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Sunday, April 22, 2012

Working alone

Emily Bronte, that author of Wuthering Heights and many poems, was the paradigmatic introvert as artist. She refused to accompany her sisters to London when Charlotte decided that they had to show themselves to prove that Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell were three different writers. Emily never wanted to leave home and had absolutely no craving for society or its adulation. Yet, she had a clear sense of herself as artist, composing without an audience.

 In Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking  Susan Cain  suggests that solitude is necessary for great achievement.  She quotes the following from  Steve Wozniak's memoir iWoz (pp. 73-74):

Most inventors and engineers I’ve met are like me – they’re shy and they live in their heads. They’re almost like artists. In fact, the very best of them are artists. And artists work best alone where they can control an invention’s design without a lot of other people designing it for marketing or some other committee. I don’t believe anything really revolutionary has been invented by committee. If you’re that rare engineer who’s an inventor and also an artist, I’m going to give you some advice that might be hard to take. That advice is: Work alone. You’re going to be best able to design revolutionary products and features if you’re working on your own. Not on a committee. Not on a team.

There is a rather Romantic (with the capital R) association with the artist as solitary figure. William Wordsworth certainly cultivated that image with poems that refer to his solitary walks, "I wandered lonely as a cloud," and the like. 

In fact, he was often walking with his sister Dorothy or his friend and fellow-poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, but he liked to project the image of the solitary artist alone in nature with his imagination capturing its sublime aspects. He also often reviewed the experience of his wandering by reading the account carefully transcribed in his sister's journal and projecting his solitary poetic presence into that to come up with poems that focus on his singular reaction to what he sees and experiences. So not exactly working on his own.

 The Bronte sisters actually began their expeditions into the world of imagination together with a famous account of naming their brother's toy soldiers and then using those names for the characters who peopled the literary landscape of some heady works.  True, they then went off in their own direction, though they did form their own kind of writing community.  In fact, no literate writer really works completely alone because s/he has the knowledge of the works of poetry and prose that came before. It may not be a conscious collaboration, certainly not the product of deliberate teamwork, but still the product of more than a single mind isolated from others.  

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