Collage Art clips A0

“What we make, why it is made, how we draw a dog, who it is we are drawn to, why we cannot forget. Everything is collage, even genetics. There is the hidden presence of others in us, even those we have known briefly. We contain them for the rest of our lives, at every border that we cross.” ― Michael Ondaatje, Divisadero

I read Catch-22 multiple times in high school. I was fascinated by it, and liked it, but didn't really get it. I kept reading it hoping that I decode it, figure out why it effected me so much, and fascinated me so much. Every time I read it, I would see something else, but I still couldn't really explain why it had the effect on me that it did.

And then I read David Milch's memoir last year (Milch is a TV writer most famous for Deadwood and NYPD Blue) and he wrote this passage about a class on writing that he used to teach at Yale:

What I was trying to teach was the idea that the reader or the audience's experience of a work, how they feel as they go through it, is what conveys the work's argument, and that experience is usually different from the actual words. Another way of saying it is that form shapes content. With Moby-Dick, your faculties of understanding are exhausted by the work itself, and it's by having your faculties totally and utterly exhausted that you can feel Ahab's obession with the whale and Ishmael's obsession with the story. "I'm taking it all in and I'm overwhelmed and I'm still not sure exactly what it means." That's what it means. Henry James uses a different tactic--he introduces a new character to the world and then through that character's misapprehension the reader comes to apprehend the world more clearly.

This was a writing class, but I went into it through reading. It's too much for a young student to constantly be looking at their or their classmates' work. If you bring something already taken for granted as literature and you workshop that, then we can have some fun. To suggest that our greatest writers might have been struggling with our same feelings, which we know for a fact they were, is a good thing for a writer to live into. There are ways to turn problems of spirit into problems of technique--that's another kind of indirection. Kafka was just a miserable, miserable human being. Pathologically shy and physically ill, but he wanted to tell stories. So Gregor Samsa woke up and discovered he was a bug. All of his misery is now a problem of technique. How does a bug live in a family where the rest are human beings?

And I get it. I understand the structure and impact of Catch 22 so much better than before. "This is stressful and repetitive and I keep reliving the same shit over and over and I'm overwhelmed and I'm not sure exactly what it means." That's what it means.