Saturday, April 10, 2010

Who Owns the Story

The other day as I sat on one of those high stools in the glassed off alcove in Mario’s coffee house talking to a friend about my crisis of confidence, I found myself yet again re-evaluating my thesis in my head.
‘Why do you bother looking at Helen Garner?’ my friend said. 'She is not so self-reflexive as certain other Australian writers. Writers like…’
He hesitated, scanning his mind, '...like Drusilla Modjeska.'
Ping went my mind. Back to Modjeska.
‘But she lives in Sydney,’ I said, and my friend laughed.
‘You have to have access to her?’

I have asked myself this question many times over: why do I feel this need to mix the writer with the text?

Why can I not stand up like any self respecting critic and simply analyse the text? Why do I find it so unsatisfying, simply to pull apart someone else’s story on the page?
Why am I always trying to get myself inside the story, to get inside the story of the back-story by way of any connection I might form with the actual writer?

The writer and the text are not the same, I know that. But often times I find I am more interested in the writer, than in the text, and yet the text leads me to the writer.

Halfway up the Burke Road hill in Camberwell, just before the railway station there was once a bookshop known as The Little Book Room. It was unusual for its careful selection of books, as if the owners had handpicked each book with great and loving care. The shop had the feel of a personal library. It was like roaming through someone’s store of books in an overcrowded house. The books even lined the steps and at times appeared in what seemed like no particular order at all.

It was in this shop that I first came across Drusilla Modjeska’s, biography of her mother, Poppy. The cover drew me in, the sepia toned photo of a mother and her baby, the words transcribed from the text, Modjeska’s words, so familiar to me now, a mother urging her baby to look into the mirror.

'There, see there. Look it’s you.' That moment of recognition, between mother and baby, that moment of connection.

I bought the book and read it over the next weeks. The story and the writing gave me hope, the greatest hope of all that someday I too might be able to write like this.

Modjeska became my initial point of reference for my own attempts at writing. When my writing teacher in the novel writing class I joined in 1997 criticised my narrator as drowning the energy from my story, I listened only with one ear, one eye. I wanted too much to be like Modjeska. She could get away with it. Why ever could I not join her , imitate her style?

Now I recognise the need to find my own voice, even as it echoes back in my ears, tinny and self serving, with none of the gentle cadences and rhythms of Modjeska’s words, but I must trust myself, otherwise I will plunge back into that empty space of my childhood where I seemed able only to copy the greats.

Poppy’s story impacted on me, the thin veneer of criticism against Modjeska's father who could not understand or show compassion towards his troubled and sensitive wife, Modjeska's grandmother, China, who bore Poppy into the world, China who seemed so cold and unyielding.

I read Poppy with an eye to the words. Their meanings did not envelop me until later. I was so entranced by the sheer lyricism of Modjeska’s prose that initially I did not take in too much of the story. The childhood memories of Modjeska's mother, her mother’s depression, all these images washed over me. I found I was more concerned with the narrator, than with the one whose biography she records.

In an essay about the process of writing Poppy, Modjeska writes: ‘To write as an act of remembrance, is to be like a lover, a perfect lover who can enter but not possess...’

I have been in the wars of late over issues to do with the business of ownership. Who owns the story? - the person who writes the story? the person written about? None of us or all of us?

I ask you.

58 comments:

Kass said...

Oh Elisabeth, such a good question. I hate to see you struggle so over your style. I think you already have one, but then, you need to shoot anyone who tells you what they think your style is. It has to be so organic, so truthy (sorry for the Bushism, but it works here), that you feel a rightness in your gut that screams, "Yes, that's what I meant to say."
YOU own the story. It's your telling. It's your imagination and word groupings. It's your business how you approach it, what you want out of it. You're looking for truth, not fans.

joanny said...

As a general rule the reader and writer seem to have a symbiotic relationship, but often there's a lot more to it than that. You pose an interesting question here and one I am afraid will take some considerable thought in which to answer. I am not a scholar so will leave it to the experts, but in my fumble and humble opinion
I agree with you here: There, see there. Look it’s you.' That moment of recognition, between mother and baby, that moment of connection."

