Friday, March 02, 2007

Does the Audience Matter? 4

In the ongoing discussion about the place of the audience in the writer's mind, I think of Odysseas Elytis, who once said, Every poet needs an audience of three, and since every poet has two good friends, the search is always for that perfect third reader. I find that to be a realistic, balanced expectation to keep in one's heart, as a poet and writer. And also a hopeful thought. If all I need to find is that perfect, third reader, I am doing well. I already have invididual poems that have found those readers: the ones who understood, perfectly, what I was attempting, and why. Such moments of connection are almost ecstatic, and they keep us going when all else is bitter.

Along these same lines, poet George Seferis said, in his Paris Review interview (Issue 50, Fall 1970):

And then I should ask, perhaps, if this situation of not having a very large audience has something good in it, too. I mean, that it educates you in a certain way: not to consider that great audiences are the most important reward on this earth. I consider that even if I have three people who read me, I mean really read me, it is enough. That reminds me of a conversation I had once upon a time during the only glimpse I ever had of Henri Michaux. It was when he had a stopover in Athens, coming from Egypt, I think. He came ashore while his ship was in Pireaus, just in order to have a look at the Acropolis. And he told me on that occasion: "You know, my dear, a man who has only one reader is not a writer. A man who has two readers is not a writer, either. But a man who has three readers"—and he pronounced "three readers" as though they were three million—"that man is really a writer."

it's not that fame and popularity are inherently bad. It's that the pursuit of fame and popularity are a pernicious form of attachment that can only lead to personal sorrow. High expectations for fame and the plaudits of posterity are not fulfilling to me as a writer. In fact, attachment to fame can kill the creative process entirely, because it becomes too easy to pander, to fall into pleasing the expectations of the lowest common denominator among the audience, and to change what one writes based on an opinion poll or other ratings game. That's how politicians know what to say and do, and that's bad enough: writers who use opinion polls to direct their writing, well, what is that but commercial marketing? I'm not saying marketing is never creative, because creativity can appear in everyday form in every occupation—it's how you do things that marks them as creative, not what you're doing—but it's bad enough that the publishers of best-sellers have formulae about plot, character, and style that they know sells books. I'm sorry, there's just no better way to say it: Market-driven writing is a sin against the muse.

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4 Comments:

Blogger LAEvanesce said...

True. Catering to others in writing goes against the very nature of the artform; although input and comments can help if given by intelligent people, writing is primarily a hermetic process, and therefore unfit for crowd-pleasing.

1:20 AM  
Blogger Jessica Schneider said...

Market-driven writing is a sin against the muse.

I second that. This is why I've made sure to not let rejection influence what I want to do in a particular work because I know agents are driven by marketing and commercial avenues, not creative ones. The worst are the lawyers who think they understand literature. Commercial these days has become synonymous with crap. Not to mention it is always the case where people don't see in the long term, they want the next Dan Brown or Chick Lit boook, but could care less about nurturing another Steinbeck or Willa Cather's career.

8:51 PM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

There IS one situation in which I believe the audience DOES matter, along the lines of what Elytis says, and Seferis echoed in his interview. That's what my next entry on this topic is going to be about, though, so stay tuned.

6:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I always use God as my audience. I'm not sure what the hell I write but me and God understand each other, anybody else is icing on the cake. It's true words should be allowed to expand to "experimental" forms or "formats". . .sometimes these things have a life of their own that can't be translated any other way. Prose, poetry, don't really care. . .lack of form can be a statement in and of itself, and I wouldn't know "form" if it smacked me upside the head! I consider this an advantage to express myself! Thx for your work!

2:13 AM  

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