From Author to Editor to Auditor

Patick Modiano, the 2014 Nobel prize winner for literature, expressed interest in learning what it was about his work that earned him this honour. He was quoted saying that “one cannot really be one’s own reader.” This aphorism, which seems at blush to be but a throw away line is anything but. It is an observation made by a writer who has honed his craft for many years. The line set my mind to thinking about reading my own writing.

Do I read my work? I certainly edit my work. Anyone who writes any amount knows that getting words on paper is but the tip of the iceberg that is writing. Below the written tip is an ice mountain of work: wrestling the right word into place; switching paragraphs hither and yon beyond the patience of the harshest editor of all – the self. But is editing a work reading it? Once again, yes and no seems to go as a best first stab at answering the question: yes our eyes scan the words and detect errors and distractions, but no too; no in the sense that I do not experience the same kind of dislocation I feel in reading other authors. And so while it seems that I can have the experience of entering my text as a reader, I do not have the experience of the text entering me – at least not in the same way that I experience that when reading the writing of others. When I read the work of others I have this gratifying sense of utter alienness; of being at sea as I ask what the author has in mind. When I write, by contrast, I struggle to get what is in me out, and onto the page. When I read my own work, this is what I read.

So it seems that I cannot really read my work, but it also needs to be said that I cannot but read my work: ignoring what I have put to paper seems impossible. Something of the self remains resident in my writing and so not attending to it is rather like ignoring a mirror: not impossible, but surely difficult. And as is the case with many difficult bits in life, asking why it is that I am drawn or repelled by this or that is surely a salutary experience. What is it about the mirror that arrests me? When I revisit what I have written I do not encounter someone vastly different (as can happen in reading your work) , but I do experience a sense of the self at a distance. Perhaps this is because writing, at least for me, is not so much an experience of saying what I think about this or that, but an experience of saying whom I am. This self, however, really comes to be known to me in my writing. What I had intuited becomes concretized in my text. And because it is hard to encounter the self on account of my proximity to my writing, I need others – I need others, other readers and editors. As I hear what you encounter in my texts, I am given a fresh chance to hear myself anew, to become my own “auditor” in the sense that the word auditor comes from the Latin word for “to hear”(and so someone who “audits” a course listens in on it). My readers make me an auditor, an observer of my own work because my readers hear me out and in their hearing I begin to see and hear what I have written anew.

In the end, while it might be the case I cannot really read my work, it surely is the case that I can “hear” it by grace of your reading. You become for me ears to hear and eyes to see my work anew and for that, I say thanks.

14 thoughts on “From Author to Editor to Auditor

  1. Interesting because most of the people in the English speaking world are still asking, Who?

    • agjorgenson says:

      Thanks for commenting. Interesting as well was the reaction of people the world over to the announcement of the Kailash Satyarthi as co-winner with the very well known Malala Yousafzay as co-winners of the Nobel Peace Prize.

  2. Marie Taylor says:

    “I can have the experience of entering my text as a reader, I do not have the experience of the text entering me…” I like this sentence very much. You have illuminated several important distinctions about writing, editing and reading. They are all separate experiences, each bringing its own joys and challenges. I always benefit by letting your text enter me. 🙂

    • agjorgenson says:

      Thanks for your kind words. I think this topic could well occupy me for some time since it is true that writing, editing, and reading are so similar and yet so radically different.

  3. perrymj says:

    Allen, I am reminded of why you were such a good advisor.

  4. shoreacres says:

    What a beautiful bit of fall you’ve offered us, Allen. The new background is beautiful.

    This was a bit of a thicket for me, but I finally found myself focusing in on this: “When I revisit what I have written I do not encounter someone vastly different… but I do experience a sense of the self at a distance.”

    That interested me, because my experience has changed. Once upon a time, that was precisely my experience. I couldn’t have described it any better than you have.

    Now? Not so much. When I finish a piece, I often have a sense of very little separation between my self and whatever landed on the page. When I first started writing, that wasn’t so. Now, it’s more often true, and I think it’s what I mean when I say I “wanted to learn to write.” That process isn’t spelling and grammar and where to put the paragraphs as much as it is a willingness to transform my self into words.

    Anyhow, what I do know is that it involves both mind and emotion. Two quotations come to mind. One, from Robert Frost: “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” And, from Flannery O’Connor: “I write to discover what I know.”

    • agjorgenson says:

      Glad you enjoy the photo Linda. The colours in our backyard are really rather astounding this year. Just this morning my wife pointed out the brilliant yellow of our hostas, which I do not remember from any other year.

      Thanks for your comments on this. As I noted to Marie above, I suspect I will sit on this material for a time. I found your comment regarding the evolution of the process of writing to be really interesting. Like most people, I have been writing for the majority of my life, but thinking about writing is a rather recent development, even though some of the theologians I have read have invited me to ponder reading. I will continue to think through the similarities and differences between the two, but in some fundamental way it is the self that holds them together.
      And so I find your comment on the task of transforming the self into words to be helpful.

      Thanks for the two quotations. I love them both, but especially the O’Connor aphorism.

  5. jannatwrites says:

    You have made some good observations about writing/reading/auditing when it comes to our own work. I don’t really read what I write either. The editing part is technical and I don’t absorb the words or uncover hidden meaning. I’m not really that great at editing either, because it seems since I know what should happen in the story, sometimes I neglect to connect the dots for the reader as well as I could/should!

    • agjorgenson says:

      Thanks Janna! Editing is such hard work, and in the writing I do at work I find it to be the most tedious bit. But it really, at some level, makes or breaks a work. But I think you are being too hard on yourself. Your work holds together too well for you to be a poor editor!

  6. Rich and thoughtful. It is the objectivity we don’t have that keeps us from seeing our words with fresh eyes. I am reminded of a related tangent. The most successful holistic drs have more trouble treating themselves than others. Lack of objectivity. There is a saying in Korean that monks can shave everyone else’s head but their own.

    • agjorgenson says:

      I love the saying about the monks. Yes, it is so very hard to act upon ourselves, but obviously not altogether impossible. In some ways, perhaps, our acts of self improvement stem from an ability to rise above the self to see another possibility on the horizon. But is that objectivity? I’ll need to think on that…

  7. what a great commentary on the hermeneutical task, or as you might put it, opportunity. It’s wonderful to hear that piece end with the gracefulness of a word of thanks.
    So thank you for the familiar alien-ness of what you wrote, getting into us.

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