Friday, July 29, 2005

Writing. Healing. Blogging.

Writing. Healing. Blogging.

* [My remarks in dark red.] *

By the circuitous route of a writer's writing about a writer's writing about writing and healing, we enter the tidal wavelets of blogging, and reading vs. revealing.

An auspicious omen for a colossus of content, the likes and hates of which the world has oversown.


Review: Writing as a Way of Healing

Posted by Alpha

on July 27, 2005 11:52 PM

Writing as a Way of Healing : How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives
Louise DeSalvo
Book from Beacon Press
Release date: 17 March, 2000

Earlier this week I commented on a simple book about controlling stress in a review by Floris Vermeir at Book of Calm.

I was a little harsh in my comment that books like these and Chicken Soup for the Soul did not really help anything. They were merely a salve for tragedy, unhappiness and horror. I had, after all, gotten a copy after a heart attack from a sweet and well-meaning acquaintance.

[STREIGHT: Harsh comments? They make, prod, force the world to go 'round.]


When I was first sick it was strongly suggested that I write out my pain and worries and even begin some stories again or a non-fiction account and overview of a heart attack. That was eleven years ago and I wish I had begun the first day I could lift a pencil. It was good advice. I didn't take it.

[STREIGHT: But "writing" doesn't "out" anything but text itself.

The memoir, journal, love note, speeding ticket, letter of resignation, blog, every instance of text is simply text texting itself.

Nothing but text leaks out of text. From text comes more text. From pain comes comfort that turns again into pain. But out of text comes text and nothing more nor less.

If emotions could find an outlet in text, others would be feeling other's feelings, and inflicting their own on them also, to the eventual ruin of introspective grandeur and writerly machinations.

I generally feel much worse after expressing an emotion in written form and publishing it to my blog. Par of that worsening, that explicit non-catharsis, is signaled in a reluctance to consider what might be the least desired outcome of having written and displayed it for all the world to see.

The writing of the emotion, via a literal or symbolic tincture, fails to dilute it, de-invest it of energy, or transform it. It leaves a mark, and inscription, but that's all. It then returns to normal inner imposition.

Suffering, in effect is not diminished nor satisfied in some way by writing. It simply enjoys a new embodiment, a doubled existence: in flesh, in text.]


The subject of this book [Writing as a Way of Healing] subtitled, "How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives" is writing stories, histories, journals (maybe even blogs) in order to deal with the things in life that are almost impossible to deal with.

[STREIGHT: What the "(maybe even in blogs)" fails to recognize is its culpability in all this stammering and hesitation, as though afraid to get too near the blog, it has such an awful sounding name and hideous reputation.]

The author, Louise DeSalvo, acts as mother hen and teacher to people who need catharsis for all manner of molestation, injury, abuse, disease and injury; Louise DeSalvo does it well enough to change my mind on this book.

[STREIGHT: What "acts as mother hen" signals is a bow to the old findings of patriarchal analytics: female as egg that comes first in her life, thus "which came first, the chicken or the egg?" is now--"which came egged, the chicken or the first?" The gender-centric trick of muffled reference.]

It has the value of therapy, rather than the self-help pap of many such attempts--the stuff of gifts when you visit the newly injured or hurt.

[STREIGHT: But can any "self help" really be "pap", and must it always smear the blurry vision of that which attempts to seize it?]

On the other hand, there is the art of literature, and the fact that merely because some artists are also exorcising demons does not mean that exorcising demons makes you an artist.

[STREIGHT: It certainly does make you an artist. It has to. It is the source of all art. Happy, smooth-sailing, unpersecuted, socially acceptable, run-of-the-mill, status quo quiet people do not make art of value. Value is squeezed from that (mediocrity, opposition) which it (art) confronts and combats.

Without suffering, the person fails to intrigue. Without the adversarial, art cannot exist. Art is forced out of hiding by the cataclysmic insult or injury to the evenflow consciousness, jolted by tragedy, pain, grief, and loss.

Suffering contains the seeds of art. Art cannot even pretend to pre-exist the pain. The tragedy teaches the art to speak its own name until it memorizes itself into actuality.]

DeSalvo writes, for example... "I've learned how, for example, Virginia Woolf, Djuna Barnes,, and Henry Miller wrote their way out of suicidal or homicidal episodes. How they transformed their traumatic past into works of art..."

Well, maybe.

[STREIGHT: There is no rational "maybeing" about it. Events morph into art. It is so.]