In the final analysis I love the quote you used the process of writing Poppy, Modjeska writes: ‘To write as an act of remembrance, is to be like a lover, a perfect lover who can enter but not possess...’
Pretty much sums it for me

Joanny

Alesa Warcan said...

Legally? Morally?
Isn't this something that would vary with the specifics of each case?

It was interesting to hear bit about the process process you went through in finding your voice... About what inspired you and how, and the effects it had.
Thanks for sharing this story.

Anthony Duce said...

I liked this a lot. I think all three own the story. It has to be. Why write it, or read it otherwise?

Bonnie, Original Art Studio said...

Hi Elisabeth:

An interesting question that seems to involve the issue of boundaries.

If the story touches on or involves you, it seems to me you have every right to write about it - it is your life story.

However, to decide that you find the life of someone still alive something you want to write about -would require some sort of permission, would it not? The story belongs to them. They lived it; it is their history; they own it. To write about it without their permission, it seems to me, would be a boundary violation.

Of course in this world of scandals and celebrity, boundary violations are committed all the time without the bat of an eye. It is just my personal opinion that boundaries need to be respected when considering writing a biography. I guess that is why some biographys mention on the cover that they are 'unauthorized'.

In an autobiography we do write about others (e.g. family members) who affected our lives and though we do not need their permission to write of our experiences - to consider the effect it would have upon them and to tell them what one plans would demonstrate respect for boundaries. As you are articulating, the autobiography is a complex situation re: boundaries and permissions.

For those of us who grew up in families where there was sexual abuse, we may not have learned about nor had any example of respect for boundaries.

Ownership and boundaries are ever entwined - and not just in the field of real estate!

Gabriela Abalo said...

Great question: Who owns the story? Well once the story is written and shared, it belongs to everyone who reads it.
The person written about owns the experience, the writers owns the style in which the story is being told and the readers own the interpretation of the same. So the story belongs to the universe…
I also ponder if my writing style is good or not or if it is a style at all. Coming from IT and with no training on writing, here I’m attempting to become a writer! But, I try not to allow this pondering to stop me from following my heart, I want to write and connect with others through my writing, so I’m doing it and fully enjoying the process. Please do the same, be yourself, mix it a bit with Modjeska’s style if you want to, and with any other style you feel like… after all is you creation, your are the artist and your own master.
on a personal level – I do like your style a lot.

loveNlight
Gabi

Lorenzo — Alchemist's Pillow said...

Who owns the story? Emotionally, the story (or poem or painting or photograph) is owned by the caring reader who loving makes the story her own the way you have done with Modjeska over the years and in this beautiful post. That's how I feel it anyway. Not that this would get me very far with a copyright lawyer ...

What a moving image of the mother trying to get the baby to look in the mirror

melissashook said...

I think it's so interested that Modjeska's words were so seductive that they screened the story from you. Or you allowed them to screen the story.

I imagine that you are usually looking for the underneath/the underbelly.

Thank you. This was interesting.

June Calender said...

Gabriella's first paragraph answers your question the way I would and I'm grateful to her for saying it so precisely.

I read your post and the comments with interest because I am teaching older adults who wish to give their stories to others, mostly the younger generation of their families. The variety of stories and of abilities to tell them is a challenge to me; how to help them find a voice and enough language within their lifelong personal, sometimes distorted, views in the mirror. Several have become more articulate over two months time. In their cases they know they own the story and they very much want to give it form so they can give it away. To don't dare speak of finding their "voice", the concept is too paralyzing; I can only praise the segments of their work where that voice breaks through.

Kirk Jusko said...

One bit of writing advice I've read in various manuals and the like is to just flat out copy a favorite writer until your own style gradually emerges. Easier than introducing a new style from scratch.

Who owns the story? That the writer owns the story as it's be written, and the reader owns the story as it's being read makes sense to me. Whatever you do, however, don't the reader own the story as it's being written. That would be a big mistake.

