Monday, November 05, 2007

Writing The World

A novelist writes about another novelist who is writing two novels about two other novelists, one writing novels to tell lies, the other to search for truth. In the 42 novels about 42 novelists they write, there are some novelists completely unaware of the lies they tell or deliberately telling lies or some that look for truth knowing pretty well they won’t find it or some skeptical about the truth they find. And those 47 novelists write 560 novels describing 1,585 novelists, and among those 1,585 novelists, while some novelists behave childishly even after having grown old in dozens of novels, others (some of them women) hang on to some ideals because of their Western education, and, despite marriage and family worries, become social reformers in about 60 novels, yet others rebel for reasons of their ideals or nation or selfishness and start a revolution against poverty and inequality in 920 novels, and only one novelist, leaving his home and family and traveling around the country, fights for the freedom of his nation and writes a beautiful novel about another novelist who, like himself, leaving his home and family to travel around the country, fights for the freedom of his nation, and finally gets killed. The main character of another novel about another novelist, a person from the same town as that of the dead novelist, suffers from loneliness even while stressing the need for subjectivity, forgets the very existence of the dead novelist and writes a novel about 2,088 novelists who in turn write 5,831 novels narrating the eternal plight of society’s oppressed peoples and 3,216 novels depicting the interior landscape of women. In 9,057 novels those 2,088 novelists write there appear 13,702 novelists whose 20,829 novels tell the story of only one novelist who, although he tries to write a single novel about one other novelist, fails to complete that novel, meets the other novelist and, to kill him, boils down all the novelists, including himself, numbering 13,701, 9,057, 2,088, 1,585, 47, 2, 1, and finally becomes the single novelist known as the novelist of all novelists.
I heard Christopher Merrill, Director of the The University of Iowa's International Writing Program, read this great piece at the Ubud Writers' and Readers festival back in September. It was written by Indian writer S. Diwakar, and translated by him and Merrill from the origianl Kannada.

I am actually as pleased as punch to find the text of the whole inspiring talk Merrill gave at Ubud on the Words Without Borders website. He talks about the power of bringing writers from all over the world together.

Quiz question of the day - who these writers mentioned in his essay?:
A British novelist and a Malaysian poet share a passion for puppets.
And what project came out of the friendship? The answer is actually way back on this blog. I just want to see if you are paying attention! (Okay, I'll buy the winner lunch.)

Sadly, I missed part of Merrill's talk at Ubud (which always involves making tough choices between one session and another), but his book about his spiritual journey Things of the Hidden God: Journey to the Holy Mountain sounds very much like one I'd like to read.

The q&a at the end of the session raised some evergreen questions about the writing process.

He was asked about whether writers block actually exists and replied by saying:
Why doesn't anyone ever ask if electricians have electricians' block?
And he quoted another writer (and I didn't get down the name of the guy who said this first - sorry!) :
Any poet can write a poem on any day of the week if your standards are as low as mine.
In other words, what matters is not that you wrote something good, but that you actually wrote something!

And of course he was asked whether creative writing can be taught. You can't teach genius, he replied, but then went on to describe how even the great short story writer, Flannery O'Connor, had to learn her craft at the University of Iowa.
No-one has any doubt you can teach art, sculpture, figure-skating. So why should there be any doubt that creative writing can be taught?


gnute said...

Hehe... Tok Dalang and Edward Carey.

bibliobibuli said...

gnute ... you are 50% right. so you get afternoon tea or morning coffee.

Sharanya Manivannan said...

Sounds like a mathematical conundrum!

gnute said...

I'm afraid I'll have to offer it to the other person who gets it right, cos I'm not in Malaysia right now.


bibliobibuli said...

it's reservable! :-D

Bonnie Jacobs said...

The novelist is Edward Carey, and the poet is Eddin Khoo. You wrote about them way back in 2005. Their shared interest in puppets was interesting to read about. Thanks.

Since I don't expect to be in Malaysia in my lifetime (I'm 67 and don't do much traveling), I'll just think of you when I have lunch today, okay? LOL.

bibliobibuli said...

absolutely brilliantly well done, bonnie, am sad that you are too far away for lunch ...