Monday, August 28, 2006

Weekend Reading

This weekend I read a very intriguing piece by Julia Glass from the August 21 Publishers Weekly. This cover story, "In the Dust that Refuses to Settle: Writing Fiction After 9/11," discusses novel-writing as it relates to writing "about" 9/11.

I haven't tackled a novel on this subject, but I did write a number of short stories, beginning soon after the attacks, that in some way reflected the event. At the time I was an MFA student, and some of the reactions my classmates offered--basically, that it was "too soon" to be writing about this--really irked me. It didn't help when the instructor chose to stay silent, either.

So you can imagine how this section of Glass's essay resonated for me:

Lurking behind the notion that novelists have jumped the gun is the illusion that the dust of 9/11 will settle anytime soon; that we will, at some point in the near future, stand at a lofty peak looking down at that day as if it were a museum diorama. That's a genre called historical fiction, which no author writing today will be able to render about this event. Historical fiction is narrative set in a time predating the author's own memory, beyond the reach of conscious, personal experience. To reflect on our own times is something else entirely, and of equal value. When we write about a shared catastrophe whose pain is still raw the effect is sometimes that much more powerful. Was Going After Cacciato written too soon after the Vietnam War? The Normal Heart too soon after the beginning of the AIDS epidemic? All Quiet on the Western Front a premature creation? What of Mrs. Miniver, William Wyler's 1942 film about World War II? How about Suite Francaise?

Storytellers who dramatize their own era embrace its most resounding moments, moments when the spiritual compass by which we live (and write) has spun out of alignment. Realigning that compass, searching for a new magnetic north, is some of the best work fiction writers do. We seize something that everyone around us has taken for granted and, whether tenderly or violently, ironically or tragically, we upend it, dissect or shatter it. We write not about you or them or then. We write about us; we write about now. Reader, we say, the view has changed; let me show you how.


grackyfrogg said...

thanks for sharing this piece. it's an interesting point that ms. glass makes... i don't know how i feel about it personally. i do know that my reaction to all the movies that have come out about 9/11 was exactly that: "it's too soon." but i don't know why.

on the other hand, i don't think i feel the same way about written stories. why is that, i wonder?

any thoughts?

Erika Dreifus said...

No, I don't have any thoughts about it--but if any others come to you, please let us know!

grackyfrogg said...

well, i don't know. i thought about it after i wrote the comment. at first, i wondered if movies, by the nature of their medium, are more prone to being emotionally manipulative (which is my impression of the 9/11 movies that have come out so far, based on what i've seen in the trailers). maybe the movies are "too soon" because to me they feel like they have an agenda--telling me how i ought to feel about 9/11.

this brings up the point of the differences between movies and written stories. a movie is a visual and aural experience that is clearly defined (by the director, the actors, the cinematograher, etc), whereas the written story comes to life entirely in the imagination of the reader. the reader, then, is an integral part of the written story, but more of a passive, reactive observer of the visual story. the movie can force you feel what it wants you to feel; the written story has to accept the freedom of the reader to understand the story differently than the author.

i'm not entirely satisfied with that answer, though.

sorry for all the rambling! just me thinking "out loud"...