Or maybe they had traumatic pasts that became art, written by people who always had been forced to write by their muse.

[STREIGHT: Here the "always...forced to" signals the fact that indeed the suffering, which does the "forcing" pre-dates the "muse" who is non-compliant with such delusions as the pre-existence of art in a vacuum, art detached from suffering, art "waiting" for suffering to come along and launch it into the space of canvas or book or blog.]

I do not negate the therapeutic aspect of writing.

[STREIGHT: Here is assumed the ability to do that which is postponed, marginalized as "suspended action" that is kept in reserve, a promise of deferred provision. "My writing, here, could do some serious negating, could even topple the towering therapeusis of writing itself, could ascend into the heavens of inscription and shake the king from his throne, but I hold it back, block it, stop it from proceeding." Is that so?]

DeSalvo presents a strong and supportively worded plan for people in emotional and physical need to face their pasts, their painful presents, and their often uncertain futures.

I spent many years working in a mental hospital (now "Psychiatric Center"), and ran successful group sessions based on multi-media ways for long-term psychotic and institutionalized people to face some real demons and delusions and to work toward more self-reliance.

Sure. This kind of plan works. The author merely forgets sometimes that F. Scot Fitzgerald and William Faulkner were artists with demons and tragedies. The tragedies did not make them artists.

[STREIGHT: Again I state: by all means you are mistaken. The tragedies did make them what they were, and without the persecution, pain, perplexity the art could not exist, the drive for materialistic vanities would dominate, the immaterial aesthetic realm would remain unknown, untouched, and unwanted.]

Jackson Pollock was an alcoholic and a great painter but the painter came first.

[STREIGHT: But this is writing, this is text saying that "the painter came first". What does the paint say? What does the alcoholism say? Perhaps the "first" and "second" categorization is useless in the long run, over the long haul. Perhaps Pollock was a great alcoholic and an okay painter? What gives us the right to privilege the painterliness over all the other qualities and inequities?

Where does this "artist first, then a drunk" or "writer first, then a suffering and tragic figure" come from? From writing "in itself", does it not? Writing is trying to say that it, and its cohort art, come first.

Why is it important to rank the qualities in a sequential order? Does writing by its very nature need to sequence everything, as letters and punctuation follow a described and circumscribed order? Is this ordering its "other" that generates it, that spews forth writing in the form of textual inscription?]

Henry Miller had an upsetting love affair for his times. But the Tropic series of novels were still works of art and merely given impetus by the unhappiness of his love life.

[STREIGHT: "were still works of art", in spite of upset? What is trying to be meant here?]

My first story was of my first unhappy love affair, and a Kerouac-like trip out of the South to the big city of New York. It was cathartic for a college freshman. It was not great art.

Virginia Woolf did, indeed, use books like To The Lighthouse to exorcise childhood insecurity and molestation, but hers were books of substance -- those that we call "art".

[STREIGHT: Defining art as that which has "substance" is itself a rather insubstantial, inconsequential definition. An artless book has no substance, no content? We know beforehand that this is not the case, not at all. So the demarcation of art has been missed.]

I do, actually, suggest this book as a possibility for someone who needs the push to open their heart and mind and deal with seemingly insurmountable problems.

But I also warn them that Ms. DeSalvo dwells on the therapy and the tragedies a bit too much.

[STREIGHT: Here is outstretched arm of phallocentrism, the male alarm bell, the professorial displeasure with the art-creator who knows her own experience better than he, the male, the partriarch who, in maleness, from a supposedly, infered loftier and dominant-masculine vantage point, attempts to utter a decree that must be revered and obeyed.]

There is a limit to the repetitive mention of Holocaust stories, childhood rape (a 5 year old!), writing by the bedside of dying children and mothers. When it is Isabel Allende it is art and catharsis.

[STREIGHT: There is also, due solely to my hereby declaring it, my calling it into being, a "limit" to the repetitive phallocentric patriarchal scolding of femininity and its unimaginable aims. Also a "limit" to asserting that the artist "came first" as though incubating in the person, and unleashed, hatched by deprivation, agony, ruin, frustration, disease, death, the expectation of dying or unfulfillable craving.]

When it is another example of the horrors that life throws in our faces it can become too much for the reader.

Sadly, DeSalvo seems totally non-visual.

For my wife and I, the image is as or more powerful than the word, but words are still the stuff of therapy; pictures come in dreams.