LimesNow said...

Elisabeth, I read your post and had to give it much thought before I could answer the question you posed. Some of what I say will be redundant because others rang in earlier than I and share some of my feelings about this, but I'll comment anyway. And be reminded that sometimes I come in sideways on things. I'll speak in the first person.

My life experiences are mine only. It's my life and I am the owner. But if I share some of my life with you in some way, then I've given you a vested interest in my life. If you care about me and feel something about my life, then your vested interest is a bit larger. If you go so far as to write about my life, then you've taken a very large vested interest in it. But your writing about my life, the art you make with words, is yours. I may have a vested interest in that writing, but I do not own it.

I feel that each of our stories are the property of everyone we touch in any way. And those we touch will tell revised and renewed stories that are partly our property because the core story began with us.

That's the way I see it.

Elisabeth said...

Well Kass, thanks for your encouragement. The reason I asked the question 'who owns the story' has more to do with writing my own story when the story includes others, and also the confusion that arises between what stays private and what belongs in the public sphere when more than the writer is involved. I shall continue to struggle with this one and hopeful blog about it further when I have the issues more clearly enunciated in my mind.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks, Alesa. I suppose there is a difference between our legal obligations and our moral ones. One, the legal might seem more black and white - 'though shalt not libel' - but I think both are fairly murky.

I find the process of wading one's way through the writing process fascinating. From your comments, here and elsewhere it seems you're interested in this, too. I imagine we share lots of common ground. It's fun to compare notes. Thanks.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks, Anthony. I'm glad you liked my piece and I agree, we have to own our writing to some large degree, otherwise, as you say, why ever would we write it in the first place.

Elisabeth said...

Hi Bonnie.

I agree, 'Ownership and boundaries are ever entwined' and it's vexed alright.

There's a huge debate in the literature about the business of using clinical material from therapy and writing about it without and even with permission from those whose therapy is described, including when it is heavily disguised.

Freud could get away with it one hundred years ago but it's not so easy today. Even the wonderful Olve Sacks's work can come under qustion.

There's also the work of folks like Thomas Causer who writes about 'vulnerable subjects', including children, those who cannot speak for themselves. Do others have the right to represent them. The debate goes on. It's is endless. I was thinking closer to home in the case of my own memoir.

It's irresolvable but at least we can think and talk about it. Thanks again for your thoughtful reponse, Bonnie.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks, Gabriela. I suppose writing is like oxygen and the sky, it belongs to us all, most times its free - the writing that s not necessarily the paper on which its published or our access to it - but it's not available for people to use abusively.

The trouble is that sometimes people use writing to abuse others, sometimes inadvertently.

And yet, you're right we need to be free to write as our hearts dictate, free from the constraints of other people's dictates. and that's not always easy or possible.

Elisabeth said...

I like your take on these things' Lorenzo that the story belongs to the 'caring' reader. It's funny, as I was writing this comment here I accidentally wrote the word 'loving' in place of 'caring'.

I suppose there is an element of love in care.

Thanks, Lorenzo for your thoughts. I'm glad you too enjoy the image of mother and baby in mutual recognition.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks, Melissa. I tend to read things on the surface, often times at least initially and then come back later for a more in depth look, if I feel those underneath elements dragging at me on first read.

Modjeska's writing is work I like to come back to. Every time I read it I see more that I missed first time around.

Elisabeth said...

June, it's true that people are often terrified when it comes to speaking out, to finding their own voice, both men and women. women, at least of my generation because they've been taught from early days to be mindful of others and men because they've been taught to get it right.

Thanks, June. Keep encouraging those students of yours to write their stories. It's most important that they do so.

Elisabeth said...

I like the idea as you say, Kirk, 'That the writer owns the story as it's written, and the reader owns the story as it's being read' , but it makes for a number of readers and writers, even of the one story and of course there's then the difficulty of what happens when conflict arises as to the veracity of the story and whose version holds water.


