Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Strange and (Hopefully) Creative Prose, Or, How I Want to Write Poetry and Fiction but Also Don't: A New Era of Personal Exploration?

A few days ago I had a conversation with a friend about writing poetry and fiction. It is an interesting thing for me to think about for a few reasons. First and foremost, I want to be creative, I think I am creative. But also, I find myself struggling (on the rare occasions I have tried) to write fiction or poetry. I once had an idea for a novel, and I wrote two pages, but it didn't hold my attention, and I didn't feel like I was writing it well.

So that is the struggle: that I want to be a creative writer but I don't typically express myself through the traditional mediums associated with creative writing (i.e. fiction and poetry).

So how am I suppose to do that? How am I supposed to write poetry or fiction? How does that type of writing come organically to people? Should I try? Can I just write it on this blog? I dunno.

When I first started this post that was my plan. This title, 'strange and (hopefully) creative prose', was about how I just wanted to get on this blog and write weird things. Follow weird lines of thought.

About how my eyes burn through people's stomachs because I want to eat their innards. Or how I want to devour their hearts because I want to taste their lives. I wanted to write in hyperbolic terms about cannibalizing people because I want so badly to express my hunger for empathy. I want to eat everyone's minds. I want to eat them alive.

And frankly I really enjoy hyperbolic prose about cannibalism. I identify with it. My desire for empathy, in all of its forms, simple and complex, basic and philosophical, eats me alive. My own mind eats me alive. I cannibalize myself and I feel like I need to cannibalize others.

Are these metaphors doing anything for you? Does cannibalism express any empathy to you?

But now I also want to explore a few more ideas about creative writing in general and its relationship to fiction and poetry. R.G. Collingwood and David Shields have given me some interesting ways of thinking about this problem.

Collingwood helps mainly because he described philosophy as a 'poem of the intellect'. He said that in philosophical writing the philosopher should be bearing the whole of their thought processes. They should be fully exposing themselves. They should be vomiting words. Carefully crafted vomit, precisely articulated vomit. I say vomit only to express the rawness the authenticity of philosophy as Collingwood describes it.

I want to be a philosopher. I would love to say that I am a philosopher. Just in that I think hard, and I pursue lines of thought. Collingwood also said that philosophers take propositions and carry them out to their furthest logical conclusion. And I love doing that. I think that over the past couple years I have consistently thought about the same things and that I am trying to push these ideas to their maximum. So poetry and philosophy. Curious. Prose poetry.

David Shields is a bit more unconventional in his approach to creativity. I read two of his books, Reality Hunger and The Thing About Life is That One Day You'll Be Dead. He teaches at University of Washington, and it turns out my aunt actually knows him. So I have fantasies of meeting him some day when I get to Seattle. He seems like such a neat writer. He seems to be thinking such interesting things about writing as a whole.

He pegs the novel as having lost much of its cultural relevance. He claims that the most interesting creative projects he sees are non-fiction. I want to spend a lot more time looking at Shields' work. He seems so interesting. I also find it very interesting that he was initially writing fiction, then moved away from it.

I suppose the main reason that I find Shields so interesting is that he doesn't care about the blending of genres. He thinks that memoir, fiction, and non-fiction can fit cleanly onto the same page. How awesome. And he believes that all writing has an element of fiction. How could it not? I very much agree. The Thing About Life is a memoir in which he blends medical facts about the growth and decay of bodies. It frames the memoir, or whatever to call it, in such an interesting way.

What if I wrote a memoir that was blended with my favorite philosophies of mind? I think I could describe my own life using the notions of simulation, empathy, tacit theory, and so on. All of my favorite philosophical ideas could be a part of my memoir or autobiography.

But let me return to the idea of fiction and poetry. How do I engage in a form of writing that is creative, philosophical, historical, and yet poetic and fictional? Well, as it turns out, it seems that I have just unwittingly used Collingwood and Shields to answer this question. lol. This occurs to me only after I wrote that question.

If all philosophy is a 'poem of the intellect' of sorts, and all writing, all weaving of narrative contains an element of fiction, then plenty of my writing is both poetic and fictional, and thus creative.

I know I am creative. I know I think creatively and I think I live creatively, but it isn't easy for me to articulate this. How am I creative? How is my writing and my living creative and poetic? Well, it just is. Philosophy and narrative have to be, there is no way around it.

But I think the real issue here is that I would like to do some writing that would be totally disconnected from reality. But I don't think that is true. I don't think I really want to write something separate from my life. What I really want what I'm really getting at, I think, is that I want to write prose that is so abstract that it doesn't communicate anything in particular. Like my brief statements about cannibalism above. That is very connected to my thoughts on living, but it is different, it isn't clear, it isn't direct explication of an idea. It is hyperbole, it is abstract, it is different.

So what I really want is to write weird things. To explore my thoughts and feelings by using metaphors that verge on the surreal. God I love surreal fiction. I think that is what I want. I want to explore my thoughts through bizarre metaphors. Because so often my prose is so direct, so philosophical, I am typically aiming for maximum clarity in explicating my philosophical ideas (which are always very very personal ideas).

So I want to explore my ideas through more odd and surreal prose and metaphors. I think this would let me push the limits of my thinking in ways that precise prose couldn't. That makes sense.

