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A Personal Experience

Fiction letter by Hagen St. Ivory-Crux in Volume 1, Issue I as a part of the Afflatus set

There is, honestly, only one subject I could have picked for this issue. Life.

Stay with me on this one. While I acknowledge the fact that New Criticism (and related text-based critique movements) still has a strong hold on literary criticism and literary appreciation, it is my belief that personal experiences, above anything, are still the most important aspect of literary creation; and I believe this also holds true for authors who strongly deny it, whose subject matters are far beyond the reach of reality (whether science fiction, magical realism, or fantasy), and those who only aim to satirise and mock (with or without a higher purpose).

While escaping your own personal reality is one of the most common reasons for reading literature, a reader still has to identify themselves somehow with what is being presented and told. At least, this holds true for my own reading experiences. I might not be an African-American academic struggling to define "African-American," and trying to escape the critical moniker and everything attached to it, but there is enough other material in Percival Everett's Erasure for me to identify with and relate to; the overall themes strike home without having to match one-on-one. And while this might not be the most perfect example for the subject at hand (as Everett clearly wrote about his own life, without denying it), it does illustrate that to avoid writing about lived life is simply impossible, and that perhaps the best connections are made when authors write from what they know, not from what they might have known had they been born someone else.

So, how does one explain stories like, just to name a random novel, Memoirs of a Geisha? It is not like Arthur Golden himself had led the life Sakamoto Chiyo leads in the novel; and many of the themes are not in any way relatable to Golden's life themes.

There is an easy explanation: the personal experiences I talked about above need not necessary be those of the author himself; as long as the author did at least mentally and emotionally encounter them. Golden, besides having studied and experienced the Asian culture in depth, interviewed and talked to numerous geishas, incorporating many of their stories and (there is that word again) personal experiences into his plot. There is simply no way that Golden's own emotional, rational, and moral responses to these stories were not incorporated into the story. Therefore, the novel includes his own personal experience (though indirect and second-hand) with the life of geishas.

Authors who seem to make everything up as they go along might sometimes be celebrated more than those taking from life; but perhaps that is the wrong way to look at the creation process. For, what seems more difficult and thus should be more celebrated: the imaginative mind who knits intricate and demanding real life experiences into a coherent (or, in postmodernism, purposefully incoherent) novel, or those who willy-nilly imagine elaborate plots that have far less grounding in society and reality? While both demand insightful minds, there is, in my opinion, more to say for knitters of personal experiences. S