A consideration of the importance of the unconscious to writing.
|Kudos to the Unconscious
I was thinking today about how, for centuries, Shakespeare’s plays have been analysed and dissected by educated minds to the point where we are amazed that the bard’s brain did not explode at the complexity it contained. Much the same has happened with others, notably TS Eliot, whose poems have been mined for references to obscure works and influences. How did he find the time to organise all these things and insert them into his work?
The answer is, of course, that neither of them were conscious of half the references and allusions that have been attributed to them. They wrote what they wrote, occasionally inserting deliberate memories of other works but unaware of the wealth of influence and suggestion they included with every line. It is the unconscious mind that supplies much of the clever and devious meanings to their work.
This works in us as well. Many are the times I have been accused of subtle and intricate meanings behind what I write. Naturally, I accept all kudos as my due but the truth is that much of the cleverness is entirely unconscious. The unconscious mind ponders away, sometimes for years, before intervening, unnoticed, when we set finger to keyboard.
As an example of this process, consider a silly little thing I wrote this morning for the 24 Syllable Contest.
How harsh you are
to speak so brusque.
Have we come so far
from serenades in the dusk?
I am dismayed.
The bolded word in red was required by the contest. If you know me, the odd thing about the poem is that it rhymes (hence the elated note at the end). Why did I rhyme this when everything else I write avoids rhyme like the plague? I don’t know. Most likely my unconscious mind decided that I should be contrary today.
The conscious part of this first glance is that I’ve rhymed “brusque” with “dusk”. We Brits pronounce the word as “broosk” which looked hard to rhyme, so I asked Merriam-Webster in the hope that Americans see things differently (as they often do). Happily, MW assured me that, over here, they say, “brusk”. The big obstacle was overcome and the rest flowed easily enough.
I thought it was my decision to throw the delicious word, “serenades”, in there but it may not have been. The last line had originally been “I am distraught.” but, having finished the poem (I thought), I needed a title. A few seconds of pondering and I came up with “Dismay”. It went in.
Then I had one of my silly thoughts. You probably didn’t notice, but the poem is written from the female point of view. Traditionally, females don’t do the serenading. So this is my first ever attempt to write as a female. Momentous, huh?
My silly idea, however, was to change “distraught” to fit with the title. “Distraught” became “dismayed”. Immediately, I noticed that it could also mean “this maid” - a reference to the attempt at femaleness. Obscure but just the kind of joke the unconscious loves.
But that is not all. It took me about half an hour to notice the unconscious’ other contribution. The plain and obvious fact is that “dismayed” and “serenades” rhyme. The blighter had made me rhyme the whole thing, kept a line for me that didn’t rhyme and then made me insert an internal rhyme after all.
The unconscious mind is a sneaky thing but I wouldn’t be without it for anything. It makes me look much smarter than I am!
Word Count: 593