Style Aping

I’ve fallen deeply in love with Virginia Woolf lately. I’m generally enamored of the classics that I read, if only because the kind of writing styles that existed in the 17th, 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries are so utterly different from the contemporary books I read. This isn’t a bad thing, as far as I’m concerned, because writing, like everything else, changes over time. Language changes, mannerisms change, people look and speak differently… So even though human nature probably hasn’t changed all that much at its core, stories about people are definitely going to sound different at various points in time.

Virginia Woolf has a beautifully unique writing style – in my opinion anyway – and I feel that she loves language just as much as she loves people. Yes, I think she loves people in general for being so different, versatile, strange, quirky and interesting. I truly believe that nobody could write the way she writes without loving the process of writing, even if it caused her much anguish and hardship. However, that’s not even the point, because much as I find her a fascinating person, I want to write about her style right now. That style, in my view, is distinctive. There’s a very stream-of-consciousness feel to it, although at the same time there’s a calculating purposefulness to it, a feeling that the writer knows and understands so much more than her characters do and that she, in looking at them from above, is smiling down at their thoughts and hearts that are laid bare to her. It’s beautiful, self-conscious but at the same time utterly abandoned – I don’t know how Mrs. Woolf achieved this duality in her writing or if she was even aware of it, but it’s beautiful.

A week or two ago, I read The Hours by Michael Cunningham. I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes Virginia Woolf, although I would say that you should read her Mrs. Dalloway before reading The Hours. In certain, well-chosen, parts of the book, Cunningham manages to copy Virginia Woolf’s style beautifully, to its smallest details, while still keeping the plot and character fully immersed in late 20th century New York City. The man, in my opinion, is an incredible writer. The fact that he can mimic Mrs. Woolf’s style so wonderfully, while also giving other characters their own distinct voices, makes me admire him no end.

Now I finally come to the question this whole post was about: what do you think about copying a writer’s style? Personally, I think it’s interesting as practice. I feel myself trying to do this whenever I finish a book I particularly enjoyed, and I have fun with it. There’s something challenging about writing according to specific rules and trying to adhere to a very distinct atmosphere. It’s not easy, but it’s also a very different feeling than trying to find your own voice or a character’s specific voice. Still, I don’t think that I’d ever try to write something long or substantial while mimicking another writer’s style, unless (as in the case of The Hours) I was doing it purposefully and obviously.

So… What are your thoughts on this?

Thoughts on Genius

Disclaimer: Forgive me for the pompous and maybe too flowery nature of this post. I’ve been reading Michael Cunningham and Virginia Woolf and I wanted to try my hand at writing something like this, trying to articulate my thoughts with more than my usual drivel of words. Forgive me, again, if I sound obnoxious, and if I do, believe me, I won’t force any such thing upon you again.

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If there is a feeling that accompanies the witness of genius, surely it is awe. Seeing a great masterpiece of art, listening to incredible and unbelievable music, or turning the pages of a book where words, simply words written one after the other, convey the genius of the author – these experiences all come hand in hand with mixed emotions, and at their center, awe.

Somehow, genius seems to give one both the feeling of great insignificance and great community. At one and the same time, one feels tiny compared to this piece of majesty and beauty that touches one’s senses, but also part of a vast body of all the others who have appreciated and seen and felt what one has felt. The illogical nature of this emotion – for if one is small, how can one be large at the same time? – goes hand in hand with genius, which is something, I believe, that no one, not even its possessor, can fully understand. We can understand aspects of it, appreciate parts and facets of it, but never the whole. Perhaps we could gain a full picture of the nature of genius if we collected each and every person’s idea of what the piece, be it a painting, a piece of music or a novel, conveys, we might reach a whole in which we understand both what the genius meant to pass on to us and also what he or she didn’t, what we understand, we who are the vast organism that at one moment in time seem to exist only to appreciate the piece.

There is genius that is cold, calculated and smooth, the results of which would be cold and calculated too if only we didn’t have the need to insert emotion into everything. To this kind of genius we give our own thoughts and feelings, the stirrings in our bellies and the pictures that flash across our minds. We exalt something we may not understand, but why shouldn’t we do so when something has this quality that is so hard to define – genius?

Then there is genius that gushes with more emotion, more heart and soul that we can take in a single view, a single read, a single hearing. To this genius we may do a damage as we try to reign in our emotions and control them, simplify them, understand them. Maybe we shouldn’t try to do so, though, for maybe it is this genius most of all that we ought not to try and understand – maybe it is this genius that we ought to let take us for a ride, whirl us around without apparent, obvious sense and comprehension. Maybe swimming in the place where all emotions stem from, somewhere deep in the soul, is good for us, once in a while.

 

It’s 2AM

…and I’m exhausted. I worked my butt off from 6:3oPM to after midnight, and let me tell you – as much as I love books [and you all know I do], they’re HEAVY. Needing to arrange huge shrink-wrapped packs of ten copies of The Master and Margarita is no picnic, let me tell you.

Still, it’s worth it. I got moved to the classics table – I’d been at the contemporary fiction before – and I’m so much more acquainted with the older classics, mostly because they’re translated, while the contemporary fiction includes a lot of Hebrew books I haven’t read yet [although I’d like to.] So I got to spend the evening talking about Virginia Woolf and Melville and Hemingway, as well as the Israeli Yoram Kaniuk. I got to see people’s eyes light up when they saw that The Nick Adams Stories were finally translated into Hebrew, as well as Wolff’s Flush. I got to see the people who want more than airplane books, people who want to have the copy of a book they read years ago on their shelves and people who were just discovering the wonders of the classics.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t sneer at airplane books. I’ve read two Dan Browns, so I can’t claim to be a snob. If someone loves to read, then I don’t think there’s any reason to fuss about what he or she is reading, just so long as they’re spending that much time away in someone else’s world. But still, there was something about the people I sold books to tonight that made me feel like they were kindred spirits, excited that there was a world of books out there, old as well as new, that they could discover.