The Other Shore: Essays on Writers and Writing

The Other Shore: Essays on Writers and Writing

The Other Shore: Essays on Writers and Writing

The Other Shore: Essays on Writers and Writing

Synopsis

In this book, ethnographer and poet Michael Jackson addresses the interplay between modes of writing, modes of understanding, and modes of being in the world. Drawing on literary, anthropological and autobiographical sources, he explores writing as a technics akin to ritual, oral storytelling, magic and meditation, that enables us to reach beyond the limits of everyday life and forge virtual relationships and imagined communities. Although Maurice Blanchot wrote of the impossibility of writing, the passion and paradox of literature lies in its attempt to achieve the impossible--a leap of faith that calls to mind the mystic's dark night of the soul, unrequited love, nostalgic or utopian longing, and the ethnographer's attempt to know the world from the standpoint of others, to put himself or herself in their place. Every writer, whether of ethnography, poetry, or fiction, imagines that his or her own experiences echo the experiences of others, and that despite the need for isolation and silence his or her work consummates a relationship with them.

Excerpt

I considered myself a writer long before I completed a volume of poetry, wrote a novel, or published an anthropological monograph. Writing, for me, was a way of life. As for the origins of this calling, I suspect that it was a longing to connect with places, people, and periods of history that lay beyond the provincial town in which I came of age. Fascinated by exotic worlds, I saw writing as my means of transport and escape. Writing, I came to realize, was a techné, like prayer or ritual, for bridging the gulf that lay between myself and others. In this sense, writing resembles religion, which also works at the limits of what can be said, known, or borne, entering penumbral fields of experience where the absent is made present, the distant becomes near, the inanimate appears animate, and the singular subsumes the plural.

In the half century since my first book appeared, I have witnessed—and adjusted to—mind-boggling transformations in communication technologies. I have switched from fountain pen to typewriter to word processor. In the early ’60s I worked as a letterpress machinist before the offset press made me redundant. Nowadays, books are published online and read on electronic tablets. But while many claim that these new technologies are “disruptive,” undermining and transforming the way we work and live, I see them as “sustaining” what we have always sought to do —bearing witness to what we learn of life, struggling to express it adequately, and comparing our findings with the findings of others.

Yet ours is, undeniably, an information society. We move about with our heads in clouds of data. E-mail, Skype, Facebook, and LinkedIn keep us in touch with scattered friends, family, colleagues, and collaborators. We cross streets with cell phones pressed to our ears, or stand on the sidewalk using earphones and microphone to talk unselfconsciously to an invisible other . . .

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