Dispatches | October 12, 2011
The Hazards of Writerly Style
Lately I’ve been working diligently to grow a non-ironic mustache. Dear God, why, you might ask (and my wife, Bethany, certainly has). Well, it has to do with a concept that’s been on my mind of late, that of the need to create some sort of writerly persona. I clearly haven’t gotten very far with my own persona, as the only major conclusion I’ve had is the likely erroneous one that a mustache might imbue some sort of writerly panache. The idea of affecting a writerly persona may seem a bit silly and is definitely vain, but it also seems pertinent. Not long ago, the concept of persona was central in an assertion that Jeffrey Eugenides had based a character in his forthcoming novel The Marriage Plot that was based on David Foster Wallace. A large reason for this claim is that said character wears a bandanna and work boots (Eugenides has denied the connection)–tropes of the public image of DFW. Clearly, there is some power in the style and persona a writer creates, no matter how considered that style might be (I am looking at you Tom Wolfe). Think of your favorite author’s book jacket photo. Don’t you think that at one point or another he/she sat agonizing over a table covered by nearly identical snapshots?
Taking a break from the effort of growing a mustache, I considered authors who had definitely notable and concrete public personae. Very few of the authors that came to mind were contemporary writers. And of the contemporary writers that did come to mind, most were more aligned with the persona of someone like Thomas Pynchon, whose persona is the lack of a public image. You may remember that he famously voiced himself for a Simpson’s episode where his cartoon persona appeared with a bag over his head. Last week my colleague and sometime nemesis Arijit Sen wrote about the impact Facebook and its ilk were having on the novel, and I think that a lot of what he said also rings true for the idea of affecting a writerly style. Everything we do seems so considered and is so thoroughly narrated in the age of Facebook, that it is very difficult for an author’s style to seem natural or spontaneous. I can think of a number of contemporary authors’ writing styles, I can call to mind their appearances, I can even often remember their political and aesthetic leanings, but I can’t think of how to describe their personae. Maybe this is a personal failing and some of you out there see a lot of writers who have this type of mystique, but for me it lies largely with those who resist publicity like Pynchon or Cormac McCarthy.
Really, I’m interested in this because I feel unsure of how I could create some sort of memorable persona. Sure I could be myself, but as my wife assures me, I am getting too old for graphic T-shirts depicting my favorite animals ( I am having as much trouble saying goodbye to these as I did saying goodbye to sweatpants in my post-elementary years). To ease my transition, and probably with the hopes of distracting me from mustache-farming, Bethany has been pointing me to the website Nerd Boyfriend where she hopes I’ll ditch the penguin T-shirt for the classic styles personified by writers, artists, actors, and musicians from the past (I might be on board with a few of David Bowie’s earlier looks). So, have you succeeded in creating your own writerly style? If so, some pointers would be just fantastic. Here’s one great style for the road…
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