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I’m Flannery O’Connor and my characters hate me

I’ve really noticed a trend in my journals: my scribbled thoughts and characters are overwhelmingly in unpleasant situations. However, there is usually some kind of grace to be found in their suffering. Consider this quote by Flannery O’Connor, “All my stories are about the action of grace on a character who is not very willing to support it, but most people think of these stories as hard, hopeless and brutal.” Unlike Flannery’s characters, my characters usually embrace that grace offered to them, I think. But, as O’Connor says, my characters’ stories are not hopeless or brutal because of the situations. They are simply people in pain that have a silver lining around them. And I can’t change that pain. Let me explain –

I’m not a sadist. I don’t enjoy hurting characters. Yes, there are some characters I work to create: they come out of an emotion or a thought or an idea. However, some come out of thin air, from a place outside of me. They are like some floating concept looking for someone to share them and I am a camera showing what I see or feel. These characters are more than my imagination.  They have stories, and by changing those stories I would only be lying. I write their stories how I feel they are and I’m obligated to not change them.

The snippet of a story I found in one of my journals that prompted this essay is about an old man. He is finishing the hardwood flooring project in his home that he and his wife started. She has since died. The old man is alone and remembering the parts of life that the floor is linked to. It’s heartbreaking. I want to save the man. I want to write him a wife and a family, but I can’t. He exists now at the later part of his life. The story came to me here at the end. I cannot change its past. And I hate that. I feel for this man. I grieve for this man. But he is what he is.

Maybe that sounds weird to you; maybe you can’t understand why or how I can’t change this story. I wouldn’t blame you. It’s complicated for me too. That’s how it is though. I can’t take this man’s pain away. Though, he is hopeful. He is sad, yes, but he is also proud to have the floor finished. To have completed a long project that has lasted through the bulk of his life. I find a lot of characters like this: broken but alive and hopeful. And this makes them real. It is their imperfections, their pain, their faults, that allow us to believe them. We’re all broken. A perfect character is fanciful but never realistic. My characters are hurt, yes, but I’m no sadist, honest. I’m simply a realist with a pen.  Me and Flannery’s characters might not be the happiest people you’ll ever find, but they’re enlightening and, hopefully, inspiring.  And maybe you can associate with these characters’ hurts and find hope within yourself too. It’s the realest you’ll ever feel.

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Jonathem Lethem and other misc (probably thought of before) thoughts

Similar to RiP: A Remix Manifesto, Jonathan Lethem’s article “The Ecstasy of Influence” discusses the issues of copyright and copyleft in our ever-growing society. After reading a lot of you all’s posts about this article, I won’t bother you with the background details of Lethem’s argument. Instead, I’d rather bring up two quotes that really got my mind going when I read this essay and see what you all have to say about them.

Number one.

“Artists and their surrogates who fall into the trap of seeking recompense for every second use end up attacking their own best audience members for the crime of exalting and enshrining their work.”

This was the first quote that really struck me. Now, the topic of this statement is people who recreate an artist’s work. This is not about people downloading a song and putting it on their mp3 player. More so a person who makes a music video collage for his favorite song, or a person who parodies a song, or a person who remixes a song. The song/video is then uploaded online perhaps. And then, perhaps the music label of that artist requests that the person remove the file from online because it illegally uses their material. These people are just, as Lethem puts it, “exalting and enshrining” these songs. By alienating fans from using art a second time, Lethem argues that it takes the artistic merit out of the work. Lethem argues that “art” can be defined by the act of giving. Art is given to people. Something that is made to be sold may not be considered art. There’s a large grey area here of artists having to sell their art (or be patronized) to live, but that’s an aside point for my discussion here. I’m concerned with how the art industries are alienating their patrons (the fans, who purchase paintings, songs, albums, what have you) by telling them what they can and cannot do with the things they have purchased.

 

Consider this: producers of Shakespeare plays commonly revamp the scripts by changing the setting or time of the plot. Romeo and Juliet in current day Manhattan as children of mob-bosses. Othello and Iago as business men. Etc, etc. We don’t consider these adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays as copyright infringements. I think it would be safe to say that most people consider them artist trial and errors, or at least as ways to reinterpret and offer Shakespeare’s plots (which are taken from older plots anyway. But that’s another post). What is so different about someone remixing a song?

Number two.

“If we devalue and obscure the gift-economy function of our art practices, we turn our works into nothing more than advertisements for themselves”

I think this is really where the art industry is taking us, and it loving the journey. I stated in an earlier post that now-a-days you don’t necessarily just buy an album of music. Instead, you buy a brand, an image, a gimmick, a cool factor. Essentially, you buy an advertisement for the record label. The sad thing is that corporations and companies are more than happy to turn art into ads in order to make a dollar for themselves. Why do you think music labels fight so hard against an artist when they want to release a free album. That promotes a change in the industry the labels don’t want.

 

This is turning into a very long post so I’ll cut it here. To make my long post short, I loved Lethem’s article, and I’m totally on board with the copyleft movement! 😀

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