Thanks, Kirk. We'll keep struggling on with this issue for many a year, I'm sure.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks, Les. I agree with you here, too, the business of investment in the story, whether it's one we have lived, one we share with others or one we write about it counts most of all

In this sense too, I think essentially it comes down to what Gabriela writes about as the issue of 'caring'.

As long as we care, as long as we are sensitive to what we write and try hard not to write gratuitously in order to make others suffer through our writing then we have done well enough, at the level of respect for ownership, at least.

Still, it's a tough one and I'm never satisfied with where I stand. I can always see things from so many different perspectives, my own and those of others. It's hard to settle for one.

I'm still full of doubt.

steven said...

elisabeth i might have a strange perspective on creativity but i'll share it here and see what you see. i think that writing and art and music and anything creative comes from a place that has nothing to do with the individual. when a story needs to be told, a song sung, a painting painted, it passes through a person who grounds it in their own "voice". they bring it to the surface. "ownership" then is about the shaping and forming of that creative energy into something accessible. everyone has their own voice. borrowing elements of voice from other creative people - well i see that as a necessary feature of learning about your own voice. steven

Mim said...

If I became involved in these wars, I would become paralyzed and unable to write.

The battle, I believe, is really about who is telling the truth, who is lying.

Kass said...

Thanks for the clarification. I guess I was responding to your opening statement about confidence and style, but all of these ownership issues are a part of that. I loved reading the comments here. What an interesting discussion.

"DGIRGIW" was written on the chalkboard of a seminar I attended years ago. We all mused about what it could stand for and finally the instructor said, "Don't get it right, get it written." I hope you are just pouring it out somewhere without the inner critic.

Jim Murdoch said...

Lis, I’ve always made my feelings on ownership very clear in the past. It’s up to the reader to supply the meaning. Just as you’re doing right now. I write sentences and I expect you to understand what I’m thinking. You have an advantage that many don’t in that you have read a lot of my writing and have had the opportunity to interact with me on a one-to-one basis but all of that has been very limited. You do not know me. I think the more you get to know me the harder it will be to read my writing for what it is without looking for the hidden meaning behind everything I write. You can ask me what a particular poem means to me and I’ll tell you but even knowing that it will still never mean the same to you.

I’m finalising a poetry collection at the moment which I expect to be called This is Not About What You Think. The reason I think I’m going to go with that title is because I want to underline the fact that each reader will read into the poems and come to the ‘wrong’ conclusion. They will assume what they have in their hands is a veiled autobiography rather than a work of fiction and they’ll try and connect the dots; they won’t be able to help themselves. The fact is that yes I am the glue that connects all of these poems but that doesn’t mean that I experienced each and every thing. Some I did, some I saw others experience, some I heard or read about, others I simply imagined. So, yes, this is all me but after 31 years (which is the time period covered) I could tell you what I was thinking when I wrote some of the pieces.

All this digging, and I’m as guilty as the next man, suggests that the work you have in your hand is in some way inadequate, it’s doesn’t say enough. No book will ever say enough. That is where the reader comes in, to fill in the blanks. When I fail to explain I’m not short-changing my readers. Far from it. I’m leaving something for them to do. This is a partnership. Beckett used to object to questions about the backgrounds of his characters. “All I know,” he once said, “is on the page,” and I feel exactly the same. Carrie’s just fixing a blooper in Stranger than Fiction. In one place I say that Jonathan’s mother had two brothers and in another I say she had none. Now she has two sisters. The simple fact is that I made up his family as I was writing. I didn’t know he had a sister at the start of the book and only introduced her when I needed her.

The writing process of, of course, of great interest to other writers and I’m sure that spoils books for us because we read them as writers. I don’t have that problem with music. I’m listening to a piece by a British composer as I write this. I know she’d British and female (because the album is called British Female Composers: Vol. I) but I don’t feel the need to get out the liner notes and read all about her. The work will stand or fall on its own merits. And that’s show it should be. No writer should be more interesting than his writing. As far as I’m concerned my writing is far more interesting than I am.

