Sunday, August 3, 2008

Quotes (and Comments): The Powers and Perils of Noticing

"Literature makes us better noticers of life; we get to practice on life itself; which in turn makes us better readers of detail in lterature; which in turn makes us better readers of life. And so on and on....

"By thisness, I mean any detail that draws abstraction toward itself and seems to kill that abstraction with a puff of palpability, any detail that centers our attention with its concretion."
--James Wood's brand-new book How Fiction Works, p. 65, 67
(a review in Slate)
"Creative work teaches you to pay attention, and this is something that few people do well or often. We spend hours and days at a time just trying to get ahead of an impossible schedule or solve one of many problems. We don't have time to sit and watch what light does to the color of the living-room wall at a certain time in the afternoon... Well, if you are...writing a story that contains an afternoon scene, you will pay better attention to what physical qualities make the afternoon different from morning or evening."
--Vinita Hampton Wright, The Soul Tells a Story, p. 33

Okay, so it's the search for this kind of concretion, this perfect detail, that sends me out into the world and into books and online looking for way more details than I could possibly include in my fiction. This effort also serves me well in my academic work, actually. Looking for just the right detail is important in both domains.

These sorts of efforts, however, have their consequences:
"An artist has to become super-sensitive to life in order to notice what others miss and to develop what others may ignore or consider unimportant. The longer you work at your creative gifts, the more sensitive you become. The longer you work at your creative gifts, the more sensitive you become.

"Of course this means that you're more sensitive to everything....You notice sadness or anger in the eyes of passing strangers. Increased sensitivity will nourish your art, but it will wear on you at times....

"Be grateful that you cry easily... This means that your senses are fine-tuned, and that's good for your art."
--Vinita Hampton Wright, The Soul Tells a Story, p. 201-202

Okay, so this seems to be where my creative and academic selves diverge a bit. As an academic, I notice the detail needed for my essays quite a bit, but can mostly focus on the details in my head or on the page in front of me. It's sensitivity I've cultivated to the sorts of details needed for my creative work that make my brain shut down from overexposure if I spend more than a few days in a city like New York, where there's way too much for me to notice all at once. (Then again, there's also a sensitivity to the theory that knits ideas and things together that's definitely developed by my academic side.)

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