“Choice of subject, like choice of lover, is an intimate decision.
Decision, the moment of saying yes, is prompted by something deeper; recognition. I recognise you; I know you again, from a dream or another life, or perhaps even from a chance sighting in a café, years ago.
These chance sightings, these portents, these returns, begin the unconscious connection with the subject, an unconscious connection that waits for an ordinary moment of daylight to show its face.
When I was asked to choose a myth to write about, I realized I had chosen already. The story of Atlas holding up the world was in my mind before the telephone call had ended. If the call had not come, perhaps I would never have written the story, but when the call did come, that story was waiting to be written.
Re-written. The recurring language motif of Weight is ‘I want to tell the story again.’
My work is full of Cover Versions. I like to take stories we think we know and record them differently. In the re-telling comes a new emphasis or bias, and the new arrangement of the key elements demands that fresh material be injected into the existing text.
Weight moves far away from the simple story of Atlas’ punishment and his temporary relief when Hercules takes the world off his shoulders. I wanted to explore loneliness, isolation, responsibilities, burden, and freedom too, because my version has a very particular end not found elsewhere.
Of course I wrote it directly out of my own situation. There is no other way.
Weight has a personal story broken against the bigger story of the myth we know and the myth I have re-told. I have written this personal story in the First Person, indeed almost all of my work is written in the First Person, and this leads to questions of autobiography.
Autobiography is not important. Authenticity is important. The writer must fire herself through the text, be the molten stuff that welds together disparate elements. I believe there is always exposure, vulnerability, in the writing process, which is not to say it is either confessional or memoir. Simply, it is real.
Right now, human beings as a mass, have a gruesome appetite for what they call ‘real,’ whether it’s Reality TV or the kind of plodding fiction that only works as low-grade documentary, or at the better end, the factual programmes and biographies and ‘true life’ accounts that occupy the space where imagination used to sit.
Such a phenomenon points to a terror of the inner life, of the sublime, of the poetic, of the non-material, of the contemplative.
Against all this, a writer such as myself, who believes in the power of story telling for its mythic and not its explanatory qualities, and who believes that language is much more than information, must row against the tide rather like Siegfried rowing against the current of the Rhine.
The Myth series is a marvellous way of telling stories – re-teling stories for their own sakes, and finding in them permanent truths about human nature. All we can do is keep telling the stories, hoping that someone will hear. Hoping that in the noisy echoing nightmare of endlessly breaking news and celebrity gossip, other voices might be heard, speaking of the life of the mind and the soul’s journey.
Yes, I want to tell the story again.”
“The Introduction” from Jeanette Winterson’s Weight