Eryl Shields said...

I have a problem with the whole notion of ownership. It strikes me as a construct that exists to help us deal with, and justify, jealousy – jealousy being fear of loss, rather than envy which is the way it's often used. And it goes back, at least, to the likes of Hobbes who seemed to argue that we are all monsters who would see another starve while keeping all the apples for ourselves even if they rot in a pile.

But, if we can find another way to view humanity, and nature as a whole, and believe instead that given the chance we would just take what we need and leave the rest for others, ownership begins to disintegrate. I know I will happily share my food, shelter, transport, and story, with whoever needs it, as long as I am left with enough for my own needs. So why should I think any less of anyone else? A story doesn't get used up, so we can all use it if we need to, as long as it doesn't harm anyone else. Thus a story can't, or at least doesn't need to, be owned by anyone, it just is like wild blueberries or driftwood.

Does this make any sense at all? I hope so, and I hope it helps.

As for voice, yours rings clear. I think our voices are shaped by other voices. For years I wrote letters as if I were a Jane Austen heroine, then I read Solzhenitsyn, and Hemingway, and Sylvia Plath, and and and...

Mare Biddle said...

Legally the "creative expression" of the facts and circumstances of someone else's life belongs to the author. With or without the subject's blessing.

I very much appreciate searching to find your voice. For me, finding my voice was easy, feeling comfortable in that skin, is quite often a struggle. My overall view of story and the world is not recognizable among the "li-tra-chure" upon which I was raised. ;-)

When I compare my inside author's voice to the outside voices represented all around me, my skin truly feels like it doesn't fit. I try very hard to stay out of that tree, and when I can't I yell for someone to get me the hell down. :)

Elisabeth said...

Well, Steven, this seems a lovely way to think about ownership.

It means that as writers we become facilitators of sorts - the medium though which the message emerges. The same could be said of readers and in this sense both the message as reported and the message as read might only be as good as the persons writing and reading it. Thanks Steven. I trust I've read you correctly. Voice is part of the medium and can be influenced again and again both by the writer and the readers.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks, Mim. I hope they're not wars so much as discussions, but they can become heated and they can also sometimes lead to paralysis, at least temporarily.

As for who's speaking the 'truth' and who not, that's another war and one that I suspect can be far more bloody.

Thanks again, Kass. As for the dictum: DGIRGIW, I couldn't agree more.

Elisabeth said...

I'd like to agree with you, Jim, that your writing is far more interesting than you, Jim, but I refuse, mostly because I find people ever so fascinating, however ostensibly dull, and from the little I know of you, you're anything but dull.

Om the other hand, I agree the most routine and dull event or person can be made far more fascinating through the writing. I tend to care about the writing most of all, when it comes to reading, but when it comes to life, I think I care about people more. I'd like to be able to blend both.

I suppose when I first hear about people, I also begin to imagine about them, sometimes I even go on to write about them and along the way I begin to make up things, as you say, like the reader who 'comes in, to fill in the blanks'.

I love the title of your next anthology, 'This is Not About What You Think'.

I look forward to comparing notes, about what I think, what you write and how wrong or right I can be in my understanding of it.

Thanks, Jim.

Elisabeth said...

I'm intrigued by what you write here, Eryl, particularly about the notion of ownership and how it connects with jealousy, and our human struggles to share.

I tend to be a deeply competitive person. I figure it is because I am sixth in line in a family of nine.

It has made me sensitive to the notion of sharing, not only having to give way to another's needs, but also to wanting my voice to be heard, even if occasionally it means drowning someone else's out.

Let's face it the writing community and the blogoshpere more generally, like the world at large, is just one gigantic family whose members are struggling to make our mark, to find food and comfort, to connect and to be heard.

And as for voice, that's the great determinant of who's more likely to be heard. Therefore it's important.

A squeak can be as effective or as ineffective as a roar.

Thanks, Eryl.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks for the encouragement, Mare. We, the authors, own our writing - unless its been plagiarised.

