A writer tells a story, and if she does it well, it will be the story of her aching place (keeping in mind that the aching place isn’t always about darkest pain, but also about the grandest ache of all; selfless love). The story goes ‘out there’, into the eyes of readers, into their minds, under their skin. And the reader discovers she too has an aching place though she’d never been able to express it before. She believed her aching place was alone, hidden, private. But art exposes that lie. We are not alone with our feelings, we share them. They mingle together in the air we pull into our lungs.
In A Scream Goes Through the House, Arnold Weinstein says it this way:
“[. . .] art [. . .} offers us a shocking new picture of human arrangements, a picture that is insistently collective, relational, and extended. In art we can find and tap into a reservoir of feeling, and this encounter not only breaks open our solitude but also makes audible and visual to us the emotional lines of force that bathe individual life, separate us, yet connect us to one another.”
The power of art via story (the novel, or otherwise) is something to be treated with extraordinary care. There is an implicit obligation in the creation of art, not just to the art itself, but to the culture we live in and to the people of that culture. We cannot be content with a world filled with mere entertainment (I’m not against entertainment), when we can be a part of a world filled with meaning and connection (which offers a whole new level to what it means to be entertained). Neil Postman was a media critic who wrote extensively about media of all kinds: “When cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when a people become an audience, then a nation finds itself at risk.” This quote was in reference to TV in particular, but there’s a grain of truth for writers as well.
If art is the true connector of people, as Weinstein argues, then Postman’s observation rings clear; we have the opportunity to connect with each other on a deeply human basis, far beyond the water cooler giggles over the base behavior of the newest reality TV star (I’m not against water cooler giggles), or the worn out story of a woman who can only find wholeness if loved by a man (I am not against being loved by a man). Rather, the solitary writer can reach into the world, sharing her secret aching place, watching as it twines together with the fabric of other people’s souls and stretches out beyond the limits of what time can show her. She can write and share herself, and receive to herself the art (aching place) of others in order, as James Joyce says in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, “That I may learn in my own life . . . What the heart is and what it feels.”
What thoughts do you have on art as community? What is the obligation of the artist/writer to the culture she/he partakes in? How have encounters with art given voice to your own aching place?