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Friday, April 05, 2013

Critical Theory and Creative Writing: The Spectrum of Writing in the Arts

As hard as writing is, it is has become an invigorating and inevitable part of my life, and I have relearnt, as I knew before, that I cannot live without it. I'd like to list here, some of my experiences as a student of literature working through the processes of being a poet, fiction writer, and as someone who's dappled a little in critical writing as well.

I feel like I have had the great opportunity of working with different genres of writing, ranging from academic critical theory, poetry, and recently, now at the MFA program at Columbia University, fiction. I believe that I am a writer in the making, drawing from bits and pieces of experience from professors and fellow writers in workshop, as well as the writers I read for pleasure outside of the school. I will not call myself a critical theorist, or a critical writer, because I could never mince myself out of a text enough to be truly critically articulate. I was bad at it, and it wasn't a consequence of my lack of trying. Well, actually, let me correct that. It was. But it was backed by this genuine feeling that critical writing did not allow my hyper-creative, over-imaginative, happy self to come alive, and breathe. I remember feeling stifled, crushed and missing literature. I remember missing Shobhana's lectures on meaning, intention, style, and tone, and obsessively rambling about Neruda; I remember thinking how lost I was without literature—a myriad of feelings, narrative arcs and psychological progressions that grounded me in concrete human experiences.

Critical writing is the extreme test of writing. It takes all your faculty of thought to construct an argument that you must first find proof of in the world. It takes everything out of you to be able to articulate an observation based in fact, but also takes nothing away from you, because the experiences you're writing about are not individual, or metaphoric but sensible, cultural, meaning making processes in society that you are bringing to light. If you can do critical writing, or even think you can do it, you have come a long way, as long as it isn't what you really want to do. If you're not sure that that's what you want, then its best to take a step back, and another one, and another, and start running in the opposite direction... towards. Creative. Writing.

Prose is tough. I know. I transitioned from poetry. It isn't the easiest deal. Then again, neither is poetry. Poetry is like smiling and traipsing down one thought and putting it fully on the page. You have a page to say everything you want to. Its fast. It hurts less. It's over, and everyone has something beautiful to enjoy. But prose? Padma Kumar once told me Plato's Republic was so brilliant because he rewrote the first page 70 times. How he came to know of this, I am not sure, but I see his point. I was at Mary Karr's Non-fiction dialogue today, and she was saying that she doesn't write. She only revises. Prose is all about revision. You write something, change a word, then change a phrase, then change a sentence, then a paragraph, then a character. You fashion it, construct it, cuddle with it, console it, and hold it from all angles so you have a fully built world at the end. No loose ends. No strings left unexplored.

But creative non-fiction is truly joyful. I recently wrote a piece on Grand Central, and its thematic position in Edith Wharton's House of Mirth, and submitted it thinking it wasn't my best writing. I was very unconscious when I was writing it. I never allowed myself to fully gleam the meaning of the words. I was just not in the mood. All I had was an idea. I had compiled it into sentences, enhanced it with evidences from the Station by visiting, and standing around in different spots, observing the windows, clock, arrival and departure boards etc. But it came well together, I suppose. That is the beauty of creative non-fiction. One can combine the solace of the imagination with the solace of truth, and something beautiful is churned out: an opinion, an idea, a thought, fully enunciated, of what someone thought of the world. It's scary that it's easier than I think it is. Writing always has to be hard. That's the only time you're getting it right. So maybe, non-fiction isn't my forte after all.

A toast
To building worlds with words

Kanasu, the fiction writer


Anil Pinto said...

I agree with you Kanasu. All the best.

readings said...

good luck