Sunday, March 17, 2013

It's All About Me

The subject of a future autobiographical novel?

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant once said, “I have no knowledge of myself as I am, but merely as I appear to myself.”

As more of life goes by, the more I realize that one of the questions which fascinates me the most is that of how much we can know another human being, and indeed how much we can know ourselves. I think of it as the ultimate mystery of the human soul. We can never fully know the vast, dark reaches of our own interior being, the murky, mysterious inner space of our memories, dreams, imaginations, and subconscious and unconscious longings, fears, and desires—let alone that of another human being.

Nevertheless, knowing ourselves and knowing others are two of the most fundamental projects of human existence. But these are not projects that can ever be completely fulfilled. When we think that we fully know who someone else is, or even that we fully know who we ourselves are, we are hopelessly deluded.

This mystery of the human soul, I am realizing, has become one of the major themes of my writing. It was more than suggested in The Bluebird of Happiness, and will be even more fully brought out and explored in “Rainbow”. In the latter novel, I am also attempting to explore the ways in which our conception of others and of ourselves is based on our own perception and imagination. But the question might also be asked: is there in fact anything more to our identities than this?

As with Bluebird, I will not attempt to provide any definitive answers to the philosophical questions raised by the story. And, as with the former novel, I do hope to provide some intriguing suggestions and possibilities that readers might wish to further explore on their own.

One thing that is an ever-present challenge to the fiction writer is getting inside the head of another human being (or, in some cases, another sentient being, even if not human). In reality, we only have access to our own inner experience, and to write about a fictional character (no matter how autobiographical the character might appear to be) requires a tremendous act of the imagination.

To some degree, however, writers can only write about themselves. That is to say, even when writing about purely imaginary characters who bear little resemblance to themselves, the character’s thoughts, feelings, and experience must be imagined by the author, and this imagining must necessarily occur through the filter of, and must necessarily be informed by, the author’s own thoughts, feelings, and experience. After all, our own experience is the only experience to which we have any access.

So, even though some of my characters may appear to be more autobiographical than others, in some sense they are all autobiographical—and, at the same time, they are all perfectly imaginary. Whether I am writing about young passionate poetic men, or old dour disillusioned men; about beautiful baroque women, or wide-eyed little girls; about misunderstood man-apes or vampiristic voluptuaries; about bizarre business executives or perfectly ordinary Martians—in each case, no matter how fanciful the creature, he, she, or it is always, inevitably, a reflection and expression of its creator, even if only of its creator's wildest dreams or darkest fears.

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