28.4.08

Perceptions

I can't remember the first time I found out about the background of an author whose books I had read. I can't even remember who the author was.  What I do remember is that after receiving said information, that author's works somehow felt....diminished.  Or rather, what I took from them.

Then some years back, I read a column or an interview which spoke about how authors today have to be so much more publicly visible, as opposed to the reticence that authors in the 19th and early 20th centuries could indulge in.  Sure, many authors were public figures back then, but they didn't have to be so in order to sell their books - that was just their nature (Can you imagine Hemingway being told he would have to do 'x' number of readings and book-signings?  He'd have harpooned his agent. And the publisher).  But today, it's rare to find an author who's not been profiled, interviewed, fanzine-d, can't be met at a 'Meet the Author' do every three weeks, and doesn't blog.

And yes, it is interesting and fascinating to know more about them, and why they write, and how they do so.  And yes, I admit I do read any such article when I come across it, because I want to understand that person's work better.  But every time I do, in a way, I feel as if I've actually lost some of the original magic of the words.

Because sometimes a book should be like a good film, and the words like good actors.  Where you view them in their own bubble, and not really question what the background is.  Sometimes, I really don't want to know what the author looks like, how old they are, where they live, how many cats they have, why they prefer honey to maple syrup, or any of the other myriad details that make up their life.

I just want to read the book, and think about the world and ideas detailed in it.

Of course, this is selective.  I wouldn't necessarily read non-fiction without trying to ascertain if what has been written has been underscored with any bias the writer may have.  But I really didn't need to learn about the underlying Christian symbolism in the Narnia books, because now I keep seeing hidden meanings everywhere.

And so I'm finding myself increasingly shying away from reading the 'About the author' page, and 'This week we talk to' columns.  Because I want the book to be untainted by any perceptions that I may have, once I know those things.  This has grown to the extent that back when I did seriously consider writing a book (why that's not an option, here), I had decided that if someone did want to publish it, they would have to agree to keep my identity secret.  No hints, no pseudonyms, no leaks from unnamed sources.  Not just to maintain my privacy and sanity, but so that (perhaps) people would then just read the words for what they were, rather than associate it with the person who wrote them*.

And when I started this blog, the same applied.  Which is partly why I don't do self-descriptions.  And which is why though I wonder about the people behind the blogs I read, and I would love to meet them....I hesitate.

Not because I have issues meeting people, or because I really love this secrecy thing, but because this blog is just one facet of me, and if the other parts is known, this part be viewed through the prism of the whole.  And I don't want that yet....mostly because I'm still trying to figure out what this bit, this blog, really is.

You assume I'm female (and know I'm thin and like my food).  But I could tell you that I'm a 43-year old mother-of-three, or that I'm a student doing my Masters in Urban Planning, or a 24-year old guy with a prosthetic left leg, or a reclusive widower who's learning to reach out, or that I've got three or four years to live because of prostrate cancer, or that I'm just another person with a relatively happy life. Any of that could be true, and all of it could be lies.

And knowing any of that is going to, invariably, make you re-evaluate some of what has been written here.

Which is precisely my point.  And which is what I don't want.  Yet**.

So, to all of you - this is not about trying to draw traffic because of the mystery, this is not about some secrecy fetish I have, this is not because I can't be bothered to make the effort to know you....
it's simply because I want the words to stand on their own.



* And because humans are innately incapable of leaving things alone, it would also have been fascinating to see the image that people would create of me, based on what I'd written. Not to mention the unending articles by pyschological experts, and others. Besides, parties where the book came up for discussion would have been so much fun, no? Hmm...maybe I should write that book.
** This is not expected to last forever.

12 comments:

lekhni said...

I agree..people are inherently curious about others, even if sometimes it is better to focus on the work and not the author.

Yes, people do make a lot of assumptions about anonymous bloggers, and read a lot of meaning into whatever we write.

I also strongly suspect that a lot of blog tags are created with the sole objective of extracting more personal details from the blogger :)

NightWatchmen said...

May we suggest that you read a book called That Summer in Paris.

It is about what you are referring to in your post, about a girl meeting the author she adores more than anyone else.

By the way we reached your blog through the Discover section of our Google reader and we must say we are thankful to Google.

indian2006 said...

Your post reminds me of Arundhati Roy's Small of God Things. I love this novel, but then dwelling deeper into Roy politics...umm.. mistake. I have two separate compartments in my brain --one that holds Roy and the other her wonderful first novel...sometimes they break into each other. Angst!

But sometimes learning more about the author can really add to the understanding of the text. I am thinking of Burrough's Naked Lunch; and Ayn Rand. There are many other examples, of course.

Also. While yes you could be a 65-year old with 3 children from Scandanavia. I would bet good money that you are not. One's life leaks into all we write. That is inevitable. But I don't read your blog because of your identity. You could be the president of giving-money-away island, but if your writing doesn't compel me to keep reading, I wouldn't bother.

So in some ways, it almost doesn't matter all this increased expose on writers...if their writing doesn't speak to people, then nobody will care.

indian2006 said...

haha.. God of Small Things... haha.. I can't believe I did that. :)

km said...

Yes, it's like listening to a CD filled with all these glorious African rhythms and melodies, and then learning that they were all composed by a Jewish folk singer from New York.

Knowledge kills bewilderment.

??! said...

lekhni:
I was about to add a bit about how easy it is to deliberately mess with people's perceptions, by laying false trails. But I've kept that for later.

And quite agree about the tags. Which is why I've done one, and that's all I'm going to do.

nightwatchmen:
Thanks for the tip. and Greader referred me? How fun.

IndieSix:
I agree with both your first two points. And I'm not really making that much effort to hide things (I could if I wanted to), I'm just eliminating the facts that I see as irrelevant to the exploration of th e blog. Semantics.

KM:
Heh. Simon, no?

Falstaff said...

you really should read this

Megha said...

Speaks volumes about your love for writing! It seems so sans ego, sans any need of making yourself be heard, be understood as the person that is you, the whole. And yet I'd say more than anyone else, you write for yourself (the writer) :) Spent long wonderful hours riveted to your blog recently. Will keep coming back!

??! said...

Falsie:
I think that just about covers it. Although, to be honest, I'm not completely against it. I personally wouldn't choose to go for readings (I've had this discussion with Space Bar too), but I know they can add to the experience.

And a lot of blogs are the better for the background ('context', as OTP would say) that the bloggers provide. I just don't think that's needed here.

megha:
Issssssssssssh. Thankfully, no chane ke jhaad here.

Megha said...

Oh tosh.. 'twas just my perception :) You'd see where I'm coming from if you were equally tickled by junta who blog seemingly for the sole purpose of persistently implying how hot they are, how fun their life is, etc etc. Which is not to say that's not fun. This is an interesting change, let me just say!

Tabula Rasa said...

it's simply because I want the words to stand on their own.

doesn't quite work that way, you know. all communication consists of source characteristics as well as message characteristics, and both are important to the comprehension of the message. withholding source information the way you've done it simply allows people to make whatever inferences they wish, which can even end up *detracting* (or distracting) from whatever import the words themselves may have.

??! said...

TR:
Acknowledge, agreed, and inevitable. But I'm hoping people will eventually just get bored of wondering, and say "Ok, I can't be bothered. Whatever". Heh.