Wednesday 23 May 2012

Writing and psychological distance

  • "Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot" - Chaplin et al
  • "a poet even as falling down the stairs, will observe his fall" - Holub
  • "The aspects of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity" - Wittgenstein.
  • "you must hide profundity. Where? On the surface" - Hofmannsthal

Some people have little resistance to changing their psychological distance from events. As a result they may be accused of adopting "inappropriate" positions or performing disruptive switches of perspective. They may be viewed as detached, prying, over-analytical or over-familiar, of taking things out of context, of not seeing the wood for the trees, or vice versa. The results may be amusing (the "Pull-Back-And-Reveal Gag"), anti-social or (because it's non-standard, non-linear) considered artistic - zooming in on alliteration, a grain of sand or brushstrokes, then pulling back for the big picture, seeing ourselves as others see us; watching a tear trickle down your lover's face, psychologically withdrawing but not turning away; a penchant for synecdoches.

The easy passage between extremes of scale may also lead to a lack of appreciation of the distance that the psychologically astigmatic might feel between them. Agile zoomers might see the surface as little more "obvious" than the depths. Making poorly hidden secrets or assumptions explicit may be stating the obvious to some, but to others it may come as a shock. Bringing the cosmic into the everyday may cause eyeballs to roll.

I think people with the gift might be drawn to Poetry, seeing it as a legitimizing vehicle for their natural tendencies (though perhaps Art might suit them better). The person's instinctive zooming movements may be adroit in the eyes of the audience, or they may appear medically symptomatic, disorganised. Controlling this gift is what transforms the juxtaposed, multiple viewpoints into art or comedy. The person may need to rewrite (re-order and re-integrate the source material) before it "works" for others.

Is this gift of rapid perspective-changing useful for writers? I think it helps when gathering material - they can happily dive into new experiences knowing that they can make a rapid psychological retreat if necessary. I think awareness and orchestration of the multiple perspectives is useful for writers of many persuasions - not just stream-of-consciousness writers. The speed isn't necessary, though it may assist the integration of the different perspectives.

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