“The writer has to remain open, fluid…” (Nin, Chap. 1, location 167-173)
Maria Popova’s article “The Nature of the Self: Experimental Philosopher Joshua Knobe on How We Know Who We Are” gave me a lot of food for thought about the evolving self. My reaction, like hers, was fear at “the realization that the future self is in many ways fundamentally different from the present self.” (“The Nature of the Self”, par. 1) Popova quotes the following scenario that experimental philosopher Joshua Knobe gives to outline just how complex this idea is:
“ ‘Imagine what things are going to be like in 30 years. In 30 years, there’s going to be a person around who you might normally think of as you — but that person is actually going to be really, really different from you in a lot of ways. Chances are, a lot of the values you have, a lot of the emotions, a lot of the beliefs, a lot of the goals are not going to be shared by that person. So, in some sense you might think that person is you, but is that person really you? That person is like you in certain respects, but … you might think that person is kind of not me anymore.’ “ (as cited in Popova, “The Nature of the Self”, par. 7)
While it may be true that, in a sense, the people we are now will not exist in five, ten, or thirty years, we need not become alarmed. Some or even many of our values, beliefs, and emotions can and should evolve but we all have a core that stays with us and is a part of us. Our core values, beliefs, and emotions might seem so different that we see ourselves as entirely different people at forty or sixty or eighty than we were at twenty because we are seeing ourselves with different perspectives than in the past. The grid has shifted but it has not fundamentally changed.
Many artists are aware that the self is constantly changing and embrace this part of human nature rather than shy away from it. They realize that these changes in perception can create greater art because changing viewpoints usually bring alone with them a deeper understanding. This is the idea of the fluid self. In another article by Popova, “In Defense of the Fluid Self: Why Anais Nin Turned Down a Harper’s Bazaar Profile”, she write of how Nin believed so deeply that “ ‘[the] real self is unknown.’ “ (as cited in Popova, “In Defense”, par 3) that she had a terror of “the agony of being fossilized while still growing, a kind of violent rebellion against the myth of the fixed personality” (Popova, “In Defense”, par. 2) So she wrote a letter to Harper’s Bazaar editor Leo Lerman, graciously but firmly declining his invtation to interview her for his magazine. Nin was not a lover of biographies, the epitome of the documented self, because “[they] are not taken from live models but partake of post mortems.” (Nin, “The Novel of the Future”, Chap 3, location 1117). To Nin, the life and work of an artist was in a constant movement. She writes:
“Man is not a finite, static, crystallized unity. He is fluid, in a constant state of flux, evolution, reaction and action, negative and positive. He is the purest example of relativity. We as novelists have to make a new synthesis, one which includes fluctuations, oscillations, and reactions.” (Nin, Chap. 8, location 3523-3529)
Because of this, to accept change and integrate it into art is, in Nin’s view, not only the artist’s privilege but an integral part of his or her work.
A great example of this is when we see film directors doing remakes of their own films. Alfred Hitchcock, for example, remade one of his films, The Man Who Knew Too Much within a 20-year time span. The first version was made in 1934, well before many of his masterpieces. This earlier work has few of the Hitchcock touches that make his later films so endearing like the McGuffin and building up suspense gradually and with psychological as well as literal plot twists. It is an entertaining film but the standard stuff of early 1930’s thrillers that focused more on plot than character. However, the remake in 1956 is a political thriller that becomes much more complex. Hitchcock weaves psychological suspense that he began to perfect in the 1940’s in films like Shadow of a Doubt and Spellbound. The relationship between the husband and wife characters (played by James Stewart and Doris Day) is not as shiny and happy as it seems to the outside world because of Stewart’s focus on his work and Day’s shaky mental health. Why Hitchcock decided to remake this film out of all his other earlier films is a mystery but we might contemplate that the changes Hitchcock went through as a director in the twenty-odd years between the two films added to his perspective so that he felt a second version was necessary.
I discuss the evolution of my current novella series, The Waxwood Novella Series, in this post. This evolution came directly from the changing perspectives that I experienced on an emotional level that made me look at the earlier work differently. At the time I wrote the story as a stand-alone novel (then titled The Dark-Haired Daughter), I was trying to make sense of some life-changing events and the novel was part of that process. When I decided a few years ago to separate the three distinct narratives in the novel into three shorter novellas, I had gone through some psychotherapy as well as continued to write and develop my voice as a writer. These things changed my perspective of the story in the original novel and defined more sharply the emotions that I wanted the novella series to convey.
I think fear and paralysis are natural reactions to the changing self and the idea that we evolve as we grow and experience life. For writers and other artists, getting past those fears and using these changes to enhance their work is necessary.
Nin, Anais. The Novel of the Future. Sky Blue Press. The Anais Nin Trust, 2014 (original publication date 1968). Kindle digital file.
Popova, Maria. “In Defense of the Fluid Self: Why Anais Nin Turned Down A Harper’s Bazaar Profile”. Brain Pickings. Brain Pickings. 19 December 2012. Web. 9 November 2016.
Popova, Maria. “The Nature of the Self: Experimental Philosopher Joshua Knobe on How We Know Who We Are”. Brain Pickings. Brain Pickings. 26 February 2014. Web. 9 November 2016.