Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Like Mindedness? / Ya right

Has it ever happened to you that you're reading the memoirs of someone you really admire and all of a sudden he / she is describing something that you've felt or experienced (although, of course, doing a much better job of it than you ever could), something that you've always assumed was peculiar to you, so that it feels like you're reading your own thoughts on the page, your own voice stolen, by some nefarious means, from inside your head?

It's a strange feeling - part disappointment at learning that you're not as unique as you thought you were, that something so intimate a part of you is shared by someone else; part exhilaration at the idea of a person you've always looked up to being so much like you; part just the eeriness of seeing your most private secrets put down on paper by a stranger's hand decades before you were born.

Take yesterday, for instance. I'm reading Orwell's essay 'Why I Write' and I come across this:

"throughout this time I did in a sense engage in literary activities. To begin with there was the made-to-order stuff which I produced quickly, easily and without much pleasure to myself. Apart from school work, I wrote vers d'occasion, semi-comic poems that I could turn out at what now seems to me astonishing speed...and helped to edit school magazines, both printed and in manuscript. These magazines were the most pitiful burlesque stuff that you could imagine, and I took far less trouble with them than I now would with the cheapest journalism. But side by side with all this, for fifteen years or more, I was carrying out a literary exercise of a different kind: this was the making up of a continuous 'story' about myself, a sort of diary existing only in the mind. I believe this is a common habit of children and adolescents. As a very small child I used to imagine that I was, say, Robin Hood, and picture myself as the hero of thrilling adventures, but quite soon my 'story' ceased to be narcissistic in a crude way and became more and more a mere description of what I was doing and the things I saw. For minutes at a time this kind of thing would be running through my head: "He pushed the door open and entered the room. A yellow beam of sunlight, filtering through the muslin curtains, slanted onto the table, where a matchbox, half-open, lay beside the ink pot. With his right hand in his pocket, he moved across to the window. Down in the street a tortoiseshell cat was chasing a dead leaf", etc. etc."

and I'm sitting there thinking - dammit! how does he know about all this.

P.S. The full piece is totally worth reading, btw. But then, almost everything that Orwell wrote is.

P.P.S. Also, has it ever happened to you that you've painstakingly typed up something from a book to share it on your blog and then discovered that it was available online all along? Sigh. Note to self: Always Google search before you write post.

6 comments:

Szerelem said...

Has it ever happened to you that you're reading the memoirs of someone you really admire and all of a sudden he / she is describing something that you've felt or experienced (although, of course, doing a much better job of it than you ever could), something that you've always assumed was peculiar to you, so that it feels like you're reading your own thoughts on the page, your own voice stolen, by some nefarious means, from inside your head?

Hah! YES!!! Like everytime I read one of Pamuks essays. Which is why I am in love with him and convinced we are soulmates or some such. Plus it doesn't hurt that he's cute AND an Istanbulu.

You should read Other Colours.

Revealed said...

I loved Other Colors too. But the first such disillusionment was Camus. I so thought that theory was true blue mine.

blackmamba said...

I go the other way these days. I try to collect all the words in my head so when I experience something new I will have the vocabulary to describe it. In other words I read Didion.

Btw, I am still looking up Didion for Earthquakes in Cali - I could have so used the irony while stand outside with my neighbours unsure when we could get back into our apts. Because, honestly, it is so much better than saying, "is your (cellphone) network down?" "yes" "no, I have 2 bars" "i have 4"... sigh... There is always the big one everyone promises in the next few years.

Anonymous said...

Yeah yeah do rub it in that you have the luck to be Orwell's doppelganger. Now the rest of us unwashed masses have to look into the sewerage of pop culture to find our living twins. What if you read about yourself in a book called Bridget Jones' Diary? And then had the horridly collagenated Ms. Zellweger play you? I bet you wouldn't be as exasperated then!

n!

Falstaff said...

szerelem / revealed: Yes, I do have Other Colors sitting around somewhere. I have to admit I've never felt this with Pamuk. In fact, on the whole, I find his fiction far more interesting than his non-fiction. That book about Istanbul was nice for a bit, but after a point the narrowness of its focus began to feel suffocating, and by the end of it I found myself wondering how someone who didn't seem to be able to see beyond his own front door managed to write such glorious novels.

The people I do feel this with are Orwell, Sartre and Zagajewski. Oh, and occasionally in Speak, Memory, but that's mostly because Nabokov has such a gift for description.

bm: Can't off-hand remember a Didion piece about earthquakes - though I'm sure there is one. If you'd asked me last week I would have directed you to her piece on California fires in About Henry.

n!: Tch! tch! Bridget Jones? Really? Poor you.

Szerelem said...

Falstaff: Well, Pamuks fiction is pretty focussed as well isn't it? The same themes dominate and they are mostly based in Istanbul. I think in large part his success comes from the fact that he has rediscovered Istanbul and the its stories as well as those of the Ottoman Empire and Sufi sects which were basically swept under the carpet after the formation of the Republic. Plus, I think Pamuk would probably be the first person to admit that it is Istanbul that has made him the writer that he is and I think had he been living in any other city and not been able to look out of his front door he probably would not have been able to write his wonderful fiction.

Other Colours is broader in scope than Istanbul and some of the essays are really wonderful. Istanbul has never been among my favourite Pamuk books but I did appreciate it a lot more once I visited the city. Though I think The Black Book is probably a lovelier tribute to his city. Of course, I am biased in all of this because quite simply my heart beats for Istanbul and I can no longer even look at pictures of the city without letting out a sigh and wishing I was back there.