I’m reading Joyce Carol Oates’s The Faith of a Writer, which collects some of her essays on writing, or, as the subtitle would have it, life, craft, and art. I‘ve blathered at length about other books on writing by writers, but have just discovered a possible reason why in an aide in the JCO essay on failure:

A study should really be done of artists’ private systems, that cluster of stratagems, both voluntary and involuntary, that make daily life navigable. Here we would find, I think, a bizarre and ingenious assortment of Great Religions in embryo – a system of checks and balances, rewards, and taboos, fastidious as a work of art. What is your work schedule, one writer asks another, never What are the great themes of your books? – for the question is, of course, in code, and really implies Are you perhaps crazier than I? – and will you elaborate?

JCO discusses process throughout these essays in a way that strikes me as novel. Everything is subservient to the writing process in her world, even identity – both as a writer (she twists that into a person who writes) and as an individual (the one who writes, ‘JCO,’ being separate from her ‘I’).

I love this initial section, called My Faith as a Writer, a sort of raison d’etre:

I believe that art is the highest expression of the human spirit.

I believe that we yearn to transcend the merely finite and ephemeral; to participate in something mysterious and communal called “culture” – and that this yearning is as strong in our species as the yearning to reproduce the species.

Through the local or regional, through our individual voices, we work to create art that will speak to others who know nothing of us. In our very obliqueness to one another, an unexpected intimacy is born.

The individual voice is the communal voice.

The regional voice is the universal voice.

And finally, here’s a one-off that also resonates with me:

The novel is the affliction for which only the novel is the cure.


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