Friday, August 19, 2016

On Writing – Ramblings

I read a story the other day about a meeting in 1922 between James Joyce and Marcel Proust — two members of literary royalty and authors of the often-compared classic novels many consider the best of the 20th Century, Ulysses and In Search of Lost Time.

Though the recollections of their only and very historic meeting vary a bit from one witness to another, a general truth emerged. They had nothing to say to each other.

Mr. Proust
It’s not surprising to me.  One of the writers I admire, Truman Capote, never failed to deliver truly elegant prose. I believe I’ve read all of his work, certainly most of it. And while I don’t put myself in that league (nor would anyone else), I wouldn’t have chosen him for a lunch companion any more than he would have chosen his arch enemy Gore Vidal. Unfortunately, having witnessed him in person as well as watched a few interviews on television, I prefer the beauty of his prose to his presence. And given my status in the world, no doubt he would wonder why I was in the same room.

On the other hand, I would have enjoyed a conversation with another of my favorite writers, Paul Bowles, not because he is an author, though.  Here is a bright, observant man who lived half a century in Morocco.  I would have liked to learn more about what he thought about that part of the world and what perspective he could provide on world affairs as Eastern and Western cultures appear to clash.

I suspect Joyce and Proust, unless they shared some passion such as gardening or sausage making, would not spend a lot of time with each other. Would we expect them to share exchanging writing tips?
Mr. Joyce

“Marcel, I think you should use less description and more action verbs.”

“You could be a little more cheerful, Jimmy.”

Many observers were interested in what these contemporaries thought of each other. They are both credited with revolutionizing the novel. Both created at least one interminable book, which few have actually read and a style some critics of the time found unintelligible. What would these two giants discuss? 

Again, I’m not surprised they had nothing, or at least very little, to say to each other.    
For me, writing is a solitary undertaking not a gang-related activity. For better or worse, I have no doubt absorbed lessons in the craft, or the art, by simply reading.  But aside from Elmore Leonard’s funny and elementary advice (Essentially, Don’t write what people don’t want to read.), my contention is one must learn by doing.  Then again, the Parisian moveable feast attendees – Stein, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Baldwin and others – might disagree.

Comments, agreeable or disagreeable (though hopefully civil) are welcome.  Also, if you could sit down with an author – dead or alive — who would it be? And why if you have the time.

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