And I agree with you about the importance of finding your own skin - voice - as based on your own internal sense of voice, rather than trying to emulate others on the outside.

Phoenix said...

A story collects the souls of every person who has contributed to inspiring the author to write it; every person who has read it; every person whom the story is about.

Using this logic, a story belongs to everyone. There is no ownership once the story takes flight and lands on the shoulder of a reader. It is free to flutter about the universe and kiss or curse as many as it wishes.

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

I think it’s everyone the book touches, including the author, the readers, and the characters.

I find it’s easier to write in my voice when I’m in the “zone” - simply writing and not thinking about what or how I’m writing.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks, Phoenix. You're right I'm sure, the story belongs to everyone, and yet, that's not how everyone feels about their own story.

Has anyone ever written about you in a way that left you feeling objectified? Has anyone ever taken a bit of your story and looked t it through their own lens and it has left you feeling dissatisfied because it is not quite how you see it, how you'd like to see it? How you'd like others to see it?

This is the sort of 'ownership' I had in mind when I wrote the question, but of course it's impossible to get around.

Elisabeth said...

Books and stories have powerful effects on those who write and read them, Jane.

Thanks for our comment here.

I agree with you, too, that writing comes easiest when you don't have such issues swirling through your brain. To me they are like the monkey over my shoulder and this monkey has been visiting me a lot lately.

A Cuban In London said...

What a gem of a post. It's great to see that although I'm away I can still access thought-provoking posts like yours. Many thanks.

Greetings from Kuala Lumpur.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks, Cuban. I trust you're having a wonderful time in Kuala Lumpur.

It is indeed wonderful that you can read my blog from there as well as from London and that we can all communicate from so many different locations.

Ah the joys of the Internet.

Kass said...

Elisabeth - Here's a link to an Australian blog where the author is hosting a give-away. I can't enter because they won't ship overseas. Thought you might be interested. It's for a rug.
Giveaway

Tommaso Gervasutti said...

Elisabeth, I must reread your post and also all these comments,
the question Who Owns The Story? is for me a further pursuing of the issue concerning poetry or prose works that once written get a life of their own...

Tommaso Gervasutti said...

I am reading the comments, yours is certainly a basic question...I was thinking that the story is yours in the same way that the air we inhale and exhale absorbs our selves and becomes ours for some time, the space of single breath, before being cast back out, with our own, each a little different, particular hues...

ALeks said...

Hi Elisabeth,Im with Steven on this one, so I do not have to repeat the same as I do believe we are just messengers!For people trying to make a living out their creativity that is different I think,and well, as soon you throw something on the market to be sold you automaticly are getting yourself in trouble cause there are so many of them who will shout out they were the first to come with certain idea or concept and we all know that is not true!There is no true ownership I think!The ones who would go so far to protect with violence what they say is theirs is one way of looking at it and oh,boy this is very interesting matter,I would love to come over and chat with few of you on this, as language is very important to bring these matters correct to the talking,listening companions!!
And Im not a Communist,maybe a socialist,more humanist and from there I start! Greetings from Holland and from me!!

Dave King said...

It's a process of osmosis, I'm sure; finding your own voice, the sound of the writers you love and/or admire will be in there somewhere.

Barry said...

You raise an interesting and important question. I have always looked at it this way---

Legally an author owns his/her work and deserves appropriate compensation for it.

However, a reader's understanding and appreciation of that work belongs to them. So, once published,the ownership of a work of art becomes a shared responsibility.

By the way, I like your style.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks for the link, Kass. I checked it out. Interesting blog, though I'm not sure I need any new rugs at present. I'm too busy dealing with the dust from our re plastering efforts. Some of our walls have cracked through the drought.

Thanks Davide, for your thoughtful response. I'm inclined to agree with you - the story is ours much like the air we breathe, but at the same time we share that air. We must take care not to pollute it.

And thanks Aleks for your ideas. The idea that we are messengers rings true for me. Though, they shoot messengers, don't they? I have been shot at once or twice. I'm still standing but it can be scary.

