I thought I would briefly share one of my all-time favorite writing quotes. As you may know, I have a slight obsession with the uncanny, and whenever the topic of the uncanny (especially in literature) arises, I’m reminded of this Toni Morrison quote.
Today, I had the students in my Fairy Tales and Fantasy class read the introduction to Nicholas Royle’s book, The Uncanny, so of course this came to mind. The ability that words and stories have to unsettle us as readers is remarkable. As Royle puts it, literature has the power “to make strange, to defamiliarize, to make unfamiliar all sorts of familiar perceptions and beliefs.” It causes us to experience the world through someone else’s point of view and makes the world a place we know a little differently, a little less than we did before reading that book (or poem or short story, etc.).
Consider how literature, to paraphrase Freud, dwells in the boundary of imagination and reality. It no longer exists solely in the mind of the writer, but neither is it in fact real.
Then, if you explore this concept one layer further, at the level of language itself, you are faced with a new, though not entirely unrelated, feeling of the uncanny:
Above all, the uncanny is intimately entwined in language, with how we conceive and represent what is happening within ourselves, to ourselves, to the world, when uncanny strangeness is at issue. And it is different (yet strangely the same) every time: its happening is always a kind of un-happening. Its ‘un-‘ unsettles time and space, order and sense.
To translate thoughts and ideas into words is an act of making and unmaking.
Well, this got a little more theoretical than I originally intended… Like I said before, a slight obsession with the uncanny. But allow me to bring it back around to the original purpose of this post: the power of writing.
Ultimately, that is what I aspire to every time I put pen to paper—or fingers to keyboard, but that has less of a ring to it. I hope to make my reader feel that the familiar is somehow strange and the unfamiliar is comfortable.