Friday 31 July 2009

Turning Things Over Together

I'm taking this opportunity to thank our Followers, a fascinating and diverse group of people, readers and writers. It's very heartening that this community has formed. If you would like to do so, please join in by clicking the Join This Site button on the right, and then saying a bit about yourself (or you can remain anonymous if you prefer). It's lovely to see interest spreading in this field of the psychology of fiction. Running the blog over the last year and a bit has been a new experience for us (the editors and regular contributors). We are a small group who used to meet as a writing group every couple of weeks, but it is rare now for us all to be in the same room at once. With our blog, we have been able electronically to extend our conversations with each other on the writing and reading of fiction, continuing some projects and lines of thought, and starting others. At the the same time we are delighted that new people have joined in, and continue to join in.

Running the blog is bit like running a literary-psychological journal, though with short rather than long pieces. It is also a bit like editing a print magazine. But the comments sections, and the follower sections, offer something that other forms don't have. These sections allow dialogues with others, and they allow keeping touch with a community. It's something of a responsiblity: to post something three times a week that has the potential to interest all these people. If there are issues you would like us to take up, please e-mail to me (you can find my e-mail address in my profile).

For a long time, and still for some people, it seems to have been thought that to read was to subject oneself to an author, who was said to be in control. I think that for fiction this image is not right. It is better to say, I think, that an author offers something which, as Lewis Hyde pointed out (click here) is a gift, a world that he or she invites the reader to imagine in which there are certain characters, a predicament, a context. The author then asks the reader: "What do you make of this?" What the reader makes of it is his or her own enactment, or inner performance, of the story. Until the reader takes up the story and creates the enactment, the words lie mute on the page, mere marks on a pale background. There are, of course, kinds of fiction in which the author is rather in control, and the reader is something of a passenger in the vehicle of the story. But even then, the reader's share is of the essence. One only has to be a member of a reading group to see how fascinatingly various are the things that people make and don't make of a piece of fiction, to see what matters are taken up during a reading and turned over by one person but not another, to see what issues connect and expand in one mind but not another. I don't know whether this property of joint construction by author and reader is the centre of fiction. It surely isn't the only centre, but it is perhaps one of them.

So one of the things the group of us who run this blog and who write most of the pieces would like to say is that we hope we can continue to interest you, to offer things that you can select and turn over in your minds. Isn't that the meaning of the word "conversation:" to turn something over together? And by joining in, by making comments, by taking RSS feeds, and by becoming followers, you make the conversational structure between authors and readers more explicit, and make the turning over more interesting.

Thank you.
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