For DeSalvo there is an anecdote that "...In 1997 I attended an exhibit called 'Art that Heals: The Image as Medicine in Ethiopia'. (There is) "... an Ethiopian healing scroll, an iconic drawing of geometric shapes and five sets of eyes and written prayers..."

She ignores the images and speaks again only of words.

[STREIGHT: Perhaps she does so because the images speak for themselves.]

It is obvious that the healing power of pictures, icons, photos, and drawings has been lost on her.

[STREIGHT: Obvious to whom? Or is she focusing on the healing power of writing, and leaving to others that other topic of discussion? How will we determine what is truly the case? By what standards can we evaluate it?]

For a time Carl Jung's Memories, Reflections and Dreams was a favorite but each reading dredged up so many dreams, or such power, that I finally stopped re-reading it.

That is the power of both the word and of pictures and icons.

Is writing good for the soul?

Absolutely. Better than chicken soup.

Today after beginning this post I read by Dr Pat; I realized that there is a real life reason for a program to help people write out their losses and horrors.

He lost a friend without being able to say "good bye". But since he is an avid reader and a writer, he wrote out his hurt in a Blogcritics post.

He confronted his feelings with words and that is what DeSalvo -- depressing as she can be -- outlines.

His post made me feel that this book of suggestions and support for writing about traumas is far more valid than I first thought.

My final thought, which is not mentioned in the book, is the recent growth of blogs.

I speak not of the corporate news blogs or blogcritics, which is more like a magazine, but of the personal blogs by the millions where people write out their hearts for small audiences and no pay.

It shows the need of people to communicate feelings and document their lives.

[STREIGHT: Ah, but which "came first", if there is indeed a "coming first", an arrival hierarchy, that, similar to any -archy, must be enforced and imposed. Which? The feelings or the felt need to document something, anything, even the feelings?]



This is the short-shrifted edge of blogospheric configurations: super-endoscopic helicoptering, a flashlit chainsaw-juggling of methodological uncertainties.

First, at issue, at first blush, what issues forth, in a prioritized encounter with this text, is that the male-o-centricity at risk is rushed.

Gender gendarmes police the structure to absorb what is no longer prone to be unknown. To inspect this root is equivalent to bringing about the unhinging of the dilemma, dimensions of which raise a raftered rash of early suspicions.

Leap into: chicken or egg came first?

Of course, we say "the chicken came first and laid the egg that it hatched from after it disboarded its time travel vehicle."

The chicken entered the picture we are forming in our mind now, laid an egg, entered the time travel module, and was henceforth hatched out of the egg it has always already laid, or mislaid among the debris of its forgetful furniture.

An adequate image of the auto-formative self, composed of it knows not what, making it self-alienating as it exits its own womb of itself: woman.

Umbilically unreal, it plods along.

Wounded. Injured. Forever sealed as "sufferer".

From henceforth springeth art, literature, mathematics, ritual, social myth, the illusion of a fugue-like need for government and pre-dunked cookies.

Then this.

This assertion that the entity is "writer" prior to suffering, then acts or writes as "suffering writer".

Yet with no suffering, there would never be any writing, speaking, thinking.

It is attack that triggers us and the uc system.

The unconsciousness, itself seeking enlightenment, unbeknownst to consciousness flux, steps out into the broad daylight savings time of semiotic mystery.

[signed] Steven Streight aka Vaspers the Grate


carrie said...

interesting analysis.

journaling has been found to be a helpful psychological outlet and i think blogging can function as such. (but often does not).

you make a lot of valid comments...

suffering is a source for good art to be sure.... some of this suffering is just the ambivalence about oneself and ones own artistic ability. ability for expression. sometimes the anxiety can stunt our expression... and we hold back.

but art comes of necessity.

also, i like the word painterly.

steven edward streight said...

To me, the fact that suffering causes art, is not to glorify or seek suffering in some masochistic or victimized passivity.

But to say the only person whose record of suffering is valid, or "literary", or important, is the artistic person...I cannot abide such talk.

The allegedly non-arted person, who somehow supposedly lacks aesthetic sensititivities or creative skills, cannot write an interesting, valuable, funny, unique, profound journal?

This is what he's saying.

Here is his idea:

Hemingway, Katherine Mansfield, Jean Rhys, Dorothy Parker, Mark Twain, Ann Patchett, Edith Wharton, Mary Shelley could write a Real Blog.

You and I can't.

And if we suffer, become alcoholic or suicidal, or if we triumph over disaster, our writings will remain "unartistic" because we don't have Great Artist stamped on our foreheads.

It's elitism, non-populist, academic ivory towerism.