Friday, August 8, 2008

The writer and the world

This is Joyce Carol Oates in an interview for the Paris Review in 1976. I wonder if she'd still use the adjective "all" today...

All of us who write work out of a conviction that we are participating in some sort of communal activity. Whether my role is writing, or reading and responding, might not be very important. I take seriously Flaubert's statement that we must love one another in our art as the mystics love one another in God. By honoring one another's creation we honor something that deeply connects us all, and goes beyond us.

Thinking more about this, it strikes me that the "all" can't be that far off when I think of how a solitude freak like Emily Dickinson felt a longing to be part of the conversation, even as she felt that she needed isolation to make that possible.


Rebecca said...

Dickinson was a Senator's daughter and also had correspondences with Helen Hunt Jackson, who was a popular writer of the day. She had a few really intense friendships, including one with her sister-in-law and then perhaps later with her brother's mistress.

On the few times that she was published in her lifetime, people "cleaned" up her work for her.

Have you read her letters? I haven't read them in decades, but a number of women around St. Marks (Maureen Owen, Susan Howe) were reading Dickinson quite intently.

Oates seems to be among the more generous people in academia about writers all being writers.

Josh said...

Yeh, I think Susan Howe's written about Dickinson at some length and mentioned the epistolary side (and had her arguments denounced by Walter Michaels for her troubles). It speaks volumes about the lack of communication in academic departments that one of our junior professors had not heard of My Emily Dickinson, even though Rachel Blau du Plessis or Daniel T. O'Hara or Jena Osman (three of our Big Names) could have set her right on that topic. Maybe it's just "stovepiping," wherein the Poetics people and the Rhetoric people and the Lit scholars don't talk about stuff to each other. My job, as I see it, is to flit about like an annoying little insect and tell people what each other is working on so that they can stay up to date.