Thursday, June 19, 2008

That Autobiographical Touch!

Early in his Summing Up W. Somerset Maugham makes two interesting statements. The first is this: "Fact and fiction are so intermingled in my work that now, looking back on it, I can hardly distinguish one from the other." The second is of a different nature: "The gift of speech, as we know it, is not often accompanied by the power of thought." It seems to me, though, that without "the power of thought" neither fact nor fiction in a work of literature can be of enduring quality, what used to be said to pass the test of time. I also keep thinking here of T.S. Eliot's triune hierarchy: information, knowledge and wisdom, in ascending order - for wisdom is the goal, knowledge moves toward it, and information is needed, well, to inform knowledge. But the true end is wisdom.

I am not sure where I come in as a writer, but I hope somewhere that's a good place. You see, I have just gotten a collection of my short stories published, The Heart Ages, But It Doesn't Grow Old. And in re-reading my own stories - a few of which I wrote quite a number of years ago - I keep finding bits and pieces of my self. Was I always conscious when these slipped into the pages of a story here and there? I am not sure. I do recall that when I wrote the opening paragraphs of one of my stories, "The Mermaid and the Madman," I "stole" an episode from my childhood, a moment that's 100% autobiographical. It somehow inevitably fit into and got the ball rolling with that particular story and its touch of "magic realism."

Do we as a rule strive for something more than just entertainment, even if unwittingly? Do we strive for what Wordsworth called that "something far more deeply interfused"? Whatever true wisdom may be, it must be something insightful, something that gives the reader what Oprah is fond of calling "Aha moments." A sudden vision of heretofore unrealized thought infused with a feeling that "this must be so." One never knows when something like this will slip into a story or a poem. But it's probably the secret reason behind all our efforts as writers.

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