Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Archive for June 21st, 2015

The map and the diagram

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Malcolm Cowley

[A writer’s] impressions of the great author are assembled from many sources…The evidence is mulled over, all the details are fitted together like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, until they begin to form a picture, vague and broken at first, then growing more distinct as the years pass by: the X or Y picture, the James Joyce, Ezra Pound, or T.S. Eliot picture. But it is not so much a picture when completed: it is rather a map or diagram which the apprentice writer will use in planning his own career…

The great living authors, in the eyes of any young man apprenticed to the muse, are a series of questions, an examination paper compiled by and submitted to himself:

  1. What problems do these authors suggest?
  2. With what problems are they consciously dealing?
  3. Are they my own problems? Or if not, shall I make them my own?
  4. What is the Joyce solution to these problems (or the Eliot, the Pound, the Gertrude Stein, the Paul Valéry solution)?
  5. Shall I adopt it? Reject it and seek another master? Or must I furnish a new solution myself?

And it as if the examiner had written: Take your time, young man. Consider all questions carefully; there is all the time in the world. Don’t fake or cheat; you are making these answers for yourself. Nobody will grade them but posterity.

Malcolm Cowley

Written by nevalalee

June 21, 2015 at 7:30 am

Posted in Quote of the Day, Writing

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