Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Archive for March 5th, 2017

A completion of personality

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Ralph Ellison

I never know quite what has gone on in my subconscious in the night, I dream vividly, and all kinds of things happen; by morning they have fallen below the threshold again. But I like to feel that whatever takes place becomes active in some way in what I do at the typewriter. In other words, I believe that a human being’s life is of a whole, and that he lives the full twenty-four hours. And if he’s a writer or an artist, what happens during the night feeds back, in some way, into what he does consciously during the day—that is, when he is doing that which is self-achieving, so to speak. Part of the pleasure of writing, as well as the pain, is involved in pouring into that thing which is being created all of what he cannot understand and cannot say and cannot deal with, or cannot even admit, in any other way. The artifact is a completion of personality…

I think a writer learns to be as conscious of his craft as he can possibly be—not because this will make him absolutely lucid about what he does, but because it prepares the stage for structuring his daydreaming and allows him to draw upon the various irrational elements involved in writing…I think I get at [the unconscious] through sheer work, converting incidents into patterns—and also by simply continuing at a thing when I don’t seem to be getting anywhere….What the unconscious mind does is to put all manner of things into juxtaposition. The conscious mind has to provide the logical structure of narrative and incident through which these unconscious patterns can be allowed to radiate by throwing them into artful juxtaposition on the page.

Ralph Ellison, in an interview with John Hersey

Written by nevalalee

March 5, 2017 at 7:30 am

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