Monday, February 18, 2008

Madeleine L'Engle, the author of A Wrinkle in Time and many other works wrote:

“When I start working on a book, which is usually several years and several books before I start to write it, I am somewhat like a French peasant cook. There are several pots on the back of the stove, and as I go by during the day’s work, I drop a carrot in one, an onion in another, a chunk of meat in another. When it comes time to prepare the meal, I take the pot which is most nearly full and bring it to the front of the stove.

So it is with writing. There are several pots on those back burners. An idea for a scene goes into one, a character into another, a description of a tree in the fog into another. When it comes time to write, I bring forward the pot which has the most in it. The dropping in of ideas is sometimes quite conscious; sometimes it happens without my realizing it. I look, and something has been added which is just what I need, but I don’t remember when it was added.

When it is time to start work, I look at everything in the pot, sort, arrange, think about character and story line. Most of this part of work is done consciously, but then there comes a moment of unselfconsciousness, of letting go and serving the work.”

Here she describes the act of writing as something that is done both consciously, but also unconsciously or what she calls "a moment of unselfconsciousness" which means "letting go and serving the work."

Sister Wendy Beckett, the narrator of several BBC documentaries on the history of art, told Bill Moyers in an interview that "all great art is a visual form of prayer, although the artist may not know it." Often Sister Wendy would stand before a painting in the National Gallery in London or elsewhere and talk about how a painting went beyond the artist - if it was only just an extension of the artist's imagination, an artist's invention, it would be interesting, but it would not be art. Art transcends the artist, art is a collaboration with the Holy Spirit and great art is greater than the artist. The art is greater because it is true.

The artist serves the work, not the other way around. In fact, much of the artist's adventure is made up of letting go, of giving up control, of setting it free as much as a mother raises her child to be independent.

J.K. Rowling has been making statements of late describing her relationship with the work, her series of books on Harry Potter. But she doesn't use artistic words to describe her relationship with the work. For example, J.K. Rowling has consistently described the creation of her work as her invention. "I spent a lot of time inventing the rules for the magical world so that I knew the limits of magic. Then I had to invent the different ways wizards could accomplish certain things. Some of the magic in the books is based on what people used to believe really worked, but most of it is my invention." Over and over again we find Rowling describing her creative process as though she was an inventor.

We can't really imagine L'Engle or C.S. Lewis or even J.R.R. Tolkien describing themselves in a similar way. In fact, when you read their commentaries of their own works, they seem to relate to the work as though it all ready existed and they merely found it. They are adventurers who have been to those "undiscovered countries" and have returned to bear witness to what they saw.

This afternoon at home, I came across a book called "The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia," which was published in 2006. When it uses the word "Encyclopedia," it means it. It is a big, coffee table sized book, 735 pages long with a CD included that contains references, cross references, and cross-cross references of every song, musician, idea, footnote, more footnotes, and even more references to anything written or sung by Bob Dylan in forty years. And it was written before Bob's Radio Show went on the air - which will end up being a Volume Two all by itself. It is an interpretation of Dylan's works, a glossary and explanation of terms, references, titles, objects, writers, personalities, biographies, places, events - the list goes on and on about what could be said is an "invented" persona called "Bob Dylan." Put together by one Dylan expert, it is that one man's catalogue - his interpretation of what matters most in Bob Dylan's life and career.

An entire book - in fact, an entire library still cannot contain or explain the mystery that is this "invented" persona called "Bob Dylan." Is he real - or is he invented?

The mystery has fueled several generations of speculation about his music as many have tried to solve the riddles that abound in his works. His current radio series just adds to that mystery. Every so often he grants an interview or he writes a book and instead of having it all explained, he just produces even more mystery. When asked about that by 60 Minutes a few years ago, Dylan merely smiled and said, "It goes back to that destiny thing. I mean, I made a bargain with it, you know, long time ago. And I'm holding up my end … to get where I am now." Ed Bradley then asks him, who did he make the bargain with? "With the Chief Commander," Dylan replied. "In this earth and in the world we can't see."

Since the release of Deathly Hallows there has been a "powering down" in the HP reading community regarding discussions and musings concerning her work. Podcasts have announced that they are ending. Discussion Boards are dormant. It's as though the air has gone out of the tires. While people are still discussing the works of Lewis, Tolkien, and even Shakespeare himself, J.K. Rowling has made it quite clear that if there's going to be any official explanations about her work, they are going to come directly from her, the inventor.

