Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing
Margaret Atwood (2002, Cambridge University Press)
"...what is this writing, anyway, as a human activity or as a vocation, or as a profession, or as a hack job, or perhaps even as an art, and why do so many people feel compelled to do it?"
You may, like me, have a shelf of books about writing--at the practical end, dictionaries, style books, Strunk and White; Margaret Atwood's Negotiating with the Dead belongs at the other end of the shelf, the philosophical end. These essays originated as the Empson Lectures given at the University of Cambridge, and while Atwood disclaims scholarship and literary theory, ("any such notions that have wandered into this book have got there by the usual writerly methods, which resemble the ways of the jackdaw...") she has read widely and well. Her jackdaw borrowings are no mere charm bracelet of quotation, but are turned over and reflected on in an orderly fashion, to Atwood's own purposes.
I'm especially taken with her discussion of the doubleness of the author--we (can) become, as readers, so intimate with the voice on the page that it's something of a shock to recall the human being who shares the name of that voice. Atwood tours through 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde', 'The Picture of Dorian Gray', Jorge Luis Borges, and Primo Levi, trying to reunite the shadow with the man. Most illuminating.
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