Saturday, November 03, 2012

Natalie Goldberg 2

Goldberg is well read in good, traditional, non-genre fiction and poetry, possibly better read than I am. But she really does not seem to understand that much literature is not about one's own life.

Obviously, writers use what they know -- though often it is what they learned from books or other people. Shakespeare seems to have been well read. We can trace the plots of many of his plays to stories in Italian collections, English histories or plays by other authors.

His sonnets sound personal, but we can't be sure, because we don't know enough about his life.

Milton wrote Paradise Lost to justify the ways of God to man. His sonnet "On His Blindness" is clearly personal, as is Michelangelo's poem on how much he hated painting the Sistine Ceiling:
I've grown a goitre by dwelling in this den–
As cats from stagnant streams in Lombardy,
Or in what other land they hap to be–
Which drives the belly close beneath the chin:
My beard turns up to heaven; my nape falls in,
Fixed on my spine: my breast-bone visibly
Grows like a harp: a rich embroidery
Bedews my face from brush-drops thick and thin.
My loins into my paunch like levers grind:
My buttock like a crupper bears my weight;
My feet unguided wander to and fro;
In front my skin grows loose and long; behind,
By bending it becomes more taut and strait;
Crosswise I strain me like a Syrian bow:
Whence false and quaint, I know,
Must be the fruit of squinting brain and eye;
For ill can aim the gun that bends awry.
Come then, Giovanni, try
To succour my dead pictures and my fame;
Since foul I fare and painting is my shame.
From Wikipedia.

It's not comfortable to lie on your back day after day painting; and he thought of himself as a sculptor. Obviously, this is personal. It's also about pleasure in invective and pleasure in the art of writing.

I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, and my moods are very closely connected to the amount of light around me. I'm convinced that Edmund Spenser had a similar problem, given the way he uses light and darkness in his great poem The Faerie Queene. Light and dark have been used by many writers obviously. They are standard symbols out of the symbol kit. But Spenser's descriptions of both are especially numerous, specific and felt. His light gleams, glitters, shines, glows... That much is personal.

However, the poem is his attempt to write a poetic romance in the Italian manner, an allegory about Christian morality, and a celebration of Queen Elizabeth I and her England. It is not his life story.

Well, I could go on and on. But Goldberg does not seem to get how much of literature is not about oneself. It's about craft. It's about ideas. It's about telling or retelling a story that is evocative and emotionally charged, but not one's own personal tale.


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