it's a great life, if you don't weaken (matociquala) wrote,
it's a great life, if you don't weaken

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"It's 2004, and we're barbarians!" Performance. Art. Existence.

Between a conversation last night with katallen and watching the last thirty minutes of the Patrick Stewart/Glenn Close The Lion in Winter before bed last night (The O'Toole/Hepburn production is one of my comfort food movies), I've managed to have a minor epiphany about writing as a performance art.

Which is to say, we talk a lot as writers about the reader's 50% of the story, and how to manage it, and how to not micromanage it so that the reading experience remains satisfying for the reader... "closing the gates" so that the reader doesn't wander off down the wrong path, but not making the path so obvious that he feels manipulated and/or herded.

What occured to me last night is that novels don't exist.

Which is of course not to say that the physical object, the work, does not exist. What is ephemeral, stepping-in-the-same-river-twice impossible to recreate, is the reader's experience of reading the book. Like a stage play that is a moment--pfft--and then gone, like a live musical performance... that reading, that performance, only happens once.

And it's even *more* ephemeral than that, because (except in rare cases, such as books on tape or reading aloud) the performer and the audience are the same person, and the performance takes place entirely in that person's head.

So I can't compare my performance of a book to yours, or even necessarily explain why I may find it deeply satisfying and you do not. The performances differ. And anybody who has seen three or four productions of Hamlet--or even, say, the Mel Gibson Hamlet and the Kenneth Branagh one (Olivier, anyone?)--should have a very clear idea of just how much of a story depends on the performance.

And that's that reader's fifty percent we're always talking about. Glenn Glose saying "If you're broken then it's because you're brittle" is NOT Katharine Hepburn saying that line. Their two different performances make for two different Eleanors and two different Eleanors make for two different stories.

And that is right, and fitting, and just.

And as writers, we are bound for a good deal of pain, I think, if we do not understand that the novel in the reader's hand is a playscript. It relies upon the reader to make it real.

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