Don't be afraid of intense and surreal metaphors, Riley, they will take you different places.

I read so much about the limits of articulation that this is a valuable conclusion to reach. I can explore my ideas through nonsensical prose. It will help me make sense of my ideas.

When I walk into a room I hate the words. I typically look around and take every mind inside of me. But I do it with the worst concepts. I do it with tired words.

My tool kit for cutting up the world isn't adequate but it grows. I hate this self-conscious writing I am doing now. It has to be natural, this surreal and hyperbolic exploration of my thought. How to create weirds metaphors.

I so often come back to the metaphors of burning and fire, of cannibalism and digestion.

I get into verbal arguments, debates, and I feel like I eat people alive. I will devour anyone who wants to debate me. But I'll do it gently and tactfully. And frankly I long for those people that can eat me alive. That can look at my thought and make my brain melt. They tell me they understand what I said and then they tell me while I'm wrong.

How to do this? How to make this move towards this new type of mental exploration? How to let my mind unleash itself through odd and surreal prose? How to contain my hate that comes out in these metaphors? How to avoid my tendency to think in terms of cannibalism? It is only because I love empathy so much that I speak in those terms. My power for empathy, or my desire to be empathic, influences most of my writing and thinking. Then sometimes it doesn't. I'm a monster.

Once a friend told me that he didn't think he would ever be able to read as well as Professor X (I refuse to use the real name right now). My response was, 'I am Professor X'. I want to empathize so hard with people that I want to become them. I want to simulate other people's minds and literally make them a part of me.

I want to gently caress your mind into a ball that I can put inside my brain. I'll make you mine and you will still be you and I will still be me. But I want to put everyone's minds inside of mine. It hurts sometimes and I still want to do it. To put a jagged mind inside my mind. To take a mind that is rough around the edges and to force it into my delicate.

I also feel furious because I think it can be so hard to avoid trite metaphors.

Hayden White has helped me think more explicitly about metaphor. It is such an important means of communication. Unfortunately, in these days of inverted culture it can be difficult to find original metaphors. That is what this post is about wanting. I want fresh metaphors. Cannibalism is a metaphor for empathy and mental simulation that I like.

My arms are tired. Over and out.


  1. Please....write more posts that are stylistically similar (ie: in that very raw, words-giving-free-reign-to-your emotions kind of way) to your 5/9/10 post ("Some Fire Amidst the Words") and maybe expand on them with more surrealism if you want. I like the following quotes from that post:

    "I am a legless individual sitting in the middle of an overgrown marsh. I sink into the muck and I watch things grow around me. I watch my mind gather experience and I watch that experience feed the weeds.

    The more I think and feel and live the more I know my experience is overwhelming me with its incoherency.

    Then I cut down the weeds. I try to make sense of it. I attack myself, my cluttered inner space. I swing wildly with words (which are like blades).

    Experience as weeds, words as blades.

    Your lawn, your mind, your grass, will be overrun with growth. You will never turn your mind into a farm.

    You can only hope to harvest some things every now and then.

    You feed it. You read. You write. You try to make sense. But then you have to let the experiences of life overwhelm your tools.

    Then you try to prune back all the weeds. You use words to make sense of your experience."

    "I want to set myself on fire. Because I think I will produce gold.

    My mind is a form of alchemy.

    In the pond of minds I will be king amoeba.

    I will eat the world.

    I will throw it up."

  2. Fascinating, Mr. Riley. Speaking of cannibalism, which is not a subject that I think or read about much, but it just so happened that yesterday I was reading a book called "The Fate of Africa." It is a 750 page academic tome that is probably used in grad studies on anything African - international studies and so forth. I had read back in the time that the dictator/kleptocrat Idi Amin of Uganda was said to be a cannibal, but I wasn't sure to believe it. Yesterday I was reading about the mass murder currently on trial at the World Court in the Hague, Charles Taylor, among other despots who ran contingent countries
    through the 1980s-1990s. It was believed in these countries that if you ate a person who was considered to have unusual powers, that you would gain those powers. The soldiers who overtook Liberia in the mid-1980s from a Sargent Doe, who overtook the country a few years before, kicked and pummeled Doe's body beyond recognition, then they brought the body to the center of the capital, Monrovia, to an outdoor market, and proceeded to dismember him and cut his body into little pieces and eat him. Apparently the heart was a prize delicacy. A similar situation occurred to dude who led this coup. When Charles Taylor's men got to this guy, they kidnapped him and took him to a house to question him. They gradually began cutting him up, ears first - and the questioner held the ears high above his head, drinking in the blood and then chewed it up. They took what was left of his body and paraded it around Monrovia in a wheel barrel. This was NOT
    cannibalism for empathy - it was truly believed that you could gain the power of these people by eating the body. And this was as recent as 1990.

    Well, I was a bit surprised, to say the least.
    I hope your fantasies of cannibalism are mere metaphors...which I think they are.

    Interesting writings, Riley! Love, Suz

  3. LOL hey Suz. Frankly I'm a little bit disturbed by the cannibalism metaphor. But It is too late now. I put it out there and I can't take it back! But yes, just searching for the most extreme metaphor for empathy I can find. But wild stuff about real life beliefs.

    <3 - Riley