responding to George Orwell. However, I see writing not only as a conversation, a sharpening of arguments, a learning process in which speaker (writer) and spoken to (reader) exchange ideas, but also as a construction, like the well-wrought urn of Cleanth Brooks (new criticism), or the polished work of art of the phenomenologists. I see the written work of art as a construction, and I want that construction to be as polished and as well-made as I can make it. In addition, I have things I want to say, poems I want to write, stories I want to tell, and I want these things, poems, stories (constructs all) to be the best that they can be. I want to reach out to my reader (readers, if there are two or more of you) and say “Hey, stop awhile. Read this. What I have written is well-worth reading.”

Mikhail Bakhtin uses the term chronotopos, referring to ‘man’s dialog with his time and his place’. I write so that I too may dialog with my time and my place. More, I write in part to establish my time and to cement myself in my place. Time and place are both variable. Is Quevedo (Spain, 1580-1645) a part of my time (20th / 21st Century) or my place (currently Island View, New Brunswick, Canada)? The moment I draw him into the intertextual conversation, as I have done here, he shares time and place with me, and with you, as you read this. So, among other reasons, I write to establish my place not only within this time in which I live, but also within the great chain of intertextual writing that flows backwards and forwards from the earliest times. Only I can do that for myself. Nobody else can do it for me. Is it important that I do so? For me, yes, it is very important. Sometimes, in this life, we walk a long way across a very lonely shore. But we leave footprints behind us, footprints that the wind will fill with sand, footprints that the tide will wash away … we are aware of that but we still walk on, and we still leave footprints.

Reading as dialog, dialog as a means to establish ourselves, writing as a way to cement our ideas, to polish them, to craft them into the shape of that well-wrought urn, that well-wrought urn placed in public where it can be viewed, or in a private place where only close friends can see it and admire it … but something tangible, something solid, something well-wrought, something that will say, ‘yes, I have walked this way’ and ‘yes, I have left footprints’, however dainty, however small, however temporal, however fragile in light of wind and tide … but a footprint, the footprint of Man Thursday, on an otherwise deserted shore … to leave footprints …  to sketch the silver points of Lucifer, the light-bearer, the evening star, as he stands strong against the encroaching night … that is Why I Write.

11 thoughts on “Thursday Thoughts: Why I Write III

    • Thanks, Meg. Some times I do want to tear everything up because I’ll never get to where they are. Then I realize that really, I am where I am and I’m doing what I like and what I can, and then the black mood goes, the rain clouds flee, and the sun comes out again. Also, I love the sharing and caring and that there are fellow writers out there, writers who help me as I do my best to help others. One of us will make it … I don’t know who, how, where, or when, but one of us will, and then we can all rejoice … Thanks, as always, for being here.

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      • That’s a marvelous thought – that we are in a community of writers and one of us will make it! Honestly, when I concentrate on the storytelling part and less on the selling part I always feel a lot better too. It’s when I worry about the opinions of others that I begin to get discouraged and blue. And I am very happy to be here, Roger!

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      • A couple of my friends spoke to me the other day of “writing: 10%; organizing: 30%; marketing: 60%” so sad. I write 40% , think 40%, and dream 20%. The rest of the time, I read, cook, blog, and watch telly.

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  1. Writing to transcend time and space, to allow one soul in any linear timeline to reach across forwards, backwards or diagonally into the soul of another. Is it any wonder we still quote Socrates to this day, or laud the words of Shakespeare as truth? Reading and writing – the proof we need to prove we exist, are existing.

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  2. Beautiful. Remember Lucy, who walked in sand (mud) all these millennia ago, whose footprints were in fact NOT erased, and whose impact, by those prints (pun intended) are immeasurable. Some of your prints, R, have already generated an impact. Thank you. Chuck

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    • Thanks, Chuck. And I remember both Lucy and the dinosaur prints left in the sandstone on the old Welsh beaches. I have lain in the scrapes of the Reindeer People (more than 10,000) years old, on Hengistbury Head near Bournemouth. What feelings lying there aroused. Also the sarsen stones at Stonehenge, the land of my fathers, indeed.

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