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June 29th, 2009 / 2:04 pm
Craft Notes

Demon Brother: 6 Thoughts on Heart in Fiction

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I’ve heard / been asked a lot about the concept of ‘heart’ lately, and last night I couldn’t sleep. So here:

1. Writing your heart out to me does not express heart. What expresses heart is the well wrought idea, sentence, conception. I, a reader, care because you care, and how the saying is said shows. If you could not take the time to say something to me in a way I might remember, I will not remember. Misconstruing a subject matter as ‘human’ only goes so far, which is, often, not far at all. I can always go outside.

2. The reader can always go outside. The question is not ‘Why are you telling me this?’ but ‘In what way are you saying this that would make me extricate this now from anything anyone before or after you has ever said?’

3. Let’s not all assume that a heart is what a heart is, but that we are challenging creatures, and that we could always imagine more. That the keys to the boxes aren’t cut in hardware stores or in copy/pasting. That the thing expected is the thing we have already, and so in giving us that again, we are given nothing. Just as I can always go outside, I can always go in too, and you will never outgeneralize the way the brain smothers the memory of life. Instead, then, help remember, or help accept what was not quite there.

4. In the going inside or outside, in the shaking off of the attention, the idea there also is to realize that if you are not surprising yourself, how could you expect a reader to be surprised? Of course, surprising can come in many envelopes, with sometimes even the greatest disruption coming from the envelope that seems most plain. In the new issue of Fence (which, as a sidenote, is one of the best issues of theirs I’ve seen in a while, with really strong new work from Sean Kilpatrick, Janaka Stucky, Colin Bassett, as well as Rachel Sherman, Dean Young, and very much more), there is a roundtable discussion on the theme of Nonrealist Fiction, in which Brian Evenson explicitly nails the value of work on the cusp, “It seems to me that the task of the writer is to use whatever tools he or she can to crack the reader open without the reader realizing, and then to initiate a process of transformation and destruction before the reader realizes it and can take steps to protect himself or herself.” Then, instead of worrying about the heart of the matter as delivered via yourself, perhaps think of the heart of the matter both as a vessel and as a key, a thing that must be located and.or extricated from you body, by whatever method, and sat into the light.

5. I’m scared maybe even of the books that would become a christing antichrist by asking you to believe them before you’ve even opened the page, only to find again we’ve got the bitch in the blanket, a key made not out of saying, but out of assimilation to the ways keys are traditionally made. Think of all the world’s codebreakers. Think of all the rats and locksmiths and the men with feet that kick down doors. Any door that could have been conceived already has been nattered to the point of loose meat. The only door you’re going to open and open whole is the one that has not yet been picked apart (and that is to say: others might have come to this door before you, and found a way in, and then locked it back there even worse.)

6. Imagine you were talking to yourself. Imagine you were trying to say the thing that made you never want to write again. Imagine you were listening to yourself as if you were not your own mother, but a bitch. Be a bitch. Be a motherfucker. For fuck’s sake, be my demon brother and invoke me. Invoke yourself. Have the heart to shit on my heart, or smudge the light out, or to do anything at all. Have the heart to say the thing you meant to say, and to say it so someone might listen, and actually listen. Are you telling a story, or are you telling? Are you saying something or is that a voice?

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