Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Site of Memory

I have always thought that as an editor for twenty years I understood writers better than their most careful critics, because in examining the manuscript in each of its subsequent stages I knew the author's process, how his or her mind worked, what was effortless, what took time, where the "solution" to the problem came from. The end result-the book-was all that the critic had to go on.
Still, for me, that was the least important aspect of the work. Because, no matter how "fictional" the account of these writers, or how much it was a product of invention, the act of imagination is bound up with memory. You know, they straightened out the Mississippi River in places, to make room for houses and livable acreage. Occasionally the river floods these places. "Floods" is the word they use, but in fact it is not flooding; it is remembering. Remembering where it used to be. All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was. Writers are like that: remembering where we were, what valley we ran through, what banks were like, the light that was there and the route back to our original place. It is emotional memory-what the nerves and the skin remember as well as how it appeared. And a rush of imagination is our "flooding."

-excerpt from Site of Memory, Toni Morrison

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