Tag Archives: metafiction

The Surface Tension between the Esoteric and the Exoteric

The esoteric is opaque by definition; yet the depths rarely mind it when the surfaces discount them.

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I subscribe to the notion that there are various levels to spiritual knowledge. As the alchemists put it: “as above, so below”— meaning, in a sense, that obvious facts correspond to inner truths.

For example: the leaves of a tree will brown with age and fall out. The same happens to the teeth of a man. These are, at a glance, entirely mundane facts. But on consideration (and with a pinch of poetic license) one could say that this speaks of how a person develops from a state of hunger and purity, and then moves to a state of decay and barrenness (the leaves being thought of as hungry for the sun, as teeth are for food). And in later life, a person returns to needing softer morsels, and all her showiness is stripped away, revealing the skeletal branches of her life’s choices.

In religion, too, there are levels of interpretation: the lowest being a blanket acceptance of the inherited laws. At a certain stage, the question arises: why? And what-for? There is a resistance to this leap from those who are content with the answer “because X said.” And here lies much of the “surface tension” between non-believers and believers—because experience of a self demands personal proof. Gurus and mystics arise to satisfy this demand, and due to the ambiguity of spiritual knowledge, many of the so-called wise are either willful charlatans, imbued with attractive charisma, or people who have received something personal, who try to communicate this to others. Some knowledge can be communicated in such a way that it is useful for others, and some knowledge can only be understood by personal revelation.

Esoteric knowledge (eso = inner), I believe, exists, but the exoteric (exo = outer) obscures it, and often corrupts, misinterprets, or outright discounts it.

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Writing from the Heart

Last year’s novel was concerned with Memory and Mistake, and it’s greatest fault—and the reason it’s sitting in the vault, aging for a spell before I go back over it—is that it is largely written from a state of removal. From the first page, the “writer” states that he is writing about his writing more than he is writing about the life that his writing sprang from. And by the time the denouement starts to form, like a storm accumulated from the dust and wind and moisture of the traversed landscape, the Blackbird Variations, 3 retreats into a fractalling demurement of self reference, interpretation and critique that is so freaking dense and uncalled for that I’m sure anyone who made it that far would end up chucking it across the room, shouting: “What the hell is your problem, Benjamin? Why is it so hard to just tell a damn story?”

I let my mind guide my prose, and while some people can pull this off, I’m not one of them. My wheels spin so tight and quick that all too soon they spend the grist they’re fed, and begin to masticate their self-same mechanism.

Probably the greatest complement I’ve ever received, as an artist, was voiced 10 years ago by a four year old girl. She said to her mom, while describing the stories I would make up for her class while they ate lunch: “Benjamin tells stories from his heart.” And yet every time I tell a story to a blank page, my head steps all over the heart and tries to get the blood portioned out into a 42 fluid ounces, labeled and tested and siphoned of hemoglobin.

There has to be a way to cheat this.


Re: 90% of Writerly Advice on the Interwebnet

It feels like most of the writing advice that gets bandied about the talkosphere, a la “Awesome Writer’s 9 tips of Howto” boils down to:

  • Be straightforward
  • Don’t not be straightforward
  • Various variations on straightforwardness
  • There’s no way I can tell you how to do what you want to do, so just ignore my advice and write harder

Straightforwardness is great and awesome and magnificent at getting points across and captivating the audience and building a readership and making a ‘sure thing’ — but why aren’t there any 9 tips from James Lookitmereinventinglit Joyce or David Footnotefootnotefootnoteaside-thatruns300pages Wallace? Where’s the bastions of ambition? Where’s the brave author who espouses cleverness and trickery and tells us: “Psst, kid. You wanna know what writing is? It’s the imagination, made tactile. And you know what that means? It means that writing is infinite, and in it, anything is quite literally possible. However, it’s gonna take you f’n years to pull off, but if you work your fingers to the bone, experimenting the hell out of plot and character and language, you are going to make something that quite possibly has never been before.”

To be straightforward: An increase in complexity causes an exponential need for mastery. And what does mastery require? Not much. Just your life.

And there is an audience for hardmode literature. But they just happen to be hardmode themselves—they are not easily amused.

“The fool who persists in his folly shall become wise.” —Wm. Blake


In Defense of Myth

In a writing group I’m grateful to be a part of, I got called out for using masculine and feminine stereotypes. Here is the tail-end of my defense:

Literature follows an escalating curve: from myth to legend to romance to novel to “meta-fiction.”

Each tier has its own laws and guidelines, and when I go into myth and fairytale I assume a thicker pen, and a brighter palate.

In the beginning, there are binaries — single celled organisms who eat and poop and not much else — cartoonish representations that, as time progresses, descend/evolve into increasingly complex entities, with more dextrous appendages and greater amounts of volition and articulation.

Which all goes to say: I totally dig what you’re saying [about the adverse effect of stereotypes on actual people], but when we invoke the giants, they lumber about clumsily, tangling powerlines, toppling celltowers, smashing through our warm little domiciles with careless momentum. They have massive digits good for pushing and pulling, and use simplistic, deafening growls for words.

Likewise, there will be nothing so evocative as talking about “The White Man” or “The Angry Woman” — there’s something about these terms that move us on a primary level, and they force us to reckon with or reject them outright — but still, even when we deny them defiantly, they irritate us with their repulsive attraction.

As to why there’s such a breadth of form in this collection — I’m not a polymath, but I am a polygenreiste. I’ve always worked in multiple forms, partly because any given style doesn’t encapsulate what possesses me to be expressed, and partly due to my Intention Surplus Disorder (aka “over-ambitiousness”).

The problem, however, remains ‘accessibility.’ My myths always require commentary, and my commentary is too rapid and changeable to hammer down into a flat, print-worthy form. I blame this on the woman in me, who speaks in loops and purls — who the man in me can never peg down to just one definition, or statement, or even climax!

“Riddles and hogwash!” hollers the centaur, as the little girl draws her questionable answers in the receding surf.