Obliquely yours

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I was tempted into intruding in a discussion I read about at Steve Himmer’s, about Weblog as Literature. Or should I say weblogging as small “l” literature. This is a topic of particular interest to me lately, especially after pulling Paths: The Book of Colors. However, it’s also too rich for one writing so, for the moment, I want to focus on one particular item Steve mentions: writing about oneself obliquely.

Steve describes what writing obliquely means to him:

I understand, I think, at least as far as any of us understands one another, what Jill was getting at: I, too, blog obliquely, dodging what I know is really on my mind behind something else. When I feel alienated and disconnected and lonely, I write about the extraordinary lengths I go to in order to receive an ordinary piece of mail, an ordinary link to the world. I could have written instead, ‘I feel alienated and disconnected and lonely today.’ Or I could have very quickly said, ‘Fed Ex threw a package on my roof today.’ Why didn’t I? I’d like to think it’s because, whether I’m conscious of the decision or not, I’m employing some craft in my telling of tales in this space. I’d like to think it’s because what I’m doing on this site is trying to write literature (please note that I spelled that with a small ‘L’; that stands for ‘less pretentious’). I’m not trying to tell you about my day, but about my life. There’s a big difference.

Steve’s remarks are based on a posting by Jill Walker, in which she writes:

When my partner tells me he’s unsure about our relationship I write about protesters rallying for peace. When I don’t know whether we’re partners or not I write that I’m tired. When he leaves me I write about civilian casualties and how untrustworthy and partial reports of a war can be.

The only way I can blog that he left me is obliquely.

Writing obliquely. This wouldn’t be the same as writing metaphorically, the technique Virginia Woolf uses in Death of a Moth, and I use in the parable Mockingbird’s Wish. No, to me oblique writing is such that the reader is given a hint, but only a hint, that all is not what it seems. They can then choose to pursue the tantalizing bits of what isn’t said, or, if they prefer, to leave it in mystery as part of the environment of the work.

Neither Steve nor Jill are using metaphors, but I’m not sure I understand their use of ‘oblique’. Mustn’t a hint remain of that which isn’t shown, to leave the reader wondering that they may not be hearing the complete story from the words given? Or do I understand this incorrectly?

Following from the examples that Jill and Steve gave, I, too, have an ‘untold story’ from this week. I and another person, a guy, successfully interviewed for long term contracts as senior analysts/developers with a local organization. However, there is a caveat to my contract offer: I would also assume other duties that would normally be given to a project assistant, another position the organization was seeking to fill. I am, according to the agent, “so talented I can do that work in addition to my own”.

I didn’t write about this offer. Instead, I wrote about the abuse of women in the military and the inequal treatment of women in technology. I wrote about the chaos in Iraq, and quoted the poem, “Expect nothing. Live frugally on surprise.”

According to Jill and Steve, this is oblique writing, which is feeling and experiencing one thing, talking about another. But I’m still left confused. By this approach, none of us is really talking about ourselves; we’re not providing the hint to underlying events that, to me, oblique writing would have.

Misdirection and sleigh of hand. Oblique writing is as much misdirection and sleigh of hand as what isn’t written. In regards to Steve and Jill’s writing, it isn’t the examples given to explain ‘oblique writing’ that are the true occurrences of oblique writing in their posts.

Jill uses as example of writing obliquely, her references to the war in Iraq as displacements for a troubled relationship and breakup. But with this, she introduces her pain into a weblog posting about something totally unrelated – weblog writing – without directly putting her emotions and reactions to the events into words. The reader can then engage or not as they will. For myself, I am pulled in much more strongly, and empathetically, then if she had bluntly stated, “We broke up. I am hurting”. I don’t even know her and I felt for her.

Steve does the same when he uses the FedEx story as example of oblique writing, but which, indirectly introduces us to the fact that he’s feeling alienated and disconnected. Again, it is up to the reader how much they choose to connect, or not.

So subtle, devious really, but without any negative intent – a way of allowing the reader to take on as much or as little of the feelings and the events as they wish, without being forced. Hiding secrets, in plain view.

Oblique writing. I’ll have to give it shot.

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