I explore media in transition. My research encompasses film, video, print, digital arts, and the web. I'm interested in what artists and writers are doing and in what critics and scholars are saying.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Writing and Memory: Joan Didion’s Transformations

Joan Didion gave a haunting interview on The Charlie Rose Show Monday night. Forthright yet vulnerable, she discussed her latest book, The Year of Magical Thinking, a memoir she wrote after the death of her husband of almost forty years, the writer John Gregory Dunne. The writing process helped her mourn his passing and at the same time cope with the fragile health of their only daughter, Quintana, who was in a coma and dependent on life support while Didion wrote the book. Shortly thereafter, Quintana also died. Visibly marked by these losses, and transformed by them, Didion reentered society after a period of madness she calls “magical thinking.”

I was particularly struck by the way she distinguished “raw” writing, as exemplified in The Year of Magical Thinking, from writing done after healing has already begun or enough time has passed to allow for critical distance. She believed she had to complete the book before the first anniversary of her husband’s death or else she would lose the emotional intensity she wanted to preserve, a voice and rhythm she’d be unable to recapture at a later date. I haven’t yet read her book, but I recognize the types of writing she mentions, for she touches on issues that writers of both nonfiction and fiction often face when they recount personal histories, regardless of circumstances.

My own work on memory explores dynamics between first-person narratives of ongoing experiences—such as one might find in diaries, journals, and “raw” accounts like Didion’s—and first-person narratives (in writing or another medium) of the same experiences told by the same person at a later date. Each mode on its own tells one version of a story, and within a given mode endless variations are possible; when present and past tense accounts are brought together in one text, new variations emerge, complementing and contradicting one another. Representations of the future may be considered, too. The issues Didion raises concerning immediacy versus distance come into play, as do other issues, especially when additional media are involved. My research continues, and so do my creative experiments with writing and memory.

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Saturday, October 01, 2005

Blogger's National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)

Blogger’s seventh annual National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) starts November 1. (Registration begins today.) To win, participants must write a 50,000-word novel from scratch by the end of the month. According to stats on the NaNoWriMo site, last year 42,000 writers participated and almost 6,000 finished. Blogged novels from 2004 are listed at Na-No-Blog-Mo. There’s an entry about NaNoWriMo in Wikipedia.

The emphasis is on quantity not quality, but the concept behind NaNoWriMo is intriguing. I have no first-hand experience with NaNoWriMo myself, but I’m tempted to give it a try. I've spent years writing (and editing) a 50,000-word novel—how great it would be to have such a productive month!

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