on craft: exploitation, privacy, invasion, philip roth & carrie mae weems

a few lines, posted to my bedroom wall and now to your computer screen —

“The serious, merciless invasion of privacy is at the heart of the fiction we value most highly.” philip roth

“How you get work done is by exploiting yourself and your feelings, and sometimes people get in the way.” carrie mae weems

philip roth’s quote suggests, to a certain degree, that the invasion of the subconscious — that most private of spaces — it distinguishes great art. the subconscious — that raw, uncharted terrain that is both individuated and universal, inchoate and exquisite. how does one open the door to such a place? is it accessed through ordinary means? the artist cannot demand that the subconscious reveal itself, but roth and weems both suggest that a certain brutality is required to access our deepest, most profound work: for weems it through exploitation, for roth it is through the “serious, merciless invasion of privacy”.

what does this mean for the writer? what does this mean for the artist? it means that, to some degree, we have to lay our characters and our work on the operating table: to create great work we must expose ourselves and in fact, interrogate ourselves and our characters. who would be game for such a project? very few, i would imagine. in many ways this is why so few people choose to be artists: to be an artist demands a certain brutality — and with that brutality comes a form courage.

One Comment

philschroeder posted on June 13, 2011 at 9:35 am

Elizabeth, this is EXACTLY what I needed to hear before writing today. Thanks.

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