She went on a U.S. Tour where she spent considerable time "explaining" the works to agreeable children and fans, staying away from more in-depth interviews with those who would seek to explore the deeper meanings of her work (like John Granger, for example) - and how much of it she knows herself and how much she actually doesn't know. It's as if she doesn't want to enter the realm of discussing the process of her "inventions" as it may reveal, as Dylan has, and that no one can completely invent "art" out of nothing, especially when it comes to literary works.

Why is this?

It appears that there is now a full fledge war breaking out over traditional publishing methods and the global forms of communication now available through the net. This is true not only with literary works, but music as well, as we learned recently from Paul McGuinness, manager of U2, who offered quite a tirade recently against iTunes and other electronic forms of music dissemination. He wants to slice up the pie and get a percentage out of every bit of the pie. If you buy a song on iTunes, he wants there to be charge for every single use of that song - be it burned to a CD for you own use, loaded on to your iPod for your own use, or saved on your computer for your own use. Anything less, Paul says, is "stealing."

Copyright laws are not necessarily international, but trademark laws can be - and so all of J.K. Rowling "inventions" are trademarked or branded, which - like Mickey Mouse - can be controlled by the corporation. The Golden Arches are the Golden Arches in Peoria as well as Peking. What has been true for corporate brands now seems to be pursued by corporate publishing entities seeking the same branding for literature, the written word.

The words themselves are brands.

Now it's not just music or images or brands that corporations are charging can be "stolen" - but now it could be actual words. The words themselves are branded. No wonder J.K. Rowling calls herself an inventor rather than a writer.

Several years ago, TimeWarner hit websites very hard about using images from the Harry Potter films, threatening webmasters with lawsuits if they used the images. Disney had all ready been quite successful in having its images removed from websites that were not controlled by them. Warner Brothers was following in their footsteps and then, suddenly, it all stopped. It was as though a new marketing scheme was now being employed where - instead of threatening lawsuits against enthusiastic fans - they would actually encourage the use as another way to market the films and products. They have now mastered that by cultivating the webmasters to be "insiders" in the Warner Brothers marketing scheme. Other corporations have followed suit.

Well, except for one webmaster: Steve Vander Ark, who did not apparently play along so well. He received enormous support for his Harry Potter Lexicon - so much so that J.K. Rowling bestowed on him one of her early Fan Site Awards and talked about how much that site helped her in the writing of the books.

But when he went to publish the Lexicon in traditional print, it turned out that Warner Brothers had laid out a minefield with its trademarking of the "words" from the books and not just the images from the films. If he used the words, "invented" by J.K.Rowling and published those "words" he was stealing. In copyright law you can use "quotes" in your works with attribution, but now with trademark law being applied to intellectual property - even individual words, to use that word alone would be stealing that word. To publish an encyclopedia using trademark words would be an infringement on the inventor's control. Steve Vander Ark is now sued for using the trademarked words in his published but not-yet released Encyclopedia. His case is now being defended by the law center at the University of California Law School at Stanford.

What Time Warner seems to be banking on is that if the trademarking of intellectual property is upheld in the U.S. Courts, that the same came applied to the internet worldwide. Then it will not just be images that will be controlled - but actual words - and words are what really matters on the internet.

In order to have free speech one needs free words. If the words are trademarked, what will be free? Stanford, just up the road from Berkeley, seems to be paying attention. Are we?

Let's use one of J.K.Rowling's trademarked words to make the point. That word is Horcrux. According to the Harry Potter Lexicon, citing a "Diary" entry by J.K. Rowling on her website, a Horcrux "is the receptacle in which a wizard has hidden a fragment of his soul for the purposes of attaining immortality." It is considered evil and dark.

Is that not what the practice of trademarking words to control the intellectual property and its use is? Is it not a way to hide fragments of an artist's soul into those "words" for the purpose of attaining a different sort of immortality - a financial and controlling global immortality? A corporate immortality? Perhaps.

But at what cost to intellectual freedom of speech and expression? At what cost to the artistic creativity of generations to follow?

No longer could there be opinion pieces published in books on what constitutes a Horcrux or how Horcruxes are at work metaphorically in our culture or what a Horcrux™ might mean in the life of J.K. Rowling. Anything having to do with the writing about Horcruxes™, as in an encyclopedia or in a descriptive essay will be controlled by the "inventor" (formerly known as the author) in her vaguely-promised Scottish Book.

Let us recall again Madeleine L'Engle's description of the art of creating stories when she reminded us that "there comes a moment of unselfconsciousness, of letting go and serving the work." Serving the work and letting go spurs on more creativity and opens windows into the soul which inspires even more creativity.

