A vision of what it is to be alive in the world

Laura Bell & Ian Ganassi @ Fogged Clarity

Stacey D'Erasmo ponders the myriad influences that shape fiction @ New England Review.
For a long time now, I have had it in mind to write an essay called “Fiction as a Way of Life.” The allusion here is to Pierre Hadot’s book Philosophy as a Way of Life, in which Hadot, himself a philosopher, argues that the ancient Greeks regarded philosophy not as an idea, or not only as an idea, but as a practice, a lived experience. A way of thinking was not merely the love of wisdom, but a practice of wisdom, an ethics, a matter of being in the world in the right way. The Greeks used the term “askesis,” or self-formation, to convey the connection between ways of thinking and the ethics of the thinker. In my as yet unwritten essay, I have wanted to consider the way that we, as writers, interact with and not only create but also are created by our work—fiction as a way of life. I don’t mean our reputations, our reviews, our author photos, our sales. I mean something simultaneously more delicate, powerful, and strange, that place where the work and the life are joined, looking-glass fashion; I mean, too, the way that choosing to write, choosing to be an artist of any kind, often necessitates making other choices as well, choices with ethical implications, causing in turn a variety of epiphenomena that come to shape your life in ways that might seem, on the surface, to have nothing to do with writing at all.

The Sky Below
Stacey D'Erasmo on Amazon

You find yourself, for instance, in the cornfields of Iowa; or working construction as your bread and butter job even though you’re not very good at construction; or signing on to be an au pair at forty-two; or, as I recently did, following a rock band to Estonia. The decisions that you make to support the work ramify, and those ramifications have consequences as well, rippling outward. The decisions that you make within the work itself also ramify, and those have consequences, too—who or what do you choose to write about and why? What does it mean to kill off this character or exalt that one, what ethics are you proposing, what questions do you choose to explore? Over the arc of an oeuvre, what path have you traced? My point is probably a simple one, at the end of the day: the practice of writing, over the long haul, changes you. It shapes you, it tells on you, it leads you down odd and wondrous paths.read more