Wednesday, August 20, 2014

`Nothing is Negative; Nothing is Commonplace'

“The writer, unlike his non-writing adult friend, has no predisposed outlook; he seldom observes deliberately. He sees what he did not intend to see; he remembers what does not seem wholly possible. Inattentive learner in the schoolroom of life, he keeps some faculty free to veer and wander. His is the roving eye.” 

While trying to maintain a light touch and resist the urge to nag, I encourage my kids to look closely at things, to study and appreciate surfaces but not to be seduced by them. Be skeptical but not arrogant and dismissive. Look for patterns and connections. Ask questions but don’t assume you'll get satisfactory answers or even understand them. Don’t rush to self-congratulation. Looking at things is never passive but neither should it be indiscriminately all-consuming like a goat. 

“[The writer] must (like the child who cannot keep silent) share, make known, communicate what he has seen, or knows. The urgency of what is real to him demands that it should be realized by other people.” 

So, talk about it. Conversation is embryonic text, even in a child. I worked with a reporter who was a raconteur of oral narrative. Returning from an assignment, he would recount his adventures and have the desk in stitches. Then he sat at the keyboard and choked. A facile talker, he was a hobbled writer. He left journalism and became a lawyer. For some of us, an experience isn’t quite resolved until we’ve put it into words. 

“Temperamentally, the writer exists on happenings, on contacts, conflicts, action and reaction, speed, pressure, tension. Were he a contemplative purely, he would not write.” 

Name one great Zen Buddhist novelist. 

“Unsuspected meaning in everything shines out; yet, we have the familiar re-sheathed in mystery. Nothing is negative; nothing is commonplace. For is it not that the roving eye, in its course, has been tracing for us the linaments of a fresh reality? Something has been beheld for the first time.” 

Among the chronically bored, those who are not merely depressed are, by choice, selectively blind. 

The quoted passages are drawn from “The Roving Eye” by Elizabeth Bowen, published in the New York Times Book Review in 1959 and collected in Afterthought: Pieces about Writing (Longmans, 1962). In her foreword she writes: “For the writer, writing is eventful; one might say it is in itself eventfulness.”

1 comment:

H.G. Stabler said...

Name one great Zen Buddhist novelist: George Saunders? He is a short story writer, however. But he is a practicing Buddhist, I believe. Also, how about David Foster Wallace? Though he was not purportedly actively religious, much less Buddhist, I think you can see him leaning in that direction in his later writings. And in this way (in lots of ways, really) Saunders is a kind of moral sequel to Wallace.