Monday, June 27, 2016

What should writers write?

Short answer: whatever the hell they want to write.

I want the trend that says a writer should only write about things they've experienced directly to be over. At best, it says, it's inauthentic; at worst, it's appropriation. I even saw an example of addiction being something that shouldn't be written about unless one has experienced it directly.

I'm not about to become an alcoholic to create a character who is an alcoholic.

James Walker of quillette posted a lengthy piece on the fetishization of identity and authenticity in art and literature:
What has been forgotten in this consciousness of how we are shaped, misshaped, and battered by the world is our own ability to shape it: Freedom. And it’s this forgetting that has perverted our understanding of authenticity. We take how the world has acted upon us as definitive of who we are. We rarely consider that authenticity might not lie in what has been done to you, not in the mere situation in which you find yourself, but in the manner in which you conduct yourself toward it. Writers are not merely receptacles of experience just as they are not the sum of their influences. As much as authors draw from their own experiences or other authors, they seek to define themselves from them, to set their own work apart. When we admire a beautiful work of art, we do so not as if it is a sort of serendipitous accident, the fortunate convergence of historical and social determinacy, but because it bears the mark of a particular will, imagination, and creativity. It is what is active that renders art art, defines the artist as an artist. Authenticity is activity.
It's important to view this as part of a larger phenomenon where experience trumps knowledge and is exempt from criticism. To this, he adds:
Rationally and epistemologically speaking, this elevation of “lived experience” to a sort of untouchable status makes little sense. At the most basic level, personal experience is unreliable at best, outright misleading at worst.
And it says nothing about talent, about detailing the human experience in a way that anyone can find meaning in. Restrictions on who gets to say what doesn't make the canon any stronger.