When pondering one's own completed work, or laboring over one not yet fully-grown, can one similarly discern the manifestation of self? It is another exercise entirely for a reader, with your biography at hand, to pick through this passage or that and exclaim "Ah yes, so that is what provoked such and such..." or "of course the book represents the fruition of this political interest or that"... in short, broadly meditated thoughts that (without direct authorial explanation) may have little grounding in reality. For the writer, however, the process of self-narrative examination never attains the lucidity of a first-time reader - after years of intertwined words and phrases, of long-spent time in hunched contemplation of this particular scene, of sweaty embattled efforts to render that character luminescent or to resolve the disparate threads into a tight conclusion - our books are as much as part of us as if our skin forms the parchment on which they are printed, as if the first paragraph is transcribed across the curve of shoulder, the script weaving around scapula and vertebrae. So how then do we look askance with critical eye? Perhaps only with an intervening elapse of time....perhaps as the days gather into weeks, and weeks into a month or two, perhaps then the self-inscribed text beings to fade on skin, mottled and smudged with accumulated weathering and the passage of time. Then when we revisit our work it is with a freshened sense of clarity - not quite the virgin perusal but as close as the literary parent can come.
At this point how much of ourselves can we discern among the pages of our self-inscribed work? Are there any discernible threads that can be picked apart as definitive authorial experience? It is an intriguing endeavor (and perhaps not one which might be readily answered) for our selves are indubitably infused within the narrative, sometimes with deliberate and technicolor intent, often in wraith-like wisps barely discernible in the peripheral vision and gone in full-focus. For myself, there is some element, however ephemeral, of the quintessential-me in every formulated character - can it indeed be otherwise? For if we are to be successful in breathing life into the blue-tinged literary character, to resuscitate, revive and restore them to a vivid intimacy with the reader, is not self-immersion a necessary prerequisite to literary visceral reality? Are we not obliged to reside, however briefly, within the innermost parts of each of our characters? Theoretically one could then, like an onion, peel away the outer layers, peering deep within the dark confines of fictional-soul to the seed that gave that literary persona growth...for this is where the author lives.
The authorial self is often elusive, evident in varying degrees from one novel and one character to another; present, however, in subtle shades of perspective, of expressed attitude and unstudied predispositions; it is present too in the darker-cast shades of the violent oppressor or the fiendish orchestrator of evil intent - the subterranean, knotted dark urges of the primal self that are denied the light of conscious recognition. Often I think this self emerges in passages of heightened tension; the emotional cataclysm of character, the impassioned interludes, the fierceness of narrative - in short where the intensity lies. For is this not where the writer needs to draw most upon their own wellspring of emotional experience - to extrapolate and imagine an extended literary fervency?
Not that these authorial threads are so readily differentiated from the invented corpus - a writer is after all a masterful fabricator of imagined realities - but it is an interesting exercise to ascertain not only what an unknown reader might surmise to be authorial insertion, and what we ourselves would recognize to be so within our own works. And doubtless subtle infusions would escape our notice after all: unrecognized projections and sublimated desires that emerge in softened gradations; as if these disparate manifestations of us are veiled behind diaphanous layers, recognized by neither self nor reader.
Leonardo de Vinci's innovative technique (one he defined as sfumato or 'smoke') suggests an intriguing parallel: this consisted of applying a multitude of translucent glazes to the surface of the Mona Lisa, gradually accumulating thirty sheer layers, each most likely delicately applied with the sensitive tip of his finger. In this manner de Vinci softened lines and color gradations until it seemed the entire composition lay behind a film of smoke. Perhaps our work is similarly veiled, retaining a certain inscrutability in the process of bringing to literary life…for with the birth of the narrative landscape and the characters that inhabit it (in all their quotidian angst and fervor) it becomes something independent of ourselves. And while a reader might announce with pontificating definitiveness: “this theme arises from this authorial experience…” the novel itself remains darkly cloaked, the manifestations of self often an enigma to author as well as to those who peruse our work. And should this not be so? Otherwise would not every novel that emerges from our feverish brains be tediously similar? For our subtle infiltration of a given work is often highly contextual: dependent not only upon fine-spun emotional threads but the circumstances of a moment that provoked them; which is perhaps what makes the exploration of our own completed manuscript (a modicum of time-generated distance required) such an intriguing endeavor – like Dr. Livingstone we are pushing through the tangled literary jungle of the self, exploring a thick and heady frontier that potentially yields startling insight to ourselves as well as our engaged readership.