A Reflection on Writing

An age of self-consciousness, ours, and many phenomena we take for granted arise out of this state, civilized and yet on second thought so strange, of the self being aware of itself. It does not take a Zen master to ask: is the self that is aware of itself the same self of which it is aware? Sartre suggests in the early pages of Being and Nothingness that the Cartesian cogito fails right there. The "I" is not so simply, banally single as the word "I" implies.

Yet the tragic condition of injured persons who have lost significant elements of a sense of self, and the barbaric excesses of cultures that share no known historic commonality, show us clearly that self-consciousness is no alien intruder into an imagined state of natural heedlessness.

Self-consciousness and non-self-consciousness are each, and both, natural to us. Our lives play out between these poles - asymptotes, really, since we can never be perfectly self-conscious (else lapse to purest autism) or perfectly non-self-conscious (else lose all self-regulation). Neither pole has priority, or monopoly. Each is an expression of the natural playing-out of our lives, in all our similarities and differences to others. Each its own particular source of energy, each a natural contrast to the other.

The present book descends to the viewpoint of that interplay as it showed itself in a development of experience having to do with women - or Woman - or the Female Principle - from whom I was at first most alienated but in time came to feel with great intensity. "She" is not Mira, nor Gabrielle, nor Goosie, though each of them participates - in effect a representative. The book's focus upon the Female Principle was conscious, self-conscious even, from the very beginning, the first words typed on 11 September 2001.

The style, however, emerged out of some kind of fume, and only after long development. It seemed to develop itself, and came from no theory or conscious posture toward any cultural development. In the editing process I became aware of a drive to cut, prune, pare with curious mercilessness. To attempt to resist brought a feeling of discomfort. It was literally impossible to go on equably if I resisted. It made no sense, yet was organic - bodily and emotional. My mind only apprehended, at first, then - seeing the force behind the impulse - yielded. I did not understand the cutting of elements of syntax and grammar until the passages where there was no cutting impulse, and then I saw that some impulse of freedom was at work, and that a greater amplitude of modulation, of signaling, was being made possible. Whatever the impulse was, it was exacting as nothing that had ever come from within me had been. It seemed to know exactly when a line, phrase, paragraph, page was right - and gave the erstwhile editor absolutely nothing to go on.

And so the near seven years - five to writing, immense-long and normal in grammar, spread out over almost two-hundred web pages - two years to editing, to the style finding itself. Only now is the vessel able to stand back and see what wrought itself.

As to stylistic intent, I can say little more. Perhaps this, from pianistic history, will have meaning. In listening through recorded piano from its first decades, I cannot help but hear steady deterioration. It is not a matter of recording technique, nor the patina of the past, nor the type of music - I hear it in popular as well as classical music. Around the time modernism came in, there came to be an overly-conscious, abstract, clattery note to not just the music being composed, but the manner of playing, as if the nervous systems themselves were changed. The impulse to tone is completely different. A flattening of perspective occurs, wherein the complex systems of foreground and background relations are shallowed into monolinearity. One ceases to hear emotional expressive shapes and instead hears single notes or chordal moments, with chaotic emphases. Mood-making shifts from long arcs over minutes on end to single events. Conversely, spontaneous moments lose charm, when they are heard at all.

And yet the modern pianists are perfectly well-educated - never better! - and play anything at any time.

This same shift may be found in writing, and it is one for which I have no sympathy.

And so, though the conscious motive was a classically truthful history over a narrator's decades, and the roiled stylistic impulse yielded something near-postmodern (which surprised the author to no end, since he dislikes postmodernism even more than modernism), the emotive thrust was purely romantic: to express beauty, heightened experiences, and to reaffirm that most denied-of-all idea at this present hour: that our lives have meaning, unity, and value and that it is the task of art-makers and art-seekers to, severally and jointly, seek a higher good.

Michael R. Brown

3 May 2009

To schedule an interview with Brown, or to receive a review copy of She and I: A Fugue, contact Amy Currie at Phenix & Phenix Literary Publicists - (512) 478-2028 ext. 211 or email