Saturday, July 08, 2006

Cynthia Ozick on Writers and Impersonation

Cynthia Ozick on writers and impersonation:

The idea of impersonation, I think, is central both to how writers think and imagine, and to what they write about. Not that all writers are drawn to impersonation as a theme; but all writers enact impersonation in the invention of character. One caveat: Writers who are impersonators in life cannot be honest writers of fiction. The falsehood will leach into the work. […] The imagination that deals with fictive authenticity depends absolutely on personal authenticity, because fiction depends on clarity of seeing. If you are not lucid about yourself, you are not going to be lucid about anything.

From “Cynthia Ozick” in Diane Osen, ed., The Book That Changed My Life: Interviews with National Book Award Winners and Finalists (2002).


bloglily said...

This is such a provocative notion: if you are not lucid about yourself you are not going to be lucid about anything.

I'm not sure I agree with her. The writer's laboratory is not always the self. There's a lot of evidence that a writer can create a perfectly "lucid" character while being at sea about who they are and what they're doing in their day to day lives.

Good writers are good observers of character, but that doesn't mean they will always choose to turn this tool on themselves.

Thanks for this thought-provoking post, Kate.

Kate S. said...

I'm not sure I agree with her on that point either. I too have seen many examples to the contrary, in literary biography and among literary acqaintances. I do agree with the bit about "clarity of seeing" being paramount, if not about oneself at least about one's subject. Though I think the clarity often comes during the writing rather than preceding it.