My current creative slump seems to coincide with a desire to read stories where ‘nothing happens’. Why, especially as readers in the Twenty-First Century, should we care for slow-paced descriptions and seemingly trivial events?
In his short story, ‘A Little Ramble’, Robert Walser expresses, ‘We do not need to see anything out of the ordinary. We already see so much.’[i] This echoes Henry David Thoreau’s adage that ‘We hear and apprehend only what we already half know’,[ii] which reflects Clarice Lispector’s rumination, ‘She would only see what was already inside her.’[iii]
In writing, it’s impossible to commemorate everything all at once. Characters within fiction cannot comprehend everything in their surroundings – whether spatially or mentally. This is the task of the writer: to find details that their character would plausibly choose to focus on or choose to forget, buried within their subconscious. Indeed, this is the task of any living being: to observe our surroundings – to watch for danger, for change, for general hullabaloo. This is why I read others’ work: to search for the details I miss in my journey through this life and the things my characters miss in theirs.
Walser encapsulates this notion here in the form of his writing, in which his short stories are not driven necessarily by plot, but, instead, by observation. When one pauses to think about their surroundings, to catch their thoughts, they are inevitably met with the paradox of knowledge/language. Similarly, Clarice Lispector grapples with the troublesome notion of penning your thoughts and emotions and retaining the essence which makes these phenomena what they are.
This is why place is essential in creative fiction. Place refracts consciousness. When we subordinate ourselves to a place, we are open to change and adaptability. Writing can become a sort of leitmotif for the way we move in our physical environments, the emotions tied to place, and the shifting, dissolving views (both optically and perspectival).
This solipsistic entanglement: recalling yourself within the larger web of life. Nothing we (any living being) do can be separated or detached from the larger web of life. This goes for art and writing, too.
This may have been a politically radical pursuit at one point in time. Here I think of The Situationists[iv] and Psychogeography. Psychogeography is a very essay-ish word. Academic jargon aside, this tendency I have to shy away from omniscience relates to my own writing process – and the feedback on my work I’ve received reminds me that I do impart my own kind of knowledge through my expression.
[i] Robert Walser, ‘A Little Ramble’ (1914) in Selected Stories, translated from the German by Christopher Middleton and others(New York: FSG Classics, 2012), pp. 30-32 (p. 31).
[ii] Damion Searls eds., The Journal of Henry David Thoreau, 1837-1861 (New York: New York Review Books, 2009), p. 652.
[iii] Clarice Lispector, Near to the Wild Heart (London: Penguin Books, 2014), translated from the Portuguese by Alison Entrekin, p. 12.