Smearing the Silver Film

I have not read anything by Katey Schultz. I have, however, thanks to the wonders of Google, come across a post she wrote, which features a handful of quotations on the lyric essay. Thank you, Katey Schultz. 


One quotation she provides is by Brenda Miller who writes:

“The lyric essay doesn’t look too long at itself in the mirror. It is not ‘self-reflective,’ in that it does not really reflect the self who scribbles it down. Rather, it is the mirror, the silver film reflecting whatever passes its way…And that’s how the lyric essay happens: When there’s no bothersome self to get in the way. When the writing finds its own core. When it finds the language it needs on its own…What I’m trying to say is: The lyric essay happens in the gaps. In the pause before the next breath demands to be taken.” (23-25)

I have just read the first two sentences (now, in revision mode, the whole piece). Thoughts: How can an essay “not really reflect the self who scribbles it down?” If whatever passes our way must be made meaningful in whatever ways we bring to bear (our capacities for making meaning), then isn’t the lyric essay still reflective of the writer who writes it, even if “I” don’t get in the way? Even if it is “the mirror, the silver film reflecting whatever passes its way …” it can still capture (or describe) the self that is doing the writing.  Perhaps, that last sentence should be reworded into a question. It slips my mind, but there is the quotation of “whatever the self describes, describes the self” and is she speaking to this quotation? To a different angle that I am unable to grasp?


“When the writing finds its own core.” Is this the moment of writing when we are not conscious of ourselves as writing, when thought peaks to match the tempo of the typing and the words just flow onto the page–thought uninterrupted (spewing words)? Is it how after reading a piece of your own writing, you surprise yourself by finding that the voice on the page is somehow different–or better–than your own, but it is your own? How do we let a piece “find the language it needs on its own?” I ask this honestly and humbly…


Gaps: If the lyric essay “happens in the gaps,” then how can be deepen and extend our own gaps? Are our “gaps” graspable? What are some methods for shoveling, for digging, for sinking into the gaps of our own depths? Or, is Miller speaking more of style, of the way a lyric essay takes off, rambles, shambles, maunders in a world of its own making (i.e. the gaps as anti-traditional structure)? 


3 thoughts on “Smearing the Silver Film

  1. Pingback: Mystery Hybrid: Further Thoughts on the Lyric Essay « The Eyeslit-Crypt

  2. Allison

    My thoughts on this so-called mirror… you must hold it an angle. I’m thinking this way of viewing is similar to using overheard conversations as inspiration. The mirror held at angle won’t show you yourself, but other things in life that you do not wish to view directly. Just a thought, of course.

    Thank you for sharing this :)

  3. jgrefe Post author

    Yes, perhaps when the mirror is angled away from the self, those things that “you do not wish to view directly,” can be expressed or hinted at or reflected–dealt with. I read an interesting preface yesterday from an Edward Abbey book and he mentions the value of surfaces–a kind of anti-depth…but what he was saying was that sometimes the surface of things is enough to bring the beauty (or suffering) into the reader’s interpretation. Or, this reminds me of when William Burroughs instructed his students to simply take a walk in order to become better writers. It seems a good essay can do this, can open us to the depths (or “surface power”) of seemingly mundane things.

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