A chameleon, cloaked in the colours that surround
Changeful, unconstant, too easily swayed
Taking from others, what it then offers back to the eye.
What hues are its own?
From 8th standard right up to M.A., regardless of what was or wasn’t on my syllabus, the night before an English literature exam, time would be devoted to a very special ritual – the reading of an Austen novel. It wasn’t a good luck charm, but it did help me do better on my exam.
It’s very simple really. I find that my words and my writing style (dare I be pretentious enough to say that?) are very easily influenced by the words of others. I don’t know how it is for other writers (again! The vanity!), but I do write in borrowed tones. And for a literature exam, I felt I could do no better than to borrow from Austen. Once, before I had fully realized the power of influence, I went into the exam hall with Robin Cook on my mind. Never again did I fail to follow my ritual and give the proper guidance to my words.
Just as Austen shaped my prose for so long, so is Shakespeare tempting me to break into verse today. While even the spirit of Shakespeare can’t teach me iambic pentameter or how to rhyme in fourteen lines, modern verse is not beyond me. Shall I give in to this persuasion and attempt it?
I do have to say though, that the idea of writing in borrowed tones brings up an important question for me. Like the chameleon mentioned earlier, if all I am doing is a reflection of others, where then, is my voice? If all I do is echo the masters, then where are my words?
It is easier to be honest with strangers than people you know. Even though you know who I am, hiding behind this blog allows me to pretend that I am anonymous. A fictional persona, addressing imaginary readers. Strangers all, passing through each other’s lives, pausing in recognition of a kindred spirit but for a moment, and then moving on. It is an ethereal space – white mist and fuzzy shapes. Swirling, ever-shifting, ever-changing. So quick that even the mind’s eye can only see memories of things no longer there. Coherent thought is replaced by emotion. A sense of what is and what isn’t.
The Universe sleeps, and we are the dream.
I’m back in critical theory class. Thinking about writing being shaped by the reader. But it isn’t just meaning – the consumption – that is influenced. The very act of production is shaped by the reader as much as it is by the writer.
A conversation yesterday about diary-writing, an intensely personal and private form, turned my thoughts towards the need to define the reader. A private diary, by definition, ought to be written only for self-consumption. And yet… can we ever be sure that no eyes but ours will ever pass over that page? I vaguely remember something about one of these cocky British writers of the post-Industrial era saying that diaries were actually written for posterity – a way to influence how one was remembered. And a way to make money – for someone – off one’s own death.
Regardless of what you are writing, how do you do it without picturing the reader? Whether it is the guy/ girl you have a crush on, your fans, your mother, this old man you once met on the train, or just simply yourself. Writing is a dialogue, between you and your reader. S/he lurks in your mind, looking over your shoulder, critiquing even as you work.
So tell me then, who are you talking to, today?