When I sat myself down and contemplated, what I had to say that would be of any worth in a blog because after all, writing has to engage. If it doesn't engage, it's as valuable as a shopping list although as many people will attest, lists serve a function but perhaps, mean more to the compiler than the poor casual reader who sees a group of seemingly random words for objects that they occasionally have use for such as toilet rolls and Jaffa Cakes.
As an occasional writer who is very undisciplined, the idea of a blog is somewhat anathema to my personality. It forces me to consider and to write what jumps into my head or concerns me. I am often underwhelmed by ideas almost directly in proportion to the good ideas that end up in some kind of wasteland located in the back of my mind, where they linger and rot like fetid waste until I get motivated enough to trudge through the sludge and pick those which are starting to flower. Rot can be creative but not in obvious ways.
So where do I want this blog to go? Should it be autobiographical and the equivalent of my exposing my feelings and anxieties like a Butterfly newly released from the confines of the safety of its cocoon? After all, all writing is essentially autobiographical but do I want to produce a piece of confessional art, so that everyone has access to a mediated view of my emotional life. Alternatively, do I want this blog to take the form of a surreal exploration of cultural endeavours? An almost stream of consciousness exploration of the events, people and sensations that are helping to inform the identity of this 38 year old man. One other option is to just adopt an open and fluid style to see where the blog wants to go. If this opening blog seems pretentious to you then don't worry, it will either get worse or better as I write. I will probably not write with tremendous frequency although I may surprise myself. I have changed in the last year despite my best intentions to remain the same and I am glad I have.
Talking about autobiographical writings, I have recently found myself reading quite a few memoirs and the form is fascinating to me. I have often felt that biographies are a more honest and open exploration of their subjects than autobiographies, although my view has been slightly changed from reading different styles of autobiography. The most recent autobiographies I have read have been The Land of Green Plums by Herta Muller (translated by Michael Hofmann) (Granta Books, 1999) and Who I am by Pete Townshend (Harper Collins Publishers, 2012). From a personal perspective, I would argue that most effective autobiographies are written by people who are not happy with themselves and who do not see themselves as perfect. Both of the above books seem to be written by people who have suffered. Perversely, their sufferings make for interesting reading, which reveals a lot more about the reader than the writer. Why do we enjoy seeing other people suffer through the written word does it make our lives seem more worthwhile and fulfilling? Pete Townshend's autobiography is brilliantly written and is quite revealing yet holds back quite a lot of information. As a child, he remembers being abused yet he is unable or unwilling to convey his thoughts and feelings in words. He clearly identifies the abuse as being fundamental in his development and expresses how he has attended various forms of therapy over the years but he cannot conceptualise the horror of what happened. I imagine that this could be down to repression, that defensive psychological tool used by us all from time to time to hide away thoughts and feelings that could otherwise hurt us. Of course, these thoughts can return to haunt us in many ways and situations. In many respects, Pete Townshend's autobiography is one of the most positive works I have read. It reveals his suffering but also identifies the value of other people in our otherwise solitary lives. His loves, family and friends have helped to inform his identity, creative works and life in general far more comprehensively than his past, which still lingers like a shadow over his endeavours. Essentially and this is not important to any reading of his autobiography, I now really empathise with him as a human being and even like him. Revelation can be the first step towards understanding and acceptance. Openness is a virtue.
On the other hand, Herta Muller's autobiography is equally revealing and open yet paradoxically, in a more oblique form. The Land of Green Plums reads like a fragmented series of memories of custom, ritual and atrocities that linger long after you finish the book. It documents Herta Muller's life in Romania during the height of Ceausescu's oppressive leadership. It's a book about life within an oppressive regime where people are routinely followed and questioned on a whim for 'subversive' views that run in contradiction to the views of the leader and his doctrines. The writing is remarkably understated and at times, matter of fact yet there is always a sense of poetic intensity running through it. This is an autobiography that reveals a lot but through the detachment of poetry rather than the immediacy of straightforward prose. The writing is engaging yet you oddly get the sense that the main narrator is hiding from you, she wants you to understand Romania and its poverty and horrors. I will not forget in a hurry the descriptions of the slaughterhouses, which are amongst the few remaining employers and the horror of the workers drinking the blood of the newly killed animals. The society depicted is one of apathetic disillusionment. The focus of the autobiography is on the students with whom the writer mixes and it's odd how ultimately, the most fully realised or described character (it's odd to refer to characters in autobiographies but when you write in a certain detached way, you do develop characters out of real people) is Tereza, who effectively betrays the other students on at least, one occasion. Although, the betrayal is not particularly condemned, merely acknowledged. Every dysfunctional culture produces its Judas figure and ultimately, do we have the right to condemn them if we tacitly accept the prevailing ideologies rather than reacting against them?
Anyhow, back to the nature of this blog, should I allow it to be autobiographical in a contrived manner or simply allow my writing to go where it wants to go? My life from now is based on how rather than why, so past expositions will merely confuse and delude me. I want to live in the shadow of a smile.
Barry Watt - 26th December 2012
Actually, 'The Land of Green Plums' is a novel, which makes my comments above that it is an autobiography somewhat silly. However, it is described as an autobiographical novel and I have this horrible feeling that a lot of the terrible things that happened in the novel, the author witnessed. The fact that I confused it as an autobiography attests to its power as a literary work or my need for realism at the moment.
Barry Watt - 26th December 2012