I too would love to chat with you. You have so much energy and enthusiasm. It's always refreshing to hear from you.

Elisabeth said...

I'm all for the notion of osmosis too, Dave, but osmosis in an active sense of the word.

I think we absorb other writings, often unconsciously, but the need to practice what we absorb is far from passive. Thanks, Dave.


Yes, Barry. Here you seem to be referring to that notion put forward by the wonderful, Roland Barthes - the death of the author.

We might hold legal ownership of our written words, but the readers can claim their own interpretations and their manifold meanings.

Thanks, Barry.

angela simione said...

the notion of ownership implies responsibility. who is responsible for the comment i am leaving right now? you? nope- me. it is my responsibility not only to write clear sentences, but also to withstand the rebutal the refusal of what i've said. to defend my position (my story) when it is confronted. to defend my home (my voice) when it must be defended. and also my responsibility to welcome others in to my home.

i definitely agree with the outlook that writer and reader are a pair... but until the piece finds its way out in to the world, there is nothing to read. it doesn't exist for us yet. and that's a good thing. it's yours and yours alone and the wrestling you do during that time makes it yours. you are the only one responsible for maintaining your voice. the pull is one of trust. i wrestle with this constantly- how do i finally trust my voice?

Elizabeth said...

I have no idea. I was married once, a long time ago, to a man who was studying for a PhD in English Literature. I always wondered at the unhappiness of his colleagues -- how tortured they were discussing deconstruction and all that literary theory.

I'm a voracious reader -- always have been. I like what I like and am pretty snooty about it. But it basically stops there!

tony said...

Not just with writing!
An Example:
2 years ago I went to a small play in Bury.We were meeting a couple of friends at the Theatre.They lived locally but we had to travel a long distance.We arrived late.The Play had already started (I say "play" but it was a comical audience participation affair).We walked in & took our seats and were amazed to see our 2 friends up on stage with the actors.They had been dragged up on stage to take part in a sketch.
I was much taken with this ! I always carry a small camera in my pocket ( I have taken shots before\ without flash.the Theatre has always been fine with this & even used some on their website) Anyway.......I took a photo of one of the actors with my two friends.I later published the photo on my blog.
Somehow the actor in question (who himself has a blog)found out and started saying I was breaching copyright;they had asked before the performance not to take photos;etc etc.
Now,my question to him was who owned "the copyright" of any images of my 2 friends ?(who were pleased with both the photo & the blog.and who felt they had been duped into being made to go on stage in the first place & who felt they were slightly mocked by the actor anyway)
I took The Photo (my copyright?)
the 2 subjects in the photo (their copyright?)
The actor & his Company (his copyright?)
The Theatre itself (their Copyright?)
My conclusion?Ownership can never be exclusive.

Momo Luna said...

Hi Elisabeth,
such an interesting question, that means also interesting comments.

A story being told; the person in it is the owner of the experiences in real life, he or she can agree or disagree with the writers point of view, but the writer is the owner of the written story. The writer creates a world for her words, her visions, her feelings about the story. The writer transforms the real world into an own universum. And the reader owns the feelings, thoughts etc, (s)he experiences when reading.
So i think the writer owns the story, the words that create the story.
Pffff i wish i could write this in dutch haha, now i can't find the exact right words. But okay, this is what i think in the great lines.

And i like your style a lot Elisabeth. I don't always comment because i don't always know what to write. But i love visiting your blog.

Have a wonderful weekend!
Sweet greez, Monica

Elisabeth said...

Thanks Angela. You write with such wisdom. It belies your years.

It seems to me that you and I struggle with similar issues - voice, trust, truth and untruth in writing etc etc. I'm about to post another piece on these issues.

I also agree with your comment here about the need to be able to defend your voice, your writing. That need is hardest of all.

I have a tendency to see things from multiple perspectives - my own mixed perspectives, all those contradictory views that run around my head - on the one hand this on the other hand that - as well as the perspectives that I deduce from others.

