Posted by: glue | December 14, 2009

Primal Image


In an interview published in Bomb (No. 108), Jacques Roubaud, discussing his interest in the history of mnemonics, described his primal image.

Everything I speak about is, in a way, linked to the old abandoned project.  I want to say something about it, but I digress as soon as I start saying something, because I remember something else that I then begin to explain, and so on.  So  the structure is a big meandering.  I begin The Loop with a very old childhood image of snow in Carcassonne, where snow is very rare.  I’m in my room and it’s very cold outside.  At night there’s frost on the windowpane — I write and make pictures on it.  So that’s the image:  there’s  an outer and an inner space, memory and the present.  That’s the first image of the book, which at the end, returns to it.

This image resonates with what Maurice Blanchot called the primal scene (in The Writing of the Disaster), to refer to an early childhood memory of looking out a window and experiencing a realization.  Cynthia Ozick indicates why it is important to practice with this first image, since all writing (in a creative mode) begins with an invested image.

If you’re going to write an essay, you at least have a subject in hand, and you know something.  If you’re going to write fiction, you have nothing.  You begin in chaos. You may have a smell, a scene, a word, an idea, an emotion.  It seems to me that ideas and emotions are inseparable.  Emotions may not always be ideas, but ideas are always emotions.  In fiction you can come up with something that you never knew you knew.  I think essays are, in this respect, inferior as a form to fiction, and that fiction itself is inferior to poetry.  The Shawl began with a line, one sentence in The Rise and Fall  of the Third Reich by William Shirer.  This one sentence told of a real event, about a baby being thrown against an electrified fence.  And that stayed with me and stayed with me, and that was the very explicit origin of The Shawl (The Writer’s Chronicle, 41: 4).

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