The Life of an Author

The Life of an Author

Literature │The Life of an Author

(publihed in “Avrupa”)

As I gaze across my room, allowing my eyes to fall upon the vast number of books that I have accumulated through many years; presents from people that know that I am obsessed with the written word, books that I buy from the market, the second hand shop, and the ones that I buy for myself at full price as a treat, I noticed that I have collected a decent number of biographies, autobiographies and diaries. It was while taking a second glance at these books that I had to ask myself, what was it that I wanted from these books? I have The Journal of Sylvia Plath 1950-1962, along with biographies of poets such as Ted Hughes, Blake, Wordsworth, and so on. I had also purchased Virginia Woolf: A Writer’s Diary and have started collecting her diaries; so far I have Volumes 1-3 and have to buy the last two. The matter of the fact is, I wish to know and understand the minds and the lives of the writers and artists that have brought me endless hours of pleasure, transporting me away from my own thoughts and opinions. I want to know how Blake through writing and etching, was capable of seeing light in the darkest places, especially when he would be beaten for talking about his visions, such as angels in the trees on Peckham Rye. But what is it that makes me hunt down Woolf’s diaries which are not only out of print, but are also very expensive? Well my answer has something to do with the way I see writing and the ability to write, which to me is liken to a magic trick.

I want to know what it is about them that enables them to produce the greatest pieces of time, and wonder if I could possibly attain a slice of what they have. I’m not interested in what they had for breakfast or what side of the bed they sleep on, I am interested in how they decode the world around them, and how their mind ticks, but most of all, it is to our greatest pleasure when one finds out that they are in fact one of us, therefore, at this point, maybe I am slightly intrigued in what they had for dinner. From Volume 1 of Virginia Woolf’s diary, I have learnt a number of things, the first is about how humorous Woolf can be, and what a strong spirit she had, especially in the time of war where she discusses what a nuisance it was having to keep returning to the kitchen while the bombs went off throughout the night, but everything gets rounded off with a nice cup of hot chocolate. Such a moment would only sound like a half-truth upon some biographer’s tongue, and we deserve to receive the full-life of words and experiences.

There have been great moments of realisation when reading such diaries as these writers turn real life people into characters in their books and the smallest observations into pinnacle moments within the text, it is as though everything becomes recycled as Barthes wrote in his essay “The Death of the Author” (1977) “The text is a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture. [. . .T]he writer can only imitate a gesture that is always anterior, never original. His only power is to mix writings, to counter the ones with the others, in such a way as never to rest on any one of them.” But is life not like this? Are we not constantly interpreting everything we see and experience? Of course others have done this also, however, each experience is an individual one and does not deserve to be thrown away and dismissed as a mere copy and lacking any originality.

Claude Levi-Strauss once said, “I don’t have the feeling that I write my books, I have the feeling that my books get written through me…I never had…the perception of feeling my personal identity. I appear to myself as the place where something is going on, but there is no “I”, no “me” This image of writing taking a hold of the author is a very supernatural one, it makes it almost seem easy, a little too easy in fact, and that is what I hunt for when reading the diaries and biographies of my favourite artists, I am looking for that trick that they have up their sleeve, but most importantly, I am looking for that link that can form a bridge from their world to mine.

©Zehra Mustafa

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  1. I love reading Virginia Woolf’s diary entries. I always feel inspired to write afterwards and it was what lead me to have another go at reading her fiction. She is the only author whose diaries I have read but I love biographies, I just finished A Castle In Tuscany about Janet Ross, a very fascinating read


  2. I agree completely about Woolf being an inspiration, the diaries are a space for her to practice her writing, she observed people and settings closely, never leaving a detail out. The Hermionie Lee biography is quite good, but nothing compared to Woolf’s own words.

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