It is anything but a Horcrux™.


Travis Prinzi said...

Very well said. I invoked L'Engle's concept of author as servant of story in a recent podcast, and I'm working on it in depth for my book. I do think it's hugely important to this whole discussion.

If Rowling has more to say about her world, she needs to write more stories. Let the stories themselves do the talking, not an encyclopedia. Encyclopedias and analysis are the jobs of fans and scholars.

L.C.McCabe said...

I have one correction to make. The HP Lexicon was not the first Fansite Award. He did receive one, but he was not the first website to have that honor.

The first recipient was Immeritus which is a Sirius Black Fansite. It was JKR's attempt to apologize to fans of Sirius for killing him off and her website was launched after the publication of OotP and before HBP.

All you have to do is remove the word "first" and you'll be fine.


inked said...

I concur.

For a Dorothy L. Sayers fan, JKR seems not to have read or taken in, at any rate, "Why Work?" (an essay in Letters to a Post-Christian World re-titled The Whimsical Christian). Or, if she has taken it in, perhaps she has been more take in by the corporate mentality with regard to trademarking conceptualizations.

Heaven help us is someone trademarks the O.E.D. entries, right? Which raises the question of whether or not a dictionary could entry a notable term from the series which enters popular parlance and usage? Given the current battle over the concept, language itself may be horcruxed!

BabyBlue said...

Thank you so much, Linda! I've made the correction - I changed it to "one of her early Fan Site Awards." You are absolutely right - I completely forgot about the Sirius Black site.

Thanks for posting - oh and Travis, I was inspired by your podcast. L'Engle is one my all-time favorite authors (my nine year old cat in fact is named after her) and I have an autographed book here by my computer that I keep nearby for inspiration. When you mentioned L'Engle and serving the work in your podcast I found the hook I was looking for to approach this most difficult subject. Thank you!

I really look forward to seeing your book and reading more about this topic - and L'Engle.


SeaJay said...

JKR addresses the issue of who writes the books in this interview translated from the Spanish:

"...There’s nothing more gratifying than to listen to people saying that entire families read the books together. I’ve heard that a lot. They read one chapter together and then they gathered again to read the next one. Is unbelievable isn’t? A lot of families told me they did that and is gratifying in so many levels. The books have become a social act.

Q: Have you done that with Jessica? Are you going to do it with the rest of your children?

A: Jessica is fourteen and she is a fervent admirer of Harry.

Q: What did she tell you after she read the books?

A: She asked me why I did this thing or another, and I my answer was that that’s the way it had to be. Yes, sometimes you can give an automatic answer, like some things were made up as literary mechanisms, elements that helped the plot. In other cases, is harder to explain the process of writing. I wrote it because it came up that way. Sometimes I wrote as if something or somebody was saying it to me.

Q: Could you describe what that something was?

A: There are so many answers to that question. I could say: “It was me, it was my subconscious.” Yes, it was my subconscious, so what I’ve written comes from everything that I’ve done and all the people I’ve known because everything and everyone are somewhere in my head. Or I could say it was the muse, and I like to think it was the muse, because that means the writer is not aware of the origin of what they’re writing, or at least is not fully aware of it, and I know it’s a clichéd word about the Harry Potter books, but they’re magical.

SeaJay said...

I think the quote I posted above takes some of the wind out of your article's sails. In addition to which I cannot conceive that Bob Dylan would allow anyone to record covers of his songs for free!!!

I do not think that Mr Van Der Arks publisher has any hope of winning this specific case, regardless of his esteemed legal colleagues free help.

That said I agree with you that if WB are trying to restrict free speech by some devious legalistic means then any such move must be fought all of the way.

Anonymous said...

From Rattlesnakeroot:

I really enjoyed your essay, ZoeRose, and linked to it on my Livejournal. Thanks you for a very thoughtful read! You also inspired me to write my own thoughts on this topic of trademarking words. That is not the way the English language has grown in the past 500 years, and I hope it is not the wave of the future. It is too restrictive to scholarship and I just don't see a judge agreeing to all the demands of the WB.

Dictionaries and Encyclopedias are not illegal, no matter how "uncreative" they may seem to be.

As far as JKR's subconscious - I think she is right and her books came from there. Her books are masterpieces of the collective unconscious, mythology, religion, and every book she ever read. I've spent hours analyzing them that way, and been amazed at the richness there.

Unfortunately for serious readers, her subconscious does not give interviews.

She is much too flippant and self-conscious in her sound bites when someone puts a microphone in front of her. She is always editing the books while she talks, and it's unnerving when fans think they understand something and she explains it differently.

