Beholder’s Share

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Saturday, June 6, 2020. There is much to do: read, write, edit, tweak the website (did anyone notice the different look?) and my schedule at the home improvement for the next three weeks, though still technically part-time, is closer to thirty hours than the twenty I sought to maintain but so be it; as I’ve said, the money is paying for the advertising for the novel and it’s up to me to find a way to find the time and mental space to keep driving the editing of TC2 forward. One might assume that editing a novel is merely a technical process, akin to tidying up one’s living room, for instance. But a first draft is a mess, like a filthy kitchen. When I cook these days I like to be mindful about cleaning as I go – it’s much more enjoyable when you can sit down to a well cooked meal and not have to avert your eyes from the disaster of the pots and pans and trashed stove top, etcetera. But the first draft of a manuscript? Ugh. It’s the wrecked kitchen. It has to be or, as any writer will tell you, the writing doesn’t get done. Cleaning as you go doesn’t work when the story is in the first iteration of being told despite all our inclinations to write it once and be done with it.

One reads of famous writers like M.F.K. Fisher or Robert Heinlein disdaining editors and editing or of, who was it, John Updike? – he is said to have submitted his manuscripts to his publisher in such a pristine condition that the copy editor struggled to find anything out of sorts. Now of course copyediting – the correction of typos and grammar and such – differs from so-called line and substantive editing (whereby the content is addressed) but perhaps Updike had that down as well. Regardless, for most of us the first draft is an opportunity for rewriting. And hell, I wrote the first draft of TC2 in 2016, if I remember correctly, hence I approach the manuscript almost as if somebody else has written it. But I’ve been fortunate so far to have the story support itself or hold together reliably even in the face of some thoroughgoing rewrites.

In fact, in my moments of despair – this is terrible, I can’t write, I’m no good, I ought to quit! – I’ve been graced with the sense that the bones of the plot are solid and then the characters themselves, Mr. Z. and Vixy and all the others, come to my rescue and write themselves, as it were, saving me from myself. For it’s not my story, it’s theirs. It’s not really up to me what happens. The story arrives from somewhere and I’m merely tasked with communicating it. Many writers will identify with this experience, I know. What would Mr. Z. do? What would Vixy say? They tell me and it’s my job to write it down. I’m convinced the only authenticity there is to be had resides in surrendering to the cosmic dance in this way. Which makes it all sound romantically predestined. But it never feels that way. Rather, to mix metaphors, it feels more akin to wrestling a bear.

Riegel and his two great disciples, Ernst Kris… and Ernst Gombrich, argued that when we look at a work of art, each of us sees it in slightly different terms. This implies that we each create our own view of the work – that is, we undergo a creative process that is similar in nature, although more modest in scope, to the creative process of the artist. This creative process is known as the beholder’s share. – Eric C. Kandel, The Disordered Mind: What Unusual Brains Tell Us About Ourselves, (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018), 135.

The so-called scope of the creative process that is the beholder’s share is open to question; I think the more mythologically resonant a piece is, the greater the talent of the artist-craftsperson, and the magnitude and intensity of perceptive investment that the beholder experiences – their connection to the work – the greater scope of the beholder’s share.

It has to do with identification with an affecting image. And in the case of particularly mythologically resonant pieces, especially those of indigenous and pre-literate cultures who do not have a use for the idea of “art” as that which is created merely to be regarded as an expression of an individual artist-craftsperson but rather interpret art-craft as active, working symbology – an expression of reality both natural and super natural (I’m happy to abide by Jeffrey Kripal’s splitting of the term “supernatural” into its more evocative parts, namely, super natural), as inherently of this world and the Other; as functional equally in practical, utilitarian and mythological terms.

The specific uses of [bentwood] boxes and chests varied among tribes, as did the styles and intricacies of manufacture. But everywhere they were used to contain food preserved for the winter, to store the regalia announcing inherited prerogatives, and to hold a person’s body at death. Many were considered treasures and were passed on for generations. Some had specific names and histories of their own, which were recounted at potlatch feasts. It was these containers or protectors of wealth that provided the medium for the largest number of compositions by coastal painters of the nineteenth century. – Bill McLennan, The Transforming Image: Painted Arts of Northwest Coast First Nations, (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2000), 82

Bill McLennan, The Transforming Image: Painted Arts of Northwest Coast First Nations, (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2000), 84.