I am thinking about revision. What it means to go back to writing that I began at a very different time and make sense of it, anew. My friend Matthew Salesses writes about this here. This connection between revising the work and revising the self is resonant and rich for exploration.
The book I am revising is about a journey – an exploration, an interrogation of self, and the multiple ways in which questions of identity and meaning present themselves to me as I proceed can, at times, feel overwhelming and maddening. A maze of mirrors. How long, after all, can one gaze at oneself?
Of course, there is something of that very question in the book as well. American photographer Francesca Woodman used herself as the subject of most of her photographs. (“As a subject, I am always available,” she said.) There is Woodman, the artist composing and positioning Woodman, the body (subject/object) for the gaze. This examination is mediated by a third thing – the camera. For the writer, the third thing is language.
I think the act of revising might be an act of reclaiming. This has felt true, more or less, through the re-working of this book. Reclaiming a cultural, linguistic, and literary lineage that has been denied to me. Reclaiming a sense of agency – from object to subject. (From orphan to some other thing?)
Much of the initial impulse of this book came from the notion that language creates us. That our sense of reality is shaped by the way we can express it. Stanley Fish goes on at great length about this. But after weeks of revision – which quite often consisted of staring at pages and shuffling them around – I was walking down Blackstone Boulevard when the question came to me so clearly: if language creates, doesn’t it also destroy?
And I suppose the related question is: when one attempts to reclaim lineage, is there anything then, that is abandoned?
Mary Ruefle attributes French poet and Paul Valery with stating that “no poem is ever ended, that every poem is merely abandoned.” There is perhaps some relief in that. We can write and re-write, claim and re-claim these other versions of ourselves and our work for the rest of our lives, and I suppose one can argue that we do. It is a kind of mercy that now and then – even if only temporarily – we are able to look away.