For instance, she tried to explain that the crying baby who appears with Harry in King's Cross is Voldemort's wounded soul, and that's why Voldie passed out in the forest at the same time as Harry during their duel.

However, I think she forgot that Voldemort still had a horcrux in the snake, so his soul shouldn't have gone anywhere at that point, expecially to King's Cross/purgatory. *headache*

Many fans thought the wounded baby was the horcrux soul from Harry's own scar. I thought that, but JKR said that was wrong. So where did that part of him go, since we are speaking metaphysically anyway? No one knows where it went. It's all unnecessarily complicated now because she told us too much.

As far as the trademark on the word "horcrux" - well, I wish her luck. That word has been used and abused every way possible already on Livejournal, DeviantArt, and every forum in the Potterverse. It's out there now, and if someone wants to use it, how can WB possibly defend a copyright on a popular word? It's a linguistic nightmare.

I don't think the "official" encyclopedia will have the effect she thinks on readers. It will not answer "all" the questions, because so many readers disagree with her analysis anyway. All the added stuff won't change a word that is printed on the page in the canon, anymore than all her interviews do. To me, it's just fluff.


BabyBlue said...

Can I call you "Rattle" for short? ;-)

Rattle writes: "I don't think the "official" encyclopedia will have the effect she thinks on readers. It will not answer "all" the questions, because so many readers disagree with her analysis anyway."

I took a few graduate-level courses at Georgetown Univ. on Shakespeare several years ago. The prof was excellent and I enjoyed the classes tremendously. The first course I took was just on Hamlet - the entire course, if you can imagine. The prof had one rule and one rule only when you took his course. In his class or in a paper you were never - and I mean never - permitted to utter the word:


I kid you not. If were to utter that name we'd be quickly shown the door. The prof, who actually taught most of the time on contemporary international relations for future foreign service officers and others was quite a forceful fellow. He had also been a former arms negotiator with the Soviets and had been nicknamed "Reagan's Missile Man." He was a pip. He knew how to argue and to make a case and leave you writhing on the floor. So no, no one uttered the name "Shakespeare" in his class.

For example, you would be shown the door forthwith if you made a statement like this in answer to a question, "I believe that Shakespeare was attempting to discover the meaning of reality and illusion when Hamlet talked to his father's ghost."

You might as well pack up and say goodbye.

That was irrelevant to the prof because his view was, Shakespeare's dead, we can't check him, and the point is what matters is the work.

So we were forced to stick to the text and make our cases according to the text. If we couldn't make the case from the text, we might as well hang it up for the day.

I can remember the first time I got up enough courage to take him on with one of his own text points - he was a big apologist for Claudius, Hamlet's uncle who married his mother after his father dies. I made my point using references - several references from the text and answered an inquiry using another reference from the text. I still remember the nod!

The discipline taught me a lot about a great deal of things. But one thing it made me appreciate as a writer and concerning great literature is that the text has to be able to stand on its own. I am as fascinated as anyone to learn more about the authors, but the author's own story should not be necessary to know or even their own opinions in appreciating the work.

A case in point is Ezra Pound - who made some extremely unfortunate and frankly tragic political personal decisions. But his work stands - and must stand - on its own. There are those who will not read Ezra Pound's poetry because of his political stupidity (he was finally deemed insane, at least for a while) - but even T.S. Eliot and Robert Frost defended him as a poet even though they did not share his views and in fact would deplore them. The poems stand on their own as did his art. He was a genius.

In a Station of the Metro

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

Ezra Pound 1913

Of course, the poem has new meaning if you've read Harry Potter. ;-)


Anonymous said...

Wonderful essay!

Another writer who has some fascinating self-reflective thoughts on writing, the subconscious and the 'undiscovered country' is Ursula Le Guin in her "Dancing at the Edge of the World", "The Language of the Night" and "Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Mariner and the Mutinous Crew (great title!). I couldn't recommend them more.

One minor quibble: Stanford is a private school and not part of the University of California system. Also, it's geographically 'down the road' from Berkeley:)

-- Marianne

Britannia said...

What a silly fangirl post! Only a Yank would take such an Edisonian view of the word "invention". Such ignorance. An invention is a fiction. And "invention" is spiritual every May 3rd.

Adelman is a fascist SOB. And so were TS Eliot and Ezra Pound. Ha! And you had to quote Pound from before World War One. What exactly did he write worth quoting in the Cantos? Drivel and logorrhea.

BabyBlue said...

One thing is for sure, britannia, you aren't Christopher Hitchens.