art, ethics, writing

il me semble que

For a writer not to write about the things she has experienced is like a painter not painting the things she sees.

I have been taking this, lately, to the level of including my own name, Dara, and the names of my friends and acquaintances in my work. I really like it.

I know I’m stealing Elizabeth Bishop’s “you are an Elizabeth” line, and certainly many someones’ lines before her, but the theft seems most particularly taken from the Bishop cabinet for me, right now, if that makes sense. It’s been a productive device.

It feels honest, because poets use “I” with great freedom. When I use my own name as well as the “I,” I am being particularly particular.

But I was taken aback, the other day, to wonder – how would I feel if someone wrote something about me, and used my own name in it? I don’t think I would like that at all. I suppose I would have to be ready to accept this, given that I’ve done the same thing to others. But the idea freaked me out.

It felt like a violation, like an exposure. It felt doubly so because I am an artist myself. What if someone first writes the story, about me, with my name in it, and I wanted to do my own version of it? What if they get there first?

My friend M had this happen to her once, telling a story of her life to a writer (she intended to write the story herself) only to have him “use it,” disguised, in his work.

Perhaps there is some dignity in using real names because then you have to be truthful and seek permission, and this writer didn’t do that.

Chris Krauss writes something very like that in her novel/memoir, I LOVE DICK – the use of real names is, to her, significant. She distinguished between men’s and women’s writing by the use of “fictional” and real names. I will look up the quote tomorrow, I’m too tired now, but just to finish, one more thought:

My friend M (different from the previous M), speaking of names, has advised me once before on a question of poetic ethics. I told her about something I had written, which mentioned no names but which concerned, largely, one particular person. Although no one would recognize it but that person, they would. I asked her if I could ever publish it. She said, “If you read it to them first.” I should ask her what she thinks about real-name-dropping.

Another thought: if two people experience something, it can hardly be said that either one possesses priority in the struggle for the relating-it rights.

But what if one person tells another a story – and the Another makes it into their own little Story, Screenplay, So On?

What if the Another steals their journal entries, as I read about someone doing (a man plaigarizing from a woman’s journals, again, I don’t have the reference)?

What, indeed?

Created an “Ethics” category with this post.