Tuesday, August 6, 2013
Imbuing Literary Life: Galatea and the Anthropomorphic Tendency
Insentient objects that comprise my writing world are particularly prone to the receipt of such life-breath: ascribed with nefarious motivations to stall and thwart if the narrative is not proceeding well, and imbued with all the mellifluous ambrosia of the literary gods when it is. It has always been so - cars are named, computers cursed (I remain of the opinion that a good kick to the tower can solve all manner of tech-related ills), and houses redolent with the emotional vibes of their inhabitants. Flowers, bedraggled and aphid-infested, are necessarily distraught, their healthier companions a jubilant juxtaposition to their miserable fellows.
But perhaps this tendency comprises the heart of the matter. For are we not, after all, endowing our work, our clustered sequences of ink on page, with the quickened heat of life? With a vigor imbibed under the authorial pen? Where our imaginative practice of granting malicious purpose to cursors, pages and fleeting doubts perhaps serve a useful function. For we are gathering thoughts, accumulating utterances, hoarding phrases all to the intent of fabricating a fictional character, some aspect of a self; shaping with words the curve of jaw, the mobility of expression, the feverish, ferocity of an emotional intensity. In short we, like Pygmalion, are sculpting our Galatea and infusing her with the enigmatic flush of life - a faint blush beneath the marble, like the ghost of a face under a thick mantle of ice. The engaged reader releases her, and the literary work takes wing. For the bibliophile forms a critical partnership in this dance of two - as authors are Pygmalion to their literary work, receptive readers are the Venus that facilitates the final transformation from the cold immobility of marble into the warm receptivity of woman. For the narrative (flat and austere between the confines of cover - unread upon the shelf) becomes something else with the perusing of it. Indubitably, the unopened novel contains all the subtle literary skill and nuances (unlike Schrodinger's cat it's existence is not in doubt) but for the reader who has yet to crack the spine, the glories of it exist as an expectant promise, a gleam in the parental eye that portends life to come.
This practice of ascribing malevolence to inanimate shadows, expectancy to binary-flickers, and depth and desire to the blank expanse of a white page (tendencies that alone might seem bizarre manifestations of a disturbed mind!) all operate in service to the Muse. Irritated cursors and disconsolate pages are the minor minions: literary lackeys that facilitate a flexing of synaptic pathways, the exercise of which habituate us to the breathing of life into insensible things. They comprise the shadow characters that precede the actuality - the suggestion of what will be fully rendered within the narrative.
And this seeming-innocuous imaginative play hearkens back to childish days, to younglings immersed in their fanciful selves: a strewn coat in the dark metamorphoses into the humped silhouette of a nocturnal serpent, the damp leaf mold beneath a glimmering canopy of green becomes the provenience of fairies, gnarled tree branches are transformed into the seaweed-bedecked prow of a pirate ship. So when we, as adults, imbue the mundane objects of our quotidian surrounds with personality and intent, we are stripping back the veneer that conceals and subdues our own whimsical perspective. A habit that perhaps enriches, however subtly, our subsequent work; accustomed as we are to perceiving vigor in the glacial cold of marble or the inert stolidity of dark ink across a page. For we are life-givers by nature, this is where our yearning lies - to capture the elusive flutter of vitality, the quintessential quickening that comprises human engagements - caught like an exotic butterfly in our enveloping net of words.