Sunday, May 27, 2007

I'm losing my taste for whimsy:

There's more than a little whimsy in this blog. All my life I've been a voracious consumer of whimsy. But recently I've been losing my taste for it. And not because I'm getting older! I'm really sorry about this loss of interest, because I've stopped enjoying several podcasts that fed my taste for the whimsical. Here's what happened:

I've been trying to write some fiction. Being rather bad at it, I've also been reading books on how to write fiction. These books stress, among other things, the importance of understanding WHY you are writing something. What's your purpose? What's your goal? What are you trying to say? Why are you saying it like that? Does the reader have a chance of understanding the answers to these questions? These questions are a lot tougher for the fiction writer than for non-fiction, I think. In non-fiction it's routine to answer these questions loudly, clearly, and repetitively.

I didn't take these concerns seriously when I first read about them. But I was dutiful. Off and on I would ask myself, Why am I writing this book? What am I trying to say? After four long months, I got the answers to these questions. The effect, on me and my writing, was astonishing. So now I really believe that a writer ought to know the answers, or at least some good answers, to these questions.

So now -- it's inevitable -- I ask the same questions of every fiction I read or hear. If I can't discern the answers, I get really turned off. Whimsy fares badly in this respect. You might say (and you would be wrong!) that the great goal of whimsy is not to be about anything. Well a lot of whimsy seems that way, and that's not good enough for me any more.

I'll leave you wiith a counter example of sorts. I attended a lecture by Eugene Ionesco, playwright of many savagely whimsical plays. During the Q&A, he was asked to explain the meaning of La Le├žon, one of his typically weird creations. He refused, saying (in french, I'm paraphrasing) "When I wrote that play, I tried to say something as well as I possibly could. I could not say that as well by trying to explain it." So there's one example of the creator insisting that his whimsy had meaning. When it doesn't, when it's just there for the sake of silliness, it's bread without salt; pancakes without maple syrup; a canary without a mine; a tractor without a woman; a sim without an ile; a smile without a face, a whimsy without me reading it.
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