Monday, August 31, 2009

On autobiographical elements in novels

Visiting Professor Amitava Kumar's blog is always a good trip--it results in my coming back with some new information, novel insights.

In one of his recent posts (inter alia, referring to a post at Maud Newton), he talks about William Maxwell and his mining of experiences from his own life and dressing them up as fiction. Is that a moral hazard? Are there any limits of doing it? Many questions arise.

Then I follow a link to Maud Newton's blog and to an article on Maxwell in The Washington Post. It's a review of Maxwell's novel, 'So Long, See You Tomorrow'. Some sentences strike me further: The reviewer makes fun of memoir as a genre: "But Maxwell doesn't use this lurid tale to launch on the kind of self-dramatizing sleuthing that has made the memoir more of a recovery workbook than a literary genre."

Anita Jain, author of Marrying Anita, had mocked at certain kind of novelists when she was in Singapore: Why do they hide behind novels when they could write a memoir, she had asked.

Is there something in here for Anita, I innocently wonder.

"In talking about the past," Maxwell writes, "we lie with every breath we draw."

Does it mean that even if we write something from our own lives, it changes in writing: the mere acting of putting "the reality" in words changes the reality?

Maxwell says: "I wrote about my life in less and less disguise as I grew older, and finally with no disguise — except the disguise we create for ourselves, which is self-deception."

This reminds me of one of my own short stories, The Revolt. In the story, a character rises against the writer in revolt and takes his revenge on him for portraying him in a certain light (obviously, not very flattering). It was written some years ago--before I had heard of Pirandello.

Anyway, here's an example of how Maxwell changed reality (of a character) in one of his novels.

1 comment:

Richard Crasta said...

Hi Anjum. As all writing is an act of subjectivity--the choice of subject matter, viewpoint--all writing is autobiographical, no matter how we present it, either trying to fool ourselves, others, or the legal system; and it is at the same time fiction, because we are all, in some sense, unreliable narrators.
By the way, my books (since you wrote about me in a previous blog) are up on Amazon Kindle.