- Maze of Blood 2015
- Glimmerglass 2014
- Thaliad 2012
- The Foliate Head 2012
- A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage 2012
- The Throne of Psyche 2011
- Val/Orson 2009
- Ingledove 2005
- Claire 2003
- The Curse of the Raven Mocker 2003
- The Wolf Pit 2001
- Catherwood 1996
- Little Jordan 1995
- Short stories and poems
- Marly Youmans
Monday, September 05, 2011
Dear Professor Currie...
This morning I read “Literature and the psychology lab” by Gregory Currie, a professor of philosophy at the University of Nottingham. Among other things, he suggests that writers may be not more but less reliable than others at understanding the minds of others because they are so often a tad schizoid or bi-polar, an increasingly common way of investigating the artist these days. He believes that literature in general is not such a great measure of human understanding and that human imagination is not very accurate—even that creators don’t actually care much about other people, a thing I find manifestly wrong when looking in my own heart. (I note, as he does, that the research on writers and psychology he cites comes from male writers.)
Having come from neurologically strange stock myself, I find these sorts of arguments to be interesting but not very useful. Yes, someone with a dash of something or other may be looser on the mental leash that others are, may have access to rather different ways of thinking and, more importantly, to different ways of clicking words together. I may have had what is called a “splash” of something myself, having been notable as a child for a scissors phobia that eventually gave me hair that could tickle the backs of my knees when unbraided, an extreme aversion to tags and often seams, an ability to talk in paragraphs before the age of one but delayed walking (luckily I could tell people where I wanted to go), odd food proclivities (obsessed with raw veggies, I was an early raw foodist), etc. I certainly had a deep rage to read that caused me to read everywhere and at all times (a young mistress of how to read during class.)
We still live in an age when educators insist on justifying literature and finding a “reason” and purpose for art and when researchers are constantly whittling away at the artist’s “authority” as a voice for his or her fellows and times. I am afraid that I don’t care a whit for these sorts of difficulties. They mean very little to me, even though I could make a perfectly fine argument for the tragedy of Oedipus as having great meaning and purpose, showing us the deep need for repentance and that even the most ignorant of evils must be accepted and borne and by the doer. But all these avenues for discussion are lesser ways of talking about art, and they are insufficient for any artist. Writers do sometimes talk about literature this way, but writers often say silly things in audio interviews. If you want to ask a writer something, hand a question to him on a piece of paper or send it by email.
When I make something, it is because I am absolutely in love with the sensation of words rising from the fount and flooding through me, sluicing and driving, carrying me away, out of myself and into a larger and brighter realm. The intense and piercing joy of making and word-twisting is what draws me on, what makes me sacrifice a good portion of my life to sitting in poky corners tapping at machines. And you know, I still hew close to the ancient idea that beauty, truth, and the often betrayed need for purity of soul (i.e. goodness) shine through the best works.
Perhaps I am a little bit mad, although I would be surprised to find it so: since about the age of thirty, I have lived a fairly quiet and perfectly ordinary life, the sort of life one needs to live in order to write. Like many people in the 21st century, I am often too busy. I have all the usual demands of a mother of three, and I meet them as they come, just like other women. I try to help my publishers by doing events and publicizing my books, and like most other writers, I wish that the books would just sell themselves so that I could have more time to write.
At the same time, I am doing something that pushes against the norm and is counter to the rather trivial, noisy, game-like culture of our day. I am accreting the pearl of what I call my soul (you may call it whatever you like), in great part by making poems and novels, lapping nacre over the grit of my life. And in defiance of Professor Currie (forgive me, my book-loving professor!), I would say that far from not caring about other people, I consider everything I have made as a gift tossed into the sea of humankind. (Admittedly, they sometimes pay for that gift, and I am grateful to those those who by doing so vote for the continued publication of my work, supporting me and my publisher.) It makes me glad when people fish up one of my poems or stories or novels and like it and say so. I often have a strong feeling for people I have never met and may never meet because I know that they have walked with me through forests or city streets, just as surely as if we were the dearest of friends and had gone for a “real” walk, hand in hand.