Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Writing: the heart of the matter
I am feeling a sense of dismemberment. My greedy hands that played until recently with the minor characters in Azimuth are itchy to do something else. The fifty blogs on writing that preceded a foray into the literary lives of walk-on parts, represent a sizeable contribution to the debate on how a writer’s psychology is played out in his or her work. Not that my hands direct my writing. Do they? Sometimes I go into a haze and letters, words, sentences appear before me, filling the page with unique meanings that no-one else could have written. It’s deeply meaningful, this act of creation. When I was about twenty, my close friend, a pianist – now dead – used to say about la difference, “Women are, men do.” His musical compositions were sublimations of giving birth, he used to aver.
What is this leading to? I tweeted yesterday about a programme on television about the heart. A rather intensely sad presenter was wandering like a ghost from expert to expert trying to work out why his heart was broken at the loss of his wife to severe clinical depression. All he was sure was that it was not a brain thing. It was a pain in the chest thing. He started with Leonardo’s heart drawings which showed the dissected heart not as a pump but as a mysterious chambered glory of swirling flows. He compared it with the science of the ipost-ndustrial age which isolated the heart, emphasising its mechanical utility to the body. This view has pertained until very recently. At school I was taught that the heart was a pump. Indeed, it turned out later during my life that a mechanical pump could take the place of the diseased organ and circulate the blood admirably.
However, in the last few years of medical exploration the heart is shown to be so complex, the blood flows so reminiscent of Leonardo’s drawings that one is mind-blown at the infinite complexity of its workings and purpose in the body. It is a wonderful creation of chaos and order. But what turned present day research into a vindication of anecdotal and poetic understanding of the heart over thousands of years of human history, is the discovery that the heart has its own neural network, independent of the brain. Indeed, when it comes to emotion it can be the heart that informs the brain how to react to events in the world. Heartfelt, broken hearted, heartless, a heavy heart, lighthearted. Terms we took as symbolic are actually attached to real, organic responses to the world.
I have often felt that really good writing comes about from a melding of the intellect and emotion, creating a sort of controlled passion which we call the creative imagination. Now, at no risk of sounding like a cross between a writer of bodice rippers and academic treatises, I can say that fine writing must involve both the heart and the brain.