Rockcrit and A-Mama Ann Powers thinks way too hard sometimes

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Here's my navel

The paragraph that stunned me most in Joan Didion's exquisitely unbearable grief-book excerpt in the NYT last Sunday was this:

I have been a writer my entire life. As a writer, even as a child, long before what I wrote began to be published, I developed a sense that meaning itself was resident in the rhythms of words and sentences and paragraphs, a technique for withholding whatever it was I thought or believed behind an increasingly impenetrable polish. The way I write is who I am, or have become, yet this is a case in which I wish I had instead of words and their rhythms a cutting room, equipped with an Avid, a digital editing system on which I could touch a key and collapse the sequence of time, show you simultaneously all the frames of memory that come to me now, let you pick the takes, the marginally different expressions, the variant readings of the same lines. This is a case in which I need more than words to find the meaning. This is a case in which I need whatever it is I think or believe to be penetrable, if only for myself.

I love the way this graph is so rigorous until the end, when it just kind of fizzles out into helplessness. Kind of like the great lady's Terry Sciavo analysis in the NYRB a while ago. It's terrifying for me to see Didion unravel, since her writing is what taught me the power of voice as a beacon of identity -- and a shield. If Goddess Joan can't do it anymore, how can I? (Of course, she's had is awful rough of late.)

Beyond such anxieties, Didion's piece did bring me back to an often-pondered question: what is the limit of disclosure for a writer who uses first-person (or one who doesn't always, but whose personal experiences highly influence, say, her criticism)? Having lived inside my writer-head for so long, and also inside the world of screened images and commentary, I do sometimes feel a bit like James Woods in Videodrome, merged and invaded. What won't I write about? Really serious things or really trivial things? And what do I feel about the things I don't "write" about -- am I creating scripts about them anyway, shared only with myself? What has been impossible to turn into prose, even internally, or what (I fear) will someday be?

A genius "I, Anonymous" like Peter Guralnick would certainly poo poo such questions. I like how Xgau gets to the strong and weak of Guralnick here, anyway.


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