Paul Watzlawick, Interactional Patterns, Pathologies, Paradoxes
I don’t like writing about myself. When I am approaching the initial page of a new piece I imagine myself as a storyteller sitting near a large fireplace with a glass of good wine and an attentive audience, one, two or three people maximum. I have to create a good story, a starting point, and a correct, coherent end of the whole, and I have to use a right tone, assertive and plain, since I love my role as a narrator and I need an audience. I need a selected number of people who keep listening to me.
The fireplace, the wine, and the story are my switch for making the connection in the electric circuit that is my brain. Then, through the plot I can convey my thoughts, my feelings and my experiences, and my visions. I tell my personal story too, well hidden, and so I write about myself, of course, but only indirectly. I don’t want to be the main character. People have to love my tales, not me.
In my approach there are several issues that come from my philosophy and culture, and several others sculpted and refined by my MFA that is a steep learning curve.
The first issue is a pillar for me: art is communication. This is a statement not questionable. There is an appropriate place and time for masturbation; I understand it is a natural instinct, but art is different, it is a different thing. Speaking about my feelings is masturbation, no doubt – and there are dozens of book of three hundred pages or more of pure onanism, especially Italian books, unfortunately.
Art doesn’t exist without communication, without a value-added interaction, an audience. It is a two-way process. I know that the last two notes found by Max Brod, in which Franz Kafka asked him to burn all his documents, diaries, manuscripts, letters, drawings, etc., are of incredible interest, human and literary. Kafka had a romantic idea of art and he thought that writing was a creative act, but publishing an insane one.
Yet in the end Franz Kafka submitted his books to Kurt Wolff, Max Brod didn’t burn his books, and Kafka exists because every day thousands of readers keep his genius alive.
The queues of people under the rain, waiting for their turn to see The Impressionists paintings in Paris; people lost, literally lost looking at The Pietà sculpted by Michelangelo; the music that comes from the best pages of the best authors; or the mysterious trick of a masterpiece, a painting or a sculpture, its magical fluid that hits the visitor; all that shouts: art is communication. I confess I cried in many auditoriums, because the power of a ‘live’ orchestra performing Tchaikovsky’s sixth symphony, Pathetique, is devastating for me, and breaks my soul, I don’t know why.
To understand the effects, terrible or splendid, of human interaction, I received great help reading the books by Ronald David Laing and Paul Watzlawick. Laing saw psychopathology as being seated not in biological or psychic organs but rather in the social cradle, the urban home, and the family (his definition of ‘family nexus’ is fantastic, a shout in a cavern). In his masterpiece, “Sanity, Madness and the Family,” Laing analyses how the members of different families see each other and what they actually communicate to each other. Laing allows us to understand literature (especially the conflicts, and with particular attention to the ‘rotten dialectics’) and life from a different, effective perspective. We exist because the others exist and our process of growth is an interactive process. Our feelings and motivations derive very much from this condition of “being in the world” in the sense of existing for others, who exist for us. Without this we suffer “ontological insecurity”, a condition often expressed in terms of “being dead” by people who are clearly still physically alive. Evil is in the bad interactions, in the rotten or ambiguous dialectics at first.
Paul Watzlawick (a philosopher and psychologist, for me a genius in communication theory, creator of the Palo Alto School) explains a theory of schizophrenia as stemming from double bind situations where a person receives different or contradictory messages. A first digression: I was just reading a dramatic book about the problem of a child, and I would have called his mother (Laing shows a particular ability describing the category of ‘mothers’: “They are effectively destroying us with violence masquerading as love“) to tell her, with piety: it is your fault, you are wrong and only ignorant, please read and learn.
Paul Watzlawick’s axioms can help us to understand communication, and I like to use them in writing too: a) One cannot not communicate. Each behaviour is a kind of communication (writing too, of course). I’ll speak later about form and substance, but it is clear that form is communication and so it is substance (and education, of course). b) Communication = Content + Relationship. It is simple, not obvious. But without the relationship between the author and the reader, what is writing about? c) The nature of a relationship is dependent on the punctuation of the partner’s communication procedures. If one thing happens, something else always happens. “A female in a relationship could feel depressed and because of her depression he feels guilty. Because of his guilt she gets more depressed and so on and so forth. This all revolves around this concept of punctuate. Punctuate is interpreting an ongoing sequence of events and putting a cause and effect as the response”. d) Human communication involves both digital and analog modalities. In writing, the concept of ‘analog’ can be referred to form. Sometimes, form conveys more information than content. e) Etc.
The MFA lessons are coherent with all these Watzlawick’s axioms – think about the notion of “respect for the reader”, or about the notion of “feedback”, or “perspectives”, or “target”, for example.
Going back to my glass of wine and my fireplace, other pillars for me are in fact respect and audience. An attentive audience, one, two or three people maximum, I said in the first paragraph, because I am conscious that my stories are not interesting for everyone. I know I cannot satisfy every category of readers – I agree with Junot Diaz.
I had interesting experiences with wrong pieces, but also with a wrong audience. Recently, just to curb my vanity, after a private reading of one of my writings (‘strangely’ set in Sardinia) someone told me “Actually, in this period of my life I’m more interested in the Middle East.” It was not a critical analysis, but in any case a feedback (Paul Watzlawick’s first axioms: one cannot not communicate).
I thought I published a book (“Zia Suelita e il progetto del diavolo”, it is on Amazon) set in Argentina because at the time I was studying South America’s history and there were many links with Italian expatriates and many interesting stories and incredible atmospheres that touched my sensibility, but I couldn’t write a piece about the Middle East only because my (occasional) audience was keen on it.
I write for an audience that I imagine fond first of culture, good writings, fragrance, music, and the beauty of a good story. The setting is not the main point. And I spend my time, my intelligence (poor) and my poetry (embryonic) trying to respect my imaginary reader, to give her/him an honest work, full of sufferance, my best outcome at this point of my learning curve. I feel I’m right when I choose my teachers and my mentors as my only imaginary readers. I don’t want to broaden my inspiring audience but to trust my mentor and only my mentor, from the first to the last comment; otherwise I could become crazy.
However, I understand that I have to work with attention on my target; it is not simple and requires a great dose of sensibility.