It becomes very top heavy in the thinking department. In the end I have to trust myself, even against the baying of the hounds; even as I'm stuck up a tree with no way down except to wait it out and hope that the hounds will get sick and tired themselves of waiting and go off elsewhere for their pound of flesh.

Please forgive me if this response to your comment is cryptic and full of mixed metaphors. I hope you catch my drift.

Elisabeth said...

Hi Elizabeth, you with the 'z' in your name as against mine with an 's'.

I hope it doesn't sound as the the torturous thinking I go through is that of those postmodernists who go on ad nauseum about deconstruction etc.

I am caught up in the postmodern, post post modern wave, and very relieved to be. In earlier times I would never have dared to write as I do, but I like to think that my concerns are more practice based.

I am a pragmatist first and foremost. I like to write to be read and therefore I try to stay on the ground. Not for me the wonderful but arcane flights of theory that drive some people into fits of agony and/or delight.

Still I think the abstract and theoretical work has its place, just not at my place.

Elisabeth said...

Tony, you describe it so well, this battle over ownership.

It reminds me of all the legal hassles that erupt over intellectual property and copyright.

A woman once write me a letter threatening to sue me if I ever spoke again about her or certain of her connections again.

It's a long story and I shall not go into it. I was comforted by my husband who talks about the three aspects that underlie legitimate claims: Duty of care, Breach and Damages.

To begin one needs a duty of care towards the complainant. At some level as writers we hold a duty of care to the public. The second is that the complainant can demonstrate some sort of breach, some failure on the part of the writer to do the right thing - Slander or libel are good examples. And the third is that of damages - the offended person needs to demonstrate some level of damage done. It's not enough simply to feel miffed.

I know the situation is more severe in America than here in Australia. At least here in Australia we are not quite as litigious, but the threat to sue someone merely because they have written something or done something that has offended you is still strong.

What a combative world we live in and at the core if it all is the issue of what's mine and what's yours and whether or not we can share.

Thanks, Tony, for your thoughts and this wonderful example.

Elisabeth said...

Monica, how kind of you to respond here when it is hard to write as clearly as you would like in English.

I wish I could write in Dutch. One day I should ask my mother to translate for me and then you can have the pleasure of speaking to me directly.

I will say once again as I have said to others I so admire your efforts to write English. We, who only speak the one language are not nearly so clever and so brave as you who struggle and succeed in communicating with others in a different language.

As well, you describe very well here your argument about ownership and I agree with you entirely:

'The writer creates a world for her words, her visions, her feelings about the story. The writer transforms the real world into her own universe. And the reader owns the feelings, thoughts etc, (s)he experiences when reading.'

Thanks, Monica

ALeks said...

When we are born are we born with the ownership of our words and deeds?
Or we are teached and preached what to think,how to think,what to like and what not? And than how far we are from the really our likings or choosing s when everything what we were reading,learning is coming from somewhere else? We learn words,letters,how to make sentences of thinking process or the sensations or emotions,if we are not able to put the words to work than the artistic(in my case nearly autistic)manners are born,and than,what is really ours? All of that in written word,made by hands,heads,hearts or human machines which came before us,how much of that is part of us?? Than how can you speak of ownership? That is more and closer to the point I was trying to reach with my answer,thank you for listening! So! Greetings from me!b :O)

angela simione said...

i'm waiting for those hounds to tire too.

or for the tree to grow so tall i can't hear their growls and don't care about them anymore.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks, Aleks, for your comment here. I think I understand that you are saying something about how everything we do is derived from somewhere and someone else.

In that sense no one owns anything outright when it comes to writing and art. We might own the physical paper, the ink, the paint, the canvas the stone, but the ideas, the concepts and thoughts, they are all shared.

Elisabeth said...

Yes, Angela. Those hounds never tire for long. Just when you think they're asleep they jerk awake ready to bite, to tear you limb from limb and all you can do is duck for cover.

Then you must wait it out, until the next quiet patch, when you can get on with your work. And never say die.

Thanks, Angela