Sunday, May 1, 2011

That Last One!

That one was sitting there for weeks and weeks, while I got into the swing of working again. I'm almost there. Look, ma, I'm writing again! Wheeee!

I went to the LA Times Book Fair at USC yesterday, and stood in line, standby, to hear Patti Smith and David Eggers talk about the writing process. I was flanked by professionals. That was cool. Although I was distressed that Patti Smith seems stuck in the specialness of being an artist, and the ridiculous notion that artists strive to realize things which come to them clear in their minds. And then they do the work to realize those visions.

But Eggers, you know, quietly put the lie to that and talked gently about his teaching process, and I think he was a lot more honest about how the medium pushes back and so does the reader, even if it's you the writer that's standing in for the reader, and he seemed to think that anyone can write, which pretty much dethrones the Artist as some kind of special person.

Patti Smith was talking about how artists are burdened by having to be commenting all the time in their head, as though writing stories about what they are living through, as though that's not actually the human condition and doesn't distinguish her from anyone on the planet. It doesn't, but I haven't read her stuff, and it got a big award, so I'll have to grant that she's as good as all that, and I'm glad to have heard her, but even more glad to have heard Eggers, because I think we're all really congratulating ourselves still for recognizing cool when we see it, and he seems to have moved beyond that.

I like this Chinese semi-dissident writer I read about in the LA Times this morning, who criticizes Ai Weiwei for maybe mis-taking that New York state of mind where everything has to be edgy all the time to be legitimate, as though just being shocking were being free.

And I'm certain that I love and support Ai, even though I don't know his work either. But I do think he's too much into the idea that information just wants to be free, which is what Ariana Huffungton thought so that she could make millions off the backs of bloggers who just wanted the exposure her site would give them.

Here's how free I think information is. When we think information is free, we cheapen it to the point that it's meaningless, just like when we think that we need to be credited for inventing things which were in the air, but we got there first, we make of ourselves a fool against eternity. Information is what you do with it, and so HuffPo descends, sometimes, into the realm of the National Enquirer when it used to be all that, and sometimes random lonely bloggers without an audience have things to say. But I self-aggrandize, and so . . .

For instance, I think when we email we are doing something like what I've been doing talking to people whose English is about as good as my Chinese. I simplify. Not just my vocabulary, but my tone and pacing, and if I'm writing an email to someone I don't know, I take out all the nuance such as I would use to a compadre who knows me well.

If I write to a friend, I could write freely, writing to someone who knows me well, and fill my writing with what I consider style and feel pretty good about how much I managed to pack into a phrase, though even then most times people won't bother to read it closely.

Still I'd rather my writing over-reached, than was always forced to strive for the lowest common denominator so that it will certainly be understood or at least not misread to the detriment of all. And while I'm writing this pidgin style I find that I no longer can tell how I might change it. I can't find the style I would have used if I weren't cramping it so much.

Like, you know, when I'm writing to someone with whom I speak Chinese, but neither of us is as good as native in the other person's native tongue, then my own writing descends into a kind of reduced form, and I can't even come up with natural phrases and so everything looks Chinglish, even my own writing. I think that's about the state of the world of language right now. The opposite of Babel is not perfect harmony. It's the loss of any communication with anyone at all because we're all saying the same thing all the time.

Well, as always, that's worth about two cents.

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