I am a secret bully
Last night I read an article in which Joan Didion, one of my favourite authors, states that writing is the act of saying “I”, of imposing oneself upon other people.
She wrote that setting words on paper is an aggressive, even hostile act, the tactic of a secret bully, an imposition of the writer’s sensibility on the reader’s most private space.
I was disconcerted by her words. I like to think of myself as someone who’s always careful not to impose on other people, but perhaps that’s not true at all.
In fact, I may be a secret bully twice over because I not only impose my own sensibility on others but also the sensibility of the emerging video artists with whom we produce work that we show all around the world.
It’s not enough for me to write about how the smell of Felipe’s tequila transports me back to the balcony of our apartment in Mexico City or how I remember the way my mother used to wave. I impose indirectly by showing Aziz Hazara’s Afghan boys blowing their whistle on a mountain overlooking Kabul, the subtle yet poignant way Shuruq Harb tackles mental health problems in Palestine and Heecheon Kim’s video of young Koreans who perceive the world through their telephones, blurring reality and fiction.
I am not only a secret bully but also a conniving one.
I always saw my caution not to impose myself on others as a sign of a certain modesty, a natural reticence. But perhaps I’m so cautious because deep down I know that if I don’t put a break on it, I may be boundless in forcing others to see the world the way I and the artists we work with do.
This morning while looking up Joan Didion’s quote I saw that she also wrote: “Let me tell you one thing about why writers write: had I known the answer to any of these questions I would never have needed to write a novel.”
I would very much like to take that as a contradiction of what she says about us writers being secret bullies. I like to interpret it as that she isn’t quite sure herself why we write.
Still, something has changed and it will be difficult for me to ignore the bully that lurks behind my seemingly modest presentation.